Fantasy Focus: Romantic Fantasy Featuring Carissa Broadbent

Banner Credit: Dan Fitzgerald

This week my blog is focusing on romantic fantasy. I’ve had several wonderful authors kindly share their time with me, to talk about their writing and about romantic fantasy as a subgenre. Today, Carissa Broadbent, author of The War of Lost Hearts series, talks a little bit about the stigma surrounding romantic fantasy.

The strange, wonderful, ever-evolving world of romantic fantasy – or, stuff to think about before smack-talking romance books

Here’s the interesting dichotomy about fantasy: it pulls us into a world utterly foreign from our own, full of quite literally limitless possibility, and yet, the things that we connect most to in those stories are almost always the most mundane, human elements. The things that are larger than life marvel us, but it’s the things that reflect the qualities we see in ourselves that make us feel stuff. And hey, that’s what I’m in this business for: feelings. Lots and lots and lots of feelings.

My name is Carissa Broadbent and I’m an author. I’m best known for The War of Lost Hearts trilogy, which, at time of publishing, should have just concluded with the release of its third book, Mother of Death and Dawn! I am delighted to spend my days in the wonderful world of romantic fantasy – or, as I often put it, magic-and-kissing books.

But what does “romantic fantasy” mean, exactly?

What exactly qualifies? I’m going to start with the big caveat that no one has carved these definitions into some sacred tablets somewhere – undoubtedly, some people out there have very different definitions of what constitutes romantic fantasy than I do, and I’m in no position to tell them they’re wrong! But here’s how I define it:

Romantic fantasy books focus on a fantasy story and arc, and have a romantic element that is inextricable from that story – meaning, if you were to remove the love interest and romance, the story would no longer exist. That said, fantasy is still the primary genre, so the characters may go on epic multi-book arcs. A great example of romantic fantasy is Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Closely linked to romantic fantasy but ever-so-slightly different is fantasy romance – in which romance is the primary genre, and the romantic relationship is the story. These books follow romance novel conventions and requirements in a fantasy world, meaning that each individual book gives each couple a HEA (happily-ever-after). A great example of fantasy romance is JD Evans’ SPFBO7 finalist Reign & Ruin, which you should read if you haven’t because it’s fabulous.

Most casual readers use these terms interchangeably, and anecdotally I’ve noticed the lines blurring between them significantly as the subgenres enter the mainstream.

Being an author active in the world of romantic fantasy in this era has, to put it lightly, been an interesting ride. It’s such a unique subgenre that straddles two very different worlds, at least one of which has a history of being, frankly, a bit hostile to its existence.

I know! Those are some strong words. Let me explain what I mean.

For a long time, romantic fantasy didn’t quite exist as a defined genre. SFF – particularly adult SFF — was seen primarily as a man’s genre, while romance is predominantly read by women. In the aughts and 2010s, young adult fantasy exploded, and it was here that many women found the female-led SFF stories that they were unable to find in SFF shelves. Readership of YA SFF blew up, not only in teenagers, but with adult women who simply connected more with these stories.

There are, of course, a plethora of reasons why people read YA SFF during this time, and the breadth and variety of stories coming out of this genre go far beyond romantic fantasy. But, in general, a number of women turned to this subgenre during this time because it was simply where female-led or romantic fantasy existed.And that, my friends, created a vicious self-fulfilling cycle in traditional publishing, which went something like this:

  1. Lots of romantic fantasy titles were published as YA.

2. Lots of adult women started reading these books because it was, largely, the only place that romantic fantasy existed.

3. As many of these readers grew into their 20s and wanted, to put it bluntly, sex in their romance novels, there was a brief push by publishers to create the subgenre of “NA”, or “New Adult”, fantasy – but it never took off, largely because bookstores were not creating entirely new shelves for this subgenre, and this seemed to reinforce the belief that there was “no market” for adult romantic fantasy.

4. But, there very much was a market! Publishers simply kept relegating it to YA.  YA fantasy becomes the place where “girl fantasy” goes, while adult SFF shelves were left to more traditionally-male-oriented fantasy books. And because now, even adult readers of romantic fantasy had been trained to look in YA shelves for the sorts of stories they liked, it became even more difficult for adult-oriented romantic fantasy to break out.

5. More and more romantic fantasy titles are published in YA that are clearly aimed at a much older audience, often with spicier sexual content than one might expect in a YA novel. A Court of Thorns and Roses, which has since been rebranded and re-shelved in adult, is a great example. But the downside is that now, so much of the money in YA publishing was in fact going towards elevating and marketing stories really intended for adults, while actual teenagers in the 13-16 range were increasingly neglected as the audience for young adult books.

6. Meanwhile, indie publishing really starts to take off, and romantic fantasy finds its footing as a genre that thrives in an indie environment not bound by the challenges of traditional publishing shelving.

It’s only very recently – as in, within the last two years – that I’ve seen this cycle start to break, with books like Sarah J Maas’s ACOTAR and Jennifer L Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash series now (rightfully) shelved in adult SFF.

But why did we face this problem at all? Why did publishers feel the need to create “New Adult” as a new subgenre, instead of moving these series to regular old SFF shelves? I can’t see into anyone’s mind here, so I’m theorizing, but… well, sexism probably had something to do with it!

The perception was that adult SFF is where the boys hang out, with their big chonky dragon books and grimdark stabby things and throne games. And those books are just so different from this girly stuff over here, with, you know, kissing and whatnot.  No, those things aren’t for real grown ups.

Look, I don’t think anyone was sitting around twirling a mustache while scheming over these things! But I really do believe that many people felt that those two things were incompatible. And can anyone blame them? Historically, SFF circles have been a bit hostile to romance. Describing something as “like a romance novel” or “basically a Harlequin romance in disguise” was considered a blatant insult. I would frequently see SFF authors try to describe their romance plots as “not like other romance,” attempting to elevate their own work by diminishing the craft of romance novels. Many SFF readers and even authors made it very clear that they had little respect for the artistry or craft of romance books.

Of course, I will never ever fault anyone for personal taste – we all like different stuff, and life would be really boring if we didn’t! And so many of us – long ago, even myself included – have been trained by society to see traditional romance novels as “lesser than.” It’s such an ingrained perspective that I guarantee that most of the people who say things like the examples above don’t at all consider it sexist.

I’m thrilled to say that I have been seeing these attitudes shifting so much in a very short period of time. I was a bit nervous to enter my book Daughter of No Worlds into the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off, because I feared that I was putting my book in front of an audience that was simply not interested in what it had to offer, which is always a little scary as an author. 

But not only did Daughter of No Worlds perform quite well, gaining a semi-finalist title, this was also a banner year for romantic fantasy in general in the competition! I was delighted that Reign & Ruin took a well-deserved finalist slot, and I have also heard the Legacy of the Brightwash, another highly-lauded SPFBO finalist, has a strong romantic subplot (coming up on my TBR!).

Even just the fact that so many SFF blogs – like this one! – are doing features on romantic fantasy says a lot to me about shifting attitudes towards romantic fantasy in the broader SFF community.

There is so much beauty in romances. I love the genre – in fantasy, and in every other subgenre – because it’s all about people connecting. And if you’ve never read a romance or romantic fantasy book, maybe it’s time to give it a shot!

A well-done romance novel is a masterclass in character writing. And those lessons are core themes that carry over into every other type of book – whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, historical, literary fiction… pick your poison. 

After all, is there any more universal human experience than to fall in love?

About the author:

Carissa Broadbent has been concerning teachers and parents with mercilessly grim tales since she was roughly nine years old. Since then, her stories have gotten (slightly) less depressing and (hopefully a lot?) more readable. Today, she writes fantasy novels with a heaping dose of badass ladies and a big pinch of romance. She lives with her husband, one very well-behaved rabbit, one very poorly behaved rabbit, and one perpetually skeptical cat in Rhode Island.

To purchase books: Amazon



The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald: Storytellers on Tour

Today I am privileged to join Storytellers on Tour in talking about The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald. This book is available for purchase now.

So, what is The Living Waters about?

About The Living Waters:

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.

The Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy novel featuring an ethereal love story, meditation magic, and an ancient book with cryptic marginalia.

Author Dan Fitzgerald was kind enough to share some of the inspiration behind The Living Waters.

Water photography : inspiration for The Living Waters

“Photography was my pandemic hobby, and I discovered a hidden world just a few minutes walk from my doorstep on Capitol Hill, DC. Most of the photos you see here were taken by me within one mile of my house, so within two miles of the US Capitol building. The photos have been retouched using various filters and effects on Instagram, to better capture what my eye saw, which the camera sometimes fails to show.

Swirls in muddy water

The Living Waters features two painted faced nobles being led on a trip down a muddy river called the Agra. Mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, which sparks their guide to lead them to find the source. This picture hints at the muddy mystery of the river portion of their trip. It’s actually a photo of a mudpuddle in a construction site; little bubbles kept popping up from the bottom, causing these weird little swirls in the muddy water.

Wetland flowers

This little wetland is between Congressional Cemetery and the Anacostia River, known to be one of the most polluted waterways in the country. You have to wiggle your way through some dense underbrush to find it, and depending on when you go, it can be muddy or magical. I was amazed to find these gorgeous flowers blooming there this spring! I can easily imagine this being the entrance to the mythical wetlands in the book.

Tiny bubbles

This photo was taken in almost the exact same spot as the flower photo. I looked down into the shallow, mucky water at my feet and saw all these tiny bubbles on underwater moss, and took a bunch of pictures until I came up with one that just worked. There’s a moment in the book, where one of the characters is shown the world inside her mind, and this photo really captures that feeling of hidden microcosms.

Water on lotus leaf

This is from a trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden in DC, an amazing collection of water lilies and lotus plants set in a dozen or so small ponds just off the Anacostia River. I loved the way the light reflected off the water in this leaf, giving such an ethereal feel. There are watery beings called sitri in The Living Waters, and this photo reminds me of them.

Rainbow water

This photo was taken in a drainage ditch leading into a mucky wetland in Fort Dupont Park, a few miles from my house. The clay in the soil adds a nice orangey color to the photographs, and I used some enhancers to capture the color of leaves and sky reflected in the water to give a kind of rainbow effect. I love finding beauty in these little out of the way places. The ethereal wonder of this photograph captures the essence of the book for me.

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to show some photographs and talk about them! I hope they bring a few readers some joy.”

You can find reviews, guest posts, and more for The Living Waters at Storytellers on Tour.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). The Living Waters comes out October 15, 2021 and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrives January 15, 2022, both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.  


Website: https://www.danfitzwrites.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/