Red flags in reality become green flags in books


Kashaf Iftikhar

Kashaf Iftikhar shares her top six reads for those looking to read out of their comfort zone.

“If only a man would do that for me,” “if they wanted to, they would,” “my feminism has left the chat,” and “immediately yes” are just some of the comments I see on the book side of TikTok, commonly known as BookTok.

You may be thinking, “They’re complimenting a man who carries his girlfriend when her feet hurt after a concert,” or “Maybe she’s pregnant and he feeds her breakfast in bed.” Well, that’s not all he does; he’s also a mafia boss, a stalker, a thief, and much more.

These alpha males are common characters in dark romance books. They are often described as being muscular, dominant, and having a deep voice. I’ve found that dark romance novels, as the name suggests, take the meaning of alpha to another level, typically resulting in the female character submitting to the male character.

While we are all aware that stalking, human trafficking, stealing, and controlling behaviors are horrific things, reading books about them gives you more depth on how bad these things actually are. Due to the nature of dark romance novels, more intense topics can be discussed, which makes spreading awareness of such topics easier and more meaningful.

As readers, we know that many of the things in dark romance are flat out unacceptable, hence—red flags. Yet we continue to obsess over these men. BookTok has become a portal into a reality in which these attributes are the new fan favorites—green flags.

In honor of BookTok, I am presenting a list of books that revolve around a red flag from real life that becomes a green flag in books. You can decide for yourself if dark romance men and their behaviors are likable or just outrageous.

Mafia: “Promises and Pomegranates” by Sav R. Miller

Known as Doctor Death, Kallum Anderson, a mafia leader, pretends Elena is a payment her father used to pay off his debt. He lives in a secluded city, brings nightmares to life, and uses his beloved knife for a lot more than just killing men who spare his now wife, Elena, another glance.

Thief: “Six of Crows duology: ‘Six of Crows’ and ‘Crooked Kingdom’” by Leigh Burdugo

Kaz Brekker, gang leader of the Dregs, is respectfully known as “Dirtyhands” due to his unbelievable sleight of hand in the trade city of Ketterdam. His sidekick Crows, Inej, Matthias, Wylan, Jesper, and Nina, meticulously execute every impossible heist with the street smart mindset of Kaz.

Narc: “Nearly Gone duet: ‘Nearly Gone’ and ‘Nearly Found’” by Elle Cosimano

High school scholar, Nearly Boswell, lives off the stereotype built around her glasses and mother’s profession: smart, rule follower, innocent, and poor. Her strange ability to sense emotion from slight touch connects her to the motorcycle-driving, rule-breaking, tattooed, on parole, narc, Reece Whelan. Unexpectedly, they work together to solve the murder mysteries that keep Nearly up at night. But how long can a relationship with a rebel last?

Stalking: “Sinners duet: ‘There are No Saints’ and ‘There is No Devil’” by Sophie Lark

Up-and-coming artist Mara Eldritch is counting the days until she becomes homeless. On the opposite end is Cole Blackwell, who lives a lavish life as one of the most popular artists in San Francisco, despite his serial killer tendencies. One look at Mara and his obsession takes over; he follows her from work to home, hides out during her several jobs, and rents out the apartment room with a direct view of her bedroom. He went from leaving her to bleed out to obsessing over her in a matter of months.

Shaming/Insults: “Fall Away series: ‘Bully’ and ‘Until You’” by Penelope Douglas

Tate Brandt and Jared Trent used to be best friends until the summer before high school, when the sweet boy she once knew turns into a soulless bully and they become nemeses at best. Jared makes sure her love life stays nonexistent by spreading rumors regarding obscure diseases she’s diagnosed with and how weird she is, and publicly insulting her on a daily basis. When she returns from a study abroad program her senior year and sees the wreck of havoc Jared has caused in her absence, she finds that the secrets he’s kept from her are much deeper than their broken friendship.

Extreme Possessiveness/Controlling: “Cat and Mouse duology: ‘Haunting Adeline’ and ‘Hunting Adeline’” by H.D. Carlton

Adeline Reilly, an author who goes by Addie, loves the thrill of fear and haunted houses. When Zade Meadows, or Z, decides that Addie will be his and only his, the fear she once couldn’t live without may take her life. Z works to protect women and children from being trafficked or killed at the hands of heartless people. But Z also kills every man who as much as talks to her for no valid reason and tortures her for disobeying him. So will Addie submit to her obsessor for fear of her life? Or is she a masochist? Maybe she admires him too much to care?

So, does reading dark romance novels make us desensitized to men having a distressing background? Honestly, as long as readers recognize that such men should stay in books, it’s harmless to obsess over them. And reading these romance novels, as atrocious as they are, allows us to recognize red flags, create comfortable boundaries, and set standards.

Updated on: 4/6/23

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