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!

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!

Nicolette Andrews: Falling in Love with Fantasy Romance

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

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

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

Book One of the romantic fantasy series Sevenwaters

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

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

What Is Fantasy Romance?

Book Three of the Otherworld series

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

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

Book One of the Dark-Elves of Nightbloom series

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

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

Some People Like It Hot

Book One of the steamy Queen of the Sun Palace series

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

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

What Fantasy Romance Means to Me

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Reach her at:

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

Book Three of the Tales of Akatsuki series

This wolf hunts for his freedom…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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