The formula for Mills and Boon – and their assorted rivals / offshoots, including Harlequin Books – is simple. Not for them the sexual complexities of the modern world, where a leering stare is seen as the equivalent of gang rape; instead, in these books, men are men and women are women, with not a touch of gender fluidity or same-sex attraction to muddy the waters; and seduction is still an art form, not the sign of a sociopath. Several of the raunchier titles are effectively rape fantasies for housewives – bodices are ripped, “no” all too often means “yes” and everyone is hunky, smouldering and a little bit dangerous. Others venture into the world of misery porn, with heroines who make Cinderella look like a spoiled brat.
No wonder then that Satan has popped up in these books. Or more accurately, he has popped up in the titles. Sadly for anyone hoping for occult-tinged romantic encounters between love-starved and innocent Storm (that’s a real character from Satan’s Island, by the way) and Lucifer will be disappointed, as these novels are entirely lacking in occult activity. In these books, ‘Satan’ is effectively any man who is a bit of a cad, the sort that the book’s heroine hates herself for desiring or the oppressive male villain that our heroine must escape to be with her manly true love.
And so we have characters with names like Rok being suitably gruff and unpleasant, heroines like Pippa (a common name in these books, it seems) being put-upon and forced into loveless marriages, lots of unrequited (for a while) yearning and a distinct lack of Satanic orgies or black magic rituals. Even Satan’s Contract – a title that positively cries out for occult content – is nothing more than a feeble tale involving a marriage of convenience.
Curiously, Mills and Boon did venture into full-blown horror with a short series of books in the late 1970s. But these romances are frankly writing cheques with their titles than the content can’t cash.