Forget Twilight's brooding vampire Edward Cullen -- the new romantic hero is sporting a halo. Vampire romances from Twilight to True Blood may have dominated the pop cultural landscape in recent years, but now it appears that angels are taking over.
Our obsession with moody, nocturnal blood-suckers looks like it might be about to bite the silver bullet -- and our fanged friends replaced by otherworldly creatures of a more cherubic variety.
Up till now, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer has had the bestseller charts all to her herself, but now it's no longer a place where angels fear to tread, with authors such as Lauren Kate and Becca Fitzpatrick writing books that tell the stories of young women in love with fallen angels.
"Angels have quite a few things in common with vampires -- beauty, immortality and, in the case of fallen angels, danger," says Donna Condon, commissioning editor at Piatkus, publisher of JR Ward's popular Fallen Angels series.
Like vampires, angels are definitely forbidden fruit. This can be both exciting and strangely comforting, especially for younger readers. In both vampire and angel romances aimed at young adults, there's no pressure on the characters to have sex.
"It's a bit like reading Jane Austen," says Annie Eaton, fiction publisher at Random House Children's Books, which publishes Lauren Kate. "You have all that yearning, but it can never really be consummated. It's very romantic, but it's safe."
And angels, caught in a timeless fight between good and evil, offer romance on an even more epic scale than vamps. That's what appeals to some readers -- and authors. "The idea began when I came across a line in Genesis that talked about a group of fallen angels who were kicked out of heaven because they lusted after mortal women," says Lauren Kate, who recently sold the film rights to Fallen to Disney. "I started thinking about what it would be like to be normal girl who is suddenly the object of an angel's affection. As someone who's been writing love stories my whole life, this angel angle seemed like the perfect way for me to up the ante and tell a really big love story, one that brought in questions about trust and betrayal, and preconceived notions good and evil."
They may be full of action and epic love, but one traditionally crucial element is absent from many of the angel novels -- God. These angels are usually connected to a vague force of goodness rather than a specific deity. For those whose interest in angels is spiritual rather than romantic, books about "real-life" angel encounters have become hugely successful.
The memoir Angels in My Hair by Irish mystic Lorna Byrne, who says she has been communicating directly with angels throughout her life, has sold nearly 60,000 copies since it was published in 2008. Other hits include Jacky Newcomb's Dear Angel Lady and My Whispering Angels by another Irishwoman, Francesa Brown.
"As we understand it, angel books are appealing to the same people who were reading so-called misery memoirs," says Michelle Pilley, MD and publisher of Hay House, which publishes angelic bestsellers by Jacky Newcomb and Doreen Virtue.
Tales of tragic childhoods were big sellers in recent years, but since the recession sales of the genre have dropped dramatically. According to supermarkets, where misery memoirs have always sold strongly, the same readers have turned to angels instead.
These angel books particularly appeal to people who do not feel a connection to traditional religion. "I think people find (angels) very approachable," says Pilley.
"They're very accessible. People study the different archangels and their different attributes, and they feel they can have a direct personal connection to these angels in a way they may not be able to do with a God. You have personal (guardian) angels, who are (devoted to) you as an individual, and people without strong religious faith may not feel God has such a personal interest."
So will we be seeing even more angels on the bookshelves? Donna Condon of Piatkus thinks so. "I think we are very much only at the beginning of this craze, and it seems like angels are definitely here to stay for a while. However, as for angels reaching the same heights as all things vampiric . . . I'm not 100pc convinced."
And if readers do get tired of angelic adventures, an even more unlikely paranormal romance hero is on the way. "We've got a zombie love novel coming out next year!" laughs Random House's Annie Eaton.