Dangerous loves endangered: nationalism, violence and territoralization in US paramilitary romance fiction

Professor Nattie Golubov (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico)
Session 6.2 Power and Patriarchy

I’m going to put the whole abstract this time, as it helps explain a lot of my shorthand bullet points later in the post. Most of the abstract is behind the cut.

Abstract: This paper will discuss the geopolitical imaginary and the social as they are produced, defended and questioned by romance novels written by contemporary US writers who focus on the relationship between ex-military men and women who belong to paramilitary organisations devoted to protection national territory from within and abroad, either legitimately or illegitimately. [Nattis is] thinking here, in particular, of novels written by Maya Banks, Cynthia Eden, Cindy Gerard, Lora Leigh or Tracy Hunter Abramson, among many others, who have authored best selling series based around the members of closely knit civilian groups or security organisations and agencies.

Although the geopolitical space imagined by this hybrid romance subgenre varies from one author to another and in accordance with the location and nature of the threat (foreign or domestic, individualised or from an organised group), [Nattie argues] that the risk-taking heterosexual couple enacts a distinctive US patriotism embodying the virtues, beliefs, work ethic and character traits of a desirable (usually white) citizenship that defines itself against the enemy at home and abroad.

Danger is both a plot device and a condition of possibility for the relationship to flourish and endure, suggestion that the prevailing structure of feeling is one of “low-level fear”, to quote Brian Massumi. Fear inevitably marks the representation of the social: the utopian impulse of the paramilitary romance is embedded in the dynamics of an ideal community, a self-regulated and self-sufficient social formation composed of independent individuals who choose to live together though they are not necessarily kin; though homosocial bonds prevail, the extended family is a metaphor for a nation that is manifestly identified as a homeland.

Those novels set abroad critically address the personal and collective costs of a normalised state of perpetual war while simultaneously supporting US interventionism. In both settings, home and abroad, the novels explore the tensions between lawfulness, civilian resistance as national defence and a patriotic coupledom that territorialises space in an effort to demarcate a safe zone in a social order experienced as increasingly threatened and precarious.

Presentation notes

Features in common for books in the paramilitary subgenre:

  • Covers with headless buff men,
  • Usually have military gear and weapons in image
  • Set in places of danger – Mexico, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Central America
  • These places are referred to dismissively as ‘bumfuck Mexico’ ‘hell hole’ etc
  • Those set abroad enact a scenario of never-ending war where paramilitary intervention is required to advance US interests.
  • US authors writing about former military men and women they love
  • This is a hybrid romance genre
  • Each novel in series features character in closely knit private security series

Maya Banks – No Place like Home

All these books have been published after the start of the Bush presidency (911 attacks / Afghanistan / Iraq campaigns)

Obama Presidency increased use of special ops, private military

  • Sacrificed their lives/ comrades for no good reason
  • Skills are still in demand
  • Angry, aggrieved white men
  • Don’t know how to direct their anger as civilians
  • Cyborgs in human bodies
  • Heroines get them to direct their rage outward

Have to distinguish between paramilitary and military forces:

  • Military are government forces
  • Paramilitary are ex military, disenchanted with government, fight for profit
  • Issues of accountability at forefront
  • Code of military duty
  • Moral agents, patriotic, remasculinising the military (paramilitary) by excluding women from the private companies
  • Heroes are always paramilitary men, all ex ‘special forces’ (Nattie suggested they are the modern equivalent of Dukes?)
  • Heroines are always preyed upon by brown-skinned crimelords with global reach (Argentinian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Italian etc)
  • NOTE: there are currently MORE paramilitary forces in the Middle East on behalf of the US than actual US military.


  • sell ‘security’ services
  • they ‘entrepreneurs’ (ie perform services for money)
  • rather than ‘soldiers’ who are just killers
  • trained by the state, the heroes use their knowledge of killing to protect people
  • they are white heroes who use military masculinity combined with rebellious masculinity of the cowboy hero.
  • “warriors” rather than “soldiers” – sacrifice is key here
  • homosocial relationship between corporate warriors is paramount: first duty is to the group.
  • there is a brotherhood in spirit if not in blood.
  • commitment is to the team rather than the state. [my comment: this could refer back to the issues of accountability at the front then? If they are deployed in a war zone but have priorities other than to the state that sent them.]


  • are the contrast to the hyper masculine models
  • not passive objects but require rescuing by heroes
  • once rescued, they can use their knowledge of weapons to pick up a gun and join in the fight with the other paramilitary operatives
  • killing brown men is ‘just a fight’ (step over the bodies and on to the next confrontation)

Nattie has no conclusion at this stage:

  • As she was preparing for the conference, private military groups in the US have just been appointed to cage children at the border.
  • Narrative has now changed.
  • Need to see how this plays out.

My comments:

This was a really fascinating presentation for me. I am a huge fan of crime and thriller fiction (in addition to romance), and have a degree in modern history and politics as well as literature. I also live in a country with extremely low gun ownership (I don’t think I know anyone who has one, other than perhaps a farmer in a remote area).

I stumbled upon the paramilitary romance hybrid subgenre by accident, in some thriller romance / romantic suspense anthologies I picked up. While the ones I read were well written [note, there were a few I just DNF, for Reasons], they also made me profoundly uncomfortable. The casual violence on the part of the heroine and hero, as well as ‘collateral damage’ in the form of the Othered foreigners is something I find repugnant. With very few exceptions, the characterisations and the construction of the thriller mystery has not been enough to overcome my distaste for the themes and subject matter of the books.

As far as I can tell this is a uniquely American form of subgenre. Are there non Americans writing this? What is the background of those who do write it? Are they children / spouses of military / serving themselves? Is it easier to write casually about the slaughter of dozens of people by the hero (and sometimes the heroine) than the emotional impact of just causing just one death in self-defence (eg kill or be killed)?

I’d be interested in finding out more about this, or hearing the views of those who read this subgenre – or who, like me, TRIED to read it and failed.

NOTE: I should disclose I can read the loner ex-spy kind of romantic suspense thriller ok. But they generally are operating in a covert way and don’t have a huge body count (at least the ones I’ve read). It’s the paramilitary romance books that I kind of had a “OH HELL NO” response to.

2 thoughts on “Dangerous loves endangered: nationalism, violence and territoralization in US paramilitary romance fiction

  1. Re the “the background of those who do write it” I was curious, so I took a look and one of the authors listed above has a biography which mentions something relevant (some authors gave little or no information about their careers before becoming authors and I don’t think any mentioned the careers of members of their families, which I suppose could also be relevant):

    Traci Hunter Abramson was born in Arizona, where she lived until moving to Venezuela for a study-abroad program. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for several years. (https://www.traciabramson.com/about/ )

  2. Interesting. The ones I have read before don’t seem to have any personal experience, although of course family members may have served. That is why I was curious.

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