Romance Reads

There is one genre that I don´t really touch, and that is romance. When I was little, my mother had several grocery bags full of these books, Harlequin and others, in her closet. I was curious, of course, and puzzled that they were not on the regular shelves, and when I was thirteen or so she allowed me to read them. I picked two, and when I was done I remember saying to her that if I would swap the last chapters of these books, and change the names, no one would notice. I hope I wasn´t too stuck-up about it...  Not my cup of tea, anyway. At the time I was really into sci-fi, but was also exploring some more grownup stuff, like Henry Miller, Erica Jong, and Susanne Brögger.

In the 80´s everyone I knew read Margit Sandemo´s series about the Ice People. I had read the first book as a serial in one of my mother´s ladies´ magazines, sometime around 1981, and it had made an impression on me. I wasn´t interested in continuing to read it, though, until 2003, during my first course in Creative Writing. A friend had the whole series, and I decided that I could probably learn something from it. And anyway, I thought, they are quick reads. Turned out, there are 47 parts. It took some dedication to get throught them all, I have to say, although the first ten were quite entertaining.

A few months ago I read an article in "Skriva" (= to write), the Swedish writing magazine, about romance fiction, and how the genre is becoming more respected. I decided to find out if things had changed and bought a few books at the newsagent (which is where you find them). They were worse than I remembered, such total, utter crap. Badly written, laughingly bad characters, ridiculous plot. And I thought, was Sandemo this bad? So I asked to borrow them again.

I re-read the first two volumes. No, Sandemo isn´t all that bad. She is no writing genius, but I have to say, she is a very inspired storyteller. She creates a world of her own around a family that is cursed, where love constantly is up against death. There is a storyline concerning an evil ancestor that runs through all the books, and in the end there is a great battle of good against evil, where representatives of the Ice People can be found on either side (the Devil is on the good side, surprisingly, having married into the clan...). There is plenty of sex, plenty of witchcraft, true love conquers all. Men are often beastlike and dangerous, women are often clever, independent, and, of course, beautiful.

She really draws her reader in, emotionally. As cynical as I try to be, I become really attached to these characters, and when they hurt I cry. The handicraft is simple, but effective. And even if I see the flaws, the anacronisms, the clichés, it really doesn´t matter. The stories are powerful, it can not be denied, particularly in the first third of the series. 

Sandemo herself is quite a character. In an interview a few years ago she claimed to have killed a man during the war and hidden him in the forrest, someone who had tried to rape her. She has also been committed to psychiatric care at one point, claiming to be a psychic.

According to Wikipedia Sandemo has sold 39 million copies of "The Legend of the Ice People" (translated to English and several other languages). It´s still available in Swedish, as far as I can tell, as some kind of subscription deal. Would I recommend them? Well, if you like romance, you could do a lot worse. Perhaps the fantasy element isn´t to everyone´s taste, but I have known all kinds of people who loved these books: men, women, manual workers, mechanics, academics, young, old. I have never seen them on anyone´s bookshelf, at least not in the reception room. I suppose it´s something people keep in their more private corners, if not actually in the closet.


  1. i read a paranormal romance novel once when i found out a friend from church had written one. i was impressed that she had found a publisher and gotten her book into print. no mean feat, as i understand it. it didn't convert me, but i remain impressed that i've known a published fiction writer.

    i've just never been tempted by the romance genre.

    1. Paranormal romance, that sounds a bit like that movie "The Lake House" with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Love conquers reality, that is a great match.

      There are great romances in the "regular" literary fiction as well. I have never heard Austen´s "Persuasion" categorized as romance, but it certainly has that element. Some would say "Wuthering Heights", but I find that more of a study in mental illness...

    2. in the case of my friend's book "paranormal" meant that time travel was involved. apparently, "paranormal romance" is a romance novel sub-genre in which there are fantasy elements added to a basic romance story.

      i know it's heretical to say so -and i enjoyed austen's books when i read them- but i'm not interested in re-visiting the jane austen world. not even if they includes vampires ;) when i read books that have romance as a primary plot device i end up wanting to throw the book across the room. lol. i'm too cynical, i guess

    3. Austen and vampires...[shudder] I read two paragraphs of that in a magazine and almost had a fit. I don´t consider Austen romances at all - they are more about the politics of family ties and whatever independence a woman could have twohundred years ago. Sense and sensibility is a great title and pretty much sums up what all her books are about. They are favourites of mine, of course, we all have our soft spots! :D