When I first started reading romantic fantasy, it wasn’t even an official genre yet. There was no separate shelf at the bookstore or library, and no Amazon category for it (and no Amazon, for that matter), but I always knew how to find it. There would almost always be a heroine on the cover, oftentimes with a hero, or maybe a flower of some kind. And definitely some mention of both characters on the back cover. But the books were always just in the Fantasy section–because that’s what they are. Fantasy novels.
Teenage me would find these books in the Fantasy section that ticked both boxes–magic and kissing, as my friend Nicole likes to say–and devour them. I’d go to conventions and forums where the perpetual opinion du jour was that romance was ruining fantasy (and science fiction, for that matter) and any books with romance didn’t belong in Fantasy. Of course I’d laugh nervously and not mention my favorite books with magic and kissing. This opinion still seems to be prevalent, although now the battlegrounds have shifted more to POC in fantasy or LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. (I recently saw a one-star review on a fantasy book I read because a character was gay. Don’t bother checking your calendar–it really is 2019 somehow.) But these books are a part of the genre–a growing part. (And my TBR pile says thank you!)
Romantic Fantasy Defined: What It Is and What It Isn’t
Romantic fantasy is a genre of fantasy novels in which the romantic subplot plays a significant role. This means the main plot is fantasy–defeat the dark lord, find the ancient artifact, or rescue the imprisoned prince (it’s not always the princess, y’all)–and a significant subplot involves a romance.
This definition is important because it differentiates romantic fantasy from a sister genre, fantasy romance, which means romance novels in which fantasy plays a significant role (setting, etc.). This means the main plot of a fantasy romance is romance–heroine and hero overcome obstacles to be together. Usually they’re standalone books, each featuring one couple, such as Laura Thalassa’s Pestilence or Nicolette Andrews’ Kitsune, while other times the couple’s story unfolds through several books–as in Grace Draven’s Wraith Kings and C.L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul. But the promise of fantasy romance is that the story is reliably:
- A hero and heroine*
- Who should be together but aren’t
- Because of problems
- That are resolved
- Leading to an emotionally satisfying ending. (*Variations of course for M/M, F/F, and reverse harem!)
With romantic fantasy, however, that promise can vary…
The Promise of Romantic Fantasy: To Love, To Hope, To Tremble
If you love books with magic and kissing, then you’ve probably already read some romantic fantasy books, such as Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey or A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. The heroine doesn’t necessarily fall for the hero right away (he might be the second, third, or nth love interest!), and the big “R” Romance rules might not be followed (such as no cheating, the hero and heroine only ever sleeping with each other, and the biggest one of all, the Happily Ever After, aka HEA). You don’t really know if the man the heroine falls for will be part of her HEA, or whether she’ll have her HEA at all. And while sometimes you might want the confidence that all will end well–and you should reach for a fantasy romance, in that case!–other times you might want “to love, to hope, to tremble” (to paraphrase Rodin). You want the suffering of not knowing how things will end, but holding out hope in your heart that the heroine will save the day and get her man (or men, if you’re reading reverse harem fantasy).
And this is what romantic fantasy delivers.
Fantasy in general delivers a lot of enjoyment–fascinating magic, daring sword fights, tangled politics, and mythical creatures–but for me, it’s incomplete if I don’t feel my heart gripped in a vise. If I’m not worrying and hurting for the main characters to make it through and be happy, the book hasn’t clawed its way to the core of my heart. And that’s where you’ll find my favorite books, and most of them are romantic fantasy.
What Romantic Fantasy Means To Me: More Than a Genre… A Place
Amazon actually now has a Romantic Fantasy category (although it’s often cluttered with irrelevant titles). When I first saw that, there was a part of me (maybe the teen who used to dig through the fantasy section) that breathed a sigh of relief. Like a group of us fantasy readers who’d been secretly collecting these books with romance, when it was so often panned and made fun of, were now validated by the Book Powers That Be. Romantic fantasy is fantasy, and just because there’s “feelings” in a book does not strip it of its main genre. It has as much right to be there as sword and sorcery, dark fantasy, or Arthurian–and oftentimes overlaps. (As in Claire Luana and Jesikah Sundin’s Arthurian reverse-harem fantasy, The Fifth Knight, or Nicolette Andrews’ romantic epic fantasy, The Priestess and the Dragon.)
Fifteen years ago, I never could have told you Kushiel’s Dart was a romantic fantasy book. I probably would have said it was a fantasy series with a female protagonist and swoon-worthy Joscelin and lots of intrigue, pain, drama, and romance. *cries* Once a thing has a name, it’s easier for us to communicate it to one another. The more we recognize and use that name, the less differánce there is between the words we use and what we mean them to signify. Today, if we both know the term “romantic fantasy,” we can immediately understand what the book is (and then we immediately understand we’re probably going to gush about said book for several hours and end up the best of friends!!!).
As a reader, I no longer hide what I enjoy. I recommend magic-and-kissing books on social media, I display them proudly on the bookshelves, and my Goodreads has enough of them on my Want To Read list to last me lifetimes, I’m sure. And as an author, I’m happy to claim romantic fantasy (and fantasy romance, for that matter) as my genre, because if you like my books already, you’ll find a whole genre like them, and if you like the genre, you’ll know my books might be what you’re looking for.
We fans of romantic fantasy have always been around, but the book market is supplying us with more and more books we love (yay!), and we have a name for our awesome genre. I and the other authors involved with Romantic Fantasy Shelf also hope this and our Facebook group will be a place where you can engage about it, along with its sister genres of fantasy romance and reverse-harem fantasy, and find new books or share the love of those you’ve read.
What romantic fantasy book are you most looking forward to? What’s the last romantic fantasy book you’ve read? Share in the comments. 🙂
About the Author
Miranda Honfleur is a born-and-raised Chicagoan living in Indianapolis. She grew up on fantasy and science fiction novels, spending nearly as much time in Valdemar, Pern, Tortall, Narnia, and Middle Earth as in reality.
In another life, her J.D. and M.B.A. were meant to serve a career in law, but now she gets to live her dream job: writing speculative fiction starring fierce heroines and daring heroes who make difficult choices along their adventures and intrigues, all with a generous (over)dose of romance.
When she’s not snarking, writing, or reading her Kindle, she hangs out and watches Netflix with her English-teacher husband and plays board games with her friends.
Reach her at:
- Website: www.mirandahonfleur.com
- Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/mirandahonfleur
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/MirandaHonfleur
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/Mirandahonfleur
- Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/MirandaHonfleur
- BookBub: www.bookbub.com/authors/miranda-honfleur
A kingdom in turmoil or the love of her life. Which one will she save?
Elemental mage Rielle hasn’t heard from her best friend in far too long. Yet no one at the Tower of Magic seems to care about Olivia’s silence, or the curtain of secrecy surrounding the distant capital. Before Rielle can investigate, she’s assigned a strange new mission: escort a knight named Jon across the kingdom.
When whispers reveal mercenaries have killed the king, taken the capital, and that no one is coming to help, Rielle can’t leave Olivia in peril. But as infamous mages and deadly assassins hunt Jon, she can’t leave him unprotected either–especially as she finds herself falling for his strength, his passion, and his uncompromising goodness. Her past returns to haunt her, a werewolf stalks their steps, and an ancient evil is gathering, yet the restraints forbidding their love strain and snap one by one.
Saving Olivia and the kingdom means defying orders and sacrificing her every ambition, and could mean losing the man who’s become so much more to her than a mission. Which will she choose: her best friend and the kingdom, or the love of her life?
If you like the fantasy romance of A Court of Thorns and Roses, the dark intrigue of the Black Jewels series, the epic adventure of Game of Thrones, and a heroine who never gives up, you’ll love this heart-wrenching romantic epic fantasy series.
Read Blade & Rose and dive into a medieval world sensual and dark, full of magic and greed, love and blades, where factions vie for influence and there are no easy choices…
You can get Blade & Rose here.