Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Reverse harem, trending now - a new romance sub-genre?

A few months ago, I had a blog post exploring the reverse harem in romance with Lily Harlem. It's when the dynamic of the "romance" is made up of one woman and multiple (three or more) men. There's no judgment, no stigma, just a great big love-in. Since then, this sub-genre in romance has taken off with guns blazing. Every author and their auntie are writing reverse harem stories, mostly self-published. I haven't seen a traditional publisher release one yet recently - menage a trois - yes, reverse harem - no. Maybe some are in the works?

Castaways by Lily Harlem Tearaways by Lily Harlem Runaways by Lily Harlem

As I've read a few more books in the reverse harem sub-genre, I've learned a few things about it.

First, let's talk about age range in the books. You'd think with the whole "one woman, many men" dynamic that it would be a mostly adult-focused sub-genre with their characters aged between twenty five and upwards, but no. This was a surprise to me, but there are a lot of reverse harem books featuring teenagers, as in Young Adult age, where the story is suitable for kids aged between fifteen and eighteen. Even more surprising is seeing that there are books with eighteen year olds having hot, explicitly described sex in some of the books. Now, I know kids have sex at a young age these days but call me a prude, but do I really want to read about an eighteen year old having explicit sex with multiple guys in a reverse harem relationship? That said, some books do not have sex in them at all for many, many books in the series until the characters get a lot older - apparently, in one particularly popular series, there's no sex till book seven, I'm told. But even then, I'm wondering about a teenager being in a reverse harem relationship and what messages that conveys to teenagers of today? Can they tell fiction from reality?

Trying To Live With The Dead by BL Brunnemer Introductions by CL Stone

Of course, there are also New Adult stories where the characters are between eighteen and twenty five. These characters tend to be in college or just finishing high school. From a personal perspective, I am better able to wrap my mind around a character who is in college in their early twenties in this sort of relationship. This seems to be the predominant age range for characters set in this sub-genre, I'm not entirely certain why. Again the stories can range from being rather tame to very hot and spicy. There's the concept of "burn" in reverse harem relating to how much sex and how explicit the sex is which is a whole other topic to discuss.

Accepted by Athena Wright and Vivi Clarke Unconventional by Rebecca Royce

Then, there are the adult stories. Where the characters are over twenty five years old. This totally works for me and this is the age range I focus most of my reading. While the whole concept of a reverse harem is a thing of fantasy, it's a fun concept to explore - the relationship dynamics are fascinating and that is fun to read about, particularly if it's well written and the author does a great job with the relationship and character development. One such example for me is Charmed By Them from the Quintessence series by Serena Akeroyd. Her depiction and focus on the characters blew me away.


Finally, most reverse harem stories tend to be series. You do need a few books to explore and develop the relationships and build to a final happy ending. I haven't read the end of any series yet, and I'm super curious what the dynamic will be at the end. Where do they live? Who do they marry? What if they have children? Who will the father be? I think there might be one or two standalone reverse harem books but those are few and far between.

The sub-genre runs the gamut across paranormal, urban fantasy, fantasy, sci-fi and contemporary. Paranormal settings seem to be the most prevalent with werewolves, vampires, any sort of paranormal or supernatural creature, ghosts, and even fairy-tale retellings. There seems to be a bit of a "coming of age" slant to a lot of the stories with the heroine getting to know herself and coming into her powers with the help and support of the men in her harem. That's where the Young Adult and New Adult stories come in.

Elizabeth and the Clan of Dragons by Ava Mason Heiress by Daisy Daniels Order of the Regent by Jasmine Walt and Melle Amade

When I pick up a reverse harem story to read, I am looking for a few things before I decide whether I'd read the book or not. As such, I confess, I haven't read many (busy review reading schedule) but I do have a few on my wishlist I'd like to try out. What do I look for in a reverse harem story then? For starters, I'd like my characters to be adults. Second, I'd like there to be some sexy scenes in the story. If not, then excellent sexual and emotional tension leading up to sexy scenes in the future. But preferably, if it's a series, I'd still like sex in the first book. I like to see a consummation of the characters feelings for each other explored physically.  And I do not need all the characters to hop into bed with each other together in one great big pile-up. That depends entirely on the story and on the characters' relationships with each other. When I was asked this question by an author, my response was to go where the characters lead you. Then I read the first four books in the series and went back to the author and said no, I don't think all of the characters hopping into bed together makes sense based on what I know of their personalities and their relationship dynamics. Also, because the story involves so many characters, good character and relationship development is very important. I've read one book where it was excellent and left me with a giant book hangover and wanting more. Another one I read was so shallow, it left me cranky as all get out.

This sub-genre is going gangbusters right now. There are new books being released every day with readers clamoring for more. A lot of authors are jumping on the trend and writing a reverse harem story or series to ride the trend. In my experience, some of them have been good and some of them, not so much. You can clearly see they are trend-hopping because the character and relationship development is not there. And it's not a reverse harem story if all the guys leave bar one at the end of the book and the relationship is only with the one guy. Just remember this is fiction and reality is very different.

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K Hamilton Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton

The thing is, reverse harem is not new. It's just been recently given a shiny new label, caught the imagination of readers and started trending. The first reverse harem story I read was the Merry Gentry series by Laurell K Hamilton. I didn't even know I was reading a reverse harem back then, only that Merry Gentry was having a heck of a lot of sexy times with a lot of her men (they are her bodyguards because her life was in danger) and she loved them all equally and could not choose between them. That was originally published in the year 2000, and then picked up by Ballantine Books and re-released to the mass market in 2006. It was genre-bending at the time. Another one is the Anita Blake series, also by Laurell K Hamilton. It didn't start as a reverse harem series but it did morph quite quickly into one. This was originally published in 1993 and later re-released by Berkley in 2004. I don't know of any others who started writing the sub-genre as early as Ms Hamilton, but if you do think of any, please tell me. I'd like to know more about these authors who pioneered the sub-genre before it became trendy.

Confident In Love by Dixie Lynn Dwyer Alpha Province Shining Beacons by Becca Van Roar For Me by Jane Jamison

And finally, Siren Publishing, an erotic romance publishing house has been releasing books with multiple male partners for a long time. They've been around since 2006. On their website, it says they carry fourteen different imprints that cater to every taste. They refer to their reverse harem genre simply as menage and it is defined as a heroine with two or more heroes. I don't think I've read any books published by Siren but I do know their books are on the hot, steamy, sexy sides of things. They are definitely very adult only reading.

Tell me, have you read the reverse harem genre? Would you be interested in trying it out or is the idea of so many men with one woman not your thing?


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18 comments:

  1. Hi Deanna

    That is a really interesting post but this genre isn't for me I know that it is fantasy but I would not feel comfortable reading about a heroine who has many partners, I do read menages here and there and the ones I have read I have enjoyed but they don't call to me either. But one thing I love about the romance genre all up is that there is a story for everyone I am sure they are very popular.

    Have Fun

    Helen

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    1. It's not everyone's cup of tea for sure and we need to read what we like. There are lots of other romance out there to suit every taste.

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  2. As a very happy woman in a regular MF relationship, I have to ask myself what it is about the genre that I love reading and writing about. I truly believe menage is a real subgenre the establishment bypasses. In itself, it is a whole other ball of wax because entwining the lives of four plus characters changes things.
    Of course, I agree. It has to be done well, Deanna. Characterization is a priority in these novels, as what's the point in having them if they're not leaping off the page?
    For myself, I discovered menage with Maya Banks. :D This was... yikes, back in 2008? Maybe a year earlier. I'm almost relieved to see RH start up again because I was fearing it was disappearing... !

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    1. I can't remember if it was Maya Banks or Shayla Black I read which was more BDSM than menage and it didn't work for me. I've read lots of good things about her so I might need to try her / them again. Only need to find the time.

      Similarly, being is a very contented MF relationship and a long term marriage, I have to wonder what it is about RH that appeals. I haven't really thought about that aspect of it. Perhaps the topic of another post?

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  3. I've not read too much RH but I'm currently reading Susan Hayes drift series about Cyborgs and mostly triad relationships, although the current one is a 4 some. I'm coming at it through the SciFi lens and think the appeal is to do with the sub plots. The very real story of how certain groups are treated, imagined as not human etc. This can be explored and explained through fantasy, dystopia etc

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    1. Yes, fantasy and sci-fi tends to lend itself to exploring some more diverse relationships and dynamics.

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  4. As soon as I started reading this post Laurell K. Hamilton jumped into my mind.

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    1. Yeah, she definitely was ground breaking in her books in the early days. I haven't read her in ages though.

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  5. Personally I think it's been done but they're just calling it something else to make it trendy. lol Laurel K Hamilton's series like you mention (by a major publisher) have this. Her Merry Gentry has like 7 guys to Merry. Full out sex in those. Her Anita Blake turned into it with a dozen men at least now. So for sure it's been done.

    Shayla Black and Lexi Blake have also had some. Heroine w/ 3 men so a smaller one but bigger than a typical menage. Those I'm not sure if they were major publisher or not but they've been out for ages.

    Bianca Sommerland has a girl with a...lot of guys. Those have been out for a while. They're sporty romances. I don't know if she stays with them all since I abandoned the book (didn't like the writing). But 5 or so years ago I'd say on those? Something like that. we attempted a read in the Kinkery.

    The age thing...yeah. No, that's real iffy for me. lol

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    1. I guess I just don't get it. But maybe it's like "new adult" becoming a genre. Those books were already written for years without a fancy subgenre title. But then when they got their own label they took off. *shrugs*

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    2. I've not read any Shayla Black and Lexi Blake but now I'm interested in checking them out. And yeah, it's like they've slapped a shiny new label on it and it's all trendy and the in thing to read now.

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    3. Oh, I just thought of another one. Jayne Rylon and her Powertools series. I think it's about a construction crew and there are like five guys in it or something like that. I haven't read it yet though but it's got I think seven books in the series.

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    4. Do not even get me started on the reverse harem young adult thing. Teenagers in reverse harems? Really? Who thought that was a good idea? And what the hell is that teaching teenagers?

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    5. Geez, I need to straighten out my thoughts and just put everything in one comment. I'm an idiot. But Bianca Somerland. I knwo of her but have never read any of her books. I might check it out but not sure if I'll read it since you abandoned the book. Did you know she started a youtube channel talking about bookish stuff? She's hard to listen to. Needs a better mic, I think.

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    6. LOL I get ahead of myself too often.

      I know a lot who love Somerland. She just wasn't for me writing-wise. Ah I'd not known about a youtube channel. Seems to be starting to pick up steam with authors lately

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    7. She just posted either yesterday or today as video about the whole Santino Hassell thing. I didn't watch it though. If I'm in the right mood, I might play it in the background. Maybe.

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  6. Oh I haven't tried Rylon. I think Maya Banks had some, too. It was like heroine and 3 brothers. Way back.

    I do wonder that, too. So many authors say books don't influence but that's such bull. Teens are impressionable and just blows my mind the things put out in romance books for them.

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    1. What rubbish! Of course books influence people. It's like that nutty author and her hate of condoms. And how often do you hear about how a book has changed someone's life? I might need to go look up some old Maya Banks. I DNF'ed her a long time ago with a BDSM one. It was hard core BDSM and that's just not my thing.

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