There are a lot of “rules” in genre fiction, which is one of its appeals. People like to know what they are getting when they crack open a mystery, a romance, or a paranormal. We select these books because something about the conventions resonate with us, and violating those rules is a risky thing. Yet, in the hands of a skilled writer, the rules of genre fiction are often smashed.
There is really only one rule that you almost NEVER see in a romance novel: killing off a hero or a heroine. This just isn’t done.
Kristen Heitzmann just did it!
So let’s talk about Breath of Dawn, a contemporary romantic suspense novel in her trilogy set in the remote mountains of Colorado. The first book in the trilogy, A Rush of Wings, was the very first inspirational romance I ever read, so I have a real fondness for this author. In this book we met the hero’s tormented brother, Morgan Spencer, who still suffers from the fallout of a disastrous romance and (as he believes) the death of his unborn child. In book two (Still of Night) Morgan reunites with Jill, his long-lost high school sweetheart, and they finally find happiness and come to grips with the loss of their child.
Happily ever after? Not so fast. Book three opens with Jill’s funeral. I was gob-smacked. Couldn’t believe it. Killing off a heroine who supposedly got a Happily Ever After is something I’ve only seen once or twice in the thirty years I’ve been reading romance.
So, did it work?
I will be curious to see the reviews as they roll in to Amazon, but after careful consideration, I think Heitzmann pulled it off. Part of the reason was that I never really clicked with Jill in Still of Night, so I wasn’t nearly so ripped up as I would have been if the author killed off Morgan. Another reason was the brisk pace of this book. After the funeral, the book skips ahead two years and we see that while Morgan is still grieving, he is emerging from the fog of depression and ready to rejoin the rest of the world. His initial attraction to the heroine (Quinn) is mostly physical, but also based on Morgan’s instinctive urge to rescue damsels in distress. Quinn is in some pretty hot water through no fault of her own. When Morgan steps in to help her out, they are thrown together in a manner which allows a romance to bloom pretty quickly.
Although I am at the beginning of my career as a writer, I can safely assert I will never kill off one of my heroes or heroines. I just don’t have the stomach for it, but I admire Kristen Heitzmann for being willing to go out on a limb with this one. If you are in the mood for something a little different, check out Breath of Dawn. You don’t need to read the earlier books to make sense of it.