I read: Awoken by Serra Elinsen

What the fhtagn did I just read?

It seemed like madness at first, but now it makes so much sense that the apex of the paranormal romance would be between a generic middle class white girl and a the iconic Eldritch Horror deity.

Vampires? Boring. Shapeshifters? Ridiculous. Squid headed elder gods masquerading as the new kid at high school? Spectacular. It’s the high school friendly YA romance that everyone who is interested in the paranormal romance writing should study.

You got your abusive love interest who exists more as a plot point than any sort of being with a personality, you got your over the top plot point rival and you have literally the fate of the universe at stake. It’s all there.

This is not just a book that shows us the totally relatable situation of being the special person who gains the romantic attention of an ancient being beyond mortal comprehension and explores how it might interfere with the day to day life of someone so boring they simply re-read Phantom of the Opera over and over again, it’s an important historical document.

Spoilers ahead

The book is a stealth comedy written via Lindsay Ellis and Nella’s 50 Shades of Green project, creating their own romantic novel in the Cthulhu mythos and to present all the usual offender tropes satirically.  Even the author, Serra Elinsen, is a satire on the author more fixated on their identity as wholesome family figure than being coherent or talking about their influences or understandings.

Among the first and most blatant is the presentation of Cthulhu himself, just as Twilight transforms vampires from horrifying blood sucking monsters to sparkling boy band heart throbs – Awoken transforms the great old one into a teenage Adonis named Riley (because Ry’leth) who talks in overly formal manner and has random knowledge and lack thereof in the modern world.

This feeds into the second, which is the justification of Riley’s behaviour and treatment of the protagonist (Andi).  When he is not telling her that she’s inherently inferior to him, he’s ordering her around and when he’s not doing either of that he’s buying her affections with rides in his muscle car, tickets to The Phantom of the Opera and pretending she’s an adult.

On top of this, Riley responds to any sort aggression by escalating start to destroying sanity and/or consuming the opposition – whether it’s comically stereotypical muggers, murderous cultists or a jerk who’s bullying the protagonist into getting into a pool at the pool party.  His immense power is used only for his own benefit, which sometimes works out in Andi’s favour.

But it’s all good, because throughout the story we see signs that Andi is cosmically destined to be Riley.  She dreams of him, she draws him in a fugue state in class, she can pronounce his name and finally she is shown to be mystically interchangeable with his actual heart.

Mix it in with Andi’s calm acceptance of whatever she’s told to believe, her male “best friend” who turns on her when he finds out he can’t take her to the Pumpkin Festival, the hilariously over the top rival, the female best friend who is far more interesting and likeable than Andi herself – all creates the perfect narrative that highlights all the failings of so much of the romance genre.

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