The first time Buffy kissed Angel while he was “vamped out,” my heart skipped a beat. That moment, that explicit embrace of the monstrous, spoke to something that I already knew lived deep inside of me. Because, you see, Angel was far from the first creature (of the night or otherwise) that took my heart. There’s no denying it: my name is Jennifer, and I love monsters.
From romantic leads like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast to villains like Ferngully’s Hexxus, I’ve been crushing on creatures of all types since I was a kid. It should come as no surprise that my first serious entry into the world of romance was Laurell K. Hamilton. In an act of teenage brazenness I’m pretty horrified by today, I actually used to bring each new Anita Blake or Merry Gentry novel to school with me, reading between class periods and keeping the PG-13 covers concealed beneath my school agenda. But I had to know what was going to happen to the newest vampire, shifter, or fey on the scene! I’ve always preferred a touch of the supernatural in my romance, and, specifically, in my romantic leads.
Thanks to the critical and commercial success of The Shape of Water as well as the huge boom of self-published creature-based erotica, monsters and romance have been a major topic of discussion lately. The world has once again discovered what so many of us have always known: some people dig the big, the bad, and the beastly. So many monster movies of the past, like King Kong or The Creature From the Black Lagoon, involved an element of sexual danger. The monster is a threat to the beautiful blonde heroine….or is it? These creatures are drawn to the ingenue, often to their own destruction. Every once in a while, though, those beautiful heroines love them back. To some, it’s a mystery how beauty can learn to love a beast, but when you put aside the fur and the fangs, I don’t think we’re so different.
Power dynamics are a huge part of so many romance stories, whether we acknowledge them or not. If we didn’t enjoy power dynamics, there would be no dukes falling in love with penniless maidens, no billionaires romancing their spunky secretaries. When one (or more…) of the romantic leads is a monster, that turns a certain amount of that power differential into a question of physical danger. Instead of the social power that most male romantic leads wield, the monster man has physical power. He may bite. (At least, I hope he will…) The idea of a “bad boy” or “alpha male” type is so popular in romance, and I just really have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to be interested in a romantic lead who’s kind of a jerk. I always end up going, “girl, you deserve so much better than him,” and yet, I’m totally okay with my heroines falling in love with a guy who might literally eat her. It seems contradictory at first, but it’s important to me that there’s a level of respect between romantic partners, even in fiction. A monster gives me that edge of a threat that some people like to get from a bad boy with a potential for physical damage instead of emotional suffering.
In addition to that delicious hint of danger, one of the elements that has always drawn me to monster love stories is the way they play with attraction that’s outside the norm. Whether he’s an incredibly sexy vampire with those unfortunate fangs or a full-on fish creature, a monster man usually has something about him that doesn’t fit into our society’s model for an attractive man. Sure, sometimes that turns out more hilarious than sexy (i.e. Edward Cullen’s “This is the skin of a killer!”), but on the whole, it’s one of my favorite tropes. As someone who falls a little more on the “unconventional” side of beauty myself, it feels good for a story to say that you can be unconventional, unusual, or even downright unearthly and still be attractive, still be loved.
I can think of no better way to leave you than with a few of my personal favorite sexy monsters. Read on and enjoy, my fellow weirdos. Read on.
Tomas from The Silvered by Tanya Huff
Though this one is definitely more on the side of fantasy with very light romantic elements, the intriguing werewolf and magical world building still had this monster fan enraptured
Cathal from Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper
A wacky combination is pretty much always the way to my heart, and it’s hard to resist a dragon shifter who is also a Scottish laird. Two quality romance tropes in one!
Sholto from the Merry Gentry books by Laurell K. Hamilton
Alright, I have to confess that I am super not up to date on this series, but since they were some of my formative romance book, I had to include a shoutout to a quality tentacle boy.