This month I am doing a Fantasy Focus on Romantic Fantasy. This is a subgenre that I have had a great time learning more about. Today I am privileged to have L. Krauch, author of the The 13th Zodiac series, talk about her experience with romantic fantasy.
While I classify The 13th Zodiac as “Final” Fantasy in aesthetic, it also has elements of romantic fantasy. The core of the story revolves around the two main characters, Jase and Liya, finding one another.
It begins with happenstance (or is it?). Jase Raion is set on a mission by his father, the King of Chall, to track down someone he was certain was dead. Low and behold, he finds her. Well, she runs into him and drops his apple in the process. What follows it is a whirlwind of longing touches, a distant prince who had been burned in the past, and a plot to not only end her life but all life on Gaea. I would say that The 13th Zodiac is Star-crossed lovers with a dash of One True Pairing.
When I set out to write The 13th Zodiac I didn’t do so planning to write a love story. It was just one part of a much larger story. Twenty years ago it was a comic book that mostly consisted of cute anime boys that my friends thought were hot. (Jase being the hottest, of course). But twenty years and one pandemic later, I sat down and wrote my first novel.
The love story within wasn’t the first thing on my mind. Yes, I wanted to get them together, but I wanted it to feel real and not just because they were meant to be. The hardest part I found with writing it was trying to keep it real. That the love between them grew in a natural way, and I wasn’t just throwing them together for a “Hey I just met you, let’s totally do it” type feel.
Jase is distant and scorned by an ex-girlfriend and he tries to keep his feelings hidden from even himself. While Liya does fall for the first guy she met that wasn’t her adoptive brothers. There are, of course, roadblocks in the way of them being together. Jiroo (one of Liya’s adoptive brothers) sees her as his, even though she would never see him the same. This causes a rift and puts into motion a series of events where the reader is actually happy someone is kidnapped.
Our lives tell stories just like we tell in our books. I drew from real-life inspiration for my romance and the obstacles within. Which also included some of the more negative sides to it (infatuation).
Romance can also be anything, from love between two people, the love between siblings (or in my case love from a sibling that is misdirected), love of family, and love of self. (Or even love of something dear to you) There isn’t one right way to write it. And it doesn’t always end in happily ever after. You do what feels right, and natural to you. Someone will connect with it on a level you never expected.
I certainly didn’t expect to write romantic fantasy, but after all was said and done I discovered I had. I always planned to get my characters together. I am glad I wrote it the way I did and wouldn’t try to change it.
About the Author:
The 13th Zodiac is an Epic Fantasy, slow-burn romance with a hint of Anime. Originally, L. Krauch wrote it as a comic book in high school. Back then, it was merely pages drawn on computer paper to bring smiles to her audience of thirteen. The problem was, it had no plot. Now, twenty years, and three kids later, she sat down, gave that plotless comic a plot, and turned it into a sprawling multi-pov fantasy novel.
Her day job is sticking things to newborns, and by sticking things to newborns, she means hearing screens.
In her free time, she hangs out with her black cat, Luna, and keeps three small humans from killing each other. She and her husband have been happily married for twelve years and originally met in an MMO. To maintain her sanity, she now writes. And she may or may not have a thing for apples.
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:
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.
This month’s Fantasy Focus is on the romantic comedy subgenre. Today, I’m privileged to haveRebecca Crunden, author of many romantic fantasy books, talk about the joy of writing romantic fantasy. Thank you so much, Rebecca!
I was writing up a movie review the other night – In Time by Andrew Niccol, good film! – and spent a good amount of it discussing the joys of romantic sci-fi, and I think so much of what I love about romantic sci-fi is also what I love in romantic fantasy. I love the world-building, I love the different times/eras/settings/universes, I love the escapism and the imagination. In fact, I think of all the genres I’ve written in, romantic fantasy is probably my favourite. Although if we’re being really specific, dystopian romantic fantasy is my top tier favourite. Examining power structures, oppression, politics and greed with a side helping of magic and a dash of romance? Sign me up; I will read ALL THE BOOKS!
My most recent novel, These Violent Nights, is thus unsurprisingly a dystopian romantic fantasy. (Two of my earlier novels, Haze and A Game of Wings and Marks are paranormal romance and urban fantasy romance, respectively, so they fit into the broader umbrella of romantic fantasy but focus almost entirely on the characters more than the world-building. My short story, The Man and the Crow, is also a romantic fantasy.) For its part, These Violent Nights is a big chonk of a book at 600+ pages and spans two alternate futures, each one dystopian and forbidding in a different way. I wouldn’t say it’s quite cyberpunk paralleled against steampunk, but there are elements of cyberpunk incorporated into one world while the parallel universe has steampunk-lite elements.
The book is initially told from the point of view of Thorn, one of the last humans in a world overrun by magical creatures who have spent centuries hunting humans to near extinction. Her love interest, Kol, is one of those very magical beings. Their paths cross when their best friends fall in love and they’re forced to be around each other. And ooooh, there’s drama and angst and fighting! It’s very enemies-to-lovers. Then, in the second volume of the book, you meet another couple (Lucien and Nik) in a relationship that is in every way different and paralleled to Thorn and Kol’s. I loved exploring the nuances of the relationships and examining how two souls who have no reason to trust each other can ultimately work together and even fall in love. But like any good fairy tale, there’s a long, grim road to travel before the happy ending.
I suppose for me the greatest joy in writing fantasy romance novels is imagining other worlds and universes, and the souls within them. I spend far too much of my time daydreaming inside the universes I’ve imagined, or coming up with new ones. And in addition to being a hopeless, incurable daydreamer, I’m just a romantic at heart. I love love. My favourite film of all time is The Princess Bride (the book is fantastic, too) and it’s been a genre and a theme that I’ve always returned to whilst writing.
I think imagining worlds where, in the midst of fighting with, or alongside, dragons and spells, witches and elves, you also have characters who are enduring it all together, is just terribly romantic and fun. And while I adore the theme of love-conquers-all in every genre, I think the escapism of romantic fantasy really sells me on it being my forever fav. Sometimes the last thing you want is to spend time in the real world, but you still ache for that us-against-the-world theme. Romantic fantasy is the perfect place for that!
About the author:
Rebecca Crunden is an indie author of fantasy and science fiction who lives in Ireland.
Each month this year, I’ll have a week where I focus on a different subgenre of fantasy. Last month’s Fantasy Focus was comedic fantasy. This month I’m shining a spotlight on romantic fantasy, a subgenre that I don’t know much about. Thankfully, Dan Fitzgerald, author of the Weirdwater Confluence, is here to help!
Effing the Ineffable: Intimate Discourse in Romantic Fiction
Every so often, the discourse surrounding sex scenes in books gets my blood boiling. I’m not talking about folks who say they don’t like to read them, or that they skim them or skip them. That’s absolutely fine and wonderful. There are many excellent reasons why readers may prefer not to read explicit material, and no one needs to explain why it’s not their jam. People can like what they like.
I’m talking about something else: the idea that sex scenes are “empty titillation.” That they add no value to a book. That they “must advance the plot or characterization” or they should be cut. I would agree that sex scenes must show us something about the characters, but there’s this assumption that they generally don’t, which grates my cheese to the point that I’m writing this mini essay. In fantasy particularly, where readers often embrace all manner of horrific violence, why do scenes of intimate sharing cause such strong negative reactions? We seldom question the narrative value of graphic fight scenes or pulse-pounding chases, but sex scenes are somehow seen as extraneous?
Books tell stories and reveal character in a variety of ways, using different forms of discourse. We have narration, where we see descriptions of the world, often filtered through one or more character’s perceptions. What the writer decides to show and how they choose to show it communicates something important. Dialogue between characters shows us something entirely different, pure verbal communication, but often with little peeks at what’s behind their words, shown directly through revealing their thoughts, or indirectly through their gestures and actions as they speak. Gestures and actions can do a lot of narrative work even in the absence of dialogue; body language is just as expressive as spoken language. And body language in a public setting can be very different from what happens when two (or more) characters come together in an intimate setting, which is what has brought me to the keyboard today.
No one disputes that interior monologue or narrative voice play an important role in building character and story. The narrative value of dialogue speaks for itself, pun intended. And who doesn’t love the way the smallest gesture shows us a world of nuance that a thousand words of interior monologue could not capture? These forms of discourse are relatively easy to grasp, though they may be challenging to write effectively. But intimate physical discourse is seldom seen as such. We have this idea that what happens in the bedroom, or the couch, or on a pile of straw in an abandoned dragon’s lair, is somehow less of a means of communication than the others. Or perhaps we see it as communication but have been trained not to study it too closely, for fear of feeling voyeuristic or vulgar.
The way characters act and communicate in public can be very different from what they do in intimate spaces, or it can be quite similar. In either case, it shows us something important that hints at larger truths about them. Do they make the first move? Do they show confidence? Hesitation? Do they struggle with their inhibitions, or do they cut loose once free of prying eyes? Do they seek their own pleasure first, or that of their partners? Do they tease, dominate, submit, withhold, give in? Every moment of a good intimate scene reveals something about a character and their relation to others.
It is true that many of the things described above can be shown to some extent in non-intimate scenes, but there is something unique about what happens when two (or more) people exist in a space that is uniquely theirs. How fast and how fully can they strip away the expectations and roles society casts them into? Do they find freedom in this private universe to be someone they can’t be in the confines of the world at large? The way they move together, the way they express, with their bodies, the conflicting tensions and desires swirling inside them, all of it is discourse. It is communication beyond words of things that cannot be expressed verbally.
Sex scenes are a way of effing the ineffable.
It’s fine if you don’t like to read or write them. It’s fine if you hate them. Just don’t say they add no value to a story.
About the author:
Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), 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.
This month’s Fantasy Focus is on the romantic fantasy, a subgenre that seamlessly combines magic, wonder, and romance. Today I’m happy to have Emmaline Strange, author of Crown of Aster, talk about her journey into writing romantic fantasy.
My journey toward fantasy romance was a weird one. It began, like many weird journeys have of late, in the dark days of 2020. Without going into the whole thing, because we all know how that year went, let’s just say it was rough.
I was home, out of work, scared in that vague “is the world going to end or am I just going to get used to it” sort of way, and scared in the much more acute way that came from several family members being hospitalized, and me suddenly in charge of everyone’s finances. Trust, anyone with me in charge of their finances—also terrified.
With not a lot to fill my days except a crushing sense of dread, a friend in a similar position suggested we make a writing challenge for ourselves. Both of us had advanced degrees in creative writing, and had spent a while doing precisely bupkiss with them. So we came up with a list of prompts, and pushed each other to write at least one thousand words per day, and fill one of the prompts. When I first began to write Crown of Aster—then known as The Aster Queen’s Court—I’d envisioned a set of loosely interconnected erotic shorts, each with a dreamy, faerie-tale like quality, with different couplings (or throuplings or…group…lings) in each segment. However, the first short I began with a guileless young human man stumbling upon the drunken bacchanal that passed for the fae court, I became hopelessly, irretrievably, ensnared.
Just like my character Nathaniel when he set eyes his faun prince. These two characters came together and gripped me in a way that I truthfully had never felt. The words flew, and soon the focus shifted from the Aster Queen to her son, Adair, and his love for a sweet and innocent human he encountered in his forest. Exploring their love story let writing become again a place of joy for me, one of the only ones in a very dreary time.
As the story began to take shape, and Adair and Nathaniel’s love story at its heart, I began to wonder what this final piece would really look like. So, I tried to guide these two boys into something resembling a plot. I Saved the Cat! , I Romanced the Beat, and found myself stuck.
I had about seventy thousand words of love, of sex, and yes, of magic. Seventy thousand words of two people coming from vastly different worlds and finding each other—and now that they had each other they wouldn’t let go. Based on my knowledge of the romance genre (very limited, at that time), I knew I had to give them some kind of Dark Night of the Soul ™, but Adair and Nathaniel really and truly would not budge from each other’s side.
I tried dozens of ways to break them up, and every attempt, every argument, every scene, every misunderstanding fell horribly flat. None of it felt believable—not for them. A few times I tried to make them discuss the challenges facing their relationship and they ended up taking each other’s clothes off and doing other things instead.
I truly don’t know how that kept happening!
So, I went back to the proverbial drawing board. What else could go wrong? What could test their love, put their relationship under serious, gut-wrenching strain and allow their Happy Ever After to feel earned, in the end.
I also went back to my roots. Like many of us, I cut my teeth on fanfiction. A lot of queer love stories took shape in the fan fiction world with some truly gorgeous prose (don’t hate). I don’t want to speak for others of course, but in my own exploration, I’ve found a lot of fantastic stories told that way because those beloved characters weren’t allowed that HEA in canon (See TV tropes “bury your gays,” for examples). They were killed off, broken up, vilified, or the actors baited us with their natural chemistry and the creators fanned the flames without actually committing to getting them together, only to slam dunk one of the lovers right into super hell right after his big confession in the show’s final season (Yes, Supernatural, I’m looking at you).
So a lot of heartsick fans took to online communities to write and read the stories these characters never got, for one reason or another. The stories had a lot of the “Plot” action of the original canon, but opened windows we did not originally get a chance to peer into. That really resonated with me, and when I started branching out and reading more original romance by queer authors, I found that they didn’t always follow the genre rules. In fact, more often than not, they didn’t follow the rules at all.
That’s when things really began to click with me. There was a whole scary world in that fae forest full of tragedies that would test them, full of other characters with their own agendas, magic and danger and grief and loss. A whole entire fantasy plot sprung up around this simple tale of two lovers from different walks of life, and how they bridged that gap to save their shared world.
If my characters didn’t want to follow the rules, why should I force them to? I didn’t want to follow the rules either! I’d sought some advice from more experienced authors, who said I needed to pick romance, or pick fantasy. Crown of Aster had too much romance for fantasy fans, and too much fantasy for romance fans.
Honestly before becoming so stuck like that, I’d literally never heard of the genre Fantasy Romance (or romantic fantasy) before.
There’s a lot of reasons I could go into for why self-publishing made sense for me, but I think that’s one of the biggest ones.
Like Adair when he found a sweet, neurotic human wandering through his forest and thought “Huh. That’s a whole-ass husband!” I simply did not want to let go, to surrender, I didn’t want to go with the bland expectations of the genre (or, what I understood at the time to be expectations of the genre. I have learned a lot since then. And by that I mean, found some amazing authors telling some truly beautiful and unique love stories).
In the end, I was truly just as stubborn as the characters I had been cursing for months. I kept all the sex, all the mushy gushy stuff, and the sweet kisses on forest hilltops. But I kept the sorceress nursing a four-hundred-year grudge, the undead shade, and the grizzly injuries too. Trying to wrangle characters can sometimes feel like herding cats, and I think sometimes, it takes a stubborn cat to get that job done.
Stumbling into this strange little niche genre was how I found my way back to writing. It’s how I found my way into the indie author community, how I re discovered my love of reading—I devoured over one hundred books in 2021, compared with less than five in each recent year leading up to it.
Where I hadn’t created work in years, I suddenly found myself with more ideas than I knew what to do with.
So, Adair, Nathaniel and I got there in the end, finding our own way through fantasy, through romance, to an HEA that worked for all of us.
Emmaline Strange is the author of Crown of Aster, A Walrus & A Gentleman, and the upcoming Mighty Quill. She loves to write and read about smooching. She lives in Boston with her husband, dog, and cat, all of whom she loves to smooch. When not smooching, she can usually be found doting on her plants, baking, or watching far too much television. Ms. Strange is a lover of all things nerdy, from Dungeons & Dragons to Lord of the Rings, to the MCU. She enjoys iced coffee, long walks on the beach, complaining about her feet after long walks on the beach, and long sits on the couch to recover from long walks on the beach. For updates on upcoming projects, come say hello on Twitter (@EmmalineStrange) where she’s always talking about writin’, readin’, and… well, not so much ‘rithmetic.
Last month, I did a weeklong feature that focused on comedic fantasy. This month’s focus is on romantic fantasy. Today, I am lucky to have Fiona West, author of the Rocky Royal Romance books, share a guest post, talking about romance in fantasy.
Drawing Lines: Reflections on Romance, Fantasy, and Where they Meet
Fantasy is in my blood; I cut my teeth on My Father’s Dragon when I was just learning to read, and spent many nights listening to my mother read books like A Wrinkle in Time before bed. I read Dealing with Dragons so often, I wore out my copy. Looking back, that series was a nice primer on romance…sword-loving princess who bucks tradition and makes cherries jubilee meets disorganized, magic-wielding king: clearly, a match made in fantasy. My love for steamy romance came much later. It should be no surprise: romance has always been a type of contemporary fantasy to my mind. Sure, there are fewer ogres (though I’ve written a few ex’s who’d count), but there’s a similar respect for magic and a fairy-tale ending. The magic just can’t be contained in a gold ring or an ancient sword; it’s the chemical, physical kind in the held gaze of someone you really, really like. And you’ll never convince me that’s not magic in its own right.
But when it comes to categories, it can truly be confusing. Where’s the line between fantasy romance, romantic fantasy, and fantasy that just has a love story subplot? Here’s the quickest way to tell: If you can pull out the romance and not affect the plot? That’s romantic fantasy. It gives us the relationship as a side quest, so to speak. If, on the other hand, our whole emotional and plot arc is wrapped up in the happily ever after? That’s fantasy romance. If it doesn’t have an HEA, it’s not a romance. Plenty of love stories (cough Nicholas Sparks cough) do not qualify as romance, and those who have dared to suggest that they do have suffered the public flagellation they deserve. Likewise, romance tips into erotica when the sex is the plot. More on that in a moment.
And of these options, I admit to loving fantasy romance the most, only because I want to know that whatever these two go through, they’re ending up together. It gives the mind a safe place to unpack some of the most troubling topics, trauma of all shapes and kinds. For all the flack the romance genre gets, it is uniquely suited to hold the most difficult circumstances because we know that this ship is sailing safely into the harbor at the end, and that allows the reader to ride out any storm the author can throw at them with hope. And truly, hope is the gift that the best romances aim to give more than any other.
For example, in my first fantasy romance, Chasing Down Her Highness, the female main character has a chronic illness that prompted her to give up her right to the throne and choose instead to live on the streets of a foreign country. As you might suspect from the title, her fiance does not accept this sudden abdication without question. In my own chronic illness circles, I heard people talk about how illness had broken their relationships, and I wanted to show a world where two very different people–one well and one ill–could still find happiness together. Not everyone can appreciate this strange mishmash of reality and fantasy, but I find a specific joy in pulling back the mundane and allowing love and relationships to flourish in a world that has different limits. It makes me more aware of my own, more grateful for my own set of problems. Yet at the same time, it activates my creativity: What would love look like if I had magic gifts to bestow? If I were a princess? If dragons stood between me and my beloved?
And of course, the most controversial part of any fantasy that contains romance or a love story is the sex scenes. I heard Elena Johnson, the undisputed queen of sweet (no-sex) romance, say recently that the most important part of her books is often a large gift given at just the right time, in the moment of the heroine’s greatest need, because it shows that he knows her. And I would argue that this is also why sex scenes can add to a book in a unique way: when two characters give their bodies to each other, it pulls back the curtain on an inner life that we often don’t see any other way. Their scars, their insecurities, and their questions all to the surface where there’s (literally) nowhere to hide. Are there other kinds of gifts to give? Sure. But this gift, this sharing of souls, often means more, because it is a way of knowing unlike any other.
When we cross boundaries, intentionally or unintentionally, it changes us. It changes our relationships. Ultimately, that’s what fantasy romance offers us: a chance to see characters grow together into who they’re meant to be and stand in their fullest selves together…preferably over the severed head of their enemies.
This year, I want to talk about some of the many types of fantasy you can find. In January, the focus was on comedic fantasy, but it seems only appropriate that February is the domain of romantic fantasy.
This is a subgenre that I don’t know all that much about (okay, I know pretty much nothing about it), so I took to Twitter and asked for the names of great authors of romantic fantasy. The list below has some great suggestions if you’re looking for some romance in your fantasy.
Here are the links to the guest posts in case you’ve missed any:
Today I’m pleased to be able to join Storytellers on Tour in revealing the, frankly amazing, cover of The Isle of a Thousand Worlds by Dan Fitzgerald. Dan Fitzgerald has also written the MaerCycle and The Living Waters, all available for purchase now.
Before showing off this beautiful book, what’s it about?
“An aging alchemist seeks the key to the Universal Tincture said to unlock the Thousand Worlds of the mind, but she never expected to solve the riddle of her hermetic heart.
A meditation acolyte travels the mystical social media known as the Caravan and finds that the Thousand Worlds lie just below the surface, if she can only learn to see the space between the stars.
This steamy romantic fantasy explores the confluence of the physical and the metaphysical through the commingling of bodies and minds.“
So, are you ready for this? Here it is:
About the author:
Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), bothfrom 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.