I came to romance as an adult reader, and realized that what attracted me were things I had always sought out in my other genre reading, whether fantasy, science fiction, or mystery: interesting characters who had problems they could solve with the help of others. In romance, the main romantic couple are generally the interesting characters, and they help each other to solve the problem, whether it be a search for meaning in life, a need for safety, or escape from being rich and rakish. In fantasy, there may be a couple of main characters, or there may be a larger group with more complex interrelationships.
The books and authors described here should provide a starting place for romance readers who’ve wanted to try fantasy on for size; if we’re lucky, those who are fantasy readers already might find something new they’d like to read.
If you’re in search of epic fantasy, Kate Elliott, author of the Jaran books, has a new series that should appeal. Beginning with Cold Magic, she’s created a world in which Carthage never fell, with consequent huge differences for Europe and North and South America; and there’s a romance as well, though not until the second volume. C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire series, which begins with Black Sun Rising, includes a rather epic bromance between a priest (not the celibate kind) and an immortal who sacrificed his own family to gain power. Finally, prolific author C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine saga is fantasy-appearing science fiction with a powerful, enigmatic heroine and an humble, loyal warrior sworn to protect her unto death; their relationship intensifies with time. Cherryh’s lengthy Foreigner series, more obviously science fiction, is epic in length and includes an intriguing relationship between an alien female and a human ambassador.
Many romance readers already enjoy the work of Lois McMaster Bujold, either her long-running and devourable Vorkosigan science fiction series, or her more recent fantasy series, Chalion and The Sharing Knife. Bujold is notable for her large casts of likable, flawed characters who grow and change over the course of harrowing adventures. Good places to begin include Cordelia’s Honor, which combines Shards of Honor and Barrayar, or the compilation volume Young Miles.
Barbara Hambly primarily writes fantasy and mystery, and is another author with a host of appealing characters. She tends to write about outsiders who discover their own strength and make families for themselves; most of her novels also have romantic elements. Vampire fans might be intrigued by her James Asher series, which focuses on a Victorian vampire hunter, his wife, and the vampire with whom they have an ambiguous relationship. That series begins with Those Who Hunt the Night. One of her more romantic fantasy series is The Windrose Chronicles. I also wrote about the romance in her Benjamin January historical mystery series at Heroes and Heartbreakers' sister site, Criminal Element.
Martha Wells is one of my favorite authors, who seamlessly blends intriguing worldbuilding with relatable characters, whether human or alien. Fans of steampunk will enjoy her Wizard Hunters trilogy that takes place in a series of alternate worlds. Her recent Raksura series, beginning with The Cloud Roads, features Moon, a winged creature separated from his own people as a child. When he’s found again, he lands in a political tangle when he’s chosen as a queen’s consort. Wells’ Wheel of the Infinite is a favorite of mine for its older heroine. Her first novel, Element of Fire, also includes a romance.
Anne McCaffrey also wrote romance and women’s fiction, but became famous for her science fiction, in particular the Pern series, about humans who bond with alien flying creatures they call dragons. The gender relationships in her books will likely seem dated to most readers, but Pern remains popular for its complex characters, who navigate the many conflicts that arise when a quasi-medieval society begins to change. The first book in the series, Dragonflight, is a good place to start, and features Lessa, one of McCaffrey’s strongest female characters.
Ben Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy series beginning with Midnight Riot (UK edition Rivers of London) is still ongoing. Set in contemporary London, it features a wonderfully sarcastic first-person narrator in Peter Grant, a police constable who’s just discovered there is magic in the world. Peter has an ongoing relationship, both friendly and potentially romantic, with a co-worker who, however, has other priorities; I’m eager to see how their situation changes with the next book in the series.
What are your favorites?