There are a lot of things that I love about the romance genre, and a lot of things that drive me crazy about it. A given book in the genre may hit on both the good and bad, or neither. I generally liked Unclaimed, but it did some of both.
Michelle Sagara wrote a wonderful blog post about romance. It's specifically addressing the concept of the "alpha male", but she has good thoughts on the genre. This quote in particular resonated with me: It’s a balance: the romance and relationship has to be emotional, and it has to fit the narrow, narrow wedge of my own emotional needs. It’s not, therefore, about the books, but about me.
One of the habits I've long had with romance novels is that I'll go back to re-read key emotional scenes. Sometimes these will be the ones at or just after the climax, but sometimes they're in the middle of the story too. These are the scenes where the characters break down the barriers between them and bare their feelings in their rawest, most powerful state. This is what I want most in romance. After I finished Unclaimed, I kept flipping through it, trying to find scenes that resonated with me in this fashion, but really couldn't. It was weird, because I generally enjoyed the book while I was reading it, and thought it was romantic, and thought the resolution was solid. But the "d'awww, that's so sweet" moments weren't there when I tried to find them. I think part of this is that the characters kept making out when I wanted them to be coming to terms emotionally. Usually I don't mind sex scenes but there were some cases where they were just intrusive or felt wrong for the context.
But Unclaimed does many things well. The male protagonist embodies those alpha-male qualities Sagara described in her post: secure, self-confident, competent, indifferent to the whims of society, etc. Further, he lacks most of the annoying qualities that sometimes get packaged with "alpha male": he's not a bully, he never coerces the female protagonist into doing anything, he's careful about letting her make her own choices and confident in her ability to fight her own battles if need be. (In one case, literally and ahistorically, but hey. Point made.)
And while there's a lot of gosh-we're-so-attracted-to-each-other in the text, the characters obviously fall in love with each other for their personalities and deeds, not because they're overpowered by lust.
Overall, I was right that I liked this book better than Unveiled, but not as much better as I expected. I'll give it an 8.5.
But I want to ask -- does anyone else regularly do the "re-read your favorite bits" thing right after finishing a romance, or is that just me? Or re-read the best bits with non-romance novels, for that matter?