Genre: Dark Fantasy Why Choose Romance
Year Release: 2023
Content warnings: Parental abuse, dubious consent, on-page rape (Chapter 13), anxiety, dubious consent, classicism, blood, immolation, pregnancy, dead parent, mentions of infertility and miscarriage (full list here)
In another instance of a first foray into a subgenre, I picked up this dark fantasy Cinderella retelling because it’s the “why choose” genre – one where the main character, usually female, has multiple lovers over the course of the story.
In this retelling, Summer lives under the equally oppressive and neglectful thumb of her stepmother in a world where fae and magic are very real, where transgressions can cost people their names, and curses can spell economic disparity. Her only hope for societal freedom is marriage, but when she’s set up with Sandsell who seems more monster than man, she will do whatever it takes to find her own path. Between the pacing and the intrigue, I had a lot of fun with this entry point into a new-to-me genre, though I highly recommend checking the content/trigger warnings before diving in.
This book is honestly so much fun. I liked the intrigue, the men are all sexy and supportive of Summer in their own ways (except for Sandsell, fuck that guy), and the worldbuilding is charming. I also enjoyed how the themes are reflected in the sexual dynamics and the “everything” that Summer seeks for her personal liberation. Her stepmother is among the most complex characters in the book, a woman who is awful in ways that unfortunately make a whole lot of sense once Johnson elegantly unfurls her whole deal throughout the narrative. It doesn’t excuse her terribleness, but it also makes the reader root that much harder for Summer’s success.
Despite the antagonism between Summer and her stepmother, there is so much solidarity between the women in this romance. Like, yes, the men work together for shared outcomes, but there seems to be a belief in a rising tide lifts all shifts, and it’s really cool to see, especially given some of the darkness that befalls the characters.
Why Choose is definitely a romance subgenre I want to explore more, and I’m really glad for the introduction to it featuring a protagonist who is strong and soft in equal measure.