SBD: reader expectations (again)

I meant to post about this last week for SBD but didn’t get around to it. Better late than never, though.

Suzanne Brockmann has posted an excerpt of her next book, Dark of Night at her website. And her message board is active again. When I popped in last week, I saw the excerpt (my thoughts on it in a bit) and that there was a bit of a furor on the message board. It seems that someone received an ARC and posted couple spoilers on a thread at Amazon. Couple spoilers? How can it be a spoiler to know who the main couple is? Well, there has been a multibook story arc that includes two characters, Decker and Sophia, and a lot of readers have been impatiently waiting for their HEA. Except in the last couple of books, a third character, Dave, has been introduced as competition for Sophia’s affections. Some of the posters were outraged, swearing that they felt misled and cheated if those spoilers turned out to be true. Strung along for a multibook story arc that now turns out to be “wrong”.

I dunno. Did Brockmann ever say outright that Sophia and Decker would have their HEA together? In a series of books that has individual h/h rather than being led by a returning h/h (a la Robb’s In Death), is it reasonable to assume who the hero and heroine will be in advance? Or to become so invested in who the anticipated couple will be? I mean, what if Brockmann had figured out a way for Alyssa to be happy without Sam? Or for Sam and MaryLou to remain married in a healthy way? Would readers have had a “right” to bitch and moan about that?

This all goes back to reader expectations again, IMO. Readers have a right to expect that an author has given best efforts for her work. Readers also have a right to expect that marketing and labeling for a book will be honest (as in, don’t market your Urban Fantasy novel as romance, then be surprised by the backlash when readers learn there’s no HEA). But readers don’t have a right to force their desired storyline on an author, which is how the subtext of a lot of the disgruntled comments read to me. YMMV.

After reading the excerpt and thinking about what Brockmann has shown readers in the last few books, I think the couple with the HEA is going to be Sophia and Dave, not Sophia and Decker. Presumably Decker will be getting his HEA, too; with whom, I’m not sure, but it’ll probably be in this book, too, because I believe that this book is wrapping up this storyline. Why Dave and not Decker? Because Brockmann plays with POV. Because of how Sophia and Decker met, readers assumed they’d be a couple eventually, rather like Sam and Alyssa, and Robin and Jules. But a couple of books ago, I began to wonder. Not about Dave as a potential hero, but about whether Decker would be Sophia’s hero. Because while other characters observed Sophia’s crush on Decker, no one ever mentioned Decker returning those feelings. Even in Into the Storm, when Dave was encouraging Decker to ask Sophia out, Decker’s response was never about what he wanted, but about what Sophia wanted. Decker’s POV *never* included any sort of longing or romantic feeling, just discomfort. He was all about the guilt and making amends.

Another reason I think Dave and not Decker is because although Brockmann likes to play with genre romance rules, I’m not sure she’s going to outright break them. And the heroine having a love scene with one character, even as a flashback, while ending up with another permanently would break A Serious Romance Rule. [Actually, I’d love to see her break that rule, but I think the Sam/MaryLou implied sex in the same book as actual Sam/Alyssa sex is about as close as she can get without alienating a lot of more traditional romance readers.]

Of course, it’s easy for me to make that prediction — I’m not invested in the outcome either way, Sophia/Decker or Sophia/Dave.


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22 responses to “SBD: reader expectations (again)

  1. Well, I can tell you if you want. I read the Amazon spoiler (and the outrage there was way worse than on her MB), and I’m getting a galley in the next few days! Yay!
    I love what she’s doing with the genre, TBH. I love that she’s stretching things, but still giving us the HEA, stretching but still making us like her characters, no matter what. I thought her last book was brilliant and can’t wait for this one. I fell totally in love with Izzy in last book–finally “get” him. Can’t wait for him and Eden to get their HEA.

    • I enjoy watching SB stretch the genre, too, but I’m a little leery about Izzy and Eden. Not because of Izzy, but because of Eden. I felt immensely sorry for her, but also rather disgusted and frustrated by her in ITF. SB can make me like her, I’m sure, but right now it’s hard to imagine how.
      Overall, I was a bit frustrated with ITF, because I felt like Hannah and Murphy were overshadowed by everything else going on the book, as if there was more action/adventure than relationship-building. Of course, they already had the relationship foundation, but it was built offstage. Maybe that’s why I felt a little let down by them?
      *is pea-green with envy over the galley*

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I think I agree completely about Murph and Hannah being overshadowed. And I also agree that I don’t know about Eden for Izzy. He rocked, she didn’t do it for me. However, SB always does a great job with growing characters, (but also never changing who they intrinsically are), so I’ll just have to wait and see.
        And I’m also green with envy. I want DoN now!

      • While we are talking Eden, can somebody explain that whole baby thing to me, please? My impression was it was a ‘white’ baby so it couldn’t have come from the date rape, is that right? I read something somewhere saying that that wasn’t necessarily true, that a black baby could look white at birth, etc. etc. Color me confused. What else is new, grin.

      • My guess: the ex-boyfriend wasn’t sterile, it was just an excuse so he could go condomless, so the baby was his.

      • So, if that’s the case, is the automatic assumption that Eden lied about being date raped by the black guy, that she had sex with him willingly? And was that what Izzy’s disappointment was all about?
        I only had the book for a day from the library (because our library charges rental fees on new books unless you return it the next day), so some things are a little sketchy in my memory.

      • I borrowed it from the library, too, but for a longer period. Based on my memory of their last scene together, I thought that Izzy still believed she was date raped, but was disappointed that she was lying about who the father was. Either because she was lying about the ex-boyfriend’s so-called sterility or because she was lying by omission by failing to admit that she’d slept with someone else.

    • “I fell totally in love with Izzy in last book–finally “get” him. Can’t wait for him and Eden to get their HEA.”
      I wonder how you will feel when they don’t get their HEA. You are invested in them the same way as I was in Sophia/Decker.
      I’ve read all the arguments about why and how it’s perfectly obvious why Decker and Sophia wouldn’t eventually be a couple, but I fall into the camp of readers who feel Brockmann built them up to be over many books and led the reader believe they would be. If the argument is that I as reader was too stupid to realize it was all fake, then that doesn’t particularly predispose me to want to read the next book or like the author for doing so.
      Guess I’m neither ready nor willing to follow all that stretching of the genre boundaries.

      • She made me understand, like, and root for Mary Lou–I’m pretty sure she could do anything.
        I think of these characters much more like people than I do for most other series. People end up stuck on inappropriate crushes that would never work out (like my crush on high school quarterback before I started going out with my husband, lo, those many years ago). People grow and change and adapt. And I see this happening with Sophia and Decker and Dave. I get Izzy, I get Eden, but if they don’t get their HEA–even if one of them dies–I’ll be willing to follow Suz wherever she takes us. But that’s just me. YMOV, too.
        And I don’t think it’s obvious that Deck and Sophia wouldn’t get their HEA. It’s obvious that there are clues about Dave, but it could have gone either way. So I don’t think anyone was “fooled” or “stupid” or “in the know” or anything like that.
        I think it’s just obvious that Suz is writing, to my mind, real people.
        And as for her “neener neener” games: I think that’s more a desperate attempt to avoid spoilers. She’s had major issues with spoiler leakage over the years, with as many people getting completely furious at her when they are leaked as when they aren’t. FWIW, but then, I’d probably forgive her just about anything. Total Fangrrl here.

      • Sorry, that was me. Even though I replied via the JL Comment email, it didn’t log me in.

      • Anonymous

        I *don’t* think it was perfectly obvious. While I was never a particular Sophia/Decker fan, primarily because I wasn’t sure how healthy any ensuing relationship could be, the books were written in a way that a reader could easily expect them as a couple. I didn’t start to seriously consider that they wouldn’t be a couple until Into the Storm…for the reasons I mentioned in the post.

      • I don’t think it was perfectly obvious either, but I’ve seen that assertion and SarahF’s posting of what Suz says sounds like that, too. Like we all should have known it was a red herring, which is may or may not have been.
        I’m boring. I want to know who the hero/heroine of the book are and I was also disappointed that Murph and Hannah didn’t get more screen time.
        While I enjoyed Kleypas’ ‘Sugar Daddy’ for the most part, I was majorly thrown by the fact that the guy who was central to the heroine’s early years was not the hero and then she almost ruined it by making the guy a villain at the end.
        It was a weird reading experience and made me realize that my reader expectation is that the guy/gal who are introduced in a major way (POV characters or occupying POV character’s thoughts) in the first couple of chapters usually are the hero and heroine of the story. Matter of fact, I cannot remember any other book where this wasn’t the case.

      • I disliked the ending of Sugar Daddy for the exact reason you mention — turning Hardy into a villain. Learning that he was going to be Kleypas’s next hero frustrated me to no end; it’s one thing to redeem a villain, but knowing that he was villified just for tension in one book but then was going to immediately be turned into hero material bothered me. (No, I didn’t care for Blue Eyed Devil either.)
        With respect to your expectation about hero/heroine introduction, have you read Patricia Briggs’s Mercedes Thompson series? If so, what did you think of how that series has shaken out? Does it make a difference that it is urban fantasy rather than genre romance?

      • I haven’t read Briggs. I don’t read paranormal or UF (the only UF I’ve read was Wen Spencer’s Ukiah Oregon series, but only up to book 3. I have book 4 but never got around to it).
        I read romance pretty much exclusively, or SF/F with strong romance underpinnings (Lee/Miller, Asaro, Bujold) or erotic romance (J Jones, Anne Douglas, JL Copeland) which isn’t to say that I haven’t read books in the past that are straight SF/F or other genres and enjoyed them immensely. It’s just not something that I’m currently inclined to seek out.
        After years of not finding romance novels I enjoyed I finally have a TBR again (already around 300 books or so) and no time or inclination to try something that won’t deliver a HEA.

  2. I want to add (not that you’ve been linked by DA! 🙂 that Suz herself has said that she doesn’t understand how/why anyone could think that one blowjob, done with Sophia in fear of her life and Decker knowing that she’s desperate, makes these two characters “destined” for each other. Like, why does a sordid sexual situation like this mean that they’re each other’s One True Love?! I have to agree with her, but then, I’d follow her wherever she led us, personally.

    • Probably because she kept the thread going over several books? If it wasn’t supposed to be why harp on it again and again?
      Twists are all good and fine, but while I don’t feel betrayed, I feel jerked around, which is worse.
      I don’t like her little, ‘neener, neener, I know something you don’t know’ games on her board much either. That’s just not the kind of author-reader relations I personally consider cool. YMOV. 🙂

    • Like, why does a sordid sexual situation like this mean that they’re each other’s One True Love?!
      Exactly. When I started to really think about Sophia and Decker as a potential couple, I wondered about how healthy the relationship would be, and whether their history, brief as it was, would overshadow everything else.

      • I agree that it would not have been an easy or even a healthy relationship at the beginning, but that was exactly the attraction for me: to follow along and see how such a relationship between two very damaged people might work out.

    • Anonymous

      Brockmann herself did that, so how can she be confused by it?
      She linked Sophia and Decker as a couple on one (or was it two?) of her reader polls, and she linked them in her readers guides. This story arc has been called the “Sophia & Decker” story arc, no mention of Dave whatsoever as a major player. As an example, in the ITS Reader’s Guide, Sophia and Decker are listed as a secondary couple, and in the blurbs about each character, Decker’s features Sophia prominently, and Sophia’s features Decker, and discusses their “relationship”. Dave’s refers to his good friend Sophia, and what she thinks he looks like.
      If that’s what Brockmann is saying, that she’s confused by the whole “destiny” business, I’d say she’s trying to rewrite history. It’s yet more falsehoods and misdirection on her part.

  3. Anonymous

    Speaking strictly for myself I think that pairing Sophia with Dave instead of Decker may turn out to be great. I think that, especially in the context of this series, it’s really interesting for a romance to explore the idea that Sophia’s “hero” isn’t The One.

  4. Anonymous

    I’m not a Brockmann fangirl. I’m hot and cold with her work, and I thought the Izzy/Eden/Murphy/Hannah book was sub-par. But I like the imperfections of many of the relationships in this series. The characters make serious, human mistakes: crushes that don’t work out, clinging to unhealthful situations, making other people uncomfortable with their unrequited ardor, hooking up with the wrong people, etc. That said, sometimes a mistake’s a mistake, not a basis for a happily ever after.
    why does a sordid sexual situation like this mean that they’re each other’s One True Love?!
    It really is a weird expectation, but it’s present in quite a lot of romance, not only in readers’ minds. I think part of it must be a holdover from the old bodice rippers, in which the heroine came to love her rapist and he in turn came to love her. And that’s partly a reflection of sex being OK only if it turns out to be in service to Twu Wuv.
    But I think it’s also what Growlycub said: that many romances hit you over the head with who the couple will be, and the whole world fades back from that pair’s POV. (I loved that that wasn’t the case in Heyer’s Cotillion; the heroine changed her mind, and it wasn’t justified by glamorizing the second man. It made me realize how bored I am with never wondering whose feelings will turn out to be real.)
    I’ve never warmed to Dave, but however that turns out, I’ve appreciated that for several books Decker’s given Sophia a wide berth. Sophia’s incredibly screwed-up, and what would upset me is if Brockmann made light of that, and Decker’s issues, with a quick fix. If Sophia and Decker get together and can both resolve the past, great. If Sophia falls for underappreciated Dave and it’s a more healthful relationship than with Decker, great. If Sophia hooks up with Dave or with Decker, and it turns out not to be the big forever, that’s understandable too. I don’t really care about Dave’s feelings so far, as he’s a bit of a cipher in my mind. But if Sophia and Decker are more screwed up together than apart, fine, split them up.

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