9.3 The Processes By Which Salvation is Realized

In romance novels it is usually, though not always, love in its romantic form which effects a protagonist’s salvation. The parson in Briarley notes that “there is nothing in the curse that says he must learn romantic love” and therefore decides to begin by ascertaining whether a dog’s love might be sufficient, since he had “seen many people who have suffered [...] return to life and love and happiness through the agency of a good dog” and children, though they “might be even more effective [...] than a puppy” are not a practical option in this case. The dog, it turns out, is not sufficient, but she certainly assists in the dragon-man’s change of heart. Other romances, including those in Nora Roberts’s Three Sisters series, which is the subject of the next chapter, also suggest that romantic love is not the only, or always an essential, form of love and neither is the love of biological family members. For this reason, many protagonists in romance novels are never shown to be in need of salvation. In Michelle Hauf’s Her Werewolf Hero (2016), for instance, it is stated quite explicitly that the heroine, who has relatives, friends and an occupation that interests her, does not require any additional love in her life:

Though she was twenty-nine, having kids was not on Kizzy's radar. She'd not once heard her biological clock tick and wasn't worried about that, either. A husband might add a new angle to this adventure called life but wasn't necessary to her happiness. (18)

However, when the spiritual journey of a romance protagonist is directed towards salvation, there is almost inevitably some link between their spiritual character-arc and the central romantic relationship. The critique of one short exception to this rule, written by its own author, provides some clues as to why this is the case. In Meljean Brook’s “Falling for Anthony” (2005) the heroine, Emily, became “overwhelmed by bitterness [...] and tried to hurt those she loved most” (211). There is a gap of many months between the opening chapters, which depict her hurting Anthony, and his return to her. In the interim, she is saved by having to care for her young, recently orphaned, nephew Robert but this is not shown. Instead, she summarises the experience for Anthony: “Being with Robert made me remember how good it felt to believe in love, to regain that optimism and innocence—hope without naïveté. I was able to let go most of that bitterness I’d let consume me” (237). Handling the salvation of a protagonist in this way ensures

She doesn’t really have an arc. She’s stupid and thoughtless in the first chapter, then the next time we see her, she’s already changed — and the reader doesn’t see that change and growth, so to them, she’s essentially the same person. (Brook 2012)

From a technical perspective, this is clearly unsatisfactory. However, Brook’s solution would not be to expand the role of the nephew and show their relationship in more detail. Rather,

if I had to do it all over again, I’d have shown Emily after she hears that Anthony was killed on the battlefield [...]. It would have allowed us to see her grief and regret and pain, and also cleared up the plot noise that comes later, when she’s explaining to Anthony [...]. (Also [...] moving the story forward instead of wallowing in the past as she does in a scene or two with Anthony later.)

In a romance such as this, which is both short and already has a secondary paranormal adventure plot, a salvation achieved via love for a minor character diverts attention from the central “story” between the major characters, which needs to be kept moving “forward.”

It is not uncommon, however, to find a secondary character, particularly a child, assisting in the process of salvation alongside the character who inspires romantic love. In Liz Carlyle’s One Little Sin, for example, the devilish hero is confronted early in the narrative by the heroine and her little sister, Sorcha, who appears to be his child. Over time, the heroine is

amazed by the change Socha’s presence seemed to engender in MacLachlan. His eyes softened, and the hard lines of his face instantly gentled. Lips that were ordinarily curled with cynicism turned instead into a pure and honest smile, stripping away the years and tempering his jaded gaze. (108)

It would seem, therefore, that romances do not insist that romantic love has uniquely salvific abilities. Rather, the pragmatic demands of structuring plots and character arcs generally cause popular romances to focus on salvation effected through romantic love.