I’m slap-bang in the middle of a move from the UK to South Africa – in fact I may be on a plane this very second, faithful reader! – and as I tie up the many loose ends that have accumulated during my six years as an American ex-pat in London, I’ve been thinking a lot about endings.
I think the award for the original, super-dramatic, totally fulfilling happily-ever-after has to go to Charlotte Bronte’s classic, Jane Eyre. After their wedding is halted and dark family secrets revealed, Jane flees Rochester’s house and spends many pages developing a lukewarm romance with St. John. It looks like a marriage of ambivalence is on the cards for them both when one night Jane is awakened by Rochester’s ghostly voice calling her back! She jumps in a coach and reunites with Rochester, who’s been badly injured in a fire. That fire also conveniently killed his very inconvenient first wife, so, it’s all good! He confesses his love in the way only a belligerent, tortured Victorian hero can, and the reader gets the pay-off they deserve after all those chapters.
Fast-forward a couple hundred years to my next pick, which is Julie Miller’s Protecting Plain Jane. Now, I love romantic suspense, and I love category romance, but it’s a common problem that the tension in the development of the relationship is so much more intriguing than the inevitable happy ending that books end on a flat note. Protecting Plain Jane is a fantastic exception. The only thing standing between the traumatized, reclusive heroine and a ruthless serial killer is a big, sexy, shyly learning-disabled Kansas City SWAT cop. The author masterfully maintains the high-stakes pace right to the end, when the heroine is under attack and the hero is lying shot and potentially dead in a flooded road, and I practically ripped the pages I turned them so hard.
As if leaving my job, packing up my flat, and moving away from London wasn’t enough of an ending for me this summer, I also said goodbye to a book series of which I’ve been a loyal fan for nearly a decade – Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, the final installment of which – Dead Ever After – released in May.
The finale to the series was hotly anticipated, particularly as the heroine had a range of suitors with whom she could potentially find a happily-ever-after, and as such it met with just as much controversy as you’d expect when you have a fanbase clamoring for ten different endings. I won’t spoil it for anyone still working their way through the books, but I thought the ending was perfect in that it was true to the heroine’s evolution and – as Harris herself asserted – it was what she’d had in mind since word one. I massively respected her insistence on sticking to her authorial integrity, and it made the 300-odd page goodbye a little easier to swallow.
As romance writers and readers we can usually rely on a happy ending, but have you ever read one that was so epically well written, sweepingly romantic, or such a heart-stopping near miss that it took the book to a whole new level?