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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can we do?

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

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

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

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

Except there’s not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! <3

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

About the Author

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

Reach her at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

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

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

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

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

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

Enter: Self-Publishing!

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

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

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

Reverse Harem: From Japanese Manga & Anime to Ebooks

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

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

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

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

But what is reverse harem?

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

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

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

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

Reverse Harem takes fantasy by storm

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

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

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

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

What about polyamory?

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

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

That’s it.

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

Captive: Beautiful Monsters Vol. 1 by Jex Lane

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

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

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

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

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

Something had to change, and fast.

#WhyChoose

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Reach her at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Catharine Glen: The Path To Reverse Harem Romance

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

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

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

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

REVERSE HAREM: WHAT IS IT?

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

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

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

REVERSE HAREM: EAST VS. WEST

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

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

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

Blood Lust by Auryn Hadley – Epic Fantasy Reverse Harem

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Reach her at:

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

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

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

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

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