Apr 11 2013 3:00pm

Romantic Fantasy from Elliott, McCaffrey, Wells, and More!

Cold Magic by Kate ElliottI 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.

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara HamblyBarbara 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.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffreyAnne 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?

Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. She also reads a lot. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at

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1. Mo
As much as I have always loved the Pern novels (I've read them all.), the Crystal Singer series (Killashandra) is the trilogy that comes to mind first when I think of McCaffrey's more romantic fantasy/scifi works.

And the Trillium series (by Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May) feature some very strong female characters and are also quite romantic.
2. Mary @ The Book Swarm
I JUST discovered Kate Elliott -- and devoured the first two of her Spiritwalker series in as many days. LOVED!! And McCaffrey was my introduction to fantasy. *snuggles fantasy awesomeness*
3. Rose In RoseBear
A lesser-known but notable (imho) Anne McCaffrey work is Restoree, her first published novel. It's kinda kinky --- not Sharon Green kinky, but Restoree has its moments!
4. Kareni
My favorite Barbara Hambly novel is Ishmael, a Star Trek novel, written in 1985 which contains some romance elements. There's a Wikipedia page on the book, I see.
5. pamelia
Love Anne McCaffrey. I think Brekke and F'nor's story may be one of my favorite romances of all times. There was also a really well done romance with F'lessan in a later Dragonriders book (maybe "The Skies of Pern"?).
One of her talents was getting across a fair amount of emotion and romantic tension and feeling in just a few scenes. Another one of her stories I loved was a short story called "The Thorns of Catteni" (might be misspelled) which had a kind of meet cute alien abduction romance start up. I belive her novel "Freedom's Landing" continued the story, but for some reason I never got around to reading that. Must rectify!
I also loved Hambly's Antryg Windrose books.
Also, the Bujold Vorkosigan books kick off with two novels about Miles's parents which were awesome. I think I will have to re-read those (again)!
Robbie Thornton
6. Button
C.L. Wilson's "Tarien Soul" series tops my list in fantasy/romance. The first book, Lord of the Fading Lands just blew me away.

As an overall favorite author of fantasy/romance, I'm thinking Mercedes Lackey deserves a mention.
7. huntece
Probably one of my favourite epic fantasy series containing romance is Elizabeth Haydon's Symphony of Ages trilogy, it has a pretty epic romance :P that pretty much transcends time
Victoria Janssen
8. VictoriaJanssen
Thanks for all the additional suggestions!

@Button - I think Mercedes Lackey might need her own post, with a guide to her many different series!
9. Mo
@Rose in RoseBear: Oh yes! I read that one years ago. Definitely ranks right up there.

@Button: Mercedes Lackey - oh yes! The long-running Valdemar series is still an autobuy for me.
Rae Alley
10. rszalley
Kate Elliott also wrote the Crown of Stars series, which has one of the more interesting romances I've seen in fantasy - the bastard prince and the girl-child of unknown people falling in love and defying his father's preferred path, her destiny and generally challenging darn near everything.

I second the Mercedes Lackey needs her own post -- between Valdemar (and my first m/m romance with Vanyel and weeping buckets), add the Elemental Masters and the 500 Kingdoms and she's fairly epic on her own.
Carmen Pinzon
11. bungluna
I wanted to mention another series that seems appropriate to this topic: The Elfhome series by Wen Spencer. It's a little bit sci-fi, a little bit fantasy, with Elves and dimensions and a girl-genious heroine. Tinker, Wolf Who Rules and Elfhome have great adventure stories and all contain romances.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
12. emmel
All good suggestions (especially fond of recalling Morgaine!), but several good authors are missing:

Robin McKinley has a consistent romance element in almost all of her books. It's never in your face, but shown in a lovely and subtle way. The Riddle Master series is wonderful.

Sharon Shinn is one of the best for writing hybrid romance/fantasy. Her Twelve Houses series is outstanding, and the Archangel series a classic. I also really enjoyed Troubled Waters, while her new series about shapeshifters is very interesting.

Catherine Asaro is more known for her SF, but her Misted Cliffs series is a wonderful bunch of romance/fantasy novels.

Judith Tarr wrote some fantastic historical fantasy--imagine Byzantium with elves. The central romance in this trilogy, The Hound and The Falcon, is just marvelous, as the female protagonist is very strong.

Although often more SF, Connie Willis has some wonderful, wry romances in her books. The time travel novels to WWI, Blackout and All Clear, are excellent. (And Doomsday Book--I tear up just thinking about it.)

Michelle Sagara's early work (before the "Cast In..." series) 0f The Sundered Lands has a rather amazing central romance.

Sara Douglass has written a number of series, but her standalone, Threshold, has an unexpected romance at its core.

Can you tell I love these genre blend?? :-)
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