It’s not a secret that Booktok is famously known for pushing books (and their genres) to new successes, from the Taylor Jenkins Reid rave to the spooky reads they pull out every Halloween season, and now the newest sub-genre they have been loving, dark romances.
The question is, why?
All books discussed are for the consumption of those 18 years of age and over.
Dark Romance Novels
To be a dark romance, a novel needs at least these two key elements:
- A mysterious, attractive, morally grey love interest.
- A taboo storyline.
The taboo can range from something as simple as the main character’s brother’s best friend, like in Twisted Love by Ana Huang, to something spicier like in the Booktok classic duology, Hunting Adeline by H.D Carlton, in which the main love pairing is a stalker and his victim.
A Few of Booktok’s Favorites
There are not too many taboos dark romance authors won’t try to write out. Earlier this year, Credence by Penelope Douglas caused commotion within dark romance circles. Within this dark romance, all three love interests are somehow related to the female main character. While some readers could not get past the incest taboo, other reviewers enjoyed the “outrageous” aspects of it enough to enjoy the story. This story, like so many in this genre, will not be for everyone.
Calling Haunting Adeline’s main character a “victim” puts it too simply. Despite the dubious consent that exists in these stories, often the implication is that this is something the main characters will come to want and even love. This aspect is where the debate comes in, what does reading these sorts of books tell people about love, romance, and all the taboos they do touch on? How do they affect the way readers see real life romantic relationships?
TikTok user and dark romance enjoyer “Chai_Tea_Reads” first ever dark romance was Wanderlust by Skye Warren. In Wanderlust, the main female character is kidnapped by the love interest, staying true to the dark romance genre in this book. Most readers don’t enjoy the taboo for taboo’s sake, instead they enjoy the open nature it creates between the two characters. Reviewers of this novel often discuss their love of watching the main male character, Hunter, become more complex as the novel progresses and dives into what drives him do something like kidnap a girl.
Importance of Taboos in Dark Romances
These female main characters do not always have to play a victim role. Another BookTok favorite includes the Mindf*ck series by S.T Abby, in which the main female character, Lana, is a serial killer. Her love interest? A detective put on the case of the unsolved murder Lana is guilty of. Instead of the male main character being the one to first engage with a taboo, the female is going to show that most of these stories do not come from a place of misogyny. Putting it best is Chai_Tea_Reads when she says, “I feel as though it encourages its readers to be more open-minded when it comes to exploring inner desires but also being mindful of our boundaries.”
Realistic Romantic Expectation
Kidnapping, killing, and other taboos are not what dark romance reader are expecting in their real-life romantic relationships.
Being romance books means many romantic moments throughout these. Outside of the taboo, dark romance writers are still dedicated to being romantic. Saying they love each other, going on dates, and using pet names are all still common in the dark romance genre. Authors stay true to the romance title in their name. It is obvious the main characters love each other (if they should or can be debated), but the love is there. Dark romance readers still enjoy that aspect.
Overcoming traumas created by the taboos in these stories is important. Since a taboo is not the norm, they lead themselves to write complex, traumatized characters. To be outside the norm is something most readers understand, so even without ever experiencing the taboo, they can relate to the act of feeling outside the norm.
With this act of being on the outside of the norm, the characters must learn to love each other (and often themselves) regardless of the trauma. Utilizing traumatic stories to create complex characters does not happen purely in dark romances; it is a writing trope loved by readers and writers alike.
A reader’s implication of real-life romantic relationships is not to expect the taboos they read. Instead, it is the act of someone willing to commit those taboos. Chai_Tea_Reads herself says, “Some may argue that dark romance incites unrealistic expectations about love, and that could be true, but we should not have to accept the bare minimum when it comes to our relationships. We should expect our partners to put in the effort and fight for us.”
How Far Do They Go?
Dark romances are not the exact model to form a relationship; instead, it is the subtext that helps dark romance readers see how the taboo does not mean it does not hold merit. Often, readers joke about the taboos in these books on TikTok, aware of the way these books superficially come off. For this reason (and the smut), dark romance books are for people above the age of 18. Thankfully, the majority of the community understands this and does their best to enforce it.
Readers of these stories are not people looking to always live out these taboos. Keeping them within their reading is more than enough. Still, be cautious the first time you decide (if you do) to pick one up. The Dark Romance community is happy to not only recommend books, but also to share a book’s trigger warnings. Please make sure to check these before diving into any dark romance.