Romance in the last 15 years or so has become hugely reliant on the idea of the “linked series”–that is, books that have different main characters but are set in the same world and social set, so that one book’s main characters are another book’s minor characters. As a reader I don’t in general mind this, especially with historical romances, because those books don’t tend to have overarching series plotlines the way almost all paranormal romances do (although I can think of several historical series that are more a series than linked books, so maybe it’s not limited to paranormals…).
The problem I run into is when the author gives me what feel like false clues about future pairings, because then I get an idea in my head of where I want a character to go, and if the author does something different I am…not excited to read the story she actually wrote.
Maybe that is just the writer in me, who can’t really turn off the What If Feature in my brain. But I constantly read books in what I know is a linked series for clues about what might happen next. I think in many cases the author probably has an idea, so she puts little Easter eggs for astute readers or for fans to find later on a re-read and think “Wow, that moment from book 2 is totally why I believed that pairing when it happened in book 7!”
A TV show that has handled this pretty marvelously is How I Met Your Mother with Barney and Robin’s story arc. We don’t actually see until the end of season 2 that Barney has a serious interest in Robin, but there are episodes in the first half of season 1 that hint at the two of them being perfect for each other. At the end of season 7 we got a glimpse that the wedding at which Ted meets his wife is Barney and Robin’s, so now we are just waiting to see how exactly they wind up together.
That is pretty much the romance novel reading experience. We know they end up together; what we want to see is how. Which is what makes foreshadowing a bit dangerous in a linked series situation. On the one hand, I get why authors might want to try and obfuscate a bit, throw a little misdirection/red herring action at the reader. On the other hand, do that too well and the reader might prefer the story you’re not writing.
The book this happened with to me today is Liz Carlyle’s The Bride Wore Pearls. I am really not loving the series it’s a part of…I can’t really remember any of the previous books other than the first one where the heroine’s magical sexin’ cures the hero’s reliance on (or, you know, “addiction” to) hash and he tosses it down the latrine. And the fact that the hero of the new book previously had a moment where he was caught maybe-almost kissing a scrawny young reporter boy, and the heroine of the new book, the half-Indian sister of hash-hero, gets told on several times that “he isn’t for you.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get the exciting brother-you-could-have-said-nothing-to-make-me-more-determined-to-bag-that-one vibe from those Not For You! signs…I took it as that guy was a poof. Or in love with someone else secretly. Or just…not the sort of man she would be happy with. So then, thinking they were not going to be paired off, my wee conspiratorial little brain wondered if the reporter was a girl with a secret vendetta against him and that was why they were almost kissing because even though hero thinks she’s a he, she’s not, and he is disturbed and horrified by wanting to kiss a dude. That would be a much more interesting story than one where the biggest conflict is apparently her mixed heritage? Yawn. When I read the back description months ago I was so bummed I forgot when the book was coming out. I saw it today at Wal-Mart, picked it up and put it back and picked it up again mainly on the strength of wondering whether my reporter theory was true sans them being the pairing. I don’t know when I’ll read it, but probably not for a while. I’m just unenthused by the story, and all because I was hoping for a different story.
So I guess the moral of my post is, don’t try to foreshadow subtly? Because in romance it will backfire via a miscue for which pairing to look for?