The Fifty Shades-ing of publishing continues. Sometimes you wonder if books are just being compared to E.L. James' trilogy for marketing reasons, now that her series has sold 20 million copies in the U.S. and is a bona fide household name, even being sold in grocery store checkout aisles and bodegas. Other times, the new books being described as similar really do seem a lot like James', either content or otherwise, often with with e-book beginnings as well. In this case, the books getting the Shades nod also began the same way Fifty Shades did, as Twilight fan fiction, though they appear to differ content-wise, at least to some extent.
Gabriel's Inferno and Gabriel's Rapture, the novels in question, had been published as e-books by Omnific Publishing and sold quite well—well enough to have now been acquired in a "substantial seven-figure deal" announced Penguin. The publishing house will release trade paperbacks of the books under their Berkeley imprint in the next few months, writes Andy Lewis at The Hollywood Reporter.
Seven figures for Twilight fan fiction!?
It gets better, though. The author is keeping his or her identity a mystery (some suspect she is a woman; he/she is Canadian) and uses the Fifty-Shades-worthy pen name, Sylvain Reynard. When the fan fiction that started it all was published online under the title "The University of Edward Masen," the author used the name Sebastien Robichaud.
The books, which are more classic romance than BDSM, sound like they've got a little bit of Dan Brown, in them, too, as well as a touch of Dante. The summary:
Enigmatic and attractive, Professor Gabriel Emerson is a man tortured by his past. Though he takes great pride in his prestigious role as a Dante specialist, he knows he is a magnet for sin, especially lust.
When the virtuous Julia Mitchell joins his graduate seminar at the University of Toronto, she alters their lives irrevocably. Through their connection, Gabriel begins a journey that forces him to unravel the mysteries of their past entanglement, as well as face his many demons.
A sinful exploration of sex, love, and redemption, “Gabriel’s Inferno” is a beguiling intelligent romance filled with intrigue, seduction and forgiveness.
Told through witty, dark humor, the narrator relates a captivating tale of Gabriel’s odyssey through the Inferno
Easy to scoff, perhaps, or chalk it up to another Shades-knockoff, but while reviewers and readers tend to pretty largely pan the writing quality in James's books, Reynard's get the stamp of approval. Despite the corny cover, apparently there is decent writing inside! One Amazon reviewer writes, "What I liked: The author's diction and structure. I found myself occasionally needing to look up words, language translations, references, etc. For once, I didn't feel like my IQ dropped a few points by reading a romance novel." Another wrote, "This is a well written book about love, survivors, and grace. I could not put it down and romance is not my normal genre." The books are also regularly in the top 100 bestselling Amazon titles, according to Lewis, and Gabriel's Inferno has made it to number 35 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, while Fifty Shades is still 1, 2, 3, and, as the bundled trilogy, 9. Renard's two books are also climbing up the USA Today list, currently at 101 and 136. All this was enough to attract a 7-figure book deal, and the attention of this writer, who is intrigued enough to buy a copy.
Shades comparisons notwithstanding, how does Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight series that apparently beget both James' and Reynard's future works, feel about all this? No word on Gabriel's Inferno, but she spoke to a reporter with MTV back in May about Fifty Shades, saying, "I haven't read it. I mean, that's really not my genre, not my thing ... I've heard about it; I haven't really gotten into it that much. Good on her — she's doing well. That's great!"
Good on her, too. Her Twilight legacy continues, and romance is not dead, either.