Sorry, human males, your time has passed. Bring in the monsters.
if you spend a lot of time on BookTok, you’ll probably have noticed how many romance readers are flocking to the varied and taboo-pushing world of monstrous romance novels. Monster romance has always had some sort of presence in the genre, albeit not necessarily in obvious ways. If you’ve ever read a Beauty and the Beast retelling, or a romance inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, you’re in familiar territory. The popularity of vampires and werewolves and other assorted sexy heroes in the paranormal genre has long proven audience interest in the monstrous. Yet it does feel notable how more prominent the unavoidably beastly and non-human lover has become in the genre in recent years.
Chuck Tingle may be somewhat parodic (it’s often hard to tell) with his “pounded in the butt by [insert person, creature, or concept here]” tales but plenty of writers have paved the way for earnest romantic explorations of figures with scales, fur, and unique downstairs areas. Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians brought aliens heroes to the forefront, quickly moving from self-publishing to Atria thanks to its fan enthusiasm. Katee Robert, one of the leading voices in modern erotica, has written books with dragons and krakens for love interests. Name a monster and there’s a solid chance one intrepid author has decided to explore the ins and outs of trying to date and bone such a creature. It’s one of the best things about romance! Now, however, there’s a new monster in town and he is rock hard.
Gargoyle romances are in the midst of a boom in popularity. The latest in Robert’s A Deal With a Demon series, to be released March 28, is The Gargoyle’s Captive. She joins a growing number of writers positioning this icon of gothic lore as the new hero of alpha stoicism that includes the likes of C.M. Nascosta, Gillian Graves, and Lillian Lark.
Author Lillian Lark published her first romance novel in 2020, but she didn’t consider writing about monsters until her fourth book. For her, the decision to delve into “aliens that struggle with a lot of the same things humans do but have very different biology” was “natural.” After starting with krakens in her Monstrous Matches saga, she moved onto gargoyles in Deceived by the Gargoyles. As she explained in an interview with Paste, “To me, a gargoyle gives a lot of protective and safety vibes. Scary on the outside, but is driven by caretaking. As with most monsters, it’s not how they compare to a traditional love interest, it’s that they don’t have the same rules. They can be as emotionally available/unavailable, feral/gentle, as you want for that character if you’ve built up their reasons.”
The gargoyle is a feature of gothic architecture, a figure most frequently found carved onto the side of buildings as a decorative way to let rainfall flow off the walls with minimal damage. Often devilish in design, their presence on Catholic buildings was often the subject of controversy. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the co-founders of the Knights Templar, declared gargoyles to be “unclean monkeys” and that “if we do not blush for such absurdities, we should at least regret what we have spent on them.” They’ve inspired centuries of architectural analysis, often seen as villainous or roguish figures. In romance, however, they’re more likely to be strong figures of loyalty and protection. Imagine if Batman got his sh*t together.
That lack of pre-established lore, a strong contrast to the likes of vampires or werewolves, is also enticing for many writers. Jillian Graves, the author of the Romancing His Stone series (get it?), cited this as a big influence on her own gargoyle tales. “Because they have a less established role in the romance world, I find a lot of authors taking their gargoyles in different directions. They can be demons, or shifters, or, in my case, magically animated from stone. Not only can they physically look quite different and have unique limbs or horns or wings, but every author can use them in different ways. My gargoyles each have unique horns and tails, and their tails are sexual organs that experience arousal and correspond design-wise with their genitalia.”
Gargoyles don’t have much of a cultural footprint in this manner, especially when compared to more conventional paranormal figures, but there are some notable re-imaginings. Disney’s cult cartoon series Gargoyles was cited by our authors as an influence, and for good reason. The ’90s favorite, about a clan of gargoyles who turn to stone during the day and awaken in the nights of modern-day New York City, has retained a fiercely devoted fanbase over the decades. At its heart is the protagonist Goliath, voiced by the ever-illustrious Keith David, and his forbidden romance with the human detective, Elisa Maza. It’s the closest the Disney Channel ever came to making a Gothic romance, so no wonder it remains popular. While the mythos of gargoyles remains a creative free-for-all for authors, the Disney series did play into many of the assumptions (and establish a few) audiences had about such creatures.
For Graves, writing romance with a gargoyle gave her a chance to “explore kink and power exchange” but it also felt like a natural extension of everything the genre offers for readers and authors alike. This is part of the joy of monster romance as a whole, she said, particularly how one can utilize the monstrous to explore the most primal qualities of humanity. “I think there is something really appealing to readers in getting to experience that level of intensity. Those emotions are all-consuming and likely not what readers would want to experience in real life, but there is safety and comfort in exploring it in a book. When I get stuck in the writing process, I routinely tell myself to push my monster’s emotions to 200%.”
Gargoyle heroes get to the heart of the potency and appeal of monster lovers. The creatures may be decidedly unreal, but the emotions aren’t. There can be something incredibly appealing, even cathartic, about a figure whose feelings are all-consuming and expressed in ways that polite society often deems to be gauche. Graves noted how “there is something very gothic and grand in the imagery of a gargoyle that makes me recall the heroes from the 80s and 90s historical romances I was reading in high school.” A gargoyle hero is often described in the same terms as Byronic heroes and the brooding rakes of the works of romance icons like Loretta Chase and Johanna Lindsay. So, why not make those dark, beastly men literally so?
Lark notes that there are no limits on gargoyle romance’s possibilities, or on monster lovers overall. That’s one of the best things about the genre, the ways it has no boundaries on exploring desire and the qualities that make us human. And whatever the gargoyle cannot do will be done by the next hot creature. That’s a guarantee.
Kayleigh Donaldson is a critic and pop culture writer for Pajiba.com. Her work can also be found on IGN, Slashfilm, Uproxx, Little White Lies, Vulture, Roger Ebert, and other publications. She lives in Dundee.