While I was thrilled when one of my previous posts was published on Halloween, I am less thrilled to have one come out on Valentine’s Day. 

I am into moody, dark, scary fiction. 

I am not into romance. 

Or at least I didn’t think I was until last year when I read the following books: 

  • The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay and 
  • Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield 

Both are horror novels, but both also feature romance at the core. In both books, although external scary things traumatize our characters, watching their loved ones being in distress haunts them just as much — if not more. 

This made me think: “We need a Horror Romance genre.” 

Before I get too far down this rabbit hole, I do want to acknowledge some genres that feel similar to what I’m proposing: 

  1. Paranormal Romance 
  1. Romantic Thriller/Suspense 
  1. Gothic Fiction 

Paranormal romances are just that — romance with a paranormal element. They are hardly, if ever, scary. The most famous of these would be the Twilight series. Romantic thrillers give you an adrenaline rush for sure, but they also don’t tend to provide you with that chilling feeling that lasts after the book is put down. Think Brazen Virtue by Nora Roberts. Gothic fiction may be slightly scarier, but it doesn’t always feel contemporary and frequently still puts romance above horror. An example of this is Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier 

Horror Romance, while not an “official genre,” is not as hard of a concept as it might seem upon first hearing it. Horror and romance often share a common narrative feature: The Optimistic Ending. 

I’ve talked about horror novels having open, uneasy, or even tragic endings, but in many horror narratives, good triumphs over evil. In romance, it is love that wins. 

The tone is what I am most interested in when thinking of Horror Romance as a genre. It seems as though they would be incompatible. Horror is dark and gritty. Romance is bright and bubbly. Right? 

Maybe. Sometimes. 

What they both have in common, though, is intensity.  

Fear is an intense, very human, (and I’ll go out on a limb to and add “universal”) emotion. 

Love is an intense, very human (and again, I’ll go out on this limb and add “universal”) emotion. 

It’s where these intensities combine that we find the sweet spot for horror romance. Both fear and love make us play with the theme of emotion vs. reason.  

This is prevalent in both books I mentioned earlier, so let’s use those as an example. 

Cabin at the End of the World mixes a violent home invasion with the looming apocalypse (well….maybe) while also making readers wonder what they would be willing to sacrifice for the world or the person they love. This book asks, “Would you let your loved one sacrifice themselves to save the world?” The reasonable part of the reader’s brain might say, “Yes — sacrifice one for the sake of many, right?” But the emotional stakes are much harder to grapple with, and that is where the story takes you. 

In Our Wives Under the Sea, we have Leah, a marine biologist who left on what was supposed to be a routine expedition only to have her submarine sink to the sea floor. When she finally surfaces and returns home, her wife, Miri, knows something is wrong. As Miri searches for answers, she must face the possibility that the woman she loves is slipping from her grasp. The reasonable part of the reader’s brain would say, “You need to seek help or maybe even leave her.” The emotional part of the reader’s brain — the part that has also loved someone — has a very different opinion on the situation.  

Having a romantic subplot adds an emotional stake to a horror novel that can make it feel more relatable.  

Zombies are scary. Ghosts are scary. But they are also not real.  

Losing the one you love is tremendously scary — and, unfortunately, something that will be real for many of us.  

After all, as the title of this post hints at, even the best relationships will end in sadness.  

But that doesn’t mean love isn’t worth fighting for.  

If you’d like to explore some books that fall into the unofficial genre of Horror Romance, you can check out this list here.