2019 RFS Book Raffle- Read on to Learn How to Win!

Time: 10/15 – 12/13 at 11:59 PM EST.


Books: any of the 12 books listed in this grid below attached


Goal: read as many as you can; each book and bingo gets you extra points and extra chances to win


What Can You Win:
The winners will be selected at random using the points/tickets to identify the winners.


First Prize is a $15 gift card. If in the US or UK, this will be an Amazon gift card. If not, then we’ll find a way to get you a Visa gift card or something similar. You will also receive a surprise hardcover book, which will be mailed to you.


Second Prize and Third Prize are surprise ebooks, which will be announced at the time of winning.


Is This Open Internationally:
Yes indeed! Now, if you are outside the US or the UK, it may take us a little more time to get you your prize, but we’ll get it figured out.


How Can You Win:
Winners will be selected at random from the pot of points in the raffle. No purchase is necessary. A lot of these books are available for free, KU, and also through libraries. And past books read may be entered so long as you follow the instructions.


How Do You Get Points
1) each book you read from this list + prove that you have read gets you a point that goes in the raffle


2) each bingo gets you bonus points; you get bingo by getting all the books in a single row either horizontal, vertical, or diagonal


How Do You Prove You’ve Read a Book:
1) write a review and drop a link to your review or write a review (if you use a service like Audible, take a screenshot or verify that your direct link connects


2) if you have already read and reviewed these books, you can still gain the point by sharing your review somewhere on social media and dropping a link here. Screenshots are also fine.


Important: Make sure that you post in this thread your links to your reviews/social media posts. This thread will be pinned as an announcement, and you can also find it through #RFS2019Raffle

You will have to be part of the Romantic Fantasy Shelf group, so if you aren’t, join us here.


Points:
1) 1 book equals 1 point


2) the very first reader to get a confirmed long bingo (4 books) gets 30 bonus points


3) the very first reader to get a confirmed short bingo (3 books) gets 25 bonus points


4) every subsequent reader who gets a confirmed long bingo (4 books) gets a bonus 20 points


5) every subsequent reader who gets a confirmed short bingo (3 books) gets a bonus 15 points


1 point = 1 ticket in the raffle

Eligible Books

These links are connected to the RFS Amazon affiliate account, which helps to cover costs for the website, hosting, etc.

You do not have to use these affiliate links and no purchase is necessary to participate.

45 Swoon-worthy Fantasy Romance Novels

Want to fall in love with a fantasy romance? We at Romantic Fantasy Shelf got you covered! If you’re happy to support indie authors, we’ve marked them with a convenient #indie. In no particular order:

1. Warprize (Chronicles of the Warlands Book 1) by Elizabeth Vaughan

“Vaughan’s brawny barbarian romance recreates the delicious feeling of adventure and the thrill of exploring mysterious cultures created by Robert E. Howard in his Conan books and makes for a satisfying escapist read with its enjoyable romance between a plucky, near-naked heroine and a truly heroic hero.” —Booklist

2. Lord of the Fading Lands (The Tairen Soul Book 1) by C. L. Wilson 

“This book transports you into this amazing world of the Fae. You will get lost in their history and will love these characters. You will love their code of honor and be amazed with their power.” –Amazon Reviewer

3. Master of Crows by Grace Draven #indie

“You get that sense of a living world, weaved with dark magic and ordinary lives, as if this place exists outside of the pages and the book is a window giving you a glimpse. Against this background, plays out a touching love story.  …It’s not a sex story, although sex is in the book. It’s a slow burn relationship that unfolds over the course of weeks. I’m jaded and I had this terrible sense of dread before the finale because I’ve become attached to the characters.  She got me.” –Ilona Andrews, #1 NY Times Bestselling Author of The Kate Daniels Series

4. Pestilence (The Four Horsemen Book 1) by Laura Thalassa #indie

“These complex characters manage to change and alter each other so drastically that neither is the same at the end of this book. This series is masterfully in-depth and complex. You will have moments of laughter, tears, and scenes that will leave goosebumps behind. This book somehow manages to not only capture these characters, but shine a light on what it means to be human; good and bad.” –Amazon Reviewer

5. Heart of the Fae: A Beauty and the Beast Retelling (The Otherworld Book 1) by Emma Hamm #indie

“The romance between Sorcha and Eamonn is slow-building, but that makes it even more believable and real. The relationship building between, not just Sorcha and Eamonn, but all other characters (especially Boggart, Oona, and Bran) is adorable (mainly Boggart’s adorable).” –Amazon Reviewer

6. No Man Can Tame (Dark-Elves of Nightbloom Book 1) by Miranda Honfleur #indie

“Rich world-building in this fantasy romance about heroes from different cultures bridging the gap to bring their peoples–and themselves–together.” –USA Today bestselling science fiction & fantasy author Lindsay Buroker

7. Promise of Darkness (Dark Court Rising Book 1) by Bec McMaster #indie

“A combination of fairy tales and mythology plus a believable slow burn romance kept me glued to my kindle. I defy anyone to read this and not fall in love with these characters.” –Amazon Reviewer

8. Mystic and Rider (Twelve Houses series Book 1) by Sharon Shinn 

“The incredibly powerful mystics’ talents slowly revealed. Love and trust growing between companions-of-the-road. King and queen, warriors, peasants & mystics face treason & revolution. And love blooms among the thorns.” –Amazon Reviewer

9. A Promise of Fire (The Kingmaker Chronicles Book 1) by Amanda Bouchet

“A perfect blend of adventure and love story with a fantastic hero and heroine at its center, this is a not to be missed story of gods and goddesses, magic, prophecies and the power of true love.”—Heroes & Heartbreakers

10. Lonen’s War (Sorcerous Moons Book 1) by Jeffe Kennedy #indie

“Jeffe Kennedy has a terrific knack for meticulous worldbuilding, which helps to make her characters both relatable and otherworldly. I thoroughly enjoyed Lonen’s War and the Sorcerous Moons trilogy. If you’re a fan of fantasy romance, you should definitely pick this up!” ~ Thea Harrison, NYT and USA TODAY bestselling author of the Elder Races series

11. Kitsune: A Little Mermaid Retelling (Tales of Akatsuki Book 1) by Nicolette Andrews #indie

“It’s a tale of love, war and betrayal, with a huge dollop of magic… If I had to sum it up in one word, well, I can’t. That’s how good it was… It’s one of those novels that you just know will stay with you.” –Goodreads Reviewer

12. Soulbound (The Return of the Elves Book 1) by Bethany Adams #indie

“It was a fresh take on true love, what is real, what can be thought and . . . did I mention true love?” –Amazon Reviewer

13. Betrayal’s Price (In Deception’s Shadow Book 1) by Lisa Blackwood  #indie

“Fantasy, romance and loyalty takes the reader into a world of magic and the mystery of sharing a body with another.” –Amazon Reviewer

14. Burn Bright by Bec McMaster #indie

“Neva is a breath of fresh air. She definitely fits the bill as the heroine. Cas is not quite the typical knight in shining armor, but he will do. This was an amazing story of old myths, evil kings, and a kind Prince.” –Amazon Reviewer

15. Beauty In Darkness (Royal Hearts Book 1) by Elizabeth Briggs #indie

“This story is magical. A true fairy tale. It’s an imaginative, lovely read.” –Amazon Reviewer

16. Stolen Princess: A Fantasy Romance (Royal Conquest Book 1) by Nikki Jefford #indie

“A wild ride full of romance, adventure, and twists that had me swooning one page and making shocked gasps the next. Expertly written with rich world-building and complex characters.” –Amazon Reviewer

17. The Winter King (Weathermages of Mystral Book 1) by C.L. Wilson

“THE WINTER KING is a fierce blend of heart-pounding action, pulse-throbbing romance that touches the depths of your soul, and brands it with an emotion that seizes and captivates, and vibrates everything within. Combined with sexy romance, explosive magic, bloody murder, and unimaginable mayhem, all wrapped around a berated and belittle Warrior Princess, that is destined to save all the kingdoms combined!” –Amazon Reviewer

18. Dark King (Sea Fae Book 1) by C.N. Crawford #indie

“Adventurous, humorous, suspenseful with a dark past and a bright future as well as a romance that leaves you needing more.” –Amazon Reviewer

19. A Sorceress of His Own (The Gifted Ones Book 1) by Dianne Duvall #indie

“A Sorceress of His Own has a wonderful dynamic, an amazing promise of future adventures and a well-told romance that is sure to please.” –Long and Short Reviews

20. Trick (Foolish Kingdoms Book 1) by Natalia Jaster #indie

“Their relationship was intricately woven into something so real and beautiful.” –Amazon Reviewer

21. Gilded Rose: A Beauty and the Beast Retelling (Celestials Book 1) by Emma Hamm #indie

Available November 27, 2019!

22. Through the Paintings Dimly by J.M. Butler #indie

“‘Through the Paintings Dimly’ by J.M Butler was a brilliantly immersive read which didn’t shy from dark topics or twisting the literary knife a little deeper–This delivered a touch of horror and more than a dab of fantasy in with a romantic ribbon. ” –Amazon Reviewer

23. Radiance (Wraith Kings Book 1) by Grace Draven #indie

“In short order, Draven has demonstrated that she is a truly gifted teller of romantic fantasy tales that are utterly unforgettable. In Radiance, Draven explores a forced political marriage between seemingly incompatible races. The growing relationship between these protagonists is a genuine joy to read, and the fantastic story is filled with dangerous twists and turns!” –Jill M. Smith – Romantic Times Reviewer

24. The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen  #indie

“Heart-pounding romance and intense action wrapped in a spellbinding world. I was hooked from the first page.”– ELISE KOVA, USA Today bestselling author of the Air Awakens books

25. Locked by J. M. Butler #indie

“A clever, funny, and quick little romance.” –Amazon Reviewer

26. Poison Study (Soulfinders Book 1) by Maria V. Snyder

Poison Study is both a riveting romance and a spellbinding fantasy.” — B&N Explorations

27. Cruel Beauty (Cruel Beauty Universe Book 1) by Rosamund Hodge

“The complex layers of each character in this book just blew my mind. I was kept on the edge of my seat until the very end. I LOVE this book. It’s a must read for sure!” –Amazon Reviewer

28. Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga

“Full of swoony romance intertwined with non-stop adventure, Kiss of the Royal was a delight from start to finish. Lindsey Duga has created a world with fairytale charm and shivers that readers are sure to enjoy.” ―Mindee Arnett, critically acclaimed author of Avalon and Onyx & Ivory

29. Chosen of Azara (Tales of Tehovir Book 1) by Kyra Halland #indie

“Not only is this book great fantasy, but at the same time it’s also a fantastic tale of love.” –Amazon Reviewer

30. The Kiss of Deception: The Remnant Chronicles, Book One by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception has it all–beautiful writing, heart-pounding suspense, a fiery princess, and an epic romance that’ll make you swoon. This is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year!” ―Alyson Noël, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Immortals

31. The Golden Spider (An Elemental Steampunk Chronicle Book 1) by Anne Renwick #indie

“The Golden Spider is a delicious treat for fans of gadgets, science, and steampunk romance!” –Jen at That’s What I’m Talking About

32. Dawn’s Promise (Silent Wings Book 1) by A.W. Exley #indie

“I found myself enthralled in the world the author created and couldn’t get enough of this gentle yet fiery romance between the two main characters.” –Amazon Reviewer

33. The Sorcerer’s Concubine (The Telepath and the Sorcerer Book 1) by Jaclyn Dolamore #indie

“Excellent touching fantasy novel with a fairly original system of magic and races which centers around forbidden romance (with some pretty hot scenes) and includes racial tensions, some necromancy, magical races, the possibility of war, politics, and the development of sorcerous skills.” –Amazon Reviewer

34. The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga Book 1) by G.A. Aiken 

“Throw in a bunch of centaurs, elves, dwarves, witches and a cranky dragon, a lost treasure, spectacular fight scenes and hint of romance, and you have got the beginnings of a great fantasy adventure that will leave you wanting more.” –Amazon Reviewer

35. Assassin’s Gambit: The Hearts and Thrones Series by Amy Raby 

“Raby’s debut heralds the arrival of a terrific new fantasy romance voice….[Raby] has a gift for storytelling.” —RT Book Reviews

36. Vengeance Born (A Novel of the Light Blade Book 1) by Kylie Griffin

“Vengeance Born is a Fantasy Romance, and totally different then most romance stories. It is a story of two unlikely people, who come together to help each other survive a deadly situation. It is a story of trust, prejudice and how love can change anything.” –Amazon Reviewer

37. The Curse Giver by Dora Machado #indie

“If you like fantasy with a dash of romance and suspense then buy this book.” –Amazon Reviewer

38. The Wolf King’s Bride (Fate of Imperium Book 1) by C.A. Worley #indie

“Fabulous centre characters combined with romance, intrigue and action make this such an incredibly easy read to lose and immerse yourself in.” –Amazon Reviewer

39. The Fire Lord’s Lover (The Elven Lords Book 1) by Kathryne Kennedy

“A Tolkien-esque world combined with an eighteenth-century historical romance produces a satisfying tale with twists you’ll never expect. Excellent!”—Jennifer Ashley, USA Today bestselling author of Pride Mates

40. Pathways (The Kingdom Chronicles Book 1) by Camille Peters #indie

“Talk about being sucked into a story. I was almost immediately drawn into this fairy tale world. The magic was perfect. The romance was engaging. I am so happy I read this one.” –Amazon Reviewer

41. My Lady Mage: A Warriors of the Mist Novel by Alexis Morgan

“This is the story of the threat reaching across the entire countryside and the task of these five warriors to protect the girl who called them and to free the land of whatever the evil turns out to be. It’s a fast paced story of romance and action.” –Amazon Reviewer

42. Troubled Waters (An Elemental Blessings Novel Book 1) by Sharon Shinn 

“The story has romance, fantasy, suspense, political intrigue, and murder. If you like to read a fast-moving fantasy with a strong heroine, pick up this book.” –Amazon Reviewer

43. The Companion by Susan Squires #indie

“It was a rich tale with all the historical background to round out the story and yet not bore. And the romance sizzled.” –Amazon Reviewer

44. The Dragon Princess: Sleeping Beauty Reimagined (The Forgotten Kingdom Book 1) by Lichelle Slater #indie

45. Hunted by the Winter King (Faeted Mates Book 1) by Ariel Hunter #indie

“I’m already in love with Mara and her feisty spirit. I can’t wait to read more…” –Amazon Reviewer

Which of these have you read? Which others would you recommend?

58 Romantic Fantasy Books To Tie Your Heart In Knots

Looking for your next romantic fantasy read? We here at Romantic Fantasy Shelf have put together a list of our favorites and the most promising candidates from our TBRs, in no particular order, just for you! To help those of you supporting indie authors, we’ve gone ahead and marked those with #indie. Enjoy!

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas 

“A dazzling world, complex characters and sizzling romance. Feyre is a charming heroine with a perfect amount of flaws and strengths, and her chemistry with Tamlin is wonderfully tangible.” –Top Pick, RT Book Reviews

2. Daughter of the Forest (The Sevenwaters Series Book 1) by Juliet Marillier 

“It is dark, painful and horrifying at times but it is also balanced with extreme love, devotion and hope. So even though it breaks your heart DoF will do its best to patch it up again.” — Amazon Reviewer

3. Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel’s Legacy Book 1) by Jacqueline Carey 

“The story is rich and complex, the characters deep and conflicted, and the setting is full of grace. There’s love & betrayal, for sure, but also sword fights, brilliant escapes, brutal warlords, torture, a good deal of kindness unlooked for, poetry, royalty teetering on the brink of collapse, and so much more.” –Amazon Reviewer

4. Blood Oath (The Darkest Drae Book 1) by Raye Wagner & Kelly St. Clare #indie

“This book has everything you could possibly want: action, love, hysterical inner monologue, the answers to the questions and predictions that eat away at you while reading, and leaves you wanting more.” –Amazon Reviewer

5. Fantasy of Frost (The Tainted Accords Book 1) by Kelly St. Clare #indie 

“Olina is a very interesting character and you’ll quickly be drawn into her story and be anxious to learn more. There is adventure, a little romance, interesting world building, and fun and interesting characters that play into this series well.” –Amazon Reviewer

6. Air Awakens (Air Awakens Series Book 1) by Elise Kova #indie

“I love Air Awakens! It’s Phantom of the Opera meets Cinderella in a wonderfully crafted world created by debut author Elise Kova.” –Michelle Madow

7. Blade & Rose (Blade and Rose Book 1) by Miranda Honfleur  #indie

“…[M]ultiple threads of a complex plot, forbidden romance, manipulative villains, and marvelous writing.” –Fantasy-Faction.com

8. Mother of Shadows (The Chosen Book 1) by Meg Anne #indie

“I’m completely shocked that this is a debut novel… It’s executed flawlessly, the storyline is decadent, full of magic, love, heat and deceit. I literally felt like I was stepping into a different world, I didn’t want to put the book down, I just had to know what was going to happen next!” –Amazon Reviewer

9. Stolen Songbird: Malediction Trilogy Book One by Danielle L. Jensen  #indie

Stolen Songbird is an absolutely wonderful addition to the fantasy genre. The book is full of magic, adventure, outlandish creatures, and at its heart is one of the most touching love stories I have ever read…” –Avid Reviews

10. The Priestess and the Dragon (Dragon Saga Book 1) by Nicolette Andrews  #indie

“This story has it all, action adventure, mystery, touch of romance, humor, excellent visual word pictures, and the deepest, full-bodied characters.” –Amazon Reviewer

11. Phoenix Unbound (The Fallen Empire Book 1) by Grace Draven 

“Grace Draven’s exciting romantic fantasy features characters who are fresh and original. Their problems and triumphs will keep you reading into the night.”—Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times bestselling author

12. Mermaid Bride by J.M. Butler #indie

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s prose is very strong, with beautiful imagery that captures all the senses and a strong plot of conflictual romance, loyalty, and integrity.” –Amazon Reviewer

13. Oath Taker: Kingdom of Runes Book 1 by Audrey Grey #indie

“A lyrical, sweeping fantasy that will take you on a beautiful adventure in a world where danger and romance lurk at every corner.” ~ Olivia Wildenstein, USA Today Bestselling author of A PACK OF BLOOD AND LIES

14. A Thief & a Gentlewoman (Counterfeit Contessa Book 1) by Clare Sager #indie

“There’s romance, deception, magic, palace intrigue, murder, sword fights, a couple of cross country races against time and best of all, a selection of characters (not just two) I want to read more about.” –Amazon Reviewer

15. Fortune Favors the Cruel (Dark Maji Book 1) by Kel Carpenter & Lucinda Dark #indie

“If you love dark fantasy, anti-heroines and sizzling enemies-to-lovers romance, prepare to be tired, because you won’t be able to put this puppy down.” –Katherine Bogle, author

16. Betrayed (Magi Rising Book 1) by Raye Wagner #indie

“Brutal yet compelling, BETRAYED brings me back to why I fell in love with dark fantasy. The lush jungle kingdom of Qrali is as vibrant as it is dangerous, and the chemistry between Disa and Rune is mind blowing. Full of magic, intrigue, and plenty of mystery–this tantalizing tale will keep you glued to the book until the very last page.” ~ Kel Carpenter, USA Today Bestselling Author of Fortune Favors the Cruel

17. Waters of Salt and Sin (Uncommon World Book 1) by Alisha Klapheke #indie

“I give this book a 5/5, not only for the stellar world building, kickass heroine, and sexy love interest, but for the hungover longing for more I’m experiencing days after. Klapheke is one to watch out for!” ~Katherine Bogle, author of Savages

18. Summernight (Bridge of Legends Book 1) by Sarah K. L. Wilson #indie

“Marielle & Tamerlan’s lives intertwine with the hope and fear of their fates, and it’s an amazing ride. The question of who will succeed and who will die flows throughout the entire novel, leaving me on the edge of my seat until the very end.” –Amazon Reviewer

19. Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha Book 1) by Tasha Suri

“The magic system is fascinating, and it is seamlessly integrated into both plot and character development. I adored the romance.” –Amazon Reviewer

20. Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

“A brilliant debut, full of everything I love: a sparkling and fully realized heroine, an intricate and deadly system of magic, and a searing romance that kept me reading long into the night. Serpent & Dove is an absolute gem of a book.” —Sarah J. Maas

21. A Bond of Venom and Magic (The Goddess and the Guardians Book 1) by Karen Tomlinson  #indie

“A swoon worthy page-turner. Tomlinson finds the perfect balance of adventure and romance. I can’t wait for the next book! I loved it…!” — Kelly Oram, Bestselling Author of Cinder & Ella

22. Feast of the Mother (Witch of the Lake Book 1) by Miranda Honfleur & Nicolette Andrews  #indie

“Steeped in rich and dark folklore, Feast of the Mother is young-adult fantasy at its best. Honfleur and Andrews take witches, murder, and romance, twist and weave them together with an imaginative and mysterious backdrop of medieval grievances. The result is a page-turning tale that will keep you riveted from the first page until the very last.” ~Raye Wagner, USA Today bestselling author of Magi Rising series

23. The City of Brass: A Novel (The Daevabad Trilogy) by S. A. Chakraborty

“THE CITY OF BRASS has some of the best fantasy world building I’ve ever read, along with compelling characters, an intriguing mystery, a dash of swoon-worthy romance, and roots in cultures that don’t normally take center stage in fantasy.” –Amazon Reviewer

24. To Claim a King (Age of Gold Book 1) by May Sage #indie

“This is the first book I have read by this author and will not be the last. There was drama, action, fantasy and romance.” –Amazon Reviewer

25. Seas of Crimson Silk (Burning Empire Book 1) by Emma Hamm #indie

“…this is a slow burn of romance, that is definitely apparent in all the most deliciously antagonizing of ways. Everything from their physical chemistry to their verbal interactions was definitely melt worthy.” –Amazon Reviewer

26. Sarya’s Song by Kyra Halland #indie

“This was a very enjoyable read, a perfect blend of well-thought-out fantasy with a satisfying romance. I loved the ingenious and cleverly implemented concept of music as a form of magic. Highly recommended.” –Amazon Reviewer

27. Kill the Queen (A Crown of Shards Novel Book 1) by Jennifer Estep 

“Kill the Queen rocked my world! With court intrigue, a cast of fantastic characters, epic political sweep, and a slow-burn romance to die for, this book had me rapt. I only regret I devoured it so fast. And that I didn’t write it. More please!” –Jeffe Kennedy, RITA® Award winning author of The Pages of the Mind

28. The Rose Crown by Catharine Glen #indie

“No word is out of place and each sentence is balanced. It reminds us of a long-forgotten melody, of which you can only remember when you hear it aloud, and it warms the cockles of your heart.” –Fantasiareviews.com (Best Writing of the Year, 2016)

29. The Shadow and The Sun (A Militess and Mage Novel Book 1) by Monica Enderle Pierce  #indie

“I love this story so much. The characters are fully realized without the author needing to go into detailed back stories. Their actions and reactions MAKE SENSE! It’s so refreshing to have not one but both of the main characters be likable and rooting for both of them. I understand where they are both coming from and the tidbits of detail into their live before they collided are so juicy and raw. I really love this book and highly recommend it if you’re at all a romance, fantasy, or action/adventure fan.” –Amazon Reviewer

30. Heart of Dragons (Chronicles of Pelenor Book 1) by Meg Cowley #indie

“I loved the characters, the storyline, the murkiness of the relationships and how the characters have to work through it. I also happen to love elves 🧝‍♀️ And dragons! I highly recommend this book” –Amazon Reviewer

31. Beneath the Mists (Of Astral and Umbral Book 1) by Bonnie L. Price #indie

“The romance isn’t overdone, it doesn’t detract from the plot but instead enhances the character’s development.” –Amazon Reviewer

32. Diviner’s Prophecy (Diviner’s Trilogy Book 1) by Nicolette Andrews #indie

“I won’t give too much away, but the cast of characters Ms. Andrews has assembled leave the reader guessing as to their true intentions, while also managing to pull them under their spell. Will NOT disappoint true romantic fantasy fans!” –Amazon Reviewer

33. Tree of Ages (The Tree of Ages Series Book 1) by Sara C. Roethle #indie

“I had the craving for a good epic fantasy, and this world provided it. There is action, a quest, the potential for a slow-burn romance, family drama, an unknown past, the the looming threat of potential war on the horizon. I enjoyed watching the character development of Finn as she slowly becomes more human” –Amazon Reviewer

34. Dragon Storm (Heritage of Power Book 1) by Lindsay Buroker #indie

“Another new series with typical Buroker flair of impossible mission, funny verbal banter, romantic attraction, and solid storytelling.” –Amazon Reviewer

35. Witch Song by Amber Argyle #indie

“Witch Song is a debut with an engrossing world full of magic, adventure and romance. It’s a story that fascinated me with its unique witch lore and rich world building, and introduced me to some great in-depth characters.” ~Katie, Mundie Moms

36. Identity Revealed (The Tue-Rah Chronicles) by J.M. Butler #indie

“I fell in love, hate, despair with all the characters. The relationships in the story are highly relatable.” –Amazon Reviewer

37. Frostbound Throne: Song of Night (Court of Sin Book 1) by May Sage #indie

“I loved this book! If you enjoy fantasy, adventure and romance you will love it as much as I did.” –Amazon Reviewer

38. Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels, Book 1) by Anne Bishop 

“So good, I read it twice years apart and can’t wait until I read it a third time in a few years. Magic, romance, loyalty beyond measure and a great story.” –Amazon Reviewer

39. Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson 

“If you are looking for magic you will find it inside this book. Sorcery of Thorns is a bewitching gem, full of slow burning romance, loyal friendships, and extraordinary world building. I absolutely loved every moment of this story.” —Stephanie Garber, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Caraval series

40. The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air Book 1) by Holly Black 

“Heart-in-throat action, deadly romance, double-crossing, moral complexity-this is one heck of a ride.”
–Booklist (starred review)

41. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass series Book 1) by Sarah J. Maas

“I loved the sarcasm, the romance, the mystery and the action that this story has. I loved how well developed was the love, the hatred and the friendship throughout the story.” –Amazon Reviewer

42. Sky Keeper (The Drowning Empire Book 1) by S.M. Gaither #indie

“Rich world building, fast-paced adventure, a dash of romance and a wondrous quest make this a book to get lost in and wish for the continuation as soon as the last page is done.” –Amazon Reviewer

43. Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (Dragon Blood Book 1) by Lindsay Buroker #indie

“I found myself wanting more of the book and not wanting to put it down. It had great airship action, romance was very exciting, and I find myself genuinely caring for the characters and wanting more at the end of it.” –Amazon Reviewer

44. Destiny (Experimental Heart Book 1) by Shannon Pemrick #indie

“The suspense, the wonder of romance, the different types of mythical creatures was so interesting it hooks you right in.” –Amazon Reviewer

45. Kingdom of Exiles (The Beast Charmer Book 1) by Maxym M. Martineau 

“With Kingdom of Exiles, Maxym M. Martineau launches a fresh new romantic fantasy series that has all the lush world-building and intoxicating magic of the Harry Potter universe edged with something altogether more adult… Martineau’s writing bursts with humor, heart, and an exquisite burst of magic that declare her a new voice as powerful (and charming!) as one of her irresistible characters.” – Entertainment Weekly

46. The Mark of the Tala (The Twelve Kingdoms Book 1) by Jeffe Kennedy 

“It’s a solid first book and I enjoyed the author’s world-building and writing. If you like fantasy with a little romance thrown in then this book is for you.” –Amazon Reviewer

47. Beneath the Canyons (Daughter of the Wildings Book 1) by Kyra Halland #indie

“This book had me from page one. It has fantasy, mystery, and western with a great romance plot throughout. The intrigue kept me turning the page, and the well-developed characters made me care about what would happen next.” –Amazon Reviewer

48. Eye of Truth (Agents of the Crown Book 1) by Lindsay Buroker #indie

“You’ve got adventure, mystery, romance, lovable leads and quirky supporting characters. It’s all there. Heck yeah!” –Amazon Reviewer

49. Ishtar’s Blade (Ishtar’s Legacy Book 1) by Lisa Blackwood #indie

“I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy with romance and intrigue.” –Amazon Reviewer

50. Torn (The Unraveled Kingdom Book 1) by Rowenna Miller 

“This book has romance, intrigue, betrayal and magic sewn all though it. Very well done!” –Amazon Reviewer

51. Striking Midnight (Fairy Tale Lies, Spies, and Assassins Book 1) by Jennifer Ellision #indie

“Cyn is not your average damsel, she is a kick a$$ leader with a brilliant mind. Loved the story.” –Amazon Reviewer

52. Prisoner of Silk: A Dark Fairy Tale Retelling (Queen of the Sun Palace Book 1) by Lidiya Foxglove #indie

“…it was definitely compelling and erotic but different from the usual romantic fantasy!” –Amazon Reviewer

53. Trial by Fae (Dragon’s Gift: The Dark Fae Book 1) by Linsey Hall #indie

“I loved the action, adventure, romance, and getting to know Mari.” –Amazon Reviewer

54. Shadows for a Princess (Trials of Terraina, Book 1) by Vivienne Savage and Dominique Kristine #indie

“The authors have penned a story line keeps you intrigued with a hint of romance to take your heart for a ride in the best of ways.” –Amazon Reviewer

55. Marked by Dragon’s Blood (Return of the Dragonborn Book 1) by N.M. Howell #indie

“I would recommend this book to all who like light romance with HEA and, of course, Dragons.” –Amazon Reviewer

56. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy Book 1) by N.K. Jemisin

“Multifaceted characters struggle with their individual burdens and desires, creating a complex, edge-of-your-seat story with plenty of funny, scary, and bittersweet twists.” –Publishers Weekly

57. Star of the Morning (A Novel of the Nine Kingdoms Book 1) by Lynn Kurland 

“I love the fact that the heroine truly is a strong person in her own right. There’s great world-building, an interesting magic system, great characterization, and the romance element builds rather than being some crazed instalove.” –Amazon Reviewer

58. Red Winter (The Red Winter Trilogy Book 1) by Annette Marie

“An enchanting tale of fantastical magic, supernatural creatures, mysterious heroes, and forbidden romance, [set] against a wildly gorgeous and exotic backdrop.” – FLYLeF Reviews

Which of these have you read? Which others would you recommend?

N. J. Adel: Fantasy and Egypt

Reverse harem fantasy authors have often been inspired by the wealth of folklore and mythology across many cultures, both current and ancient. Who wouldn’t love to have a harem of immortal gods who are conjuring magic all day to please their ladies?

However, when it comes to ancient Egypt, things get a little tricky. The fascination with gods, immortality and magic is immense and mostly true, but there’s a lot more to Egyptian myth than just that.

As an Egyptian myself, and a fantasy author, I find that Egyptian myth in particular has a very wide range of conceptions, or more likely misconceptions, that varies from one culture and country to another. The main reason behind that is the mystery of the ancient Egyptian culture. You can never be sure of the authenticity of Egyptian mythology unless you have serious knowledge of hieroglyphs, have read tons of Egyptology books written by Egyptians or reliable Egyptologists, or have actually been to Egypt.

That kind of mystery, which is the main element of the Egyptian mythology appeal, remains one of the main reasons behind the underrepresentation of this fascinating mythology in fantasy books. And when an author has the courage to dive in and use it, it often comes as clichéd, superficial or full of misconceptions that would induce several eye rolls, especially from a local like me.

I’m sure most, if not all, of you have seen Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and let me tell you one thing. There is no waterfront by the pyramids, and Jordan is definitely not right across from there!

These details may seem trivial to someone who has no knowledge of Egypt or its history, but to someone who does, it makes all the difference. The details are what make or break a story based on mythology.

Now, I’m going to list a few misconceptions that I came across while Seratis Daughter of the Sun, my latest Egyptian Reverse Harem, was being beta read and reviewed.

Ancient Egyptians didn’t have a Mother of Gods

Yes, we did. The first mother of gods in all history, Isis, is a core goddess in Egyptian mythology and religion. I can’t even begin to list the stories and myths associated with her.

Ancient Egyptians didn’t believe in heaven and hell

Yes, we did. Ancient Egypt is the first civilization that had acknowledged a one unified god for all way before Moses was born. And even before the unity, Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife that INCLUDED a horrific journey in the underworld where one would be judged in the end and sent to either eternal paradise or eternal hell.

Ancient Egyptians were all dark-skinned and mostly black

No. Egypt has always been an African country. That doesn’t automatically make us black when it comes to skin color. And that goes all the way back in time and history and not just nowadays due to racial mix.

Two pieces of evidence support this. 1) The paintings on the temples and papyri. The colors orange, brown and rarely black are used to paint various Egyptians, royalty or otherwise, which meant black skinned Egyptians existed but they were not the majority of people back then. 2) The great civil war between the North and the South. The War of the Two Regions as we call it. This civil war kept going for years until Mina/Narmar, the Northen King (Pharoah) won the war and united the two regions. He did so by giving the South (who were black-skinned) Nubia, a part of Upper Egypt, to live and rule as their governorate, and yet remain under the Kingdom and Narmar’s reign. The Nubians remain till today the only exclusive black-skinned nation in Egypt.

Ancient Egyptians only had lotuses for flowers

Let me start by saying lotuses grew over the Nile water with zero effort from people. They weren’t exactly planted. They just grew. That’s why Ancient Egyptians gave them significance and associated them with rebirth. That doesn’t mean in any way we didn’t plant other flowers! Some were planted locally, others planted with imported seeds such as Sunflowers, a favorite of the nation that worshiped the sun. Yes, Egypt traded with other countries. We have the River Nile. A lot of trading was done on its banks.

The same applies to certain foods, animals and material.

All royalty believed in immortality, magic, and divinity

I know this is the core of Egyptian mythology, and it is true. However, this is not all. Some kings didn’t believe in their divine birth right such as Akhnaton. Many Egyptians knew immortality is only possible in the afterlife. And there are a lot more secrets in Egyptian myth.

These are just a few examples of misconceptions I came upon. The list can’t be contained in one article.

Here are some interesting and a little funny facts about the mysterious civilization:

Royal brothers and sisters used to marry to keep the bloodline pure. BUT only if they are half-siblings. If they come from the same parents, it’s forbidden.

Homosexuality existed. It was fine with women. With men, tops weren’t ridiculed, only bottoms.

Virginity had no importance. Infidelity for a married woman was a shameful sin. 

Thank you so much for reading. Next time you delve into an Egyptian fantasy book, I hope some of the misconceptions are cleared for you. I certainly hope there are more Egyptian fantasy books to come every day. Here’s one to start today, and it’s free with a kindle unlimited subscription:

Download your copy of Seratis Daughter of the Sun: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QKNQL1B

About the Author

N. J. Adel, the author of Seratis, Her Royal Harem, Love Off Camera and The Night Minutes series, is a cross genre author. From chocolate to books and book boyfriends, she likes it DARK and SPICY.
From dark women’s fiction and romance to sci-fi and fantasy. Bikers, rock stars, dirty Hollywood heartthrobs, smexy guards and men who serve. From steamy sexy short stories to full-length literary books. She loves it all.
She teaches English by day and writes fun smut by night with her German Shepherd, Leo.

He is not a fan of her dark work!

Sign up for N.J. Adel’s Newsletter here

Get a free book here

Reach her at:

N.J. is the author of the Egyptian Mythology Fantasy Seratis.

My name is NOT Seratis.
I am Queen Meha. The rightful ruler of the Kingdom of Egypt. A scientist. Human.
I was never her. Seratis, the evil Goddess of Sleep who puts men under her spell to compel them to do whatever she commands.
It was all a lie. A myth my half-brother created to make my own people hate me so he could usurp my throne.

Lucky for me, I’ve found a way to preserve the living like my ancestors did with the dead. To escape the war my brother has waged on me, I enter my tomb to be mummified, alive, for a hundred years. With my guard, my apprentice and my maid. Only to wake when my half-brother is long gone and forgotten.

But when we wake up, reality as we know it crashes down around us. Instead of rising after a hundred years, it was a thousand. We haven’t aged a day, and we now possess inhumanly senses, strength and healing powers…among other things.
As if that is not shocking enough, now I know my half-brother isn’t dead yet, and he’s going to wake just like us.

This time I won’t escape. I will fight. And I must find a way to win the war I’ve lost before. Dead or alive.

Full with Egyptian mythology, fantasy, wild romance and sizzling scenes, Seratis Daughter of the Sun makes the perfect escapism for fantasy lovers, Egyptian historical myths fans, and spicy paranormal romance readers.
Get your copy of SERATIS DAUGHTER OF THE SUN, the first book of the Egyptian Mythology Fantasy SERATIS THE GODDESS OF EGYPT.

Catharine Glen: 5 Books To Read To Jump Into Reverse Harem Fantasy Romance

You love a good romance. We all do, that’s why we’re here! When two characters fall in love and overcome adversity: nothing better! Sometimes there’s another love interest, and the infamous triangle emerges: who will she choose? 

But now you’re looking for something more. Something new and different. Enter reverse harem (RH) or #WhyChoose, a subgenre under the poly romance umbrella in which the female protagonist has multiple suitors and does not choose one, but all! [Further reading: RH and the Rise of Polyamorous Fantasy Romance and The Path to Reverse Harem Romance]

With the genre exploding over the last year, there are tons of books to choose from spanning all genres. But don’t worry, romantic fantasy fans. I’ve got you covered. Here are five great fantasy books that will draw you into the world of reverse harem romance.

Note: All books listed below are suitable for ages 18+.

Power Of Five By Alex Lidell

The Story: Orphaned Lera is magically bonded to four fae warriors in search of their “fifth”, who to their disbelief turns out to be a mere mortal woman. It must be a mistake, right? But as their relationships develop, they realize Lera is so much more than they initially believed. 

Why You Should Read It: This one is for all you fae lovers! Four hot fae guys that are fated to be with Lera, each with a distinct personality. River is the serious leader of the group who rejects Lera from the get go. Coal is the cold, brooding one who maintains his distance. Shade is the broken wolf shifter in mourning after the death of his twin. Tye is the flirtatious, playful one who is totally on board with Lera joining them. They each approach their new relationship with Lera differently, some more willing than others, which affects the dynamic of the group and how the romance unfolds. I found something to love about all the guys, individually and as a group. Being fantasy romance, the story focuses on the relationships, with a secondary plot revolving around fae politics and the greater consequences of Lera joining their group.

The “Power of Five” series is complete at four books. They are relatively short, quick reads ending on cliffhangers that are intended to draw you into the next installment. An easy, fun series to step into the world of reverse harem fantasy.

Stroke The Flame By Elizabeth Briggs

The Story: After she is struck by lightning, four handsome men from Kira’s dreams appear in the flesh, revealing they’ve been chosen as the new elemental dragons — and she’s their mate. As the newly assembled five come to grips with their destinies, they must learn to trust each other and work together as a team if they have any hope of overthrowing the tyrannical Black Dragon. 

Why You Should Read It: First of all, dragons. But if that’s not enough… One of the aspects I love most about this series is that neither Kira nor any of the guys know each other before the start of the book. This means there’s a focus on building trust, accepting their new roles, and coming to terms with the fated bonds between them. There are secrets, hints of jealousy, conflicting motivations, and even reluctance — after all, none of them had a choice, including Kira. Each of the guys represents a different element and has a distinct personality: Jasin, the cocky soldier (Fire), Auryn, the scholarly prince (Air), Slade, the protective blacksmith (Earth), and Reven, the cold, mysterious assassin (Water). To unlock each of their elemental dragon forms and share their power with Kira, they must travel to each of the four elemental temples spread across the realm and, ahem, get it on. The promise of sexy times at the end of the books is definitely a plus!

The “Her Elemental Dragons” series is complete at four books. Each is a complete story focusing on the progression of Kira’s relationship with her men. These books are definitely hard to put down and are a solid representation of the genre. 

Dragon’s Gift By Jada Storm And May Sage

The Story: Dareena Sellis is a small town nobody, until a dragon huntress chooses her to be the Dragon’s Gift: the one woman chosen every hundred years to bear children for the future dragon king. There’s only one catch — instead of one, there are three sons vying for the throne…and Dareena. 

Why You Should Read It: Do hot and steamy scenes with three dragon shifter brothers sound appealing to you? Dareena starts from nothing and is suddenly thrust into the politics of Dragonfell, pursued by three virile men, and given the impossible task of having to choose just one. Drystan is the aloof, responsible leader, Lucyan is the flirtatious, seductive strategist, and Alistair is the warm, kind-hearted soldier. The focus of the story is mainly on the relationships and the sex, and there’s plenty of it right in the first book. 

The “Dragon’s Gift” series is complete at three books. It’s a pretty fast burn with instalust: there’s not a lot of relationship development up front. So hop aboard for the dragons, stay for the steam!

The Fifth Knight By Claire Luana And Jesikah Sundin

The Story: To save her family from a rival clan, Fionna, a warrior in her own right, sets out to steal Excalibur from King Arthur himself. Arthur and his closest knights are seeking their fifth who, as foretold by Merlin, will break Morgan la Fay’s curses over the land. They certainly don’t expect the fierce and formidable Fionna to be that knight.

Why You Should Read It: Fans of Arthurian lore will appreciate the research that went into bringing Arthur and his knights to life. All of the characters are well developed and feel genuine in their interactions and their motivations. There is a strong brotherhood among the men and Fionna’s joining to their group challenges that bond. King Arthur is a man of honor, caring first and foremost for his kingdom. Galahad is the big, charming Norseman and rock of the group. Percival is the youngest and must remain celibate due to his role with the Grail search. Lancelot is cold and standoffish, for he believes any involvement with Fionna on his part will ignite the third curse cast by Morgan la Fay. Fionna herself is strong, not only physically, but in her convictions and reasons for her actions: she’s conflicted and it pains her knowing she must betray Arthur to save her family. But what is borne from the betrayal is far more than any of them expected. 

The “Knights of Caerleon” series is complete at three books. If you’re looking for a slow to medium burn romance steeped in historical lore with plenty of steamy, more explicit scenes, you’ll find all of that and more here.

Bloodlust By Auryn Hadley

The Story: Salryc Luxx, a purebred Iliri, joins the Black Blades, an elite military force of strong, super-skilled Ilirian crossbreeds. Humans want to exterminate all Iliri, yet at the same time fear their predatory nature. Sal and the Blades form a strong bond, but that could all be destroyed if the enemy succeeds in their plans. And they are closing in…

Why You Should Read It: There are not many true epic fantasy reverse harem series out there, and this is, simply put, one of the best. After being freed from slavery, Sal was trained to be a ruthless fighter, which enables her to join the Black Blades. She must reconcile the prejudices she faced in her past with her current acceptance by the men, slowly forming deep, strong relationships with each of them. They need to be strong, for they work together as a unit and must be able to rely on each other in battle. Because the Blades are half-Iliri (unknown to the rest of military command), they will all succumb eventually to their race’s innate bloodlust, which can only be quenched by sex, lending some explicit scenes between Sal and her men. While the relationships play a major role, the overarching war for steel (and the secondary aim of both using and eradicating all Iliri), provides the drivers for the story. 

The “Rise of the Iliri” series is on-going as of this posting, with eight books published and the ninth forthcoming in July 2019. If you’re looking for something big to sink your teeth into, with plenty of action, worldbuilding, great characters, slow long-term burning romance, deep bonds between the characters, and explicit sex scenes, then Hadley’s sweeping epic military fantasy is a must read.

About the Author

Catharine Glen is a romantic fantasy author residing in New England. Her favorite kinds of stories take place in faraway worlds with unforgettable characters, plenty of romance, adventure, magic and the supernatural. She tends to get immersed in all things Japanese, reading, Lego, and possibly consumes a bit too much coffee and tea. She’s also a wife to a loving husband and a mom to two children and a spirited Jack Russell.

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

Reach her at:

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?

AJ Lancaster: Book Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Sometimes a book draws you in so completely that you only remember you meant to go to bed hours ago after you emerge, blinking, from the very last page. I mean, look at that opening sentence:

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.

Uprooted, p1

How can you possibly stop there? It’s clearly necessary to keep reading at least as long as it takes to find out that the Dragon is a wizard who lives in a tower, and that he takes a village girl to serve him every ten years. And once you’re that far in, well, if you’re me you won’t be able to stop, even if it is after midnight. Who needs sleep, anyway?

Uprooted isn’t technically a fairytale retelling, butit certainly feels like one. It’s partly the dreamy prose and partly the setting, which is alive and magical and sinister in the form of the malevolent Wood. Uprooted is somehow simultaneously epic fantasy about saving the world and small-scale cozy fantasy (that’s a genre, right?) about the comforts of home. I love it fiercely. I own multiple copies and have re-read it countless times.

My copy of Uprooted with bonus cameo by my cat Kestrel

So what makes me love it so much?

Let’s start with our heroine, Agnieszka (Ag-NYESH-kah). She’s messy, stubborn, big-hearted, uneducated but intelligent. The story is told entirely in her voice, and her arc forms the story’s core as we watch her grow from awkward village girl to self-assured sorceress.

She’s also clumsy and frequently spills things, and it’s so nice to see the non-adorable consequences of this represented in fiction. 

“How do you do this to yourself?” he asked me, almost marveling, one day when I wandered in with a clump of rice pudding in my hair—I had accidentally hit a spoon with my elbow and flung some into the air—and a huge streak of jam going all the way down my front of beautiful cream silk.

Uprooted, p36

(It should be mentioned at this point that our grumpy hero, Sarkan aka The Dragon, is a neat freak, and, yes, the conflict between him and our messy heroine on this front is just as amusing as one could hope for.)

It’s also a relief to find a heroine who, despite her magical qualities, doesn’t distance herself from other women or define herself as being “not like other girls”, which is a trope that hugely annoys me. Agnieszka’s best friend is the beautiful, confident, poised Kasia, and in a lesser book they’d be rivals. In Uprooted, a lot of the plot is driven by the strength of their friendship. 

The other central relationship in Uprootedis the slow-burn romance between the Dragon and Agnieszka. It’s that good old trope of enemies-to-lovers. When we first meet the Dragon, he is cold and callous, removing Agnieszka from her village and imprisoning her in his tower—and Agnieszka fears him. But as the story unfolds, we learn that the Dragon isn’t the villain of this tale at all, despite his prickly exterior.  

These two are chalk and cheese, and it’s very satisfying to watch as they come to understand each other and realize that ultimately they share the same goal of saving humankind from the relentless evil of the Wood (more on that later).

Some readers may find the Dragon’s grouchiness not to their taste, but for me his actions speak louder than words—and as Agnieszka quickly realizes, his bark is much worse than his bite.

The Dragon tries to teach Agnieszka magic, and he’s soannoyed by how unpredictable her magic is. Magic should be sharply defined, methodical, and work the same way every time! But Agnieszka’s magic is organic, intuitive, and context-dependent—and often fails spectacularly during their lessons.

[After Agnieszka has accidentally set fire to the guest bedroom]

He roared at me furiously for ten minutes after he finally managed to put out the sulky and determined fire, calling me a witless muttonheaded spawn of pig farmers—“My father’s a woodcutter,” I said—“Of axe-swinging lummocks!” he snarled.

But even so, I wasn’t afraid anymore. He only spluttered himself into exhaustion and then sent me away, and I didn’t mind his shouting at all, now I knew there was no teeth in it to rend me.

Uprooted, p54

Initially, Agnieszka doesn’t want to learn magic, doesn’t want to accept that she can’t go back to her old life. Her emotional journey is one of learning to step up and embrace her new self, whilst not sacrificing her values and her deep connection to her home village.  

Because home, the sense of being rooted (ha, see what I did there?) to a place, is ultimately what Uprootedis about. This also probably explains why it appeals to me so strongly, since I like to write about magically sentient places. There’s something powerful about home, the place that you both can and can’t return to after you’ve gone away and changed.

Which brings me to… the Wood.

It’s hard to make a place into a compelling antagonist, but Naomi Novik has managed it in the eldritch horror that is the Wood. Its evil lies not just in the monsters that roam beneath its branches, but in how it deliberately taints people it comes into contact with and uses them to manipulate events outside its borders, inciting deaths, wars, and misery. The central mystery of the novel is why the Wood hates humanity—and what created it in the first place. 

Both Agnieszka and the Dragon have to grow and change in order to have any chance of defeating the Wood, creating magic stronger than the sum of their parts. 

“Try and match it,” he said absently, his fingers moving slightly, and by lurching steps we brought out illusions closer together until it was nearly impossible to tell them from one another, and then he said, “Ah,” suddenly, just as I began to glimpse his spell: almost exactly like that strange clockwork in the middle of his table, all shining moving parts. On an impulse I tried to align our workings: I envisioned his like the water-wheel of a mill, and mine the rushing stream driving it around. “What are you—” he began, and then abruptly we had only a single rose, and it began to grow.

Uprooted, p95

There’s also wars, court politics, and magical monsters. What more could you ask for?

TL;DR list:

  • Enemies to lovers.
  • Magic training montages.
  • Strong female friendship.
  • Evil sentient wood.
  • Fairytale-like atmosphere.

Have you read Uprooted? What did you think?

About the Author

AJ Lancaster lives in the windy coastal city of Wellington, New Zealand, with two ridiculous cats and many novelty mugs. She writes fantasy of the whimsical rather than grimdark variety.

Her Stariel Quartet is romantic gaslamp fantasy, set on a magical sentient estate in a world where the fae are only stories…until now.

Reach her at:

The first book in the Stariel Quartet is The Lord of Stariel:

The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.

Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they?

Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?

Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave.

But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with.

Winged, beautifully deadly problems. 

For the first time in centuries, the fae are returning to the Mortal Realm, and only the Lord of Stariel can keep the estate safe. In theory.

15 Books to Read If You Love Women Mages

Here’s a list of books if you like strong women who wield magic. These books were selected by our administrators and community members. We hope you find your next favorite read!

1. Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Gillengaria seethes with unrest. In the south, hostility toward magic and its users has risen to a dangerous level.

“Wonderful world building with a series of great characters all of whom are layered and well worth spending hours of time with.”

Amazon Reviewer

2. Stroke the Flame by Elizabeth Briggs

Four sexy dragon shifters. A huntress with a dark past. A bond that could save the world.

“Elizabeth Briggs books are well written, filled with enchanting characters and intriguing plots and worlds. Definitely worth reading and recommended.”

Amazon Reviewer

3. Waters of Salt and Sin by Alisha Klapheke

A sailor with forbidden magic. A golden heir with a secret love. If you love fantasy with mages, battles, romance, and wild sea adventures, Alisha Klapheke’s Uncommon World series is perfect for you!

“Monsters, magic, multiple warring factions, mystery, romance, this books encompasses it all. I recommend it wholeheartedly!”

Amazon Reviewer

4. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Katherine Arden’s bestselling debut novel spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

“A vibrant world, rich characters, more than a hint of the supernatural, and an endearing main character who doesn’t have all the answers but isn’t afraid to find them makes this a must-read.”

Amazon Reviewer

5. Blade & Rose by Miranda Honfleur

A kingdom in turmoil or the love of her life. Which one will she save? 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…

“From the moment I began “Blade & Rose”, I realized I was being transported into a vibrant, marvelous world of magic, mystery and intrigue, told through the lens of the deeply relate-able, strong and engaging main character, Rielle, and I never looked back.”

Amazon Reviewer

6. Fallen Empire by K.N. Lee

In this sprawling epic fantasy novel with shifting wolf hybrids, dragons, and mermaids, Amalia and Kylan begin their quest to return their realm to its former glory. 

“I really enjoyed reading this book. It was unpredictable, kept me on my toes and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.”

Amazon Reviewer

7. Lawless by Janeen Ippolito

A dragon felon, a forsaken prince, and a jaded airship captain walk into a city—and everything explodes. A steampunk fantasy adventure with a side of snark and quirky romance.

“What a fun adventure! This book had everything, action, strong female lead, romance, and a great sense of humor that literally made me laugh out loud.”

Amazon Reviewer

8. Shadows of Lela by Tessonja Odette

A forgotten princess. A deadly quest. A threat that hides in shadow… If you like swoon-worthy romance, adventurous quests, breathtaking magic, and surprising twists, then you’ll love Tessonja Odette’s epic fantasy tale.

“I LOVED this title. It had everything a lover of the fantasy genre could ask for; original mythical creatures, an all-new magical realm, solid writing, loveable characters, hate-able characters, and of course unicorns!”

Amazon Reviewer

9. Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland

The new gunslinger in town. The rancher’s daughter. They share the same dangerous secret – magic. If you love magic, adventure, and romance in a unique setting, come discover the wonders and mysteries of the Wildings today!

“If you like mystery with romance, danger and humor, this is the book for you. Think Western with wizards and aliens. I know, right, but it WORKS. Good read.”

Amazon Reviewer

10. A Thief & a Gentlewoman by Clare Sager

A city of intrigue. An irresistible con. A mysterious enemy. Immerse yourself in a gripping story of sword fights, sabrecats, and simmering romance.

“The world-building is intriguing and evocative, the romance warm and engaging, and the plot weaves together light and dark, becoming richer and deeper as the story progresses.”

Amazon Reviewer

11. The Avant Champion by C.B. Samet

All things considered, it was a good day to die… The Avant Champion: Rising by C.B. Samet is an intelligently written book that will turn fantasy readers into fans.

“Captivating. Draws you in slowly to capture you before you are aware of the snare laid to hold you to the end.”

Amazon Reviewer

12. Phoenix by Jessica Wayne

The first installment in an epic five-book fantasy series following one woman’s incredible adventure to another world, and the monsters she must face when she arrives. 

“This book was full of magic, violence, heartbreak, and hope. The characters were well written and felt real to me. The relationships were everything. I loved it.”

Amazon Reviewer

13. Frostbound Throne by May Sage

Vale was born in battle seven hundred years ago, and in all this time, he’s never encountered an enemy that poses a real challenge. Until now.

“I loved this book! If you enjoy fantasy, adventure and romance you will love it as much as I did. The writing style is sophisticated with out being pretentious.”

Amazon Reviewer

14. Mage Slave by R.K. Thorne

A warrior prince, an enslaved mage, a plot to draw the world to war. Magic, politics, love, and fate collide in the destinies of two people in this fantasy adventure from R. K. Thorne. For lovers of swords and sorcery with a side of romance.

“Brilliant! I can highly recommend this book. It’s a fun, easy read to get lost in.”

Amazon Reviewer

15. A Bond of Venom and Magic by Karen Tomlinson

Magic awakens. Darkness stirs. The Wraith Lord hunts. Hold onto your heart, dive in and be swept away in this spectacular epic adventure.

“What a great book to start a new fantasy series. A different take on the usual. It had it all – mystery, a quest, heartbroken heroine, a savior or worse enemy, and Fae and Monsters galore.”

Amazon Reviewer

Do you have any recent reads you’d add to the list? Comment below!

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 also writes books about women who wield magic, including The Priestess and the Dragon:

A story of love, magic, and revenge that readers say they couldn’t put down. 

“It’s just a really interesting, unique read. I’m hard-pressed to think of another book that is quite like this one. A unique read that makes me want to read more.”

Amazon Reviewer

Rose Amberly: Fairy tales, Fantasy and legends hold up a mirror to real life

If like me you’ve balked at how un-feminist our classic fairy tales can be, then you understand how reluctant I was, last Christmas, when my niece asked me to read her Cinderella. 

For a start, three of the women in the story come in for very harsh descriptions, they’re either, ugly, stupid, or evil. As for Cinders, all the girl has to do is dress up nice to deserve the prince. Give us all a magic wand and we’ll all get a prince of our own. Oh, and just a minute, why is the prince such a prize anyway?

So, I did my best and tried to ‘edit’ the story, to focus more on how kind Cinders was, how despite her circumstance, she finds the time to help others. And then it hit me, the hidden story.

So let me tell you my take on Cinderella, the one that might feature on Oprah. It’s a story of success in the face of difficulties, a story of challenge, and opportunity.

A woman is widowed and left penniless with two daughters to raise. In a society where marriage is the principal career open to women, she needs a new husband, hopefully one with money. Unfortunately, no sooner does she find a new husband than he goes and dies too. He leaves her having to manage his disordered finances and debts.

The next snag comes in the shape of her step-daughter who is far too pretty. How is she supposed to find suiters for her own daughters when Cinders steals all the attention. So the twice widowed woman has to think like a business strategist; it’s a kill or be killed world out there. She looks at her daughters with honest eyes and sees that they are … average … they’re going to need all the help she can give them. Any spare money will have to go on beauty treatments, expensive clothes, and health farms. She needs to save money and get the competition out of the way. Laying off some staff and moving her step-daughter into the kitchen achieves both objectives. And when the invitation to the royal ball comes … well, what would anyone in her place do?

Don’t all shout at me at once. This is what the real world is like. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, evil is more often committed by ordinary people trying to survive, to compete. We’ve all had jobs where we’ve been treated unfairly, prizes we should have won that went to somebody with inside connections.

Now we come to Cinderella herself. As every life coach will tell you, don’t sit around moping and crying over the unfairness of life. So, she works hard, makes good friends and doesn’t give up hope. When a stranger claiming magic powers turns up with an offer of new clothes that only last till midnight, and she converts a bunch of rats and a pumpkin into a crystal carriage, what does Cinderella do? Does she give in to doubts and fear? She does what every business guru tells us to do, she grabs the opportunity with both hands. She finds her courage and takes the risk.

I wish I could say that I’ve always been this brave, that I haven’t sometimes chosen the safe and familiar option. I think on reflection, Cinderella would make a fantastic educational story for children of both sexes.

In, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche says that lies hold up a truthful mirror to the world. He cites both Gulliver’s Travels and ancient mythology. In Gulliver’s Travels, the small people fight wars over which side of the egg should be sliced first. The giants on the other hand, decline Gulliver’s offer of new weapons, they don’t believe in war.

The thing about fantasy and fable is that it allows us to comment on reality much more easily than other kinds of fiction. By elevating the question into architypes and imaginary characters, we can bring up questions of good vs evil and lay out our conclusions in a way that would seem crass in ordinary fiction.

Could you write in your next novel People don’t stay in the pigeon-holes we make for them, or that Children grow up and stop listening to their parents? Both are true but would sound cliché and flat. Pinocchiodoes it so much better. The wooden toy, once complete, becomes a boy. He has feelings, makes mistakes and wants to go out and explore the world. He tells lies and learns about consequences. Author Stella Night explains Pinocchio in terms of romantic relationships.

The other part of my story was actually about how a woman can’t change a man, only he can change himself. It was an idea that I had because I had watched my friend desperately try to save her marriage by constantly trying to change her husband, making him go to courses, yoga, and various things to make their relationship better. He didn’t respond well to any of them. In the end, she gave up. She actually just focused on her own ‘stuff’ in life. Then her husband sorted himself out on his own and returned to her becoming an amazing husband.

A similar allegory can be made with Goldilocks.

Who would you want to marry out of George Clooney, astronomer Brian Cox. Bill Gates, the football star in our local high school, or the handsome mechanic at the Mercedes dealership (let’s assume they are all single)?

My answer is, none! They’re too famous, too brainy, too rich, too young, too old, too sporty. Would I be happy in a mansion in Malibu, or a tax haven island for the super-rich? Can I live on a farm in the Prairies? No. I’d want someone just right for me. What’s my size, my personality, my lifestyle?

Once I started to think about it, I realized how our classic fairy tales can in fact say a lot about real life. When I worked as a relationship counselor, I lost track of how many people, especially women came to me with what I learned to call the Little Mermaid syndrome.

For those not familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen tragic version of The Little Mermaid: A girl falls in love with someone she doesn’t really know, she hangs her own dreams on him and believes him to be perfect for her. Then she gives up everything for him, her world, her family, her way of life, even her voice which was the one thing he liked about her. And for what? On land, he doesn’t even notice her.

Sound familiar?

The problem when women – and most of us were raised thinking that success in love would be our greatest aim – when women fall in love, they can sometimes build up the man into what they hope he could be. And in our effort to be with him we give up our independence, the very thing that made us attractive to him in the first place. We become needy and vulnerable. I’ve met a psychiatrist who quit her job and moved to Germany – which she didn’t speak – and sat at home bored waiting for her man to come home from work. A lawyer who sold her home to finance some guy’s dubious business venture and was left destitute.

I’m not saying fables and fairy tales were written as symbols of such life examples, rather that they are a blue-print of how humans behave or respond. It’s the reader, or in some cases the writer, who can find a new way of looking at these stories.

The award-winning writer Salman Rushdie in his novel, Shame, describes Beauty and the Beastas the story of an Indian arranged marriage. The girl, full of youthful romantic dreams, is horrified that her father has arranged a marriage with a local merchant. In her eyes he is a beast. But gradually, with patience and kindness, she begins to see how hard he works to provide a good life for them, she grows out of her youthful fantasies and learns to appreciate having a good home and the respect of the community. Her husband becomes a prince in her eyes.

In a recent conversation, romance author Lena Maye told me about her own latest work.

I focused on choices. We set out in a certain direction and sometimes we need to stop and think about what we really want — not what anyone else wants for us — and then change direction to follow ourselves. A theme repeated through the story was for Laurel to trust only herself in the labyrinth, and that she’s the only one who can find her way through. She has to block out everyone else — everything that she’s grown to rely on, all the noise around her, even Radek — and ask herself: what’s my path?

I think we all need to stop every so often and ask, what is my path, where am going and is it still where I need to be.

About the Author

When Rose Amberly was little, she pestered her mother for stories every night (and morning and afternoon.) In the end, her parents taught her to read so they could have some peace, but very soon she pestered them for books and more books. By the age of six, she started to make up stories and tell them to her parents pretending she’d read them in a book. Happily, now she’s all grown up and no longer has to pretend.
She travelled widely and tried different careers is education, therapy, art management and even briefly, bookkeeping but none of them were as much fun as making up stories.
Rose Amberly lives in London which she thinks is the most fabulous city in the world. She loves to set her stories in England to share with readers some of her favourite places.

Rose has a new release in the fairy tale collection After Dark:

Favourite fairy tales get a smart grown up and passionate remake.  Some stories follow the classic tale very closely, others move further and wider to offer a different ending. With a range of heat from sweet to very steamy they also range in romance sub-genres from contemporary to historical,  magical fantasy, and paranormal.

  • The Goblin King: Based on Labyrinth
  • Always a Swan : Based on The Ugly Duckling
  • Forever: Based on Snow White
  • The Girl with no Name: Based on The Little Mermaid
  • A Touch Too Hot: Based on Goldielocks
  • The Wood that Would: Based on Pinocchio 
  • Robin Hood Prince of Hackers: Based on Robin Hood
  • Sun Gold: Based on Rumpelstiltskin
  • Cock-a-Doodle-Do: Based on Mother Hulda

9 Favourite fairy tales get a grown-up make-over. Charming heroes, dangerous royals, Hollywood stars, farmers and mysterious neighbours take you on a sensuous magical journey from London to Washington DC, Tuscan hills to a rugged Canadian nature reserve. Nine stories full of passion, glitter and unexpected twists.
These charming old favourites are retold as passionate love stories (contemporary, historical, paranormal, and fantasy romances). Experience tears, heartbreak, and happy smiles as our heroines make life changing choices, overcome troubles, and find true love.
Equinox romance carefully selected nine exciting romance authors to create this collection with high quality writing and delicious escapism.  

13 Books to Read If You Love Gaslamp

Here’s a list of books if you like Gaslamp. These books were selected by our administrators and community members. We hope you find your next favorite read!

1. Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley

Cara Devon has always been impulsive, but tangling with a serial killer might cure that. Permanently.

“I love everything about the story. The title alone has gotten me ensnared. This book has blown me away.

Amazon Reviewer

2. The Watchmaker’s Daughter by C.J. Archer

With a cast of quirky characters, an intriguing mystery, and a dash of romance, THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER is the start of a thrilling new historical fantasy series.

“Mystery, secrets, deceit, action, magic, and a tiny bit of romance all rolled up into a well-written adventure story in London with Scotland yard and a hint of cowboy- what’s not to like?”

Amazon Reviewer

3. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.

“This imaginative and tightly crafted first novel opens the door to a vivid and awe-inspiring vision of Victorian era England.”

Amazon Reviewer

4. Ferromancer by Becca Andre

Solutions aren’t always black and white—sometimes they come in shades of iron gray.

“The characters were fleshed out and felt real, with just enough flaws to seem genuinely human. I’m a big fan of witty/well paced dialogue, and this definitely satisfied!”

Amazon Reviewer

5. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale…This is a book to treasure.

“I gave this an easy 5/5 stars and would recommend it to anyone who likes three-dimensional high fantasy read, full of a delightful set of characters and a terrifically intriguing world.”

Amazon Reviewer

6. The Earl of Brass by Kara Jorgensen

Eilian Sorrell is no stranger to cheating death, but when a dirigible accident costs him his arm, he fears his days of adventuring are over.

“This novel was interesting from beginning to end. The main characters were honorable, well educated and forward thinking.”

Amazon Reviewer

7. Prudence by Gail Carriger

From NYT bestselling author Gail Carriger comes a witty adventure about a young woman with rare supernatural abilities travels to India for a spot of tea and adventure and finds she’s bitten off more than she can chew.

“But her best talent, and the true reason that I will always read anything she ever writes, is her ability to craft the most hilarious witty banter! I literally laugh out loud when I read her books. They bring me so much joy and glee that I suffer major book hangovers whenever I finish one.”

Amazon Reviewer

8. Ghostlight by Rabia Gale

Trevelyan Shield would rather fight demons and exorcise haunts than deal with debutantes, alive or dead.

“I love Rabia Gale. Her worlds are unique and interesting and her characters are complex and flawed, like most of us.”

Amazon Reviewer

9. Clockwork Alchemist by Sara C Roethle

Liliana is trapped alone in the dark. Her father is dead, and London is very far away. If only she hadn’t been locked up in her room, reading a book she wasn’t allowed to read, she might have been able to stop her father’s killer.

“Really enjoyed this book. Lots of action and suspense, as well as a bigger picture yet to be revealed. Really enjoyed the characters and the humor they displayed.”

Amazon Reviewer

10. The Star of Anatolia by amaila Brinkley

Meet Miss Anastasia Galipp. Debutante, know-it-all, and the Home Office’s secret weapon.

“I loved all the details that the author provided of the agency and the culture of the series. I am looking forward to the next installment! Well done!”

Amazon Reviewer

11. The Golden Spider by Anne Renwick

London papers scream of dirigible attacks, kraken swarms, and lung-clogging, sulfurous fogs. But a rash of gypsy murders barely rates mention.

“First, I love that the heroine is smart and not afraid to hide her femininity, which is refreshing. Second, I really like the hero – wounded, brilliant, and of course handsome.”

Amazon Reviewer

12. Mission: Improper by Bec McMaster

Standing between London and a deadly plot against the throne, are the dangerous spies and femme fatales that form the Company of Rogues… that’s if they don’t kill each other first.

“It was suspenseful as well as sexy. I love the way that the love between the two characters starts off slow but then you see the intensity in which they come to trust and immerse themselves in each other.”

Amazon Reviewer

13. Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

She wants to be an engineer, but her parents–and society–will never allow it. Until riots break out in steampunk London and she seizes her chance…

“I greatly enjoyed this series of stories. They are all fun, adventurous, and entertaining. I tried to keep my laughter quiet in deference to those who were around me, but I just couldn’t hold in the laughter at many points.”

Amazon Reviewer

Do you have any recent reads you’d add to the list? Comment below!

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 also writes Gaslamp books, including Heart of Thorns:

A story of murder, magic, and manners that readers say kept them up at night.

“Secrets, lies, mystery, magic and the enchanting way Nicolette presents them to us – that heady concoction will keep you glued to her Heart of Thorns.”

Amazon Reviewer

A.W. Exley and Rabia Gale: What’s Gaslamp?

Today we’d like to introduce you to an old genre that is getting some new recognition — gaslamp. While gaslamp has been with us for over a hundred years now, it has only recently been given its own category on Amazon and a BISAC code.

What is gaslamp?

GASLAMP (also known as gaslight fantasy or gaslight romance) is a subgenre of both fantasy and historical fiction. It tends to have a clearly recognizable grounding in either a Regency, Victorian, or Edwardian setting. Gaslamp is further differentiated from other forms of fantasy by the supernatural elements, themes, and subjects it features. Many of its tropes, themes, and stock characters derive from Gothic literature. This means there is often a combination of romance and horror or suspense. For example, the innocent heroine thrust into a creepy setting and beset by peril, who must find the internal strength to succeed in the end.

Gaslamp is not to be confused with steampunk, although the two can overlap. Some call gaslamp steampunk’s magical cousin. The key difference between gaslamp and steampunk is that steampunk has more of a science edge and includes mechanical or steam technology. Steampunk focuses on alternate developments and need not have any magic at all, while gaslamp focuses on supernatural elements and need not have any technology that didn’t actually exist. Gaslamp is further distinguished from steampunk in that it doesn’t require a dystopian or “punk” setting to the world.

Why do we need another book category?

If we said the words “urban fantasy” or “paranormal romance”, you would immediately conjure up an image in your head of that type of story. You might also think of a favorite author or book in that category.

Promoting “gaslamp” as a sub-genre is just another way to help readers know instantly what sort of journey they are going to embark upon. Just like “urban fantasy” might make you think of a kick arse sarcastic heroine, “gaslamp” should make readers think of a by-gone era, an imperiled heroine, and a dark force.

Gaslamp fantasy is a young genre that has already seen its boundaries redefined. At first, only fantasies in Victorian settings fell into this category. However, the success of bestsellers like Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series opened up gaslamp fantasy to include the Regency era. On occasion, fantasy novels that evoke the atmosphere of relevant time periods also fall into gaslamp fantasy. A prime example is The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett, which combines Austen and Bronte tropes in a secondary world setting.

C. J. Archer is arguably the most successful indie author in this genre. Her multiple series are set in Victorian times and contain a strong supernatural element. Other indie authors are also carving out their own space and reaching readers hungry for stories of ghosts, faeries, and magic in historical eras known for elegant manners, grand houses, and dark city streets.

More examples of gaslamp can be found in movies and TV. Crimson Peak combines many of the elements — we have the innocent heroine who is plunged into peril with paranormal happenings in the creepy old house. In the end, Edith overcomes her fears and becomes a stronger person as she confronts Lucille in the final battle. 😊

Television gives us the marvellous BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and another TV series that epitomizes the gaslamp tropes is Penny Dreadful with its combination of the Victorian era, supernatural beings, and a suspenseful atmosphere. Recently it was announced that Joss Whedon is writing a new TV series called The Nevers for HBO that is described as an epic science fiction drama about a gang of Victorian women who find themselves with unusual abilities, relentless enemies, and a mission that might change the world. While it is called science fiction, it does sound like a new gaslamp series to us and we can only wait for it to debut. 🙂

If the combination of these elements causes a tingle down your spine, you just might be a gaslamp fantasy fan! While it is hard to find communities just for this niche, many readers congregate under the historical fantasy umbrella. We run one such group on Facebook, the Historical Fantasy Book Club, where gaslamp fantasy is one of the popular sub-genres read and discussed. You are welcome to join the Historical Fantasy Bookclub, where we have a regular book of the month and discuss all aspects and sub genres of historical fantasy (including gaslamp!)

What’s your favorite gaslamp novel? What are you adding to your TBR? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Authors

A.W. Exley

Books and writing have always been an enormous part of Anita’s life. She survived school by hiding out in the library, with several thousand fictional characters for company. At university, she overcame the boredom of studying accountancy by squeezing in Egyptology papers and learning to read hieroglyphics.

Today, Anita writes fantasy historical novels from her home in rural New Zealand.

Rabia Gale

Rabia Gale breaks fairy tales and fuses fantasy and science fiction. She loves to write about flawed heroes who never give up, transformation and redemption, and things from outer space. In her spare time, she reads, doodles, eats chocolate, avoids housework, and homeschools her three children.

A native of Pakistan, she grew up in hot, humid Karachi. She then spent almost a decade in Northern New England where she learned to love fall, tolerate snow, and be snobbish about maple syrup and sweet corn. She now lives in Northern Virginia.

Anita and Rabia have new releases in the gaslamp anthology Caught in Crystal:

A gaslamp anthology from some of your favourite historical fantasy authors.

Iron Tears by Becca Andre
Alone in the world, Kali must sort out her mysterious ancestry with the help of an enigmatic stranger who might prove to be her family’s greatest enemy.

Pricked by Thorns by Nicolette Andrews
Catherine’s mother is adamant she marry. But for Catherine finding a husband, might prove to be a deadly affair.

The Demigod Dilemma by Jamaila Brinkley
When young ladies go missing from Mayfair, the Home Office knows just who to call. This is going to be Anastasia Galipp’s most dangerous Season yet.

The Seer’s Eye by A.W. Exley
A family trip to the circus takes a dangerous turn when the familiar tingle of an artifact touches Cara Devon. What price is demanded, to change the future?

Rain Through Her Fingers by Rabia Gale
Trapped in an unnaturally flooded Brighton, Elaine must find the courage to confront an old foe and protect a new friend.

The Alchemist’s Tomb by Sara C Roethle
Arhyen and Liliana thought their troubles were over when they are given a mission to steal an artifact from a tomb. Will stealing from the dead prove fatal?


About the Authors of Caught in Crystal

Becca Andre

Nicolette Andrews

Jamaila Brinkley

Sara C Roethle

Helena Rookwood: 5 Books To Read If You’re Excited About Disney’s Live-Action Version of Aladdin

It starts with that first glimpse of smoke-and-sand clouded rooftops, the calls of “Stop, thief!” and the crash of a body hurtling through narrow, winding alleyways.

Then the music starts. That familiar, evocative tune that makes you feel like you’ve wandered right into a mysterious, magical bazaar.

Disney’s new live-action adaptation of Aladdin looks like it’s going to be spectacular.

We’ve enjoyed the films they’ve brought out so far (anyone else find themselves sobbing continuously through Beauty and the Beast?), and Aladdin is high on our list of films we loved as kids, so our expectations are high, our desire to see the desert stars is great, and our love of smart-mouthed genies has been rekindled.

In fact, since getting our first glimpse of the trailer, we can’t seem to get our fill of strong-willed princesses, wish-granting djinnis, and magic carpet rides.

And since we love a good fairytale retelling, we’ve been voraciously reading all the Aladdin retellings, Arabian Nights inspired stories, and desert-based dramas we can get our hands on.

If you’ve also been looking for romantic fantasy books which will take you to a whole new world, we’d recommend you start with these…

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

US Weekly described The Wrath and the Dawn as a “Game of Thrones meets Arabian Nights love story” – and what’s not to love about a concept like that?!

In the land of Khorasan, each night its eighteen-year-old ruler takes a new bride. Each morning, she is executed. But when sixteen-year-old Shazi, vengeful after her best friend was executed,  volunteers herself, she soon discovers that there’s more to these murders – and this young ruler – than it first appeared…

This is a beautiful, lyrical book. If you love a mystery dragging you through your epic fantasy, and plenty of angst about whether your heroine is falling in love with a murderer, this is the book for you.

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

In this Aladdin retelling, Jessica Khoury reimagines the story as a romance between Aladdin and a female djinni called Zahra. There’s no insta-love here, so the romance feels rewarding – and all the more devastating when Zahra is offered the chance to be free of the lamp forever… if only she betrays Aladdin.

With a strong female lead, a carefully constructed romance, and rich world-building,we think this is everything a fairytale retelling should be.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Set in a world inspired by Arabia, this is one of the most talked about young adult fantasy books of 2019.

Zafira is legendary for being the only hunter brave enough to go into the forest of the Arz – but no one knows she’s a woman. Nasir is an infamous prince charged with assassinating those foolish enough to defy his father, the sultan.

This book definitely lives up to the hype. There’s so many clever plot twists, *incredible* world-building (especially the descriptions of food – don’t read this when you’re hungry!), and we love an enemies-to-lovers romance.

City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

City of Brass follows the story of Nahri, a thief and fortune-teller based in Cairo who accidentally summons a warrior spirit, and a Daeva prince called Alizayd.

This magical story set in 18th-century Cairo leads the reader on a fascinating journey through the mythology of djinn and other desert spirits in Middle Eastern folklore. Perfect for those who want a deep-dive into the spirit world.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

This is the first in a gritty, epic series that slowly builds until you can’t stop turning the pages. Told with an alternating POV between Laia, a lowly scholar who’s dragged into a resistance effort she didn’t want to be a part of, and Elias, who’s desperate to get out of the regime Laia’s fighting against.

This one’s not strictly speaking an Aladdin retelling, but we think the healthy dose of Middle Eastern-inspired folklore, elaborately constructed fantasy world, and romantic feels earn An Ember in the Ashes a place on this list.

And here are a few other honorable mentions if you still haven’t had your fill…

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Have you read any of the books on this list? Which is your favorite? Comment below!

About the Author

Helena Rookwood has spent a long time researching all there is to know about Faerie, and she’s happiest when she’s poring over old books and imagining what the world used to be like.

More recently, Helena has also been wondering what the world might be like in the future – whether there will ever be a turn back to the Old Ways, when people cared about stories and the little people and the land they lived on. This was the starting point for her River Witch series, a deliciously dark tale about fairies and witches and earth-magic which is set in post-technology Britain. She promises you’ll love it!

Find her at:

Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince have a new release inspired by Aladdin, too:

An imperious sultan, an ancient djinni, and a wild princess who wishes to rule…

The Sultan of Astaran was promised the greatest beauty the kingdoms had seen in centuries – an accomplished, raven-haired princess who caught the eye of even the desert spirits. Unfortunately for the sultan, he got Zadie instead.

With dreams of becoming a powerful sultanah, Zadie never expected the sultan to be quite so haughty and traditional. Or so handsome.She definitely didn’t expect to be dealing with brazen bandits, wily spirits, and mysterious thieves.

But Zadie’s determined to prove herself to the sultan and his court. And now she’s stumbled on a secret that might just help her get her wish…

The Girl with Seven Wishes is episode 1 in the romantic fantasy serial Desert Nights, a fairytale retelling inspired by Aladdin and Arabian Nights.

New installments in this series of novellas release every 18 days. It’s perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Sabaa Tahir, and Rae Carson.

Scroll up and one click now to start reading the Desert Nights series today! FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

15 Books to Read If You Love Warrior Women

We here at Romantic Fantasy Shelf thought it a good time to celebrate our favorite fierce warrior women and magic users in a post of books about women who fight hard and fall in love. These books were selected by our administrators and community members. We hope you find your next favorite read!

1. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In a world where some are bestowed with special gifts, Katsa is given the gift of killing. An action-packed fantasy that tackles what it means to be strong.

“I absolutely adored Katsa. She was such a fierce, independent heroine…”

Amazon Reviewer

2. First Test by Tamora Pierce

One woman fights to realize her dream of becoming a knight amidst discrimination. This is a fantastic tale about persistence despite opposition.

“This series tackles weighty issues like sexism, bullying, classism, poverty, crime, and the injustice of law head-on, all while never once sacrificing the suspense and delight of the story itself. “

Amazon Reviewer

3. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

A deadly assassin must win a contest against the most wicked, bloodthirsty men in the kingdom for a chance to win her freedom.

“I couldn’t put the damn book down! From the moment I started reading I was entranced in a world I had never been yet felt like I had known my whole life.”

Amazon Reviewer

4. The Blue Sword by Robin Mckinley

Exceptional prose, strong characterization, and an imaginative world that readers adore.

“A strong female lead, horses, swords, magic… i read it probably a dozen times. “

Amazon Reviewer

5. By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey

An action-packed romantic tale about one woman’s journey to realize her destiny.

“This is one of my favorites books of all time. Lackey writes very real, very diverse characters and her Heralds of Valdemar series has the best fantasy world I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.”

Amazon Reviewer

6. Steelflower by Lilith Saintcrow

An adventure story featuring a foul-mouthed assassin and her companions. Filled with action and romance that readers rave about.

“The world that Saintcrow constructs pulled me in and her characters were alive and emotionally invaded my life it seemed.”

Amazon Reviewer

7. Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs

A slave turned assassin, political unrest, and plots abound in this exciting romantic adventure.

“This takes you into a completely different world with heroes, villians, magic and much more with a plot that twists and turns – P. Briggs at her best!”

Amazon Reviewer

8. Embellish by Demelza Carlton

A fun and fast-paced retelling, mixed with a great romance.

“I loved this story. A great female role model, a great equal relationship between the two main characters and supportive families in the background.”

Amazon Reviewer

9. Mercenary by Catherine Banks

A human girl raised by elves fights for her place at the mercenary academy, despite her parents’ opposition and fending off kidnap attempts.

“The characters were outstanding and I enjoyed the pacing: fast, and action-filled.”

Amazon Reviewer

10. Duel of Fire by Jordan Rivet

In a world where swordfighting is king, one girl is paired with an indifferent prince. A story packed with magic, battles, and danger

“The author’s merging of prose and world building is sublime. “

Amazon Reviewer

11. Savages by Katherine Bogle

A warrior with a dark past and a fight for freedom that may just cost her life. An epic story that you can get lost in!

“This book had me gripped from the time I picked it up”

Amazon Reviewer

12. Ishtar’s Blade by Lisa Blackwood

A woman chosen by the goddess as her warrior maiden, a kingdom ripe with intrigue and romance that will leave you swooning.

“It’s not too often that I can’t put a book down, but this was definitely one of those times. I loved the fresh, intriguing mythology. “

Amazon Reviewer

13. The Shadow and the Sun by Monica Enderle Pierce

A story packed with action and romance, featuring a badass heroine and hero you’ll fall in love with.

“I loved that a woman was the hero of the story, which is something lacking in this genre. I LOVE a good dose of girl power! “

Amazon Reviewer

14. The Fifth Knight by Clare Luana and Jesikah Sundin

A clever take on the usual King Arthur retelling. This reverse harem is packed with action and slow burn romances.

“Every page is filled with gorgeous, poetic prose and deliciously vivid imagery that makes it easy to fall into the magical world that Luana and Sundin have masterfully created. “

Amazon Reviewer

15. Curse of the Fae Queen by Delia Castel

A fae huntress, a curse, and a slow-burn why-choose romance that we think you’ll love.

“It is such a beautiful tale that I couldn’t get enough of from page one. I want more!!! Now!!”

Amazon Reviewer

Do you have any recent reads you’d add to the list? Comment below!

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 also writes books about warrior women, with her latest being Okami:

(Romantic Fantasy Shelf March 2019 Book Club Winner)

An enemies-to-lovers romance set in ancient japan.

“I was honestly so hooked on this story that I couldn’t put it down. The characters are very strong and well written… the story and plot flowed well with many twists and turns.”

Amazon Reviewer

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.


Get your copy on Amazon today!

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.

Sign up for Gemma’s mailing list to find out the moment the book’s available!

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 a romantic fantasy author residing in New England. Her favorite kinds of stories take place in faraway worlds with unforgettable characters, plenty of romance, adventure, magic and the supernatural. She tends to get immersed in all things Japanese, reading, Lego, and possibly consumes a bit too much coffee and tea. She’s also a wife to a loving husband and a mom to two children and a spirited Jack Russell.

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

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?