The Planet of Desire series by Robin Lovett explores what happens when human women crash onto a planet where the atmosphere is a literal aphrodisiac. But it’s also something more. As Lovett explained in an interview with Kirkus, “I love writing sci-fi because I can turn gender on its head. There are norms we consider concrete and the way things are supposed to be. But are they?”  

This week, Lovett releases the third book in the series, Stolen Desire. Lt. Gen. Jenie is half human and half alien. The sex planet, which in earlier books created a moral crisis for the human women, creates an existential one for Jenie. The aphrodisiac atmosphere awakens a mating instinct in her that should have stayed dormant for another decade. She knows the next lover she takes will be her mate for life, so she is determined to resist her powerful attraction to alien Koviye. Jenie is too strong-willed let her body chemistry control her fate; escaping is her only choice.

Romance has multiple variations of the “love at first sight” plot. In paranormal romance, the standard blueprint is the “fated mates” trope: a dashing alpha-male hero suddenly discovers his destined and ideal romantic partner, but she is different in some seemingly insurmountable way. (Enemy clan, anyone?) Lovett explains that the appeal of the trope is that it’s a “shortcut around commitment-phobia issues, because he’s all in from the very start.”

Lovett realized she’d never read a book where the woman experienced the sudden upheaval of recognizing her fated mate. The genre rarely tells these stories, and Lovett wanted to explore what might happen when those roles were reversed. “For a woman to experience that is a lot more vulnerable. Especially when we are dealing with our history, for the many generations when women were forced into marriage or obligated to marry a certain person, so to give it to a heroine is a completely different thing.”

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Having a heroine trapped between free will and fate was at the core of the story, but that’s not the only way Jenie is different from previous heroines in the series. In the first two books, after mating, the heroines morphed into the race of their alien lovers. Lovett said, “I tried to make it clear they were gaining immortality, but was it giving up their humanity to be with the love of their life? That’s hard to stomach.”

Stolen Desire A strong, self-aware heroine wasn’t enough to change the trajectory of Stolen Desire from that previous pattern; Lovett also needed to write a different kind of hero. Koviye’s sacred duties to his culture are “a fate he never really wanted.” Both characters have the common goal of outrunning destiny, which gives them a reason to work together. Lovett said, “I love characters when they are at their decision-making, defining moments. It’s a total risk.”

Reconciliation is another area where Lovett flouts gender and genre conventions. With this series, Lovett explains, “I wanted to write heroes who are the kind of men you really want to look up to” while the heroines have regrets and guilty secrets. She continued, “Why in romance do the women have to do all the forgiving? I was getting sick of writing that. I wanted the hero to be the one to forgive.” 

Lovett believes reading romance is a radical act of self-care. “When do we take care of ourselves versus doing what we know we should do? Any time someone picks up a romance, it’s letting judgements go, letting responsibilities go by the wayside. It’s part of the reason why reading romance is so healthy. It’s not just an escape. It’s good for us.”

Jennifer Prokop is the Kirkus romance correspondent and co-hosts the romance podcast Fated Mates