(originally published on September 24, 2010)
Judging by what I see on shelves, romance readers love seeing everyone in a family falling over each other to get married. Just about every subgenre seems to have more than its fair share of series about brothers and sisters finding love. I enjoy a good story world, but I have to admit to puzzling over why so many series had to be about sets of siblings. Perhaps it’s because in real life, very few siblings I know fell in love and married one right after the other. Don’t get wrong; I don’t DISLIKE family series. I just never understood the overwhelming popularity.
For myself, if I enjoy entering the author’s world, I really don’t have a strong preference as to what keeps me coming back there. I can enjoy a continuing series about one couple such as those by Tracy Grant, Julia Spencer-Fleming(not genre romance, I know, but they are mighty romantic), and Nancy Gideon. I’ve also enjoyed reading books set in a world involving various groups of friends, such as those in Jo Beverley’s Company of Rogues series. And, of course, I do like some of the families – the Bridgertons are probably one of my favorites. However, it’s the desire to visit that world that draws me in rather than the sibling bond itself.
As I think back through the family series I’ve enjoyed, though, there is something about them that makes them a little different. In addition to creating a world, a good author can create a shared history. Even better, to use my Bridgerton example, that shared family history doesn’t get dumped on the reader all at once, but is doled out bit by bit. This creates an increasing sense of intimacy as one moves deeper into the series. It’s rather like meeting a friend’s family and learning a little bit about them but as one spends time with these friends over the years, the bond deepens and one starts to know the family on a deeper level.
Given that most siblings would have a longer and often deeper shared history than that of other groups, I can see where that history would anchor a reader firmly in a series. Not only does the author have a setting of time and place to use, but the rules of the family dynamics and history also provide a structure within which to build a world. For instance, in her two medieval novels, Carrie Lofty uses her time period and places (1 set in England and 1 in Spain) to create very distinct settings. However, the tumultuous relationship between the sisters featured in What a Scoundrel Wants and Scoundrel’s Kiss also governed some of the choices made by the characters and this added an extra layer of depth to the heroines, making the emotional impact of their stories even stronger.
In a poorly written or even merely average series about siblings, the things that make the good books shine can grate on one instead. For instance, instead of feeling a sense of sharing in family history, those cameos in later books that show happy couples, and often their children, can feel contrived rather than warm. I know some are cousins rather than siblings, but more than a few of the great big Cynster reunion scenes I’ve read fall into this category for me. And those childhood memories spoken of by siblings can make the eyes roll, too. I forget which of the many Silhouette romance families I was reading at the time, but the later books were filled with so many down-home Western ranch mishap stories that it just made the characters feel contrived. I remember thinking of one hero that even Lassie would have given up on him after enough falls down the well, times getting trapped in the barn and so on.
Even with the pitfalls, though, a realistic family tie can help create a really good world. It’s kind of fun to read about the sort of families one might want to be friends with or even be a part of. Goodness knows I wouldn’t have minded adopting a few of these for my own!