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

I have a thing for rogues.

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

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

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

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

Young Adult Book Relationships: Unrealistic Expectations or High Standards?

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

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

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

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

Sprinkled Among the Romance, Lessons

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Cali killed for the first time when she was four.

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

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

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

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