Jaycee Jarvis: In Defense of Beta Heroes

I’m a huge fan of beta heroes both as a reader and a writer, so I wanted to explore how beta heroes play out in fantasy romance and romantic fantasy, and make a few reading recommendations along the way.

Beta heroes are generally defined as softer, emotionally intelligent people who are willing to take directions and listen to advice, both from their romantic partner and from other characters in the book. They are in direct contrast to the ever popular, take-charge, domineering alpha heroes. Because alphas are often larger than life, it is easy for beta heroes to get dismissed as weak or–worse yet–boring, when in fact being willing to do the emotional labor in a relationship and truly listen to their partners can be incredibly sexy.

Radiance by Grace Draven is a good example of an incredibly hot, slow-burn relationship that builds over time. Brishen and Ildiko are wed in a largely symbolic marriage to unite their two very different people—in a plot that seamlessly crosses Beauty and the Beast with a marriage of convenience. This set-up lends itself to a beta hero, as Brishen is willing to do his duty—however distasteful–and make the best of it rather than resenting the circumstances. They quickly learn to be honest with each other and frank about their cultural (and indeed species) differences. Brishen wins his bride over with his humor, kindness, and respect—all hallmarks of a great beta hero. As this excerpt shows, the agency of the heroine is often underscored in stories with beta heroes, which is one of the things I like about them most.

The laughter faded but their smiles remained. Brishen’s thinned a little. “What do you want to do, Ildiko?”

He had asked a question Ildiko thought she’d never hear in her lifetime. No one ever asked her what she wanted; they only told her what she was to do and say. For a moment she was struck dumb. He waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts.

Radiance by Grace Draven

Because beta heroes generally value compassion over status or control, there are some traits or stereotypes that are often paired with beta heroes. They are often written as scholars or geniuses rather than soldiers or commanders. This association with being quiet or nerdy is a natural fit, which is part of what makes Jadrek from Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey a quintessential beta hero.

As a scholar who relies on his knowledge and book learning to help Tarma and Kethry, Jadrek often underestimates himself and lacks confidence with women, showing the very sweetest side of a beta hero. Oathbreakers is a romantic fantasy with an epic fantasy storyline, so the love story between Kethry and Jadrek is an important subplot, not the main focus of the novel. Because of this, the relationship development happens more as part of the other action, yet the romance still gets me in the feels every time—especially when Kethry finally admits her growing attraction…

“It’s you I admire, Jadrek; the mind, the person. You’re something special—something those pretty bodies downstairs aren’t, and probably never will be.”

Very hesitantly, he leaned forward and kissed her. She returned the kiss as passionately as she dared, and suddenly he responded by embracing her and prolonging the kiss until she was breathless.

When they broke apart, his gray eyes were dark with confusion. “Kethry—”

“There are more comfortable places to be doing this,” she said, very softly. “Over there, for one.” She nodded at the curtained bed, half-hidden in the shadows.

He blushed. He blushed even harder when she led him there by the hand, and all but pushed him down onto it. “I—” he stammered, looking past her. “Kethry, I’m not—very experienced at this sort of—”

“You were doing just fine a moment ago,” she interrupted…

Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey

While sexual inexperience is often found in beta heroes, it is not a necessary trait. Harlan, from Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy, is more sexually experienced than Ursula, the heroine of this fantasy romance. Harlan also breaks the beta mold in other ways, as a skilled swordsman and the leader of his own band of mercenaries. He is confident and assured of himself, yet he has no trouble deferring to Ursula, letting her take the lead in many milestones in their relationship, and stepping back when she takes charge–an important mindset for a man who wants to partner with a powerful ruler. Because Ursula is so emotionally cut off and determined to stand alone, Harlan’s compassion and tenderness are exactly what she needs—even if she can’t admit it to herself at first. He is the perfect foil for her harrowing emotional journey. Harlan himself puts it best—

“There is no shame in feeling emotion. It doesn’t make you weak. Strength is in bearing our wounds, living through them, and carrying forward regardless—not in pretending they never existed.”

The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

Beta heroes can add emotional depth and texture to books already filled with wonder and magic. Do you have any favorites for me to add to my TBR pile? Let me know in the comments!

About the Author

Jaycee Jarvis has been an avid romance reader since devouring all the Sweet Dreams books her middle school library had to offer. Also a fantasy fan from an early age, she often wished those wondrous stories had just a bit more kissing. Now she writes stories with a romantic heart set against a magical backdrop, creating the kind of book she most likes to read.

When not lost in worlds of her own creation, she resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children and a menagerie of pets.

Learn more about her around the web:

She enjoys writing beta heroes as much as she loves reading about them. Her latest book, Deadly Courtship, features an empath who isn’t afraid to bare his heart.

In a world rife with elemental magic, can a bard with a knack for predicting the future help a warrior face her painful past?

Han-Triguard Magdalena turned her back on her heritage and her family in order to pursue life as a Hand, honor bound to serve as a Protector in the tropical market town of Trimble. She never regrets putting duty first until a string of brutal murders changes everything.

Her former lover, the attractive musician Jasper, stands accused. Madi knows the gentle empath could never kill anyone, but her word alone is not enough to protect him. Even worse, one of the other victims is a member of her old clan, for whom justice is entirely out of reach.

As Madi begins to question the demands of her work, Jasper asks her to give safe haven to his brother’s orphans. With the children, Jasper has the family he’s always wanted, a dream Madi has never shared. Living in close quarters, their attraction combusts while Madi is beset by unwanted tenderness for the children. When a new threat looms, Madi vows to protect their future, make peace with her past, and maybe find a love worth fighting for.

If only she can stop the killer in time…

Available on Amazon and through KindleUnlimited:

J.M. Butler: Review of A Thief and a Gentlewoman (RFS Book Club Winner – March 2019)

For the month of March, 2019, the readers of Romantic Fantasy Shelf voted for two books: A Thief and a Gentlewoman by Clare Sage and Okami by Nicolette Andrews. And today, we’re going to be discuss A Thief and a Gentlewoman.

This story is the first book in the Counterfeit Contessa series. Book two will be coming out in June of this year if everything goes according to schedule, but let me give you a little spoiler and tell you that even if I had to wait two or more years to get the sequel, I would be more than willing to wait. A Thief and a Gentlewoman is a story very much its own while working beautifully within the genre conventions and immersing the reader into an incredible world.

Quin, short for Quinta, is a special sort of thief. She’s trained in many respects and most definitely a bit of a rogue with a skill for cards, seduction, flirtation, locks, and escape. But her life begins to change as she encounters a Pasha who is more than he appears and who is not content with her feigned appearances of demure femininity. This Pasha, Atesh, is far more than meets the eye, and though she has set him as her next mark, both are falling for one another, even though that will create even more consequences. Not only that, but Atesh is the cousin of the Sultana, an individual with whom Quin has some family history.

A Thief and a Gentlewoman is the first book in the Counterfeit Countessa Series.

Type of Story

A Thief and a Gentlewoman is an immersive romantic fantasy epic. Clare weaves together a complex and beautiful world rich with details that draw heavily on Turkish influences as well as some English with a strong infusion of magic and fantasy (my favorite distinct element being the sabre cats which are large enough to ride).

Arianople is a fascinating city, similar to Istanbul but without the dominant Christian and Muslim influences.

This is a slow burn romance with intrigue and doom looming over the couple as they are perpetually drawn together. This story also features mysteries and political intrigue in a way that is well balanced. While I did find myself accurately guessing some of the twists and turns, they were laid out in such a way that my enjoyment was not diminished. This is the sort of story where the journey and the unfolding and development of the characters is far more important.

This story is set within a distinct world from our own. Arianople is perhaps best described as Instanbul without the prominent Christian or Muslim influences. A distinct religion/spiritual tradition which serves the Hundred and draws on altered tarot cards takes their places.  

The Romance Between the Characters

As I have begun to realize is one of my favorite elements of romantic fantasy, this features a slow burn romance. Here the characters run into one another early on in the story, and matters build from there along with respect and affection amid vital questions.

Indeed there is a spark and an intimacy between these two, even from their first encounter. And despite all of the concerns that develop between the two, I absolutely wanted them to get together and yet found myself content with the more gradual connection, especially as Quin’s thoughts and emotions transform. Her attitude and growth throughout is the most complex and the most fascinating.

And while this section is intended to be about the romance of the two leads, I have to speak about another point of romance within this story that charmed and surprised me: the romance of the cards. It’s not often that an author weaves together a scene regarding games of chance and cards that makes you feel like the cards are seducing you. Don’t get me wrong. The romance between Atesh and Quin is incredible as well, but I really wasn’t prepared for how seductive the cards were going to be.

The cards play a significant role through, providing culture, context, and clues for Quin’s quest as well as serving as a source of magical influence.

The Characters and Their Relationships Beyond the Romantic

The scope of the characters’ worlds go far beyond their relationships with one another. Both not only have friends but also family who exist in different circles with distinct motivations and desires. While both are well developed, I feel that Quin’s POV is the best utilized to expand both the world and ground her motivations and observations. She notices many things, drawing conclusions that reveal the world and yet are natural to her. In particular, I’d note that the specific body language references and notations are excellent, not only for developing the characters but creating clear images.

Robin Hood faced many challenges but none quite like Quin’s.

Additionally the plight of many within Quin’s life make her a sympathetic character. Like the famed Robin Hood, her thieving is not to enrich herself. But she has to navigate a far more complex web than the cunning archer ever did since she is trying to care for a diseased and dying family member and protect old friends from a dangerous life while also remaining presentable and intriguing to the nobility. Numerous interests and concerns pull on Quin, and almost everyone in her life represents someone who has a need which she can in some way fulfill.

Of all the non-romantic relationships within the story, I most enjoyed the ones between Quin and her family. It is especially refreshing to see it developed between female members of the family and addressing certain conclusions that flow from the events of the family’s history.

Fascinating Influences Within the Story

The very first line of the story is a delightful reference to Pride and Prejudice. Other literary references and influences apparent within the story are 1001 Arabian Nights and Robin Hood. Clare’s overall style and tone is coy and artful throughout. The story is quite luxurious and calm in its pacing, allowing you time to be fully immersed in the world and live with the characters rather than a rapid page turner that skims the surface.

Though A Thief and a Gentlewoman is distinctly its own, the playful nods and allusions to Pride and Prejudice are a delight.

The very first line of the story is a delightful reference to Pride and Prejudice. Other literary references and influences apparent within the story are 1001 Arabian Nights and Robin Hood. Clare’s overall style and tone is coy and artful throughout. The story is quite luxurious and calm in its pacing, allowing you time to be fully immersed in the world and live with the characters rather than a rapid page turner that skims the surface.

The depth of the characters and their interactions reminds me most of Jane Austen with the wit of Pride and Prejudice and the gradual intertangling of the two loves. I didn’t feel as much concern about the ultimate conclusion of Atesh and Quin as Darcy and Elizabeth, but I enjoyed it immensely and felt very much that they were suited for one another, even if they had not yet reached that same conclusion. In this case, it was very much about how will they come together and how will they be changed in this journey rather than relying only on the tension of will they, won’t they.

For those who love Robin Hood stories but want a more feminine focus with political intrigue or seekers of a more modern Austen voice in fantasy setting, I certainly recommend A Thief and a Gentlewoman. It will also appeal to those who want a non-European focused romantic fantasy or simply an excursion into an immersive fantasy world with a rich romance and complex characters and a relaxing pace.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Share in the comments!

About the Author

J.M. Butler is an adventurer, author, and attorney who never outgrew her love for telling stories or playing in imaginary worlds. She is the author of The Tue-Rah Chronicles, which includes Identity Revealed, Enemy Known, and Princess Reviled. Independent novellas set in the same world include Locked, Alone, and Cursed. She has also written a number of other stories including Mermaid Bride, Through the Paintings Dimly, and more. She writes primarily speculative fiction with a focus on multicultural high fantasy and suspenseful adventures with intriguing romances. And on top of that, she lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they enjoy creating fun memories, challenging each other, and playing with their three cats.

Reach her at:

Check out her romantic epic fantasy Tue-Rah Chronicles:

Though her brutal husband is imprisoned, Amelia must navigate the hostile political climate or else face banishment or execution. 

Despite saving the nation, Amelia remains incapable of satisfying the demands of the Libyshan leadership. Amelia fights to stand firm in her calling and her convictions while struggling to find a solution that leaves Libysha whole, restores the interdimensional portals, and removes Naatos and his shapeshifting brothers to a place where they can do no harm. The Machat warn that these shapeshifters can only be held for a brief period, but an enraged populace and spiteful elder commander desire vengeance and block Amelia at every turn. Her bond to Naatos and his family makes her a traitor unless she does precisely as they say.

Time counts down, and soon Naatos and his brothers will be free to wreak bloody vengeance on Libysha before resuming their plans of universal dominance. Amelia must embrace being a traitor in the eyes of her own people to save them while also untangle her feelings for the man who has claimed her as his wife.


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ROZ P. GARRETT: BOOK REVIEW OF KUSHIEL’S DART BY JACQUELINE CAREY

Undoubtedly, if you’ve been in any of the recommendation request posts in the RFS Facebook group, you’ve heard of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, and for good reason. In case you haven’t heard of it, let me give you a treat because this week I have the pleasure of reviewing it. I’ll try to keep my review from spoiling the entire story, but give you enough to whet your appetite about it.

Kushiel’s Dart came out in 2001, at a time when I was bright eyed and college bound for the first time. I grew up on fantasy books like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books and Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series, with a smattering of Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels as companions. I love these stories, but I eventually wandered away from the genre as a whole because the books were satisfying in their adventures but didn’t give me a real sense of fulfillment. Part of that had to do with the stations and genders of the protagonists, but the most glaring lack was that the emotional journey in the books was often boiled down to the bare necessities to augment the fantasy or adventure plot, and I wasn’t given enough interaction between the leads for the romantic aspects to seem realistic. I understood having the sexy bits behind closed doors or faded out, but it often felt like the sweet bits were being locked away as well.

The same copy that I bought back in 2001. <3

So I came to the purchase of Kushiel’s Dart on a whim, needing something to distract me from the frustrations of freshman year, and was rewarded with a love for a genre I hadn’t even realized existed. As RFS defines the terms fantasy romance and romantic fantasy, Kushiel’s Dart is in the  romantic fantasy category, meaning that there is a romantic subplot that plays a significant role in the novel. (For a more in-depth discussion of the two genres, check out the blog posts: “The Place of Romantic Fantasy,” and “Falling In Love With Fantasy Romance.”)

Kushiel’s Dart is the first book of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, and also the first of the trilogy about Phèdre no Delaunay.

The book begins with Phèdre telling the tale of her birth and departure from her parents. This serves to explain several of the important aspects of Jacqueline Carey’s fictional world, which is what I like to call a not-Europe, in that the landmasses on the map are familiar but the names of the countries are changed. You learn at once that the D’Angelines of Terre d’Ange are known for and value beauty, that there is an acknowledged and non-stigmatized system of sexual companionship known as being a Servant of Naamah, that the Night Court (or Court of Night Blooming Flowers) is an esteemed system of brothels, and that Phèdre is the child of a former Servant of Naamah who went on to marry a merchant’s son with questionable business acumen.

A Little Background on Terre D’Ange

With this book, it’s hard to balance a review between plot and worldbuilding, so allow me to interject some explanation here.

According to D’Angeline lore, the head of their pantheon of gods, Blessed Elua, was an angel conceived by Yeshua ben Yosef, the son of the One God, and Magdelene at the crucifixion. The story of Elua’s conception is told to a very young Phèdre, and makes reference to Magdelene’s tears and Yeshua’s blood, and that it was from this union that “the grieving earth engendered her most precious son,” which is a bit confusing. But the salient point is that Elua is the One God’s angelic, half-mortal grandson. Elua was scorned by the One God and Yeshua’s followers for his mortal conception and his open beliefs regarding love. (Blessed Elua’s slogan is Love as thou wilt, which is the basis of the D’Angeline faith.) As he wanders, the tale of his persecutions reaches heaven, and some of the hierarchy of the One God’s angels feel compassion for him and flout the will of the One God and come to earth to become Elua’s Companions. Even with a retinue of angels, Elua isn’t welcomed to stay anywhere, so he spends a long while as a nomad.

Terre d’Ange is the land where Elua and his Companions were finally welcomed. Not only do D’Angelines worship Blessed Elua and his Companions, they are also said to be their descendants. (Elua and most of his Companions practice what he preaches.) Among the Companions, Naamah, the elder sister, is said to have lain with strangers in the street for coin to keep Elua and the Companions fed. It is from her sacrifice that Naamah’s Service derives, and those who take up Naamah’s Service are called, appropriately, Servants of Naamah. They pledge themselves until they can make their mark – a full back tattoo that supposedly originates in the marks Naamah herself would have acquired from bedding people against unforgiving surfaces – in stages as they ply their trade. Patrons can leave gifts above the price they pay for the service, and from there come the funds to pay the tattooist to fill out the mark. Most Servants of Naamah within the City of Elua (the capital of Terre d’Ange) choose to operate within the Night Court, where there are contracts and safeguards and standards. The Night Court is made up of thirteen houses that all cater to a particular aesthetic both visually and in terms of sexual desire.

The Fate of a Child: “A Whore’s Unwanted Get”

As Phèdre tells it, her parents probably intended to apprentice her into the Night Court, and thus she could pay for her own upkeep and eventually they would be given a portion of her income, but the plan hits a fatal snag because both by D’Angeline and Night Court standards, Phèdre is flawed. She was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye, and that imperfection makes her unfit for service. Her parents, who she explains have more love for each other than sense, failed to make profit from a trading caravan and desperately need money enough to survive. Her father is the least capable of the trader’s sons, so though the trader has offered them a second chance, it comes with a price. They must back the goods with their own coin. As Phèdre’s father is too proud to share his wife’s talents to earn coin to make up the difference, and without Phèdre’s entry into the Night Court they are in dire straits. In desperation, her mother turns to the first house, Cereus House, for a way out. You get, in Jacqueline Carey’s beautiful prose, the scene thusly:

I remember standing in the courtyard upon marble flagstones, holding my mother’s hand as she stammered forth her plight. The advent of true love, the elopement, her own Dowayne’s decree, the failure of the caravan and my grandfather’s bargain. I remember how she spoke of my father still with love and admiration, sure that the next purse, the next sojourn, would make his fortune. I remember how she cited, voice bold and trembling, her years of service, the exhortation of Blessed Elua: Love as thou wilt. And I remember, at last, how the fountain of her voice ran dry, and the Dowayne moved one hand. Not lifted, not quite; a pair of fingers, perhaps, laden with rings.

“Bring the child here.”

So we approached the chair, my mother trembling and I oddly fearless, as children are wont to be at the least apt of times. The Dowayne lifted my chin with one ring-laden finger and took survey of my features.

Did a flicker of something, some uncertainty, cross her mien when her gaze fell on my left eye? Even now, I am not sure; and if it did, it passed swiftly. She withdrew her hand and returned her gaze to my mother, stern and abiding.

“Jehan spoke truly,” she said. “The child is unfit to serve the Thirteen Houses. Yet she is comely, and being raised to the Court, may fetch a considerable bond price. In recognition of your years of service, I will make you this offer.”


(Kushiel’s Dart, page 7-8)

Kushiel’s Dart is told in first person, with a limited omniscience. The Phèdre narrating the story is a much older version than the Phèdre in the action of the story, so logically, I know that she’ll overcome this, but the feels when the Dowayne of Cereus House goes on to name Phèdre “a whore’s unwanted get” aren’t lessened by knowing she carries on. Phèdre’s situation feels so real to me that I choke up every time I read that scene.

An Imperfection Turned Mark of Destiny: “I remember the moment when I discovered pain.”

The second chapter of the book, which is quite short, begins thusly. And this gives the first glimpse of Phèdre’s story with her attraction to pain. She scores her hand with a pin and is caught enjoying the pain of it by the Dowayne, who starts to send her off to Valerian House, where they specialize in that sort of fascination, but stops herself. The Dowayne is a shrewd one, and has an inkling that there is more to Phèdre than just her parentage. She sends for Anafiel Delaunay, who is not a member of the Night Court, but something of a noble and a scholar.

Kushiel’s Dart is not a fantasy book containing magic, exactly, but there are moments of divine guidance and intervention. Delaunay recognizes instantly that the scarlet mote in Phèdre’s eye is not a mark of imperfection, but the mark of the god Kushiel, who was a bestower of punishments, and whose followers have a special relationship with the experience of pain. The scarlet mote in her eye is the Kushiel’s dart of the title. Phèdre also feels Kushiel’s call to action on more than one occasion, and her tolerance for pain helps her to carry out Kushiel’s wishes. What’s more, Phèdre’s pleasure in pain is not common, but the trait of an anguissette. Delaunay, after giving a name to her gifts, buys her mark so that once she has reached the age of ten she will join his household as one of his apprentices.

From here the story grows into a masterfully crafted, War of the Roses style political intrigue. Delaunay is loyal to the main royal house of Terre d’Ange, the de la Courcels, and his two apprentices – Phèdre and a lad named Alcuin, who is, honestly, too pure for words – are his tools for securing the line of succession in favor of Ysandre de la Courcel (who happens to be the daughter of his former lover, the late Crown Prince). He seeks to accomplish this by using the pair of his apprentices, who pledge to become Servants of Naamah in an independent fashion, as honey pots.

Having started and put down a lot of books with political intrigue, Kushiel’s Dart might have died on my endless TBR pile at this point, because considerable time is spent on Phèdre and Alcuin’s apprenticeship in which they are learning to observe and think, which is great and makes a case for the dramatis personae section in the front of the book, but also contains a lot of details about the political movers and shakers of Terre d’Ange. That the book did not molder in the annals of my college shelves or become a very thick table leg replacement is where credit is due to Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous prose, lush worldbuilding, and Phèdre’s relatable narration. That’s what kept me going through all ninety-five chapters of the book. Alongside Phèdre I fell in love with Delaunay, wept at his misfortune, was frustrated with not being told the aim of his schemes, and despite my own tastes in intimacy, I found myself looking forward to Phèdre’s eventual assignations.

ABOUT THOSE ASSIGNATIONS

You get a hint early in the book that Phèdre’s not going to be a vanilla-sex sort of romance heroine. Being an anguissette means that it is in Phèdre’s nature to derive pleasure from pain, but during her apprenticeship we slog through what Phèdre calls the “dumb torment of virginity.” In chapter fourteen we are further educated about what sexploits we can look forward to as, alongside Phèdre, we journey to Valerian house and are introduced to “the tools of algolania,” or the implements of pain we can expect her clients to use on her. She’s somewhat familiar with most of them, at least in an academic fashion, but she is nonetheless excited by the show and tell. For someone on the outside of these desires, it was nice to be introduced to the ways of Phèdre’s art. The sex scenes themselves are handled as masterfully as the rest of the prose in the novel, without an excess of detail but with a true connection to Phèdre’s feelings in these moments. Her experiences and pleasure are vividly portrayed. So, while I couldn’t sympathize with her excitement over the specifics of her assignations, I was on the edge of my seat because she was going to experience what she’d been craving for chapters upon chapters. That I could understand, and Phèdre’s fulfillment makes the read that much better.

Piece by piece, assignation by assignation, we move through the story, and along the way we meet Melisande Shahrizai. If Delaunay is Sherlock, with an immense intellect, a keen eye for detail, and a mission for the greater good (as he sees it), then Melisande is his Moriarty in the sense that the two of them are equally clever and motivated towards their own goals. Melisande is beautiful, dangerous, and a noble of Kushiel’s line, which makes her a flame to Phèdre’s moth. Kushiel’s chosen and a scion of Kushiel’s line have an undeniable chemistry between them that could make them perfect for each other, but while Melisande appreciates Phèdre as a singular creature, they are not entirely on the same side. Melisande has as many schemes as Delaunay, and both are playing a very long game with the succession of Terre d’Ange as the prize. While Delaunay seeks to secure Ysandre de la Courcel, it takes the whole book to learn Melisande’s true aim, and she damn near razes the country in pursuit of it. I enjoy Melisande for her ruthless ambition and her intelligence. Like so many of the characters in the novel, she’s real, vibrant, and alluring enough that even I can understand Phèdre’s instant infatuation with her.

As with all good stories involving political intrigue, the tête-à-tête regarding the succession involves a rather stunning betrayal, and as our narrator and protagonist, Phèdre is caught in the middle of it, finding herself shipped off to the barbarians of Skaldia in chapter thirty-nine. She has the good fortune not to be sent alone, which brings me to one of my favorite things about this novel.

OH, JOSCELIN…

I’ve been saving possibly the best part of this story, because Joscelin Verreuil is probably every reader’s best fictional boyfriend, and he deserves to be done justice. If you’re wondering what I mean, I think a case could be made that Joscelin is to romantic fantasy what Mr. Darcy is to regency romance.

How? Well, let’s start with how he enters our story.

As much as they are Delaunay’s apprentices, Alcuin and Phèdre are also part of Delaunay’s household and, despite the brewing adoration in them for their master, they are like family to him. Delaunay is a veteran soldier (along with being a poet and a nobleman), but it isn’t his station to escort them to their every appointment, so he keeps an unofficial man-at-arms in his household for that purpose. We see a glimpse of the danger he has set his apprentices to courting when Alcuin comes riding pell-mell back from an assignation on horseback after his carriage was attacked and the man-at-arms, Guy, perishes facing off against the attackers to defend Alcuin’s escape.

Guy is an older, chaperone-type figure during Phèdre’s younger years in the household. He doesn’t spend much time talking in the book. Like everyone else in Delaunay’s household, he knows when to keep his mouth shut, and he’s got a few secrets in his past. The only real tidbit we’re given is one that Phèdre discovers during the torment of her virginity, that Guy is a disgraced Cassiline Brother.

Much like Naamah and Kushiel, Cassiel was one of Eula’s Companions, and he alone among them remained chaste, disdaining the open, loving ways of the others. The Cassiline Brotherhood are not descendents of Cassiel, but an order of bodyguards pledged from noble houses that are considered to be the ultimate protectors. Usually they are only in service to those born of the Great Houses (i.e., nobility). They dress in grey and carry two daggers and a sword, though mostly they fight with unmatched skill with the two daggers, as their swords are only drawn to kill. But it’s rare for them to draw their swords. Cassilines won’t even draw their daggers except in defense of their charges.

Delaunay secures a Cassiline to replace Guy in accompanying Phèdre on her missions, which she thinks a disaster in the making as she anticipates a prudishly chaste, old, wrinkled guardian that will be off-putting and unsuitable.

What she gets is Joscelin Verreuil.

The young man standing in the shadows behind me bowed in the traditional manner of the Cassiline Brotherhood, hands crossed before him at chest level. Warm sunlight gleamed on the steel of his vambraces and the chain-mail that gauntleted the backs of his hands. His twin daggers hung low on his belt and the cruciform hilt of his sword, always worn at the back, rose above his shoulders. He straightened and met my eyes.

“Phèdre no Delaunay,” he said formally, “I am Joscelin Verreuil of the Cassiline Brotherhood. It is my privilege to attend.”

He neither looked nor sounded as though he meant it; I saw the line of his jaw harden as he closed his mouth on the words.

It was a beautiful mouth.

Indeed, there was very little about Joscelin Verreuil that was not beautiful. He had the old-fashioned, noble features of a provincial lord and the somber, ash-grey garb of a Cassiline Brother adorned a tall, well-proportioned form, like the statues of the old Hellene athletes. His eyes were a clear blue, the color of a summer sky, and his hair, caught back in a club at the nape of his neck, was the color of a wheatfield at harvesttime.

At this moment, his blue eyes considered me with ill-concealed dislike.

Kushiel’s Dart, pg 254-255

Joscelin enters the story at a tumultuous time. Alcuin has made his mark, leaving Phèdre as the only active spy for Delaunay, and the waters she’s diving into are getting turbulent. A trained, chaste protector, Joscelin is affronted by her “service.” Phèdre equally resents Joscelin for his rigidity. But they are of a similar age, and he is assigned to be her protector at a time when she is becoming isolated from those she cares for by their shared mission. Their similar age and exclusion from Delaunay’s greatest secrets gives them common ground. He becomes a fixture in the household, and a steady companion to her, despite not having Phèdre’s training at political intrigue. There’s something of a role-reversal in their dynamic from the more standard male-warrior/female-damsel relationships in the fantasy I read prior to this book. Phèdre faces danger even without carrying a sword, and she lacks a sense of caution about her work. Joscelin, who is much more careful, is a good foil for her, and proves himself a stalwart companion when the chips are down.

What draws me to Joscelin is similar to what draws me to Phèdre. Despite his impressive skills with a sword, he’s not perfect. He messes up and needs help finding his way, and has some growing up to do when we meet him in the book, but he never stops trying and he never abandons Phèdre despite their differences and disagreements. And they have some serious disagreements along the way, but even to at the worst of them, he remains a constant in the turbulence she’s embroiled in.

“You don’t know.” He bowed his head, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes, despairing. “You don’t understand. It has naught to do with thrones and crowns. Cassiel betrayed God because God Himself had forgotten the duty of love and abandoned Elua ben Yeshua to the whims of Fate. To the point of damnation and beyond, he is the Perfect Companion. If you are true, if you are true… I cannot abandon you, Phèdre nó Delaunay!”

Kushiel’s Dart, page 388

The two of them are such a slow-burn, antagonists-to-lovers romance that I could write an entire epic saga in honor to it. They both support each other and grow to be capable individuals that fit together. There’s a lack of narrative focused on how they feel about each other, but with Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous prose and Phèdre’s insightful narration, you know how close they grow without needing purple prose descriptions or long-winded confessions to explain it. And Carey doesn’t rush into their pairing, or ignore or avoid their individual truths or situations. Their affection for each other doesn’t magically erase the impediments to it – Phèdre remains a Servant of Naamah and Kushiel’s Chosen; Joscelin remains a Cassiline with his oaths. Joscelin can’t supply for all Phèdre’s sexual desires, and she can’t give them up for him. Likewise, there’s the pesky issue of his vow of celibacy to consider.

In another story this might lead to a relationship doomed for failure or only lasting a single novel, but the main tenet of the d’Angeline faith is Blessed Elua’s decree to “Love as thou wilt,” and thankfully their relationship proves that love will find a way despite the struggles it must endure. Their growth as a couple and the progression of their love make Phèdre and Joscelin one of my favorite literary couples.

LOVE AS THOU WILT

I can’t write this book review without further exploring the open-mindedness of Elua’s teachings. The acceptance of sexuality, desire, and love in this world (I would say book, but remember, this series continues on for more than just this one) are another reason I love it so. There’s an absence of shaming of desires in the book. Even Joscelin, who doesn’t agree with or understand Phèdre’s assignations or desires, comes across more like he’s asking “Are you sure the answer to this calamity is sex?” than throwing stones about how she finds her pleasure when the matter comes up. (Remember, he starts off a chaste guardian that errs towards restraint rather than passion.)

That D’Angelines keep certain things private, but don’t stigmatize an individual’s desires, has been refreshing to me since I first read this book almost twenty years ago, and remains a message that’s relevant today. I like that sort of inclusion in my fantasy stories, and in Kushiel’s Dart, Phèdre not only understands her desires, she expresses them, and isn’t rebuked for it. Because the narrative voice always makes me feel one with Phèdre when reading the book, that transfers a powerful feeling of validation to me as the reader.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that I love Phèdre’s story, and I love the emotional roller coaster it takes me on. But as a responsible reviewer, I can’t conclude without an honest assessment of a few potential distractions from the book’s glory.

Some Possible Cons…

I mentioned before the flavor of most of the sex in the book, which won’t be to everyone’s taste despite being handled tastefully. The book is also long, nine-hundred-and-one pages long, which puts the paperback in the category of self-defense brick. The story is gorgeously written, but with so much of it, I find that every time I read the book new details come to my attention. Also, there’s the pesky problem of not being able to put it down, and my poor wrists trying to hold open this mass-market paperbrick.

None of the above is reason not to pick the book up, as there’s so much to the story to enjoy, but you have been warned.

Now, because this review has been lengthy (and hopefully without too many spoilers), I’ll give a bit of a summary.

TL;DR

Kushiel’s Dart is the story of Phèdre, who was marked at birth by the god Kushiel in Terre d’Ange. This romantic epic fantasy:

  • involves political intrigue;
  • includes sexytimes in which pain brings the protagonist pleasure and sexytimes in which sex brings the protagonist pleasure;
  • is told from the protagonist’s point of view in first person narration;
  • has a well-detailed and fleshed out fantasy setting;
  • has a bright and interesting cast of characters; and
  • has a swoon-worthy, slow-burn, antagonists-to-lovers romance within it.

(Also, you could defend yourself in a dark alley with the paperback version.)

Did I miss your favorite part? Have you been in love with it as long as I have, or is this your first introduction to it? Let’s chat in the comments about it!

You can get your copy here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roz has a degree in both theater and comic books from different ends of the country, and has been telling stories since she was chasing fireflies barefoot at dusk and tormenting her cousins by enforcing a storyline on summer games of tag. She enjoys video games that rival epic sagas in length, writing books with heroines that require her to spar through her fight scenes with friends, and a good cup of tea.

Reach her at:

Roz’s latest release is Partner to Trouble, which is the third installment in her fantasy romance series, Shieldsister. The series starts with An Evening’s Truce:

No amount of coin will convince Belisare to use her magic, but that never stops her lover Gio from trying to change her mind. 

With hard times thinning the ranks of her pack of mercenaries, Belisare doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to romance, and even less on making the coin to keep them all going. Rather than spend her nights cold and alone, she’s hung on to her erstwhile lover, Gio. Rather than disband, she’s taken one last, desperate contract before winter to try and make ends meet.

When convincing the lads of the plan goes poorly and Gio shows up in her tent, Belisare is more than happy for a few hours of distraction. But are Gio’s nighttime attentions meant to help her unwind or are they yet another attempt at convincing her to use the magical ability she keeps firmly suppressed?

Appropriate for fans of KUSHIEL’S DART and OGLAF, the SHIELDSISTER series is for mature readers only, and is certainly NSFW.

Content Warning: Steamy love scenes, occasionally naughty language, and busty ladies in armor wielding swords. Intended for mature audiences.

Ryan Muree: You were the CHOSEN ONE!

Since I’ve been a bit controversial with my previous blog posts, I volunteered to talk about one of my most favorite tropes in fantasy ever – THE CHOSEN ONE!

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

//swoons

It doesn’t matter which form it takes—chosen for this destiny, chosen for that fate, chosen to be with this guy/gal, chosen to destroy that world, chosen to save it. I don’t care if the character was chosen to eat a very specific pizza just to have the best damn meal of their life…

Chosen Ones hit me in the feels.

And I believe it’s because this trope hits on key threads all humans can understand.

Chosen Ones have a place and a purpose. There is no meandering through life and adventure when there is something to be done. The understanding is that there is a goal, a destination, and the Chosen One will reach it at some point or another.

Chosen Ones are typically being guided, or they feel like they are. In relation to that “no meandering” part, this implies a higher self, a god, or a guardian of some sort protecting them, looking out for them, walking them on a specific path meant solely for them. And it’s usually used in an endearing way like a parent-child relationship.

Chosen Ones usually only have to have faith in themselves. And when they do, the pieces they were missing magically fall into place, and they are victorious.

Chosen Ones are born special. Whether or not they know they are, being a “chosen one” means they were an outlier at some point, and it usually goes back to just being born that way. (Most recent example would be The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. No spoilers. This is literally given away in the trailer.)

Neo in The Matrix Trilogy

Reading about Chosen Ones is a guilty pleasure for most of us. Sometimes, it hits us in our most vulnerable spots. Some of us don’t want to hear that we’re regular, average, carbon-based organisms no more important than the amoeba in that rain puddle in the street.

Some of us are bothered by the idea of nothing guiding our hand or looking out for us. We recognize our own fragility, our own weaknesses, and we rightfully mistrust ourselves in a lot of our decision making.

It takes us decades to trust our own intuition, thoughts, and beliefs. For some of us, it takes us our entire lives if at all. And a lot of us want to believe that we can do great things for humankind as a whole. That even if we’re alone in the great wide universe, that we are made of star-stuff, and that’s pretty special.

 “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” 
― Carl Sagan

The market, especially books and YA, has been inundated with a million Chosen One stories. My guess would be that we have Harry Potter and the resurgence of superheroes to thank for it. And the idea of Chosen Ones has been spat on a lot for being too fictional or too lazy.

And there’s something to be said about how easy it can be to be born special with a preordained destiny. I mean, that’s partially why we read it, so that criticism is probably fair.

I have yet to write a Chosen One despite loving the trope. I find it just as important to show that characters with grit, determination, and motivation can achieve great things. That despite a million and one pitfalls, they get right back up, not because their destiny says so, but because they must. I like showing that if there is nothing guiding us, we can still do the right thing. We can trust ourselves to be our best, to overcome, to persist.

…Characters with grit, determination, and motivation can achieve great things. That despite a million and one pitfalls, they get right back up, not because their destiny says so, but because they must.

But I think the answer has to be balance and acceptance, right? We need both, and I give you permission, as a totally regular person, to love both.

If someone needs to read about someone facing fears and struggles without knowing the outcome, then so be it. If someone needs to believe they’re special to do what’s right, does it matter? If someone loves destiny and fate and guiding forces, does it hurt anything if they’re believing it while helping humankind? I think that loving Chosen Ones means they enjoy living vicariously through characters who don’t have to jump through the same hoops they do to figure out life.

And isn’t that what all stories are supposed to do? Help us figure out life?

Let me know in the comments if you love Chosen One stories, and why or why not!

About the Author

Ryan grew up a military brat, managed to teach middle school in Texas for a spell, and finally settled in the southeastern US with her husband, their daughter, and two black cats. She loves writing determined heroines who answer the call for wild adventures across rich lands with grit and smarts. When she’s not inventing worlds for her characters, she games, draws, paints, and uses too many exclamation points.

Reach her at:

If you dig fantasy and enjoy YA adventures, Ryan wrote a non-Chosen One epic fantasy with a strong leading lady called The Last Elixir.

Shenna is forced to watch her loved ones disintegrate before her very eyes. 

As an apprentice potioner, seventeen-year-old Shenna has been training to cure the Necrophaise disease for most of her life. The answer is an immortality elixir, and the key ingredient is rumored to exist outside the walls of Eien in the war-torn and deadly land of Revellis. 

When her fellow potioner returns from Revellis empty handed and near death, Shenna volunteers to be the next potioner to search for the ingredient. Her mentor warns her it’s a suicide mission, and the search proves her right. Desert beasts hunt Shenna for the water in her body. Armies kill and destroy everything in their path. And a Revellian conqueror is hungry to inhale Shenna’s essence. 

But Shenna is not without allies. She meets new friends, and a questionable, yet handsome, thief promises to steal her heart… eventually. As the Revellian war closes in around them, Shenna must rely on her potions and her friends if she hopes to survive and keep Eien from vanishing into light and dust.

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited! (Bundled box set of the series is available too!)

What to Read if You Love Beauty and the Beast

If you’re anything like me, you love a good retelling. One of my all-time favorite Disney movies is Beauty and the Beast, and finding an exceptional retelling of the classic or a book heavily inspired by it is a rare treat. Here’s a list of Beauty and the Beast inspired books as suggested by our readers in our Romantic Fantasy Shelf Facebook group and some of our top picks, in no particular order.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Not strictly a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but it still hits all the right notes: a girl locked in a castle, and a beast with a curse to break.


“I could not stop reading until I finished the last book and I still beg for more, as any good series would leave you wanting.”

Amazon Reviewer

Beauty by Robin McKinley

A masterfully written and sweet retelling perfect for lovers of YA fantasy.

“This is a beautiful retelling of a classic story with great imagery, a strong heroine and fantastic language in the telling.”

Amazon Reviewer

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

An old West twist on the classic tale by one of romantic fantasy’s master storytellers.


“An intriguing retelling of a tale as old as time – Beauty and the Beast gets new life in this version.”

Amazon Reviewer

Entreat Me by Grace Draven

A beautifully rendered, brutal, and sexy tale perfect for adult fans.


“An expertly done fairytale, so that the tale sucks you in and has you turning the pages well past bed time.

Amazon Reviewer

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Weaving in Greek mythology and other folklore, this is an exciting retelling with a compelling arranged marriage element.

Cruel Beauty had me hooked from the first sentence and as soon as I finished reading, I was depressed that it was over. If you’re a lover of retellings, dark romance, and a courageous heroine, then this is one book you do not want to miss.

Amazon Reviewer

Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast

Dark, sexy, and steeped in mythology, this is one readers rave about.

“ For [anyone] who is a fan of classic fairy tales with a twist, I would say stop waiting and read this book!”

Amazon Reviewer

No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur

RFS Book Club Winner February 2019

Beauty and the Beast inspired with a unique twist with dark elves, clever world building, and a slow-burn romance that will leave you aching for more.

For those who enjoy Beauty and the Beast retellings or high-fantasy romance stories, I definitely recommend No Man Can Tame. It has all the appeal of both the genres beautifully woven together in a satisfying and charming package

J.M. Butler

Check out J.M. Butler’s full review right here.


Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm

RFS Book Club Winner February 2019

It hits all the beats of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, with a fresh setting woven with Celtic mythology.

For those who enjoy Beauty and the Beast retellings with a darker and grimmer edge or Irish mythical retellings, this book is likely a good match.

J.M. Butler

Check out J.M. Butler’s full review here.


Stolen Enchantress by Amber Argyle

A mash-up of Beauty and the Beast with the Pied Piper makes for a unique twist.


“Argyle paints a breathtaking, Avatar[-esque] world in this incredibly well written story. “

Amazon Reviewer

The Fury Queen’s Harem by Meg Xuemei X

The tables are turned in this reverse harem: the girl is the beast and there are three men to break her curse.

“I was completely captivated. Meg Xuemei X has done an incredible job at writing a one of a kind story that is sure to pull the reader in within the first few pages…”

Amazon Reviewer

Enchant by Demelza Carlton

An adult retelling, filled with great characters, twists and turns that readers adored.

Enchant is the perfect name for this book. It completely captivated and enchanted me from the beginning to end.”

Amazon Reviewer

Dragon and the Beast by Amberlyn Holland

Dragons, intrigue, magic and romance. This book has it all!

“I could not put it down.”

Amazon Reviewer

Beauty and the Goblin King by Lidiya Foxglove


A sexy retelling you don’t want to miss!

“It’s steamy, sexy, and makes you want your own goblin king.”

Amazon Reviewer

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Lyrical prose, amazing characterization, and Gaelic mythology: what more could you want?

“I pretty much loved everything in this novel and think I was sucked in from the very start.”

Amazon Reviewer

Shadow & Thorn by Kenley Davidson

A thief, an exiled prince, and a whole lot of intrigue, magic, and romance.

“Written with such insight and intelligence there were just too many gems to count.”

Amazon Reviewer

Fausta Borja’s Beauty and the Beast

A steamy gothic romance retelling, with strong French influences.

“If you [want] a raunchy fairytale, this is for you.”

Amazon Reviewer

J.M. Butler: Review of Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm (RFS Book Club Winner – February 2019)

For the month of February 2019, the readers of Romantic Fantasy Shelf voted for two books to read: No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur and Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm. We’ve already reviewed No Man Can Tame, and as we are wrapping up our Night of the Beasts month, today we talk about Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm.

This story is the first book in The Otherland Series, and it is also a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. And aptly so as that was our theme for the month.

Type of Story

Heart of the Fae is a high fantasy romance that takes its time getting to the romance. Emma tackles a lot of unpleasant and difficult subjects and themes within this book, making it live up to its description as a Beauty and the Beast with more adult themes.

It too is a retelling that maintains key elements of the original fairy tale while offering its own twists and spins. Here the beast is a cursed fae prince who has been disfigured and cursed in such a way that whenever he is wounded, geodes and crystals appear where the wound was. The beauty is Sorcha, a midwife trying to save her father who runs the family brothel. She goes on a great and confusing quest in an effort to save him.

Sorcha and Eamonn’s story continues in Veins of Magic

Though comparatively, the story starts out slow, picking up substantially after the first third when our primary protagonist Sorcha reaches the island. Emma favors a more descriptive telling approach to the story throughout.

It is important to note that this is not a standalone story nor does the first book in the series end in a satisfying place. The cliffhanger makes sense for the point where it ends, and for readers invested in Sorcha’s journey, picking up the sequel will be an easy decision.

Best Parts of the Story

Without a doubt, the best scenes within the story are between Sorcha and some of the fae inhabitants such as the boggart/brownie and the pixie, Oona. It is particularly within the hag’s hovel that the story shines. It seems as if Emma has a particular affection here because there’s a special tenderness within these scenes that makes them charming and memorable.

Additionally her descriptions can be grippingly memorable and vivid. Descriptions of the castle and the grounds, for instance, were quite charming. The incorporation of the other senses makes the scenes even more compelling.

And, while I never thought I’d be saying this, I have to point to the prologue as well. It marries an old folkloric and mythic voice to a semi-modern rhythm with beautiful descriptions. The rhythm and poetry of the final lines sold me on the story. I may just have to pop back over and read it again.

Worldbuilding Overall

The best part within this story is the infusion of mythology and folklore within the world. While it is not entirely clear whether this is an actual Ireland or a uchronic Ireland, it is a fun world to imagine. I lean toward it being another place entirely, particularly given the blood beetles, which sound truly terrifying. I especially liked the appearance of Macha throughout the story and her representation. Even if one is not particularly familiar with Irish mythology or folklore, it is easy to follow along.

Additionally, Emma’s decision to give the beast such a creative disease with intense repercussions was an excellent choice. It adds to the dark mysteriousness of the story.

I applaud Emma’s desire and efforts at addressing darker subject matter. But I would have liked more nuance to lead to balanced and less confusing situations, and greater consistency within the worldbuilding and character development. Some of these issues may in fact be resolved later as the characters develop or as the world is further explained in the second book. But these elements might take away from the story’s positive elements for the reader.  

The Romance and the Characters

In a sense, The Heart of the Fae is at a disadvantage for discussing the romance because the characters do not meet until a third of the way into the book. And then they make up for lost time, reaching their first romantic connection before the first half ends. The initial meeting is terse, brusque, and aggressive, but they soon find their way to attraction and connection. The characters can sometimes feel erratic in their activities and driving forces as well as memories, but both Sorcha and Eamonn remain drawn to one another in the romantic climax that the reader is waiting for.

Bran returns in the series’ fourth book, The Faceless Woman

Other secondary characters also steal the show. Bran, in particular, takes the focus whenever he is on the page. I won’t share more about him since he goes through some rather interesting developments as a character, but he is one you’ll want to look out for. He feels like a good choice for further stories and focus. Oona and the boggart/brownie also steal the stage, and the Unseelie Queen presents an intriguing character.

Effectiveness as a Retelling

Aside from the cliffhanger ending, The Heart of the Fae does do well at hitting all the beats of a traditional Beauty and the Beast retelling while making them creatively its own. The sacrificial element here plays a needed prominent role, and there are many nods to the Disney Beauty and the Beast as well.  

For those who enjoy Beauty and the Beast retellings with a darker and grimmer edge or Irish mythical retellings, this book is likely a good match.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Share in the comments!


About the Author

J.M. Butler is an adventurer, author, and attorney who never outgrew her love for telling stories or playing in imaginary worlds. She is the author of The Tue-Rah Chronicles, which includes Identity Revealed and Enemy Known. Independent novellas set in the same world include Locked, Alone, and Cursed. She has also written a number of other stories including Mermaid Bride, Through the Paintings Dimly, and more. She writes primarily speculative fiction with a focus on multicultural high fantasy and suspenseful adventures with intriguing romances. And on top of that, she lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they enjoy creating fun memories, challenging each other, and playing with their three cats.

Reach her at:

Check out J.M.’s prequel to her romantic epic fantasy series the Tue-Rah Chronicles:

Dozens of children have gone missing…

Naatos, a shapeshifter, suspects a devious mindreader named Salanca of abducting children. Salanca has hidden her vicious schemes because, though the other Neyeb can read minds, she knows how to shroud her thoughts deeply.

Naatos must act swiftly and covertly to avert the murder of the stolen children even as he has been rejected yet again for receiving a Neyeb bride.

Not all is as it seems, and a wounded but cursed infant changes Naatos’s plans and life forever…
___

This is a prequel novella to The Tue-Rah Chronicles. It is not necessary to have read The Tue-Rah Chronicles, and it does not contain spoilers.

Get it on Amazon today!

Gemma Oleander: My First Boyfriend Was a Book Boyfriend, or: Why I Write Young Adult Romantic Fantasy

I have a thing for rogues.

Disney’s Aladdin has a roguish charm, doesn’t he?

My first crush was on Aladdin. As far as eight-year-old me was concerned, he was the perfect man. Of course, back when I was eight, having a pet monkey and a magic carpet were higher on my “perfect man” checklist (ok, I admit—they’re still pretty high). My penchant for Disney rogues has even followed me into adulthood—the period of time in which my three-year-old made me watch Tangled on repeat for weeks on end was made slightly more tolerable by the presence of Flynn Rider.

My first boyfriend was a rogue too; the Rogue in fact. When I read The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce for the first time back when I was twelve, I was rooting for George from the beginning. The witty King of Thieves seemed far more appealing to me than Prince Jon. 

As a teenager, I had many more book boyfriends—and they weren’t all rogues. In the end, I did fall in love with a few princes, but there were also crooks, warlords and pirates. I was romanced by nineteenth-century English gentlemen, assassins from Ixia and elves from Mirkwood, while safe in the knowledge that if things got too intense, I could close the book and walk away. As an awkward, gangly, bespectacled teenager, that appealed to me, and the boys in those books seemed far more interesting than the awkward, gangly, be-spotted boys I went to school with.

Young Adult Book Relationships: Unrealistic Expectations or High Standards?

The universal theme in YA stories is coming of age, and it’s a theme we can all identify with, whether we’re going through it ourselves or reminiscing about a time when we were. It’s also usually around that age that most people fall in love for the first time, and I’m glad I got to dip my toes in and fall in love a few times between the pages of a book before I handed my heart over to a real-life human. 

The romance genre as a whole is often accused of setting unrealistic expectations of relationships, and while that might be the case sometimes, for me, those book boyfriends didn’t set unrealistic expectations—they set standards. I wasn’t searching for someone who would shower me with flowery declarations of love when I found my husband (which is fortunate as the last text he sent me read “pick up milk x”), but I did expect honesty, loyalty and integrity. I wanted someone I could depend on in a crisis, and someone who knew they could depend on me. I wanted warmth, and humour and intelligence. If people think those expectations are unrealistic, that’s their problem, not mine.

Because let’s face it, it wasn’t really the fact that Aladdin was a rogue that made me fall for him all those years ago. It wasn’t even that he had a pet monkey and a magic carpet (though that really did work in his favour). I fell for Aladdin the moment he handed his loaf of bread over to those two street children after going to so much effort to get it in the first place. That love was solidified when he kept his promise to the genie at the end, using his last wish to free him, and in doing so potentially sacrificing his own happiness. It wasn’t Flynn Rider’s, “Hi, how you doing?” that made me swoon, but the moment he hands Rapunzel’s crown over to The Stabbington Brothers, realising that he’s found something far more precious. I didn’t fall for George Cooper of Pirate’s Swoop because he was the King of Thieves, and it certainly wasn’t because he liked to collect ears—if anything that would be a bit of a red flag in a relationship—it was when he sold Alanna Moonlight, her horse, for pennies, commenting that he’d give it to her outright if he thought she’d take it. I fell for Mr. Darcy’s honour, for Valek Icefaren’s strength, and for Legolas Greenleaf’s intelligence and wit; Red of Harrowfield taught me gentleness and Argul of the Hulta showed me humour.

My book boyfriends were all very different. They weren’t perfect, but then I wasn’t looking for perfection, and each one of them taught me something about myself and what I’d want from a relationship when I finally (hopefully!) found a boyfriend that wasn’t trapped inside the pages of a novel. They also taught me about love, and who might be worthy of mine.

Sprinkled Among the Romance, Lessons

On the flip side, they showed me what I didn’t want. Prince Nemian from Tanith Lee’s Law of Wolf Tower taught me that dashing saviours may not be all they’re cracked up to be, and while Darcy taught me about honourable men, George Wickham was a reminder that honour is not a quality all men possess. More recently, Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series have shown that it is sometimes wise to guard your heart.

I have had my heart broken of course, and I’m glad of it. I wouldn’t want to hide behind the pages of a book forever without experiencing love firsthand, but my book boyfriends gave me a good foundation, and without them, I think I would have kissed a lot more frogs before I found my prince rogue.

Those book boyfriends were very special to me during my own coming of age, and I think they’re part of the reason I write YA Romantic Fantasy now. I want to create book boyfriends readers can fall in love with, and I’d like to think Lok has a few traits that make him a worthy first love. 

So tell me, who was your first book boyfriend? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author

Gemma Oleander lives in Lancashire, England, and is mother to a dire wolf and two tiny humans. Growing up, she spent more time immersed in fantasy worlds than she did in the real one. Now, writing fantasy allows her to create worlds or her own and spend lots of time in them. 

Gemma studied English Literature and Journalism at university, and worked as an English teacher before pursuing a career in writing. 

When she’s not writing or reading, she enjoys travelling to different corners of the world to gather inspiration for her stories. You can reach her at:

You can fall in love with Lok in The Syphon’s Song, which will be available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited this spring.

Cali killed for the first time when she was four.

Since then, she’s committed countless murders for The Order. Imprisoned since she was born, she is their most dangerous weapon: a magical assassin who visits people as they sleep—ensuring that they never wake up. Cali would give almost anything for her freedom, but not when the punishment for any disobedience means death for her friends.

Lok knows two things; magic is evil and so are those who wield it. Becoming a member of The Order has been his dream since boyhood, but once he is stationed at the prison, he starts to see the corruption at its core. When children are used as offerings, he knows he can stay silent no longer.

Lok decides to leave, unwittingly taking Cali with him, and events are set in motion that cannot be reversed. As The Order grows more powerful, spreading  darkness through the land, Cali and Lok must break free of their chains if they are to have any hope of putting an end to the evil for good.

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J.M. Butler: Review of No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur (RFS Book Club Winner – February 2019)

For the month of February 2019, the readers of Romantic Fantasy Shelf voted for two books to read: No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur and Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm. We’ll be reviewing both on the blog, and today we’re talking about No Man Can Tame.

This story is the first book the Dark-Elves of Nightbloom Series, and it retells one of my favorite fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast. Now don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy reading some of the lesser-known fairy tales retold as well as some of the other popular ones. Really, I love seeing all of them. But Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. I have read many retellings of it over the years—some I loved, others were meh, and a few I hated. But No Man Can Tame is now one of my favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings.

Type of Story

No Man Can Tame is a high-fantasy romance, and it lives up to all my expectations for a book in this genre. The romance is front and center, but there is a great deal of rich worldbuilding. The world itself is set in the same universe as Miranda’s Blade and Rose series, though unlike Blade and Rose this has an Italian rather than a French influence. The story is told through the perspectives of both Aless and Veron.

“This Cinderella is far from a victim. Much to her stepmother’s dismay, Danielle’s independence and intelligence attract the love of the prince.” – Amazon

The retelling itself maintains key elements of the original fairy tale but offers a number of original twists and spins. It is also, to a degree, a double Beauty and the Beast story. In a sense, both protagonists are beauties and beasts, both having to learn key lessons and understand how to be more selfless for this relationship to work. In a sense, this retelling reminds me also of the movie Ever After in its tone and style, as if it would be shot in a similar style.

The story reads quickly with good pacing. While it is a slow-burn romance, it does pay off, and it fits solidly within the genre expectations. Aless and Veron’s story is wrapped up in such a way that, while I wouldn’t object to more stories featuring their perspectives, I won’t feel cheated if I don’t get to read more about them.

One of My Favorite Tropes Represented

Aless, the Beast princess, must wed Veron, an Immortali and prince of the dark elves to assure peace and secure the alliance between their nations. Arranged marriages are one of my favorite tropes simply because of the guarantee of conflict and how it tends to escalate the romantic tension, along with the unknown aspects that come from being in a relationship with a stranger who may not share your same values.

Miranda plays with this trope very well, understanding the implications that arranged marriages have and their impact on individuals while still recognizing that readers want a little bit of fantasy and indulgence with these sorts of stories. So she creates a mixture of conflict and challenges with plenty of build up, attraction, and eventually consummation. More importantly, the contrasting cultures are not there simply as trappings or window dressings. There are consequences and impacts because of these beliefs on both sides.

The Most Crucial Element of a Beauty and the Beast Retelling

In my opinion, the sacrificial element is one of the most important elements of a Beauty and the Beast retelling. In some way, the beauty must sacrifice herself or some part of herself to preserve the safety or happiness of another. It offers a key element of insight into the characters and a connecting point for later events within the book as well as the concept of inner beauty.

In this case, Miranda delivers a particularly strong interpretation. While it is a little spoiler, it takes place near the beginning of the story, so I won’t feel as bad about it. Aless agrees to marry Veron to allow her sister the chance to marry the man she loves and thus preserve her sister’s happiness. This turns out to be part of a rather cunning trick on someone else’s part, but the sacrifice is still there.

Similarly other characters demonstrate sacrifice, sometimes in small ways such as Veron sharing his rations with a fellow starving soldier, despite then having nothing for himself. It is woven throughout the story and plays into the finale in a satisfying way.

The Romance Between the Characters

Aless and Veron’s chemistry is a slow build with a fair bit of tension to begin. They are kept apart not merely because they have different physical standards for beauty but because of cultural expectations and challenges that their relationship brings about. Veron is firm but calm and resolute, utterly loyal to the commands of his queen, his mother. Aless, on the other hand, is more headstrong and impetuous, determined to make the most of things and to create her own solutions even when others attempt to deny her this.

While initially she finds the dark elves’ appearances off putting and even a little frightening (Veron’s claws physically hurt her more than once), Aless in particular grows in her appreciation of the dark elves and their culture, even coming to value their standards. There’s a fascinating scene with the dark elf queen which showcases this in particular.

The romantic relationship works the traditional issues within any relationship: trust and honesty. Both characters have reasons for their particular perspectives, and their motivations and histories sometimes come into conflict, creating persuasive reasons for the delays in their consummation.

As both Veron and Aless become close and work through violations of trust and expectations (indeed some deep emotional wounds are inflicted at a few points), the attraction does develop between them until it reaches the much anticipated exploration of the romantic relationship. Miranda handles this artfully. There are sex scenes with a decent bit of heat and a strong focus on the emotions, and they do contain important information for the plot and character developments.

The Characters and Their Relationships Beyond the Romantic

In Warhammer lore, “few can match the Dark Elves in sheer cruelty, sadism and hubris.”

Another strength of this story is the breadth of the cast of characters. Veron and Aless both have families who play key roles within the story. One of my favorite relationships in this is Aless’s relationship with her sister Bianca. Both sisters are beautiful and admired, but Bianca is their father’s favorite. Yet both remain close. The impact of a third sister is also felt as well as a brother.

Veron likewise has his own family who play not only a key role in his life but in his development. One of the most intriguing is his mother, who has little screen time but is just as refreshing a change-of-pace character as Bianca. The subterranean and ferocious dark elves come from a matriarchal culture, which is reflected throughout the world building in general.

Veron’s mother herself is a strong, stern, and resolute woman, but not cruel or evil or capricious as dark elf queens are often portrayed. She keeps her confidences close, and there is much that is hinted at that suggests she could very easily have her own story. At a key point within the story, she must serve as a queen and determine appropriate consequences for direct disobedience. While she is not as kind as some might like, she is just in her determinations and provides sound reasoning for her decisions.

From Forgotten Realms, the cruel and evil Malice Do’Urden by Dwight “Arkangel” Angelito

Veron’s mother herself is a strong, stern, and resolute woman, but not cruel or evil or capricious as dark elf queens are often portrayed. She keeps her confidences close, and there is much that is hinted at that suggests she could very easily have her own story. At a key point within the story, she must serve as a queen and determine appropriate consequences for direct disobedience. While she is not as kind as some might like, she is just in her determinations and provides sound reasoning for her decisions.

Indeed, all of the secondary characters feel strong enough to carry their own stories. I am excited that there will be more stories within this series that will hopefully explore these. What makes this all the more exciting is that the characters, from the protagonists to the antagonists, are all mixtures of good and bad with understandable motivations, weaknesses, and aspirations.

Fascinating Influences Within the Story

As a fellow epic fantasy author, I find worldbuilding to be one of the most fascinating aspects of stories like this. One of the things I spotted that brought me a great deal of joy was the influence of the Eddas in Miranda’s development of the dark elf culture. Norse mythology is one of my favorites, and seeing how well it was woven in without being overbearing was a delight.

Svartálfar in Norse myth are “black elves,” who dwell in Svartalfheim or the “world of black elves.”

Additionally, at points, I recognized some allusions to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Though “allusions” might not be as good a word as “subversions.” Aless has a formidable and indomitable spirit. Despite her mistakes, she cannot be tamed (thus, I think, the title). She and Veron are equals within their marriage, and while he does not try to keep her from being that, he does have to learn what it is for her to be who she is, just as much as she has to learn how to truly see beyond her own interests.

A Couple Minor Beauty and the Beast Elements

While certainly not essential to the Beauty and the Beast retelling, Miranda did incorporate a couple other facets of the story. The library’s inclusion and its cultivation throughout the story is one of my favorites. Not simply because I love libraries but because of what it reveals about Aless, her past, her family, and her culture.

Additionally, magic roses appear as well. They are present for only a little bit, but if my authorial senses are correct, I suspect we may see more of them in future books.

For those who enjoy Beauty and the Beast retellings or high-fantasy romance stories, I definitely recommend No Man Can Tame. It has all the appeal of both the genres beautifully woven together in a satisfying and charming package.

Have you read this one? What did you think about the spin on Beauty and the Beast? Share in the comments!

About the Author

J.M. Butler is an adventurer, author, and attorney who never outgrew her love for telling stories or playing in imaginary worlds. She is the author of The Tue-Rah Chronicles, which includes Identity Revealed and Enemy Known. Independent novellas set in the same world include Locked, Alone, and Cursed. She has also written a number of other stories including Mermaid Bride, Through the Paintings Dimly, and more. She writes primarily speculative fiction with a focus on multicultural high fantasy and suspenseful adventures with intriguing romances. And on top of that, she lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they enjoy creating fun memories, challenging each other, and playing with their three cats.

Reach her at:

J.M.’s recent release is Enemy Known, the second book in her romantic epic fantasy series the Tue-Rah Chronicles:

Trapped between warring forces, Amelia must own her destiny before her heart splits in two.

Although cursed to be unable to kill, Amelia must still fulfill her prophetic duty to end her unwanted husband’s march of terror. Already Naatos, a world conquering warlord, and his brothers have conquered Libysha. Her people demand she vanquish them to prove her loyalty and save them. To refuse is to lose the trust of her own family and friends, the people whom she always longed to protect.

But Amelia’s enemies aren’t only on the outside. When betrayal threatens the refuge of her allies, Amelia must return to Naatos in order to distract him from further bloodshed, all while fighting her growing affection for him and his family. Yet the more she learns of tragic history, the murkier the truth becomes. The very people Amelia defends have committed their own atrocities, including linking Amelia to a human soldier who holds half her soul in a life-threatening bond.

Attacked by her allies and cared for by her enemies, Amelia struggles on, more disillusioned with her destiny. A massive army of deadly shapeshifters looms on the other side of the Tue-Rah, an interdimensional portal. With the fate of worlds resting on her shoulders, she must walk the balance between hero and villain before she is torn in two. 

Janeen Ippolito: Write a Good Loser: Love Triangles Beyond the Indecisive Protagonist

I love love triangles in romantic arcs. Granted, in some circles, this is akin to saying I love Brussels sprouts or chicken gizzards. But as it turns out, I enjoy those things as well, so I’ll own love triangles—and hopefully convince you that you might love, or at least tolerate, the awesome triangles more than you think. (Don’t worry, I won’t try to argue for the sprouts!)

Love triangles often get a bad rap in fiction because of Twilight. The infamous Bella Swan is the frail, doe-eyed teenager who doesn’t know her own mind or heart fully, clearly hung up on vampire Edward Cullen. Yet she strings along werewolf Jacob Black because she’s, well… a frail, insecure, doe-eyed teenager who doesn’t know her own mind or heart fully. Whether or not you appreciate the triangle depends mostly on whether you can identify with her, which can be a tough sell for readers outside the book’s target audience.

Because the Twilight books were so dang popular, now all everyone thinks of in terms of “love triangle” is two very attractive male characters who for some reason hang around so that the main character can choose between them. If this is your particular brand of wish fulfillment, all right then. However, love triangles existed in many forms before Twilight, and they continue to exist afterwards, in a much wider variety that is insanely useful for great romantic storytelling.

Love and Romance are Messy

Sometimes the “loser” loses his mind…

At their core, love triangles have a sense of realism. They operate with the understanding that love and romance is messy, and that someone can be attractive to more than person. This happens all the time in real life—as anyone who has been “friend-zoned” can attest to. There’s a painful truth to the concept of liking or loving someone who doesn’t reciprocate your affections.

The major growth often occurs in the character of the “love triangle loser.” Whether this growth is positive or negative is up to you, of course—there’s something kind of awesome about a character turning dark because they didn’t get what they wanted. In my steampunk fantasy series, The Ironfire Legacy, it’s revealed that a main villain turned dark because his destined true love was literally taken from him “For The Good Of The Kingdom.” The kingdom overturned their own rules about fated mates and exerted much pressure on the woman, so that the prince could have her instead of her One True Pairing. Major burn there!

A love triangle where both choices are pretty good…

And that’s where I find a lot of the emotional resonance of a love triangle—in that beautiful, brutal realism that you can’t always just get what you want, and if you let that fact embitter you, it can poison the very love you claim to have. You don’t have a full love triangle until you know who loses and why they lose.

Of course, all of this requires a great deal of smart characterization to figure out why these two characters are attracted to the same person. What do each of them uniquely see in this individual? Are they projecting their own ideas onto the person? How do they think the person will complete them—and are they right or wrong? Who is the best fit for the character—or the best fit for the story you’re trying to tell?

Characters Grow From Love Triangles

A love triangle that’ll put your emotions through the wringer…

A love triangle should create plot problems and force each character to grow to figure out where they stand. One of my favorite love triangles is in J.M. Butler’s romantic fantasy series The Tue-Rah Chronicles. Such a wonderful mess of twisting fate! I’ll try to limit spoilers, but the heroine is meant to be with Naatos thanks to an arranged marriage that was sealed when she was a child. But then the heroine is turned towards another man because of outside forces meddling with her soul and his. When the truth is revealed, the heroine breaks up with the other man, even though Naatos, her arranged marriage fellow, is pretty much a huge jerk. In this case, our noble heroine is trying to allow the other man to go off and live his own life. But of course, life can’t be that simple—how awful would it be to not only lose in a love triangle, but to lose it because the person you love is married to a villain who is trying to take over all these worlds? And plus, that soul-meddling has side effects, leaving all kinds of loose threads between the heroine and the other man. Cue much angst and anger and hard situations that contribute wonderfully to the main plot!

…Love triangles are a great way to show how love (or lack thereof) reflects on the individual characters and moves them along in their journeys. It’s about making those hard choices, growing up, and everyone learning more about themselves.

Yes, if you haven’t guessed, we love triangle fans love us some angst, feels, and character growth. The best love triangles come not from the main character merely “choosing between two delicious love interests.” Rather, love triangles are a great way to show how love (or lack thereof) reflects on the individual characters and moves them along in their journeys. It’s about making those hard choices, growing up, and everyone learning more about themselves. This is likely why you find love triangles so much in YA stories, because YA is all about coming of age and figuring out your identity. But if your main character can be wonderfully stressed out by two people chasing them, or if they can be flustered by chasing the same individual as another person, a love triangle is a great fit.

And as a side hustle, you could start a t-shirt business for your various love triangle options. If you do, let me know… I might need them for Team Brussels Sprouts vs. Team Chicken Gizzards!

What are your favorite love triangles in fantasy and why? Share in the comments!

About the Author

Janeen Ippolito writes unique words that change our world. She writes steampunk fantasy with shifters, and creates writing resources, including the reference book World Building From the Inside Out and the creative writing guide Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories.

She’s an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, marketer, and is the leader of Uncommon Universes Press, a small science fiction and fantasy publishing house. She’s also the cohost of the podcast Indie Book Magic. Whether brainstorming a plot twist, developing a course, or analyzing marketing angles, she’s happiest when creating solutions that get unique words written, polished, published, and noticed in the ever-changing publishing industry.

In her spare time, Janeen enjoys sword-fighting, reading, pyrography, and eating brownie batter. Two of her goals are eating fried tarantulas and traveling to Antarctica. 

This extroverted writer loves getting connected, so find her on:

Janeen also writes love triangles in her own work! Her recent release is Lawless, the first book in The Ironfire Legacy series:

A dragon felon, a forsaken prince, and a jaded airship captain walk into a city—and everything explodes.

Dragonshifter convict Kesia Ironfire has one goal: to redeem herself as a soldier in the dragon-human war.

A rogue mission to spy on a new airship is the perfect way to win the trust of her superiors, as long as she collects useful intel. Then the airship explodes into sickening green smoke, leaving Kesia and her tactical partner Zephryn Nightstalker in cold water and under house arrest. Kesia is sure a little more investigation won’t hurt—and her curiosity earns them the death sentence.

Kesia and Zephryn flee to the human military capital, where Captain Shance Windkeeper is furloughed after the destruction of his airship and avoiding a most unwanted countess threatening an arranged marriage. Eager to discover what—and who—blew up his vessel, he helps Kesia and Zephryn infiltrate High Command. In exchange, Kesia must pretend to be Shance’s betrothed. Kesia has never heard of a betrothal, but it can’t be that complicated.

And human social customs are the least of her worries. Dark secrets emerge as Kesia searches for answers in the heart of High Command. Secrets that undermine her criminal status and the war itself.

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

Ryan Muree: The Dirty on “Clean” vs “Dirty” Stories

I can’t say that I write romantic fantasy without addressing the romantic part of the genre. And there’s a lot to be said about romance and fantasy, because I feel there’s a lot of room here… other races, multiple loves, exploring sexuality in the safety of foreign worlds and cultures. I don’t hope to ever come across an orc warrior that I have to blast with a fireball, so if I can safely read about myself as the character incinerating other people to death, then I definitely can dip my toes in relationships and scary romances I wouldn’t naturally explore in the real world. This, in and of itself, is probably the best argument for romance in fantasy.

For the most part, romance in stories gets boiled down to Person A falling in love with Person B and vice versa. Maybe they hate each other at first, maybe they barely know each other, and maybe it’s the slowest of slow burns humanly possible. We tend to all agree, even though we may have preferences, HOW the characters fall in love doesn’t seem to be so taboo…

But what we can’t seem to agree on is whether sex on the page is necessary or not.

I don’t mean in that terrible story where the author thought adding a few racy pages would up people’s interest. Forced chemistry isn’t good for anyone involved. And I’m definitely not talking about those pieces that earned the Bad Sex Award. I’m talking about… totally probable, sex-having characters… where audiences can’t agree whether or not the deed needs to be shared.

…[I]f I can safely read about myself as the character incinerating other people to death, then I definitely can dip my toes in relationships and scary romances I wouldn’t naturally explore in the real world.

Maybe the reader isn’t comfortable reading consensual sex on the page. Maybe the reader doesn’t find sex necessary to tell the story, like it’s a peek into the two people’s private lives or even that of the author’s. And maybe it’s cultural. Point is, it’s almost a fear or viewed as a plague rather than a simple preference. People are offended it’s even included, rather than offended when it’s not.

And for those of us who want a decent sex scene in our stories, there tends to be a few other problems.

Maybe you don’t know this, but behind the scenes, there are battles being fought daily between “clean” authors and “not-so-clean”(?) authors. Fights for promos, swaps, ad spots, etc. And it typically tends to land… “clean over here” vs. “everyone else over there.” If your books don’t meet a specific requirement about sexual relationships between characters, you might find yourself swimming in circles with no advertising. And good luck if you write romantic YA where teens have sex. (Guess what? Teens have sex y’all.)

Side-story: Veronica Roth (YA author) was approached by several parents who questioned if her books included sex. When she said no, but they include murder and fighting and killing, the parents shrugged it off and said that was fine. Still think we don’t have issues with sex?

Also, authors who put sex on the pages of their stories in genres OTHER than romance tend to run into another interesting obstacle. If a book is deemed “clean,” you don’t typically see a lower rating or criticism for that specific trait in the book even if readers wouldn’t have minded it. However, if a book is deemed “not clean,” and the reader somehow missed the disclaimer or missed that it’s in the adult category, you’ll see books rated down PURELY because it includes sex.

So, what can we do?

First, can we do away with clean vs dirty or even clean vs not clean?

Can we just say… “no sexual interactions” or yes, “sexual relationships included”? Can that be a thing?

“Clean” reads can never be perfectly defined, just like sexual metaphors with baseball bases can’t be clearly defined across all audiences. “Clean” to me means no penetration. “Clean” to someone else might mean no heavy petting or foreplay. We’re setting up authors to fail and audiences to be disappointed.

And denoting “clean” vs “not clean” is pretty negative in and of itself. The opposite of “clean” is… “dirty,” duh, and it clearly has negative connotations. “Clean” is a very puritanical way of looking at it—pure, orderly, logical… as if to say stories that include sex, and dare I say actual relationships, are not those things and that there’s something wrong with them.

Except there’s not?

It’s okay to have a preference, but reviews that seem distracted by the sex, at least look to me like the same people griping that vampires don’t sparkle. What? (oh yeah, I went there!)

“Clean” is a very puritanical way of looking at it—pure, orderly, logical… as if to say stories that include sex, and dare I say actual relationships, are not those things and that there’s something wrong with them.

Second, can we lift stories that have sex in them?

If you read books with sex in them, and LIKE IT, then spread that good stuff around like your tub o’ buttah. I’m definitely not a fan of people feeling like they can’t voice when they like human experiences, so we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed about sharing these stories.

I’m guilty of this, too. I feel inclined to warn people who haven’t read something I like that it includes sex. Not like *nudge nudge wink wink* it has sex. More like an aside so they don’t judge *me*… And that’s weird, right? I need to work on that, and I’m willing to bet some of you do, too.

Truth is we need to share if we like sex in our stories, because it’s okay and totally human to want sex in stories. It’s not putting down stories without sexual interactions, it’s just giving the other team a voice to say… “Hey! Sometimes I need to read about the main character sleeping with every male character to pick the one she truly loves, okay? You do you… I’ll do… me?” 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! <3

So, out with it! What stories do you remember for their good sex scenes?

About the Author

Ryan grew up a military brat, managed to teach middle school in Texas for a spell, and finally settled in the southeastern US with her husband, their daughter, and two black cats. She loves writing determined heroines who answer the call for wild adventures across rich lands with grit and smarts. When she’s not inventing worlds for her characters, she games, draws, paints, and uses too many exclamation points.

Reach her at:

Despite all that talk on dirty vs clean, Ryan wrote a genderbent Beauty and the Beast retelling with love and magic, but no sexual relationships, called In the Garden of Gold & Stone.

She is a beast by nature. He is a beast by duty. 

Amid the lovely roses and razor-sharp thorns, love tangles between beasts and beauties in this twist of a classic romantic tale that transcends time…

Nida, a dragonian life weaver, anxiously awaits the day her new sisters hatch in their temple sanctuary. But without the magical spirit of a human male, that day will never come.

When Rowec, a human warrior from a local village, gets captured by Nida’s people, he’s offered freedom in exchange for his participation in their hatching ceremony.

But when Nida learns the cost of bringing her sisters to life, she must either embrace the beast within to save them or save the human she’s grown to love…

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

R. A. Steffan: Reverse Harem and the Rise of Polyamorous Fantasy Romance

One of the hottest trends in fantasy romance these days is “reverse harem,” in which the female main character ends up with several romantic interests rather than just one. But that, dear readers, is not the beginning of the story…

Once upon a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the aisles of Waldenbooks, an author decided that love triangles in romance novels were silly and frustrating. “Why can’t my heroine ride off into the sunset with BOTH of the sexy hunks?” she grumbled… and so the genre of ménage romance was born.

For decades, avid ménage readers sought out covers with the female main character swooning in the arms of multiple hot (and usually bare-chested) guys. In addition to the large publishing houses that ran niche romance imprints specializing in ménage, a handful of boutique publishers also sprang up to cater to the small but voracious readership.

Somewhat ironically for a genre that’s all about not having to choose, the existence of this limited number of gatekeepers resulted in ménage books that were almost laughably formulaic, in many cases. Publishers—I kid you not—issued guidelines on everything from plot structure to book length to the content of the story’s climactic (heh!) group sex scene. Double penetration or bust, baby!

Enter: Self-Publishing!

But then, something huge happened in the book world—enter the e-book self-publishing revolution. Almost overnight, new authors flooded into the marketplace on the back of Amazon’s groundbreaking Kindle publishing platform. And many of these self-published authors were writing in niche romance categories, like ménage.

While still influential within the genre, the publishing houses no longer controlled ménage exclusively. Formulaic plots grew less formulaic, LGBT content flourished, and a complex system of code came into common usage to describe the central relationship in ménage books. MMMF? That’s three bisexual guys with a woman. MFM? Two straight guys with a woman (the Ms don’t touch!). FFFF? Four lesbian or bi women in a relationship. MMM? Three gay or bi guys.

Even so, the vast majority of ménage still stayed within certain guidelines. It was almost exclusively either contemporary romance or paranormal romance, for one thing. (Fantasy and historical ménage does exist, but it’s rare, not to mention a very hard sell for authors. Go on… ask me how I know!) The genre also leaned heavily toward erotic romance or outright erotica, with much of the emphasis being placed on the buildup to group sex and the eventual payoff.

Reverse Harem: From Japanese Manga & Anime to Ebooks

Ouran High School Host Club (2006), a Japanese “reverse harem” anime TV show

Meanwhile, another book-related phenomenon was quietly bubbling in the background. Borrowing from a type of Japanese manga in which the female main character is surrounded by a number of male love (and friendship) interests vying for her attention, a handful of Western authors were writing books in which the YA (young adult) heroine openly cultivated a number of romantic partners. These partners were aware of each other and generally okay with sharing the girl. Often they were already friends, or they were otherwise connected in some sort of previously existing group.

Introductions: The Ghost Bird Series: #1 (2012) by C. L. Stone

The focus was in these books was less on sex and more on emotional relationship building. C. L. Stone, author of the Ghost Bird series, was the first to borrow the Japanese manga term “reverse harem” to describe this new book genre. Unlike the manga stories, however, in Western-style reverse harem books, the main character never chooses one partner over the others.

But what is reverse harem?

The genre took off with readers in 2017, becoming one of the hottest trends of the year in self-publishing. Reverse harem readers were voracious and knew exactly what they wanted. Woe betide any author who tried to pass off a ménage book with—gasp!—two men (instead of three or more) as reverse harem. It was even worse if the main character ended up with one love interest at the end, instead of all of them—that way lay author career suicide. Additionally, readers wanted the men of the harem to be exclusively focused on the woman; the prevailing opinion at the time was that as soon as any of the guys went bisexual and started getting it on with each other as well as the girl, it was no longer reverse harem.

There were heated exchanges on social media groups related to the proper definition of a harem, arguing that since the women in historical harems weren’t having sex with each other, obviously the men in a reverse harem shouldn’t be having sex with each other. (Of course, some of the women in historical, real-world harems were having sex with each other—and it happened commonly enough that there were laws in place outlining how to deal with them when they were caught. But, anyhoo…)

Another interesting phenomenon around the same time was the amount of friction arising between ménage readers and RH (reverse harem) readers. RH readers decided at some point that ménage (in book terms) referred exclusively to ménage à trois—three people in a relationship—while RH was three or more men with one woman. Since the most widely known and commercially successful ménage series of all time was about three brothers with one woman, this came as a bit of a surprise to ménage readers and authors, to put it mildly.

As RH branding began to creep into the wider book-buying consciousness, some well-known reviewers and authors in the ménage world began to publicly chafe at “ménage books being relabeled reverse harem for no reason.” There was a fair amount of vitriol over ménage writers allegedly “jumping ship” into RH-land to make a quick buck, as well as irritation at the chaste, young-adult nature of many of the early RH books. Some people also took serious exception to the use of the word harem itself, because of the negative connotations of real, historical harems when it came to women’s rights.

Reverse Harem takes fantasy by storm

Trickery (Curse of the Gods Book 1) by Jaymin Eve and Jane Washington

Predictably, as the two genres began to overlap more and more, the inevitable creativity of authors threw even more new questions into the mix: “Why is there no fantasy romance RH (or ménage) to speak of? Why is it all contemporary and paranormal romance? Let’s fix that right now!” And suddenly, second-world fantasy reverse harem books like Jaymin Eve and Jane Washington’s Curse of The Gods series began topping the Amazon charts.

“Why aren’t the guys in a reverse harem allowed to get it on with each other, as long as the main focus is still on the main female character and she thinks it’s hot?” And suddenly M/M (male/male sex) started popping up more and more often in commercially successful reverse harem series, despite the early resistance to it.

“What if the female main character is bisexual, and there’s a woman in the harem along with the men?” And… yeah, okay, that one’s still ongoing. The current consensus seems to be that as long as the woman in the harem is lesbian (and thereby doesn’t constitute a temptation for the harem’s men), you can technically still call it a reverse harem… but you’ll turn away quite a few readers by doing so.

What about polyamory?

At this point, someone will almost always pop in to say, “Hey, it sounds like you’re getting into polyamorous romance territory here, rather than reverse harem.” (Often, it’s me saying that. Hey, it’s my thing, all right?)

Because the reality is that all of these book-related terms are completely arbitrary. Not only that, but they evolve over time. Still, at least in my opinion, poly romance can be considered the overarching umbrella term for these sorts of books. The only restriction on poly romance is that 1) it must contain more than two people in a consensual romantic relationship, 2) everyone must know about everyone else, and 3) there must not be any cheating (see #2).

That’s it.

All reverse harem—and all ménage—is by definition also poly romance. Some reverse harem books are also ménage. Other reverse harem books, such as young adult RH and RH in which there is no group sex, are not ménage. Conversely, MFMM+ ménage can accurately be labeled RH, but MMM ménage (for instance) could not be.

Captive: Beautiful Monsters Vol. 1 by Jex Lane

Additionally, there are series like Jex Lane’s Beautiful Monsters. It’s poly romance, but with a male main character and no group sex, it doesn’t fit in either the ménage or the RH box. Basically, these days, whatever you’re after when it comes to multiple people in a fantasy romance relationship, it’s probably out there somewhere. The challenge can be finding it—and that’s where reader groups and clear book descriptions by authors and publishers come in.

But, wait! Enter a final wrinkle—call it a final plot twist, if you will.

As an author of fantasy poly romance books with strong LGBT content and explicit sex—combined with what I hope is strong world-building and external plotting—I’ve pretty much fallen into the position of having no clear audience for my work over the years. Frankly, I couldn’t even tell you if my books are romantic fantasy or fantasy romance. If I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, then taking away the romance elements from my books would leave you with exactly fifty percent of a story. Similarly, taking away the external plot elements would leave you with the other fifty percent of a story.

As both an author and a reader, the little boxes of RH/ménage/poly romance/LGBT/no LGBT have always been frustrating for me. In the past few months, though, I’ve watched something new bubbling up in the bibliosphere.

In response to ever more draconian crackdowns by major book advertising platforms regarding anything that even hints at alternative lifestyles, poly romance authors have started getting creative in a truly lovely way. Amazon, for instance, no longer allows the term “reverse harem” or “RH” in any of its advertising. Ménage romance and any mention of LGBT content is also a no-go for advertising. This has become a huge problem for authors who rely on that kind of advertising to drive book sales and make their living.

Something had to change, and fast.

#WhyChoose

Fortunately, some time ago the social media hashtag #whychoose started popping up for books where—you guessed it—the main character doesn’t have to choose between love interests. While not as well known as the term “reverse harem,” readers were at least somewhat familiar with #whychoose as a genre description.

So, after seeing their advertising opportunities shrivel away to almost nothing, poly romance authors of all flavors have gradually started to label their books “Why-Choose Romance.” And as far as I’m concerned, this is good news for readers as well as authors. With awareness of the new label increasing among fantasy readers, the options for finding books that might not fit neatly into the strict definitions of RH or ménage grow, too.

Because, after all… when it comes to book romance in all its beautiful and interesting permutations, why would you ever want to choose in the first place?

What is your all-time favorite #whychoose fantasy romance and why? Share in the comments!

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author R. A. Steffan lives in a very boring (but pretty) part of flyover country in the Midwestern US. When she’s not busy writing stories about people loving each other in all sorts of different and interesting ways, she can be found taking care of her small menagerie of critters.
A rebel to the core, she is currently sticking it to the man by illegally harboring ducks within the city limits, where only chickens are allowed. This fearless disregard for societal norms extends to her writing, as well. There, you will find polyamory along with straight, gay, bisexual, and non-gender conforming love of all flavors. You will also find families of choice, profound friendships, adventure, danger, and good triumphing over evil.

That, and sex. Lots of sex. Most of which is not the vanilla variety.

Reach her at:

R. A. Steffan’s recent release is The Dragon Mistress: Book 2:

The survival of the last living dragons rests with me and my misfit friends.
So… yeah. No pressure.

Mind you, this whole thing would be easier if two of our number weren’t hell-bent on killing each other. Rayth and Nyx have both been hiding secrets for a very long time, but now they face a choice. Let go of their ugly pasts, or watch the future burn to the ground.

We won’t be able to hide five hungry, growing dragons in the mountains forever. As soon as someone catches sight of them, every soldier in Utrea will be after us. And there’s no way we can fight for our dragons’ survival when we’re this busy fighting amongst ourselves.

I’ve always been the queen of questionable life choices, but falling for four proud, stubborn, damaged men at the same time is a new benchmark even for me. What we’re building with the dragons—and each other—could be amazing beyond belief. It could also end in tragedy beyond measure.

If I want it to be the former, it looks like I need to start banging some heads together. Otherwise, our hopes and dreams could well go down in flames.

* * *

The Dragon Mistress by USA Today bestseller R. A. Steffan is a medium-burn fantasy romance series where the heroine doesn’t have to choose one person at the end. It is part of the Eburosi Chronicles, along with The Horse Mistress and The Lion Mistress. It’s not necessary to have read any of the other books in the series before starting The Dragon Mistress.

A special note for Fantasy readers: herein, you will find explicit love scenes in several interesting and unconventional permutations. If your gut reaction to that is “Eww” or even “Meh,” you probably won’t enjoy this series.

Catharine Glen: The Path To Reverse Harem Romance

Fushigi Yuugi: Miaka Yuki (center) and her Celestial Warriors

A young woman tumbles into a magical book and discovers she’s the savior of the “fictional” country she’s landed in. To save the country and return to her own world, she must find her seven celestial warriors, who are all bound to aid her on her quest. Along the way, the relationships among them grow, strengthen, and evolve. There’s romance and friendship, humor and heartache, angst and suffering, all as they face a dangerous adversary who will stop at nothing to prevent their success – and ensure his own.

This is the basic plot to Fushigi Yuugi (Mysterious Play), my favorite anime and manga series as well as my original introduction to the reverse harem genre. Fushigi Yuugi is a hallmark example. You’ve got a strong-spirited young woman, a Chosen One portal fantasy adventure, an array of handsome men destined to join her quest, romantic tension and angst, and the exploration of the relationships that grow among and between them. All the good stuff!

So when I learned from a fellow author that people are writing reverse harem romances in Western fiction, I was stunned and super excited! Being a longtime anime fan as well as a reader of fantasy (and romantic fantasy when I could find it), it was choirs singing and birds soaring. Now, I absolutely love a traditional romance between two people, but seeing reverse harem romances – something I always associated with being unique to anime – appear in my beloved fantasy, it changed things for me, both as a writer and a reader.

REVERSE HAREM: WHAT IS IT?

A reverse harem (often abbreviated as RH) refers to the “one woman, multiple men” romance dynamic – the literal flipside of the more recognized and historical traditional harem (many women kept by one polygamous male). A more modern and descriptive term is “why choose,” as the female protagonist (or “center”) is not required to choose one – she can have them all! The harems themselves include three or more members and can have both genders within (i.e. not always a male harem).

In the context of a story, the harem can either be the focal point of the plot (the center must find or connect to her harem in order to defeat the big bad), or could be the subplot (the center must defeat the big bad but also gathers a harem along the way). This can be paralleled with fantasy romance (romance/harem is the plot) and romantic fantasy (romance/harem is subplot), which author Miranda Honfleur distinguishes very well here. Epic fantasy lends itself very well to the idea of reverse harems, though just as in anime, RH stories span genres from contemporary to paranormal to science fiction. It is a boundless dynamic, and readers can pretty much find any “flavor” that they are keen on reading.

The genre mainly appeals to female readers. Though varying degrees of sexual relations and explicitness are present, the focus is mainly on the relationships. Specifically, those the center has with her harem: how they first come together, the means of attraction, the resulting emotions and feelings, how the guys relate to one another, and of course how they work together in the end. This romantic dynamic is in a sense itself fantasy, as it is not commonplace in the real world. And what could be more exciting than being loved and supported by more than one partner?

REVERSE HAREM: EAST VS. WEST

Akatsuki no Yona: Yona (center) and her Dragon Warriors

There is no doubt that the idea of reverse harems has been present and popular in Eastern media for a long time. Despite many similarities (female protagonist, multiple guys with different personalities, focus on the relationships, etc.) the one main difference is Choice.

In Eastern media (anime, manga, dramas, etc.), the girl either chooses one mate by the end, or does not choose anyone. There is either a canon pairing as defined by the story, or it is left ambiguous. This can be both fun and unsatisfying to a fan, especially if you’re really hoping the girl picks the guy you like! Otome or dating games are a balm for this, where as the player you can control who the protagonist chooses and watch the relationship develop. But in the end, the protagonist still chooses one mate.

Blood Lust by Auryn Hadley – Epic Fantasy Reverse Harem

In Western fiction, on the other hand, the girl can have them all! Fans have adopted the hashtag #whychoose, which means exactly that: why should the protagonist choose just one partner from her bevy of attractive potential mates? And what makes this dynamic particularly compelling goes back again to the relationships between her and her harem. Who are they? What is their connection to her?  How do they each fulfill her, support her, care for her? How do their different personalities complement and clash with each other? How do they resolve their feelings for her, as well as towards each other? If they are all romantically involved with her, then there is going to be tension, jealousy, and hopefully acceptance and love in the end.

WHAT REVERSE HAREM MEANS TO ME: EXPLORING OTHER FORMS OF LOVE

There’s no doubt I love a good, solid romance between two monogamous characters, and have for as long as I can remember. There’s something special there, reading about two characters who come together while they face adversity, or solve a mystery, and find love in the process. The attraction, the first kiss, the “will they / won’t they,” the forces keeping them apart, and the final resolution. Those elements are vital to me as a reader – I want to experience all those stages along with the characters, to feel the blossoming of love from their very first meeting. Blend that with my beloved fantasy, and I couldn’t be more content.

But there’s something exciting, complicated, and tantalizing about an intelligent, sexually independent woman who has not just one but a whole group devoted to her, supporting, protecting, and loving her. It’s a chance to explore how she relates to each potential mate, as well as the harem as a whole. How she interacts with one member of the group may be totally different than another. It’s not all about sex, though that may certainly be an element with some or even all. To me, it’s the discovery of how their relationships develop, how they each fulfill her and contribute to her growth, how the harem members grow, and how the group as a whole evolves together.

It’s a different kind of romance. A different kind of love. And for me, as both a writer and reader, it’s a path worth exploring.

What do you love most about the reverse harem fantasy genre?  What was the last reverse harem fantasy book that you read?  Share in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Glen is an independent fantasy author residing in New England. As a child, she loved creating stories about distant lands filled with adventure and mystery. She was probably one of the only students who actually liked writing academic reports, and as an adult discovered she had a knack for technical writing. Returning to her first passion—fiction—is like reliving a part of her childhood.

Reach her at:

Catharine’s forthcoming reverse harem romantic fantasy series, The Shadowed World Saga, is anticipated in late 2019.

Catharine is also the author of the romantic fantasy novel The Rose Crown.

Elite soldier Marian serves and protects the royal family—a responsibility she does not take lightly. But when she thwarts an assassination attempt on the king, she unwittingly becomes a prime suspect. Worse, she is left with a terrible, pulsing wound and vile, intrusive thoughts that are not her own. Now, the mysterious cult behind the attack has targeted her, and Marian soon learns of their goal to restore a devastating relic: the legendary Rose Crown.

Former mercenary Henryk has vowed to prevent the restoration of the Rose Crown at any cost. When he encounters Marian, he discovers the terrifying truth of her involvement—and the mortal danger they both face. Drawn together by the very thing that could destroy them, Henryk and Marian must forge a bond of trust—before it’s too late.

Can Marian battle against the ancient darkness consuming her soul, or will it utterly destroy them both?

J.M. Butler: Why Does Romance Belong in Epic Fantasy?

“Romance does not belong in epic fantasy.”

–Man in Writing group

That flat statement, followed by an explanation about how my infusing an otherwise “semi-intriguing world” with a “childish love story,” was the first bit of feedback I received in a particular writing group.

I dared to follow up with my own question: “Why not?”

The speaker was an older fellow who patterned himself after–at the very least appearing like–a literary great, complete with tweed jacket and artful arching of his thick grey eyebrow. All he lacked was the pipe, but he often tapped his chin as he stared at me through the computer screen. With a weary sigh, he rubbed his bald head and then stared at me as if I were the thickest person he had spoken to in a long while. “Romance is for women, epic fantasy is not.” He then referred to the notes he had sent me and read from the screen, “You have simply flipped, at best, the C plot for the A plot. No one will want to know about a cursed woman who realizes that she’s married to her greatest enemy due to an age-activated arranged marriage. Epic fantasy is about war. Battle strategies. Cunning maneuvers. A heroine who winds up married to a villain, no matter how charismatic he may be, simply isn’t interesting, no matter how many challenges she faces in reconciling her heart, her will, and her duty.”

I wish I could say I was surprised. This particular author, despite only having a couple books independently published himself (none of which were ranking especially high), insisted that my Tue-Rah Chronicles was doomed to failure unless I made it paranormal romance or urban fantasy, completely ignoring the many other elements that clashed with the preferences of those markets. “Those are more suitable for a woman with your… tastes.” (Yes, he did include those ellipses in the email he sent afterward.)

Book 1 of the Tue-Rah Chronicles

Sadly I’ve found that this attitude is fairly prevalent, though decreasing as time passes. Back when I started frequenting Yahoo Groups as a hopeful teenage writer, romance authors were mocked intensely within the fantasy communities. Stories focusing on “greater” issues did better in the critique groups (“greater issues” seeming to mean saving the world, fighting in vicious gritty battle, only engaging with others for sexual pleasure, and keeping love interests on hand only to kill off or provide increase in motivation). Any in-depth romantic relationships that existed within the pages were brutally critiqued in all caps that typically noted the story would be stronger if the romance was exorcised from the pages. There was one critiquer who regularly said that if such authors wanted to write romance, they should “get the f*ck out of epic fantasy.” It wasn’t a place for “soft writing” or “mushy topics.” The general belief seemed to be that romance readers were not intelligent enough to appreciate epic fantasy and fantasy readers were not patient enough to tolerate romance.

Epic fantasy (as viewed by some)

My own attempts were often met with harsh derision. Later, a mentor pointed out that the bigger issue was that I was a woman who wrote about “womanly issues” in a “male space” in an epic fantasy setting. That was not particularly acceptable within those groups.

The landscape of the genre, along with the writing world in general, has changed significantly in the past eighteen years. And overall, romance within epic fantasy is a little more accepted (not to mention it’s easier for me to find epic fantasy romance authors with amazing stories to read). But at least once a month, often more frequently, I have to explain why these epics can and perhaps even should have romance in them.

For some folks, it’s the shock of realizing that there is a subgenre out there that meets what they’re looking for (often deep worldbuilding with secondary worlds as well as complex characters and forefront romantic and personal relationships). For others, it’s an oddly aggressive reaction that suggests that somehow romance itself is an inferior focus and a genre for talentless women who want to write cheap and trite stories that don’t “mean” anything.

Sadly this general disdain of romance authors and readers is far from new (and far from gone). I have been removed from a few Facebook epic fantasy and secondary-fantasy groups because there was too much romance in my stories. In one case, I was told that there simply wasn’t room for “lesser fantasy stories.” In another, the owner of the group explained that, while he had not said “no romance as a dominant focus within the stories,” he felt it was best to keep it targeted to “serious epics” to improve his and others’ Also-Boughts.

But my argument then and now is the same: romance within fantasy epics can and should be included whenever the author desires. Let’s chat about the whys.

Readers Like It

This point is such an obvious one, but I want to make it anyway. Some readers love–no, adore–romance in their secondary-world epic fantasies. Even if that were limited only to women, that would be sufficient (especially since women make up the majority of active readers). Besides, women enjoying a genre does not make it inferior nor does it weaken the value in any respect. (Frankly the suggestion that romance as a top plot point in an epic makes it for women and also weakens the plot annoys me on so many levels I must be careful not to turn this into a rant.)

Fantasy epics are for everyone who enjoys reading a good epic. Everyone can certainly have their preferences, but one preference is not superior to the other. An epic without romance is not inherently stronger because of its lack of romance. And while we’re on the subject, romance is not an inferior genre nor are those stories less important simply for being romances.

The Epic Itself Does Not Require An Absence of Romance

In its simplest form, an epic is just a very large and long story often with world high stakes. It is typically broken into multiple books.

Arwen and Aragorn in Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

In the genre itself, epic fantasies frequently include larger-than-life characters with larger-than-life explorations of themes and challenges. The fate of the world or all mankind or even a kingdom often come into play. Battles and epic deeds of derring-do or dastardliness often make an appearance.

Now there are additional elements and factors that one can consider. But for brevity’s sake, I’ll assure you that “not having romance as a focus” is not one of them. Fantasy epic is more of a descriptor regarding length, stakes, and setup, and it lends itself naturally to the inclusion of romance.

(In fact, I would go so far as to say that fantasy has always had an element of romance to it, but that’s another conversation for another day.)

Romance and Love Are a Part of All Lives

We are all defined by our relationships. Even the lack of relationships makes a difference in the way we experience the world. Romance and love of all types from platonic to erotic are key to our existence.

I have never managed to escape any significant relationship without being altered in some way, and characters are much the same. A bright shiny-eyed idealist who has never had her heart broken or a powerful hardened warrior who is daring to hope that there may yet be some good in the world are both distinct in part because of the relationships that have entered their lives or haven’t. Even the way people walk can be impacted by their relationships as well as their health and demeanor.

A well-known example of this would be the transformation of Westley from Princess Bride. In the beginning, he is a longsuffering, self-possessed farm boy who discovers true love. He is something of an idealist. His return after becoming the Dread Pirate Roberts marks someone who is initially bitter and resentful, believing that his true love has betrayed him. But even during his time on the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts, he persists and appeals for life, based on his love for Buttercup. And more than once, that love gives him the strength to keep going.

In Phantastes, Anodos’s lack of a romantic relationship and desperation for one drives him almost to madness and to making a critical error that actually deprives him of the happiness he seeks. In fact, both this and the loss of his shadow are two vital elements of his character development and journey.

Though not really a fantasy epic, Disney’s Mulan includes a song titled “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” which is all about how these men are risking their lives for these hypothetical women they deem worth fighting for and hope to one day meet. Objectification issues aside, the song encapsulates some of the older perspectives many held for epics, in that true love, romance, and peace are for after the adventure is completed, rather than being part of the adventure itself. Yet life itself is rarely so easily categorized.

Feelings Matter

We readers experience the story’s world through the characters, and we feel what they feel, which makes the journey so important. If it weren’t about experiencing those emotions, then we might as well read only history books. But good storytelling is far more than a recounting of facts or a statement of what makes things dangerous. It’s the journey that these characters take and who they become. Feelings are a huge component of making that journey matter to us as readers.

Éowyn and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

In Lord of the Rings, Eowyn fears being trapped in a cage and becoming useless, fears I not only shared but found extremely compelling, even from a young age. The heartbreak within her confession of love for Aragorn and her subsequent rebuffment, both as a love interest and as a warrior fit for battle, is made all the more potent because of what she feels and the fears that drive her. Her subsequent connection with Faramir is all the sweeter because of what she endured previously. And this is from Lord of the Rings, a fantasy epic often cited as proof that romance should not exist within a fantasy epic. The story of Eowyn and Faramir made the story much stronger as a whole and added to the richness of the narrative.

Romance within a fantasy epic adds more feelings and motivations to the incredible feast epic fantasy offers. Incorporating romance, especially from multiple perspectives and stages within the relationship journeys, simply adds to the host of possibilities of emotional engagements readers experience. Women are allowed to participate in this space, not simply as objects to be won or admired, but as fully developed characters with agency and journeys of their own.

Epic Fantasy Is About The Fullness of Life

One of my favorite parts of epic fantasy is getting to see the ordinary lives of people within this fictional world. Sure, the massive battles, political intrigues, and daring encounters are delightful. The monsters, whether they are original creations, familiar beasts, or the ever-incredible dragons, are also a plus. But what is the protagonist fighting for? Is it only for power and possession? It’s amazing how quickly a story falls flat when a protagonist is only interested in monetary gain or fame, with no other purpose besides desire.

But when a seemingly hard character turns out to have some sort of a soft spot–and that soft spot almost always equals love of some kind–oh how quickly readers become invested! Whether dealing with noblebright or grimdark, the relationships are vital for making the story and the stakes count. Relationships, the people the characters love, the ones they are willing to live and die for, can make it all worth experiencing.

Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire

A Song of Ice and Fire is well known for its many conflicts, and yet comparatively, it does not have quite as many battles as one might expect. In fact, a fair bit of time is spent setting out the different elements of characters’ lives. Tyrion’s loneliness and the tragedy of what happened to his first love are not only defining elements to his character but a reason many readers hope he will find some happily ever after. Sansa might seem silly to some, but her desire to be loved, valued, and protected are understandable. And the nature of some romantic relationships form the core of certain conflicts within the epic itself. (But I’ll avoid spoilers here.) Watching these characters explore, experience, and even lose out on chances to find those individuals that understand, cherish, and accept them for who they are can be fulfilling, agonizing, and completely worth the effort.

A good epic should include the fullness of life to create fully developed characters from a variety of backgrounds. This inevitably includes love, and given that the romantic relationships within our own lives can be some of the most definitive and often form the core of the lives we create for ourselves, why should they be any less important to the characters we read about? Not everyone has to have a happy ending, of course. That’s never been the way of things. But the relationships will always be an element of that character’s life in some way or another.

So What Changes When Romance Is a More Dominant Element?

Often the greatest addition that comes about through making romance a larger issue or the A plot rather than the C plot, if you will, is that the protagonist’s success does not simply mean that he receives his love as a reward. (A common trope, especially in older fantasies and military and adventure stories as a whole, is that of the adventurer returning home, retiring and seeking comfort, understanding, and relaxation in the arms of a kind, understanding woman. She is likely to be killed off in the event of a sequel or spinoff.) Instead, the resolution or development of the romance as a whole becomes an important component to the story, and oftentimes the typical love interest may even be the protagonist and have her own say and agency in things rather than only being an item to be won.

Including more romance within an epic does not make the epic less serious by any means. It doesn’t mean that the entire story will be filled with passionate serenades or petty arguments or lopsided love triangles even if those elements may in fact appear. A stronger focus on romance does not spread cooties or some other virulent pox to be avoided. All a stronger focus on romance does is add additional elements to explore.

A fantasy epic that includes a dominant romance plot does not have to lose any of the things that make fantasy epics great. There can be just as many dragons, monsters, quests, banters, traps, ordeals, and trials as with any other. It’s just that some of the characters may feel a little more passionately about one another. There may not be as many passive persons waiting to be wooed or saved. And there may be many more stages of the relationship explored, ranging from the first meeting to the rekindling of the flame to the loss of a beloved to the ones who never missed a step and fought back to back with one another on the battlefield and through numerous adventures.

Fantasy epics with a focus on romance or that have strong romantic themes throughout them tell stories that matter. They’re about characters who feel much the way that we do and who experience great adventures and face tremendous trials, whether because of, in pursuit of, or in spite of the ones they love. Maybe these fantasy epics do feature a protagonist or two at one point trapped in a tower, hoping to be reunited with someone she loves. But in a well-told epic, all the protagonists will have their own agency, meaning that this woman too will have her own feelings and her journey will matter just as much whether she picks up a sword to jump into the fray or discovers other means for growing as a character and a person.

So why does romance belong in epic fantasy? I suppose I’ll just rephrase my first question: Why wouldn’t romance belong in epic fantasy?

How do you think romance enhances an epic fantasy story? What was your last epic fantasy read with romance, and what did you think about it? Share in the comments!

About the Author

J.M. Butler is an adventurer, author, and attorney who never outgrew her love for telling stories or playing in imaginary worlds. She is the author of The Tue-Rah Chronicles, which includes Identity Revealed and Enemy Known. Independent novellas set in the same world include Locked, Alone, and Cursed. She has also written a number of other stories including Mermaid Bride, Through the Paintings Dimly, and more. She writes primarily speculative fiction with a focus on multicultural high fantasy and suspenseful adventures with intriguing romances. And on top of that, she lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they enjoy creating fun memories, challenging each other, and playing with their three cats.

Reach her at:

J.M.’s romantic epic fantasy series The Tue-Rah Chronicles begins with Identity Revealed:

What if you prepared for the wrong destiny? 

Cursed by her devious mother, Amelia, a young mindreader is driven by a deadly destiny. Only she can defeat Naatos, the shapeshifting warlord, in his march of terror across the thirty-six worlds. But Naatos conquers her home in a murderous midnight ambush before she has even learned how to throw a knife. She flees to Earth where she dedicates her life to training, fearing the curse will make her a monster if she does not succeed in defeating Naatos. 

Naatos understands that with choice comes tragedy. He seeks to gather the worlds beneath his rule, righting the errors of previous monarchs and eliminating the complications of ignorant inhabitants. His only weakness is a young mindreader, the last living Neyeb. She doesn’t know who she really is, let alone what she will become, allowing him to twist both her destiny and curse to his advantage.

When Amelia finally returns to her home, the land of the bruin riders, she discovers her family captured, the royal court slaughtered, and her people imprisoned. She launches a rescue only to discover Naatos’s savagery and abilities exceed all reports. Even worse, the truth behind the curse and her identity eviscerates her resolve, forcing her to question everything from her beliefs to her priorities to her character. 

Outmatched and outflanked, Amelia must defend her nation and take control of her true destiny or condemn the worlds to Naatos’s rule and millions to death.

Get it here.

Ryan Muree: Validating Strong Women in Fantasy

Obvious Disclaimer is Obvious: This is not to say there aren’t issues with how we validate strong men in fiction.

Wonder Woman (2017)

We’ve heard it before. Women don’t make profitable decent leads in action movies (clasps barrel o’ popcorn while watching Wonder Woman). They don’t make convincing warriors (cautiously nods to Brienne of Tarth). And young women are not capable of wrapping their tiny emotional minds around bigger issues (fist bumps Katniss Everdeen). If you’re anything like me, I usually greet these opinions with a healthy eye roll and a sip of my basic Starbucks pumpkin spice. As one does.

To be honest, there’s too much here to unpack. So, let’s just focus on one piece: Not only do those characters prove the naysayers wrong, but all of those women are strong. And I mean physically strong.

It’s almost like… in order to prove that female characters are just as viable as male characters in fantasy, we have to make them less stereotypically female…

Am I saying I want physically weaker women and damsels in distress?

Uh, yes, actually… And not exactly to that second part.

Michonne from The Walking Dead

I’m grateful we see fewer stories with helpless damsels in distress. However, I would argue while fewer women are being chained to a rock with their cleavage bursting out of their tops as they scream for help, they’ve sort of morphed into a different kind of damsel in a different sort of distress. Often times, we see our damsel has the audacity to think she’s smart, to think she’s doing something right for herself with all the confidence of an F5 tornado, and then, something happens (usually sexually) to slam her right back down in her place. You can’t see it, but I’m staring down the writer(s) of Julia Wicker in The Magicians right now. My eyebrow is even twitching.

So, while a lot of women in fiction and some of their creators have forged ahead to be something… better… than damsel in distress, we get back to the original point. If we don’t want damsels in distress, then we must want the opposite, right?

Enters: Physically strong kick-ass women!

We all love kick-ass women. One of my favorite tropes of all time is the Femme Fatale. And I agree that putting some literal kick-ass women into fiction pushes the clueless damsel in distress into the past. There are so many good examples: Buffy, Michonne, Beatrix Kiddo, She-Ra, Black Widow, Letty Ortiz… They’re strong women in their own right, outside and in.

But are they viewed as such merely because they’re steeped in stereotypical masculine traits—muscle, speed, agility, a love of cars, swords, and gore?

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Media would suggest so. Movie posters and book covers love to feature kick-ass ladies holding weapons. Video games tend to highlight the physical female fighters over their counterparts.

Strong but feminine women taking the lead seem hard to find. The physically weak or stereotypically feminine characters are often viewed as an afterthought. They’re often a support role, a side-kick.

And if there’s no hiding a “strong but weak” leading lady, the entire product often gets shifted to “chick flick” or “romance/drama” or “not really a real thing people (read: men) are interested in.”

Or it’s not fantasy at all, and it takes decades to tell a story about a woman everyone should’ve known about since the ‘60s.

Katherine G. Johnson from Hidden Figures (2016)

I get it. Kick-ass characters make money. It gets people (read: men) in the door to watch and read. And of course, physically strong, kick-ass women exist in real life and deserve their space.

But we don’t have to have it one way or the other—damsel in distress or weapon-wielding killer. We don’t have to accept or define the strength of women by their sole ability to physically hold their own against men or by how much they do “dude-like” things.

But, Ryan… racing cars or using a katana shouldn’t be a DUDE thing.

Yeah, exactly! So, we shouldn’t allow one woman to be labeled strong just for liking cars and kicking ass on the streets, while labeling another woman weak for liking nail polish and baking cupcakes.

The 21st century is about inclusion and raising voices. We’re making strides in featuring all sorts of strength and interests in leading women. They’re out there, but we need more, and we do that by supporting women of all ages and lifestyles, facing the problems of their worlds head on in their own way, be it by pen or sword.

What are some of your favorite fantasy stories featuring strong leading ladies? Share in the comments. 🙂

About the Author

Ryan grew up a military brat, managed to teach middle school in Texas for a spell, and finally settled in the southeastern US with her husband, their daughter, and two black cats. She loves writing determined heroines who answer the call for wild adventures across rich lands with grit and smarts. When she’s not inventing worlds for her characters, she games, draws, paints, and uses too many exclamation points.

Reach her at:

Ryan’s upcoming release is the first book in her new romantic epic fantasy Kingdoms of Ether series, Kingdoms of Ether:

Emeryss is stuck in a library with the wrong destiny.

As the first Scribe born to the non-magical people of northern Revel, Emeryss was hauled off to the Great Library to spend the rest of her life translating ether into grimoires for her nation’s Casters. When her plan for freedom—to become a Caster—seems hopeless, Emeryss partners with a thieving illusionist for the perfect getaway: an airship, a full crew, and the promise to train Emeryss into the Caster she was meant to be. But the escape is not easy.

Grier—Emeryss’s assigned guard—is prepared to risk his life to protect her against any enemy who would hunt her for her gift. Keeping her safe and close is all he’s ever wanted. Keeping her alive is merely a stepping stone to the greatness his family expects. Letting the love he can never have walk out of the library—not an option.

As Emeryss fights for her freedom, the war between the Casters of Revel and the devastating ether-tech of the enemy nation of Ingini draws near. With the fate of her country at the brink of ruin, Emeryss must either save her people by keeping her old destiny or pay the price for a new one.

Get Kingdoms of Ether on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited and be swept away on a fantastical journey across an expansive world full of magic, politics, love, and duty!

Nicolette Andrews: Book Review of Blade & Rose by Miranda Honfleur

I am an admittedly picky reader who loses interest very quick. Maybe it’s because I have a short attention span, or maybe it’s because I can never turn off my reader brain, but 2018 was littered with the remains of half-read books and in a few instances partially consumed series that I gave up on. I actually went through a period where I wasn’t reading much of anything at all. I couldn’t quite focus on any books, and there were a lot of extenuating circumstances that I won’t go into on this blog.

I actually started Blade & Rose during the height of my 2018 Slump, which it shall forevermore be called. While I loved Rielle and Honfleur’s writing is on par with my favorite authors, the beginning was a bit slow for me and the plot didn’t grab me right away, and when I set it down, it sat unread for a very long time. Why did I come back, you may ask? Well to be honest, part of it was the HYPE around this book. In the reader circles I follow, everyone was raving about it. I had actually planned on reading another book by Honfleur, called No Man Can Tame, but I thought I would finish Blade & Rose first since I was already a quarter of the way through this massive tome.

This book cured my reading slump.

Let me tell you, the hype didn’t lie. This book is phenomenal. Almost as soon as I picked the book back up, I was hooked. Apparently I stopped just before it got really, really good. As I mentioned, the prose is mastery level. Honfleur’s style is rich in detail and her style immersive. And the sensual scenes will leave you squirming.

The kingdom is in the midst of a coup, and Rielle is tasked with escorting Jon back to his monastery. She’s caught between two impossible choices: do her duty and potentially get a promotion that can free her from an unwanted engagement or go and rescue her best friend imprisoned in the palace. Along the way they fight against fierce magic wielders and Rielle’s dangerous and jealous fiance. To further complicate matters, she starts falling in love with Jon, who seems to be a target.

What stands out the most in this book is the characters. Honfleur creates vivid, realistic characters with surprising complexity and depths. Rielle is not your average virginal heroine. She’s a powerful mage, who embraces her sexuality without shame. It was such a refreshing change from the usual heroine of the genre.

Court of Shadows cover featuring Brennan

The supporting cast is superb as well. I’m known for my love of love triangles, and this book by far tops the charts on my favorites. The two competing suitors are Jon, a celibate paladin (which fans of Joscelin from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series will appreciate!), and then there’s Brennan. I’m not always one to go for the bad boy, but Brennan is one of those rare exceptions. Despite his questionable methods and wicked tendencies, you find yourself rooting for him because of his hidden insecurities, which makes him the perfect third in this love triangle. Not only that, but the antagonist chemistry between these two men left me cackling with glee.

The end of the book seemed to come upon me in a whirlwind, leaving me breathless and eager to dive into book 2. Fans of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels will love this book.

I earnestly regret waiting so long to finish this book, and I am currently devouring the rest of the published installments.

What about you, have you read Blade & Rose? What did you think about it?

Full disclosure: Miranda and I will be publishing a series together beginning in August, but I started Blade & Rose long before we broached working together. What is written above is my honest, unbiased opinion.

About the Author

Nicolette is a native San Diegan with a passion for the world of make-believe. From a young age, Nicolette was telling stories, whether it be writing plays for her friends to act out or a series of children’s books (which her mother still likes drag out to embarrass her with in front of company). 

She still lives in her imagination, but in reality she resides in San Diego with her husband, children, a couple cats, and an old dog.  She loves reading, attempting arts and crafts, and cooking.

Reach her at:

Nicolette Andrews: Falling in Love with Fantasy Romance

Who doesn’t want to fall in love?  That hopeful expectation, the sweet torture of uncertainty, the rush of that first kiss…

I’ve always enjoyed the escape of a good romance. There’s something about the angst, the passion, the happily ever after. It reminds me of when I first met my husband—everything was new and exciting. It feels like every glance, and the briefest touch sends a shiver down your spine.

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I’m a hopeless romantic. Though my husband still gives me butterflies and surprises me even after over a decade together, there’s a certain rush to a new romance that’s different. It’s the not knowing what will happen next.  

Book One of the romantic fantasy series Sevenwaters

Before I ever met my husband, I was a pretty awkward teen. I loved the idea of falling in love, but I’d only ever experienced one-sided crushes. And as any sensible bookworm would do, I lost myself in stories of love to educate myself.  

I’d always been a fantasy fan. I devoured The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe and the Harry Potter books as soon as they came out. Then sometime in my teens, I stumbled upon Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. I’d never found a book that so perfectly encompassed all my interests, magic and kissing. It was my gateway drug, and I was hooked. From there through my early adult years, I found myself exclusively drawn to stories of fantasy and romance.

What Is Fantasy Romance?

Book Three of the Otherworld series

Most people are aware of romance as a genre. You might even think of Harlequin novels, a man with his chest bared, his lady with her hair windswept and her face one of pure euphoria. But romance as a genre goes beyond the man chest. It’s a feeling.

Fantasy romance follows the classic romance tropes. It’s about two people falling in love. Most importantly, the couple always has their happy ending (HEA)—no matter what trials they go through, the pair must end up together in the end.

Book One of the Dark-Elves of Nightbloom series

But unlike traditional romance, fantasy romance is set in a world of magic. And sometimes the heroes or heroines are not entirely human, such as in Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson or Bride of the Seaby Emma Hamm.

And as for world building, fantasy romance doesn’t skimp on the complex living worlds. Books like No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur are set in a beautifully depicted world where you feel like you’re living inside the page.

Some People Like It Hot

Book One of the steamy Queen of the Sun Palace series

People give fantasy romance a bad rap (or romance in general). The uninformed assume it’s all about the sex, and it lacks the refinement or complex world building of traditional fantasy. To that I say, what are you, some sort of puritanical tightwad?!

All kidding aside, romance isn’t all about sex. There are varying levels. Some fantasy romances have no sex at all, while others really crank up the heat. It’s about the emotions that go into it. We as fantasy romance readers are looking to escape, not only into an alternate world but into falling in love right with the characters.

What Fantasy Romance Means to Me

Fantasy romance to me is about the feelings and emotions that go into it. Falling in love is one of the best feelings in the world, and fantasy romance as a genre captures that lightning in a bottle and lets you experience it over and over again.

It’s an escape that helps us rekindle that flame in our gut. We get to feel those butterflies in our stomach again and pretend we’re the ones living like a princess inside the dragon king’s castle, and know there’s a happy ending by the final page. That promise and the fantastical, passionate escape define fantasy romance to me.

What was the last fantasy romance you read? And did it give you butterflies? Share in the comments!

About the Author

Nicolette is a native San Diegan with a passion for the world of make-believe. From a young age, Nicolette was telling stories, whether it be writing plays for her friends to act out or a series of children’s books (which her mother still likes drag out to embarrass her with in front of company). 

She still lives in her imagination, but in reality she resides in San Diego with her husband, children, a couple cats, and an old dog.  She loves reading, attempting arts and crafts, and cooking.

Reach her at:

Nicolette’s upcoming release is the third book in her fantasy romance Tales of Akatsuki series, Okami:

Book Three of the Tales of Akatsuki series

This wolf hunts for his freedom…

Okami Shin once gave up everything for love–and received nothing in return but enslavement for all time. Apathetic about life, he patrols his master’s land because he must, or else face swift and brutal punishment. And yet, when he catches a spy, he inexplicably lets her escape. Maybe it’s defiance, or maybe it’s something about her… He’s ready to face punishment, but his master promises something unexpected: capture her, or be locked away for eternity in darkness.

… but he finds a spy instead, as alluring as she is strong.

Akane is a spy, headstrong and determined to gather intelligence about a brutal lord, all to keep the temple and its priestesses safe. When one of his men captures her, the last thing she expects is that he frees her. Unable to get him out of her head, even the new arrival at the temple reminds her of him… Because it is him, in disguise, but why?

Drawn together by fate, they embark on a quest… and perhaps the love of a lifetime…

Sent to save a kidnapped girl, Akane begins to fall for the enemy… and Shin begins to fall for the spy he must return to his master. He brings out the wolf in her, and she brings out the man in him. Shin finds a new reason to live, but fail to bring her back to his master and he’ll never see the light of day again. Can they succeed in their quest and carve out a path to be together, or will a brutal lord sever their tie for all time?

Fans of fairy tale retellings, anime, and manga will love Okami: A Little Red Riding Hood Retelling, an old tale retold from a fresh perspective.

Dive into a rich world of intrigue and adventure, spirits and humans—get your copy of this heartfelt fantasy romance today!

You can get Okami: A Little Red Riding Hood Retelling here.

Helen Allan: Three Things I Learned Writing Scarab: Falling Through Time (Writer Edition!)

As a former journalist and high school English teacher, I thought I knew a bit about writing before I started penning novels, but like any creative endeavour, the more you practice, the better you become.

Looking back now, eighteen novels later, I can see I learned three major things while writing this book – the first about me, the second about audience, and the third about craft.

Lesson One: Know Yourself

About me: Scarab was the first ‘adult’ novel I wrote, but in its first iteration it was a young adult novel written for my students when I worked in a high school with low-socioeconomic students. I was looking to write an escapist fantasy with a little bit of something for everyone: danger, intrigue, romance, suspense, history, and most importantly, I wanted a heroine from a ‘trailer trash’ background rather than a white, middle-class girl.  I wanted someone my students could identify with – I wanted to encourage them to read and to dream big.

I wanted to be a ‘real literary author’ create the next War and Peace blah blah blah – but what did I love to read? Vampire romance, historical romance, fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal.

The novel was read to the students in instalments each week as I finished the chapters – they loved it. But for eight years after that, it languished in a drawer.

Until I pursued my dream to work full-time as an indie author.

Picking it up after leaving teaching, I tried to rewrite it, again and again, but I was fighting against something I didn’t want to admit: I wanted to be a ‘real literary author’ create the next War and Peace blah blah blah – but what did I love to read? Vampire romance, historical romance, fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal.

Admit it Helen – you want to write paranormal romance, you know you do, embrace it!

As soon as I did, the words flowed, the ideas raced each other to leave my fingers and kiss the keyboard.

So that was lesson one.

Lesson Two: Know Your Audience

Lesson two, about audience, came when I tried to rewrite Scarab for the umpteenth time.

I was worried about what people might think if they read sex scenes I had written, romance I had described…

I realised that in writing the story in the first place, a story that had originally come to me while backpacking around Egypt, I had deliberately self-censored, dumbed it down and cleaned it for the YA audience – but in doing so, I had not been true to the story that was in my head. And it wasn’t just this book; I was worried about what people might think if they read sex scenes I had written, romance I had described – I needed to learn not to think about audience at all.

I rewrote the book in the main, I wrote two more in the series, and then I started writing vampire romance. I have not looked back since.

If I wanted to write ‘fuck’, then I would write ‘fuck’. If I wanted to write an epic battle scene where entrails spill all over the ground, then dammit, I would. My audience would come, I would find my tribe – or I wouldn’t, but the stories would not be folded up like origami just so I could fit them into the shape someone else might want.

They might not be paper swans; they might be dragons.

So, writing without constraint became my next lesson, although you must write to market, everyone says so, hit the tropes, keep those happily ever afters, you must also be true to yourself and write the story you want to write.

Lesson Three: Know Your Craft

The third lesson I learned was about craft.

I wrote Scarab in third person limited past tense. It was the natural way for me to write, but subsequent books I have also written first person past and first person present tense. Studying the books I loved, like Twilight, helped me to understand what POV I enjoyed reading. I like many, but those most easily accessible do seem to be in first person.

Rules seem to come out of thin air, as most ideas do, but once in the book, they need to be adhered to.

The more you write, the more confident you become in your own voice, your own style and your own ideas. I don’t second-guess myself now: I am a swear-bear, my characters often are; I am sarcastic, my characters often are; I am romantic and fatalist, so are my plots. Your voice is you. Don’t try to imitate anyone – just be yourself and it will shine through. Your readers, even if they prefer fantasy to vampires or sci-fi to paranormal, will probably read your work anyway because they like the way you write, they like your voice.

I wrote a time-travel romance and the rules seemed to come out of thin air, as most ideas do, but once in the book, they needed to be adhered to. Because I had to go back several times and change things in previous books to match the rules, I rapid-released my Scarab novels, all three, on the same day.

If I was writing an intricate world again, I would do the same for continuity and also for sales – this was by far my best release, and I’ve tried all sorts of different ways now, one week apart, two weeks apart, thirty days apart, pre-order, no pre-order.

So, in summary, what did I learn?

About me: Be true to yourself, write what you love to read.

About audience: Write the book for what you want it to be, do not consider self-censorship, do not even think about audience until it is finished.

About craft: Study the books you love with a critical eye, write the best you can in an authentic voice.

Finally, I learned something else in 2018.  We are a small group, really; it’s a small world, it can seem like there are millions of people writing books and yet sometimes it can seem like you are alone in your endeavours.

I learned to join groups, to reach out and make contact with other authors in my genre, to help out those just starting and to seek help and advice from those enjoying success. The majority I have come in contact with have been professional, kind, helpful and in some cases, real kindred spirits – I would encourage other authors to reach out to each other.

As a writer, do you adhere to these same lessons? What are yours?

About the Author

Helen Allan’s work has been described as ‘ethereal’ and ‘edge of your seat.’ Specialising in fantasy and science fiction romance, Allan’s work has an edge that leaves the reader thinking about her books long after they put them down. Much of her work is underpinned by a love of the natural environment and a deep understanding of the depths of the human psyche.

Connect with Helen Allan online at:

Helen has a time-travel vampire romance series called Vampire Knights:

From modern life to medieval England, Lilly will journey across time in pursuit of the knight who stole her life, her memories and her heart.

From the jousting fields to the castle bedroom, Lilly searches for the answers to the sadness that lies at the centre of the life of Lancelot.

Can she solve the mystery surrounding his turning without becoming victim to the magic and dark arts of the women who took his life?

Will he thank her for returning the memories that were once stolen from him? Or will she face the ultimate death in the quest for something that was never meant to be?

Get Lancelot’s Lilly here.

Miranda Honfleur: The Place of Romantic Fantasy

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.

Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books were (and are) my treasure. *whispers My precioussss*

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

Book 1 of Kushiel’s Legacy

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).

Book 1 of A Court of Thorns and Roses

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.)

Book 1 of the Dragon Saga

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:

Miranda’s upcoming release is the fifth book in her romantic epic fantasy Blade and Rose series, The Dragon King. The series begins with Blade & Rose:

Book 1 of the Blade and Rose series

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.

Helen Allan: Three Things I Learned Writing Scarab: Falling Through Time

When I was a teenager, I was determined I would be an archaeologist – so I studied how to read Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics – as you do. (Did you know the hieroglyph for wine is ‘irp’? They must have had a sense of humour!)

Later I changed my mind and went into journalism, teaching and literary event management – strangely, none required hieroglyphics – but my interest in Egypt never diminished. I was intrigued by the mummification rites, the pyramids, Cleopatra – it all sounded so romantic and mysterious, and I wanted to experience it for myself.

Consequently, as soon as I could, I strapped on a backpack and headed over to check out the place – and this was the genesis for my book Scarab.

Egyptian Culture: Beyond the Tourist Veneer

Book 1 of the Scarab Series

Backpacking around the country on a shoestring budget with my husband gave me a real insight into aspects of the culture you might not see flitting from air-conditioned five-star hotels or ferries to air-conditioned tour buses.

I savoured and noted the heat, the insects, the noise, all interesting and authentic colour for my novel. I watched papyrus being made; I tasted dates straight off the tree, I ate local low-cost fare. I got sick, really sick, I was spat at by local women, threatened, assaulted, dumped in the middle of nowhere and robbed – and it all made for amazing experiences that I would later use in my novels.

Touring the pyramids, the guide held us up in the desert and told us he would ‘take us across the border to Libya to be murdered’ if we didn’t give him all our money. Looking back on it now it is funny, but at the time we were not laughing. Libya would feature later in my Scarab novel as an ominous place and a centre for the slave trade after I learned it was once part of ancient Egypt. Islands off the coast also were once ruled by the ancient land, and these too would play a part in my future novels.

Helen Allan and her husband in Egypt

Staying in hostels that sometimes cost as much as $3 a night I came into contact with locals and their pets, like little tortoises, their idiosyncrasies ‘we build door by door’ and their religious beliefs, which helped add detail to my book when the characters are in modern-day Egypt. We learned that the door handles are taken off taxis so you can’t get out until you pay (often a much higher fee than you agreed before entering the taxi) and that Cairo taxi drivers will not turn their headlights on at night in the false belief it flattens their batteries – making driving at night terrifying for passengers. All this and more I absorbed and remembered, writing a journal each night of our trip and pouring into it my experiences, fears and excitement.

Ancient Egypt: A Closer Look

The heart scarab

Entering tombs, I noted the artistry, the claustrophobia, the colours, the ambience, the stillness and the detailed ritual associated with death. I learned that the scarab was bound over the heart during mummification, to protect the secrets of the heart – this intrigued me.

Learning about the Book of the Dead, Pyramid Texts, and Coffin Texts really started to make me think ancient Egyptians believed they were heading to the stars, not to heaven as we know it, but to the actual stars, and this got me thinking… What if they were?

While travelling around, I was also very interested in how many animals were seen to be sacred and mummified for burial. Cats, known in hieroglyphics as ‘Miw’ were one of the major ones, as were cattle, crocodiles, birds, it just went on and on. Later I would write a cat into Scarab and call it Miw.

The gods too were depicted everywhere with animal characteristics. And this made me think, what if they could assume the guise of animals? Who is to say? So much has been lost, Egyptology is still really in its infancy. There is so much we don’t know, so much we assume.

The Terror and the Romance of Travel

Travelling independently through the country was not easy. In fact, it was downright fucking horrible in some places, but I couldn’t shake the romance of the idea of touring Egypt, and I looked for the best in even the worst of situations.

I found that romance in the ruins of Luxor, watching a coloured-light show at the Karnak Temple that lit up the ponds and the columns of hieroglyphs in amazing colours as they were read out by a presenter. One line from the hieroglyphs in particular resonated with me:

 “Your love is in my heart as the reeds are in the arms of the wind.”

For all the bloodshed and murder and intrigue we had learned about – there was also love, and I knew the novels I ended up writing from this trip would definitely be romance.

While visiting Luxor, I also found the rows of sphinxes leading up the temple intriguing, at the base of each one was a well which once contained a crocodile, ready to receive offerings. Later these wells would feature in a murder scene in Scarab – the perfect way to dispose of a body!

Book 2 of the Scarab series

Many of the hieroglyphs though had been defaced over time by various pharaohs and conquerors, and the French, of course, had stolen so many antiquities, most still grace the Louvre. They even had the twin of the obelisk that once stood at the front of the temple. I’d seen it in Paris, so I didn’t feel totally ripped off, but sad that it was not where it should be. This also would play a part in subsequent Scarab novels, which feature the French and Germans and the rare things they stole from Egypt.

Book 3 of the Scarab series

What three things did I take from Egypt that helped me with writing Scarab?  I took everything, everything that country and its people offered. 

I absorbed it into my skin, and it poured out as little black drops of ink on paper – the Scarab Trilogy.

Which of your favorite books ooze research from their pages? Does it make you love them even more? Share in the comments!

About the Author

Helen Allan’s work has been described as ‘ethereal’ and ‘edge of your seat.’ Specialising in fantasy and science fiction romance, Allan’s work has an edge that leaves the reader thinking about her books long after they put them down. Much of her work is underpinned by a love of the natural environment and a deep understanding of the depths of the human psyche.

Connect with Helen Allan online at:

Helen’s recent release is Gypsy Blood, a paranormal romance series:

An ancient power. A forbidden love.

Smart-mouthed journalism student Freely is not your average eighteen-year-old. Her best friend is a vampire, and they spend most weekends hiding bodies. But when she meets a handsome foreigner, Zan, a strange magic connects them that is older than time.

Bound to him, ancient lore decrees she must learn her gypsy powers in time to protect him from the vampires who seek immortality through his blood, and help him to hunt the creatures of the night.

Can she betray her friend? Will she learn to see Zan as a fighting partner only and ignore their mutual attraction? Can she allow him to continue his line, at the expense of her heart? Or will her love for him destroy them both?

Gypsy Blood is a vampire romance that will leave you clutching your neck and begging for more. Get it here.

Claire Luana: On Romance Tropes

Tropes often get a bad rap, especially tropes in romance novels. A trope is defined as a common or overused theme or device—which sounds negative—but I would argue that we see the same tropes showing up in book after book because we love to read them! Take the Happily Ever After (HEA), for example. This trope has become so integral to the genre of romance that experts will say a romance without a HEA doesn’t even qualify as a romance.

Many readers are split on whether they love or hate it when certain tropes show up in their latest read. I thought I’d weigh in on a few I see frequently, and give you a few recommendations, in case you love the particular trope, or would like to give it a second chance!

Enemies to Lovers

I have to admit, this is one of my favorite romance tropes! I can think of little more enjoyable to read than the fireworks between two people who loathe each other…until they realize what they thought was hate is actually love! There’s so much great emotion and chemistry behind this trope, and there’s a lot that an author can do with it. This one is solidly in my YES column!

Some great enemies-to-lover romances I recommend:  

Love Triangle

This one definitely gets a lot of heat from critics. I admit, it does seem a bit overused, and it’s not one of my favorites. I don’t like that someone gets left out and doesn’t get their HEA. (Maybe that’s why Reverse Harem has become so popular lately!) But if done well, it can be super compelling. For me, I’ll happily read a love triangle if there’s sufficient depth and character development.

If love triangles are your thing, try:

Soulmates/Mates

This trope is especially popular in shifter/wolf romance, as well as fae romance. I don’t like the mates trope when it is used as a stand-in for relationship building. I want to see the characters fall in love—I don’t like it when they realize they’re mates, and so *shrug*, decide to be together. On the other hand, the slow inevitable realization of soulmate status can be amazing to read. So this is another one that I’m mixed on!

Forbidden Love

I admit, I usually love this one! Is there anything better than two people who are so desperate to be together that they will overcome whatever obstacles and barriers are put in their way? To find love, whatever the cost? (Insert satisfied sigh here…)

Some great forbidden love reads are:

Alpha Male

With the crazy success of Fifty Shades of Grey, for a while there you couldn’t crack a romance without bumping into a controlling, possessive, alpha male hero. I find myself liking alpha males in context. If the society, time period, or fantasy setting they are in provides context for why they are acting all alpha, I’m way more likely to enjoy that type of read. If the book is in modern times and the hero is just a misogynistic jerk, no thanks!

What are your favorite or most loathed tropes in romance? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Claire Luana grew up reading everything she could get her hands on and writing every chance she could. Eventually, adulthood won out, and she turned her writing talents to more scholarly pursuits, going to work as a commercial litigation attorney. While continuing to practice law, Claire decided to return to her roots and try her hand once again at creative writing. She has written and published the Moonburner Cycle and is currently finishing a new trilogy about magical food, the Confectioner Chronicles.

She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and two dogs. In her (little) remaining spare time, she loves to hike, travel, binge-watch CW shows, and of course, fall into a good book. Connect with Claire Luana online at:

Her latest series is a reverse-harem fantasy that begins with The Fifth Knight, co-authored with Jesikah Sundin.

Four cursed knights. One warrior princess. A faerie sword that binds their lives together.

Fionna’s only hope to save her family lies across the Irish Sea. As a warrior princess of Ulster, the rival clann holding her father and sister for ransom knows she’ll pay any price to get them back. But even she couldn’t predict the task set before her—to steal a faerie sword from a king.

The Kingdom of Caerleon is dying under Morgan la Fay’s dark magic. Her vengeful curse has locked Excalibur in its scabbard, placing Arthur Pendragon’s kingship in jeopardy. Now Arthur and his sword brothers—Lancelot, Galahad, and Percival—have but one hope. The fifth knight. The one foretold by Merlin who will break the curse and heal the land.

But Arthur and his sword brothers didn’t expect the warrior to be a fierce and captivating woman. Or the legendary White Fay, prophesied by Morgan la Fay to destroy Caerleon by claiming the heart of a king and three sworn knights.

The Fifth Knight is a Reverse Harem tale of betrayal and fated love. Get it here!

Romantic Fantasy Shelf Launch Events!

Ready to kick off 2019 with tons of fantasy romance, romantic fantasy, and reverse harem fantasy books? Win your 2019 TBR pile of ebooks, paperbacks, audiobooks, signed books, as well as bookmarks, interviews, and more!

It’s easy to enter: During the month of January, read and review any romantic fantasy, fantasy romance, or reverse harem fantasy book (by any author) on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, Barnes & Noble, etc. Post your review and the link so we can all discuss and potentially discover our next read! Tag with #RFSChallenge. Indie/Self-published books count as two entries each (note this with #Indie). The reader with the most reviews wins our grand prize pack!!! And two runners-up will win ebook prize packs!!!

Also:
– Meet your favorite authors and win prizes during daily author takeover events

– Invite your friends! Unlock a new set of free books for everyone at 250 members, 500 members, 750 members and 1,000 members!

Already unlocked!
Very close! Join us to help unlock these books! https://www.facebook.com/groups/romanticfantasyshelf/

– Join #ShareRFS by sharing the group and promoting the challenge (or an author takeover, a daily giveaway, blog posts from www.romanticfantasyshelf.com in the group, etc.) on social media and/or your blog to win the blogger prize pack of 2019 new release paperbacks! Post a link to your share with #ShareRFS as one entry. You must have a book blog, bookstagram, etc. to enter, and the one with the most shares wins!

Thank you in advance for joining in on the fun and helping readers who love romantic fantasy, fantasy romance, and reverse harem fantasy find this group! You’re making a huge difference for both the readers and the authors!

Here’s the takeover schedule:

January 1: Launch Day activities
January 2: Nicolette Andrews
January 3: Miranda Honfleur
January 4: Heidi Lyn Burke
January 5: Kyra Halland
January 6: Debbie Cassidy
January 7: Jennifer Grey
January 8: Skyler Andra & Athena Grayson
January 9: Emma Hamm
January 10: Michelle Lynn
January 11: Claire Luana
January 12: Bethany Adams
January 13: CS Wilde & Bree Madelyne Lewandowski
January 14: Ines Johnson
January 15: Allyson Lindt & Jennifer R Frontera
January 16: Emily Sorenson
January 17: Jesikah Sundin
January 18: Rebecca Ethington
January 19: Karen Tomlinson
January 20: Olivia K. Moto & Elizabeth Briggs
January 21: Char Webster & Marilyn Mitchell
January 22: Kimberly Rogers
January 23: Janeen Ippolito
January 24: Cat Banks & Samantha MacLeod
January 25: Gemma Oleander & Paulina Woods
January 26: JM Butler Books & AJ Lancaster
January 27: Catharine Glen & Jessica Wayne
January 28: Kat Parrish
January 29: Shannon Pemrick
January 30: Monica Enderle Pierce
January 31: Ryan Muree & Helena Rookwood

Whose takeover are you most excited for?

Ines Johnson: Girl On Her Own Horse (Tropes in Fantasy Romance)

Have you been paying attention to the evolution of the Cinderella story? If you’ve watched the Disney blockbuster Frozen, then you have. Young girls and women are no longer waiting around for a man to come by on his horse, sweep them off their feet, and give them shoes.

Okay… I doubt any of us would turn down the shoes!

Cinderella swaps her glass slippers for combat boots in this fairytale fantasy. 

My point is that women are now taking the reins of their own stories and rejecting the Cinderella trope of changing themselves into someone new. In many, dare I say most, of these stories, the prince doesn’t pay attention to the Cinderella character in her ordinary world of working 9-5 p.m. with grime under her nails and threadbare clothes. He doesn’t look her way until she gets magicked into expertly applied makeup, a binding, shape-shifting corset, and brand-new shoes.

My first notice of this was in the film Working Girl. This ’80s retelling of the Cinderella story featured a bright secretary who had dreams of entering the board room with a briefcase instead of coffee. When her wicked boss steals her idea, the secretary seizes an opportunity to steal into a high-profile business meeting by pretending that she’s her boss, while also wearing her boss’s dress and shoes. Melanie Griffith, as the secretary, uses Harrison Ford’s charming character to get her into the board room’s door. When the business deal goes south, Griffith doesn’t wait for the knight in a business suit to rescue her. Instead, she shows off her “head for business and bod for sin” in order to win a business deal, thwart her boss, and get her man.

In this Edwardian retelling of Cinderella, the heroine is a katana-wielding zombie slayer!

A decade later, Drew Barrymore retold the Cinderella story in Ever After. In a pivotal scene when Barrymore’s character, Danielle, has been taken prisoner by the evil Pierre Le Pieu, the audience holds their breath as the prince leaps onto his horse and heads off to rescue her. But Danielle picks up not one, but two swords, and swashbuckles her way to an escape. As she’s walking out of the castle a free woman, the prince arrives moments too late with her shoe in hand.

In this reverse Cinderella retelling, the hero is the one looking to go from rags to riches…

Nearly another decade later came another retelling with Penelope. Penelope is an heiress born under a curse that can only be broken in the face of true love. The problem? Penelope’s face doesn’t inspire sonnets and poems as much as it does a hankering for breakfast meats. Penelope’s snout nose has caused her to be rejected her whole life, including rejection from her own mother. When she finally finds a man willing to tolerate her looks and break the curse, she comes to the realization that she likes herself just the way she is. And just like that, the curse is broken and Penelope’s outside matches her glowing inside.

In today’s stories, women don’t wait around for men on horses. They take the reins, defend themselves, and declare love to their own reflections. They’re now even qualified to deliver true love’s kiss to their own sisters as we saw in the blockbuster Frozen.

What are your favorite books with heroines who save themselves? Share in the comments!

About the Author

Lover of fairytales, folklore, and mythology, Ines Johnson spends her days reimagining the stories of old in a modern world. She writes books where damsels cause the distress, princesses wield swords, and moms save the world.

Want a modern-day fairytale retelling? Check out her Cindermama series. Rather see 21st century women kicking ass with a touch of sword and sorcery? Check out her Misadventures of Dame Galahad series. Or want a bit of magic in your love story? Check out her Knights of Caerleon series.

You can find her and her books at www.ineswrites.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ineswrites/

Ines’ recent release is One Knight, the second book in her Knights of Caerleon series:

Sir Lancelot will make you swoon in this steamy, modern-day adventure of valiant knights, sassy witches and the death of chivalry!

Lance has loved Lady Gwin for a hundred years. Though he’s the best knight in Camelot, his low birth ensured that she was beyond his suit, and so she was promised to another. But when Lance and Gwin’s lips accidentally meet, Lance flees Camelot, rushing into battle recklessly to avoid conquering the one quest he’s never completed: having the noble Lady Gwin in his arms.

Lady Gwin has been living a lie for a hundred years. Her arranged marriage linked two powerful families, ensuring her place among her people—but her vows were never consummated, and the union to a treasonous wizard is a sham. Now, she’s ready to tell the world the truth, starting with the man who captured her heart just before her wedding day. But when a stolen kiss sends Lance running unprepared into a dangerous mission, Gwin is determined to save him.

Though forbidden love has drawn them together, the pressures of society and the pursuit of a deadly enemy threaten to tear Lance and Gwin apart. In a place as steeped in ancient tradition and duty as Camelot, following their hearts could spell disaster.


One Knight is the second book in a series of modern-day retellings of the myths and lore of Camelot. If you like fierce knights who would lay down their lives for their brothers and lose their hearts for their women, then you’ll love the Knights of Caerleon.