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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Background on Terre D’Ange

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bring the child here.”

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

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

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


(Kushiel’s Dart, page 7-8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THOSE ASSIGNATIONS

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

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

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

OH, JOSCELIN…

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

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

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

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

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

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

What she gets is Joscelin Verreuil.

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

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

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

It was a beautiful mouth.

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

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

Kushiel’s Dart, pg 254-255

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

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

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

Kushiel’s Dart, page 388

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

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

LOVE AS THOU WILT

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

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

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

Some Possible Cons…

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

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

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

TL;DR

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

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

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

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

You can get your copy here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Reach her at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Muree: You were the CHOSEN ONE!

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

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

//swoons

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

Chosen Ones hit me in the feels.

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

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

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

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

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

Neo in The Matrix Trilogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Reach her at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Read if You Love Beauty and the Beast

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

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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


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

Amazon Reviewer

Beauty by Robin McKinley

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

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


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

Amazon Reviewer

Entreat Me by Grace Draven

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


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

Amazon Reviewer

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

No Man Can Tame by Miranda Honfleur

RFS Book Club Winner February 2019

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

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

J.M. Butler

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


Heart of the Fae by Emma Hamm

RFS Book Club Winner February 2019

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

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

J.M. Butler

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


Stolen Enchantress by Amber Argyle

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


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

Amazon Reviewer

The Fury Queen’s Harem by Meg Xuemei X

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

Enchant by Demelza Carlton

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

Dragon and the Beast by Amberlyn Holland

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

“I could not put it down.”

Amazon Reviewer

Beauty and the Goblin King by Lidiya Foxglove


A sexy retelling you don’t want to miss!

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

Amazon Reviewer

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

Shadow & Thorn by Kenley Davidson

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

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

Amazon Reviewer

Fausta Borja’s Beauty and the Beast

A steamy gothic romance retelling, with strong French influences.

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

Amazon Reviewer

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

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

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

Type of Story

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

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

Sorcha and Eamonn’s story continues in Veins of Magic

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

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

Best Parts of the Story

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

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

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

Worldbuilding Overall

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

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

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

The Romance and the Characters

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

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

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

Effectiveness as a Retelling

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

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

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


About the Author

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

Reach her at:

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

Dozens of children have gone missing…

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

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

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

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

Get it on Amazon today!

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

I have a thing for rogues.

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

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

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

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

Young Adult Book Relationships: Unrealistic Expectations or High Standards?

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

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

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

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

Sprinkled Among the Romance, Lessons

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Cali killed for the first time when she was four.

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

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

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

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