Post-Valentine's Day Reading
February 15, 2013 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Just too late for Valentine's Day, recommend me some awesome fantasy novels with satisfying romances.

I love fantasy, and I love romances, and I would like to indulge both of these loves at the same time. You know the type: great world-building, interesting politics, and the kind of long, slow-burn, frequently bicker-y romance that ends in a Slap Slap Kiss (although I'm flexible on that point.) Shouldn't be too hard to find, right?

However, there's something in fantasy that happens a lot that makes me writhe in dissatisfaction. Character romances tend to be one-sided or... just... boring. Either the characters are mismatched in some way, or once they fall in love they become strangely neutered and bland as the romance takes a completely formulaic tour of sugary love-yous to a final completion. For an example of how things frequently go wrong, I just read Maria Snyder's Poison Study. Initially I was all, "Yeah! Poison taster and assassin! Awesome!" but all the potential cool is sucked away down a well of, "It will all be okay because we're together now." Where is the difficulty? Where is the conflict? Where are the hard choices and the total badassery and the tandem fight scenes, dangit?

I've seen this question, but unlike that Asker, I don't explicitly need sex scenes. I do explicitly need romances that are between serious, badass characters who can both hold their own. Romance doesn't have to be a main plot point, necessarily, but I would like it at least to be happening in the background on a noticeable level that scratches that shipping itch. Bonus points for female characters who are not broken women "elevated" by their male partners.*

Things I've read and loved:
Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series (fantastic romance, but the screwed-up stuff in the couple's past is not swept under the rug and creates fulfilling dynamics.)
Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series (the romantic leads are both hardcore awesome in completely different ways and their relationship never castrated their interesting characters.)
Dorothy Dunnett's The Chronicles of Lymond series (not fantasy, but great historical fiction and once again, the characters involved actually seem worthy of one another and stay interesting.)
Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint and companion novels (another set of excellent examples of believable affection, totally ballsed-up personal dynamics, odd characters, and tragedy.)

*Fantasy romance heroines seem frequently to fall in love with their teachers, mentors, protectors, etc. I'm okay with that, but in my ideal fantasy book there is a woman who is already awesome without a man and then an awesome man finds her. Or vice-versa.

Thanks for fleshing out my reading list!
posted by WidgetAlley to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think the relationship between Clarissa McDougall and Kimball Kinnison sounds like what you're asking for, in the classic Lensman series, but it doesn't dominate the narrative and there are long stretches where Clarissa isn't in the story at all. (She becomes more and more important as the series proceeds.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:31 AM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Hmmm, Stephenson's doorstoppers The Baroque Cycle isn't fantasy per say, although there are fantastical elements it's more if a picaresque through the 16th century and features the long, drawn out romance between Jack and Eliza as a central theme. They banter in a screwball comedy way and they manage, through thier quick wits and cleverness, to go from the lowest social order to the very top. It helps that Eliza is a super genius badass.
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Hard to suggest this one without giving too much away, and it's quite a lot of books. AND it's both fantasy and science fiction, but I recommend the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh. The female in question is definitely awesome already. I'm also not sure where the "romance" proper begins, but it may be in the second series of three (books 4, 5, 6).
posted by Glinn at 10:49 AM on February 15, 2013

Seanan McGuire's stuff doesn't focus on the romance, but there is some in both her urban fantasy series, and I think it's pretty well done -- the characters are always snarky snarkers, so you get a lot of bicker. (I'd avoid her Mira Grant stuff if you want romance.) I'd say that Kristin Cashore's books have romance between balanced people in them. The Cordelia Naismith books by Lois McMaster Bujold, and some but not all of the Miles books.

These are more fantasy or (for the Bujold) SF with a side of romance than romance in a SFF setting, though.
posted by jeather at 11:00 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in high school, I really liked Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey, partly because of the love story. It is a story of love between two men, but somehow I still really dug it (I'm a heterosexual woman) and had kind of a small crush on the main character.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 11:40 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Off the top of my head, two stand out: Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need duology, which starts with The Mirror of Her Dreams, fits your bill.

Also, Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince was a great favorite of mine in high school. The romance continues throughout the series, but is particularly central in the first book.
posted by artemisia at 11:59 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Tamora Pierce's Mastiff (third in the Provost's Dog series) has a romance that feels a lot like the one in Kristin Cashore's Graceling to me. I feel like you should be able to read the third book without having to subsume yourself in the trilogy, but it does have a strong kickass female lead so you might want to pick them up regardless.
posted by calistasm at 12:05 PM on February 15, 2013

The Mercy Thompson series could easily fit your bill. She is a shapeshifter who finds herself in some situations but also manages to get herself out of them. He is a werewolf (but I'm not going to tell you which one) so he is equally awesome.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:08 PM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Jeather beat me to it, but I came in to suggest Kristin Cashore's Graceling trilogy. I really, really enjoyed them and the main character in the first one (Katsa) is one of my favorite fantasy characters ever.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:53 PM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: The first two books of Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife series are a good romance/fantasy crossover, but the heroine might be a bit young/naive for your tastes (definitely a May-December romance, though TV tropes might call it Mayfly-December*).

But her Paladin of Souls was also a bit hit with romance fans. It is not only one of the best fantasy novels of any flavour that I have ever read, but the heroine is a middle-aged woman learning to be her own kind of kick-ass, even as she falls in love. It's a nominal sequel to The Curse of Chalion (also an excellent novel, though the romance in it is much more of a subplot) but you don't have to read Curse before Paladin.

It looks like this website on romance SF&F hasn't updated recently, but there are lots of reviews.

The world of fantasy-romance seems to be split somewhat. You have SF&F authors who write what is essentially fantasy and science fiction with romance plots/subplots, like Bujold or Anne McCaffrey, and then you have the genre of paranormal and fantasy romance, books which are primarily romances in non-realistic settings. They are coming from different generic traditions (with different plot and character expectations), though they can often meet in the middle.

Bujold has noted that it's hard to balance out the fantasy reader's expectations when it comes to world-building/politics with the romance reader's expectations of the relationship forming the backbone of the plot. She had finished the romance plot in Sharing Knife at the end of the second book (originally first two were just one novel), but she hadn't resolved the political/social tensions of the story, and so ended up writing two more volumes. I've noticed this problem in other novels as well - a satisfactory end to the romance plot, for example, without a satisfactory end to the fantasy/SF elements of the plot.
posted by jb at 2:48 PM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Not fantasy/sci fi (I guess I'd characterize it as historical fiction), but the romance between Sam Clay and Tracy Bacon in Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was one of the most haunting and beautiful I've ever read.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:49 PM on February 15, 2013

Oh, and Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series has great characters and quite a bit of Slap Slap Kiss (again, historical fiction, set Victorian era through WWI).
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2013

Lani Taylor's (YA) series Daughter of Smoke and Bone is great. Only 2 books in the trilogy have been published so far, so not sure how the love story will end, but Taylor is fantastic world-building. The relationship becomes very nuanced (though in the first book it's pretty cheesy) and the female protagonist is a really strong character.
posted by mlle valentine at 4:00 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Raven Ring by Patricia Wrede meets your specifications exactly.
posted by kitarra at 6:24 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ooh! Lens of the World series by R A Macavoy. Love that series.
posted by purenitrous at 8:31 PM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: You absolutely should read Mystic and Rider (and potentially the rest of that series, but it gets tricky).

There are quite a few things by Tamora Pierce that I would recommend, but many of hers fall under 'she falls in love with a teacher/protector' gig (they are always strong women on their own, though).

There are also a few things by Mercedes Lackey that fit your requirements; in the specific vein of hate>bicker>love you should look at the 500 Kingdoms books, especially Fairy Godmother. The Valdemar universe is so amazing you should read it, if you haven't, even though it doesn't fit your specific question here--it's chock full of strong heroines/heroes and their romances.

Ill Wind is urban fantasy and there's a bit more worldbuilding than romance but it was good enough to recommend and it is the start of a series if you get hooked.

Slightly random: Shadow of Albion. It manages to be authored by Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghill (my mind still boggles a bit) and it is quite unusual. Historical fantasy with definite romance focus; note that the series never finished. Edghill also collaborates quite often with Lackey and occasionally with Pierce.

You may like Harlequin's Luna line: they publish Lackey's 500 Kingdom series and a few others and the emphasis is fantasy first, despite the fact that it's coming from a known romance publisher. There's also some solid Tor books in this genre but I look at publisher's websites for a living and had trouble getting theirs straight; I'd suggest browsing at your local library or bookstore.
posted by librarylis at 9:04 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you would like Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series and Edge series.

I also strongly recommend Linnea Sinclair. She writes Science Fiction romances, not fantasy, but I think they would be right up your alley.
posted by gudrun at 9:56 PM on February 15, 2013

Best answer: Oh what a great question. I love all your favorite reads (and totally agree about the Snyder books which just lost me). But I think your picks make an interesting combo because they're all pure fun and yet are really well written. Dunnett is in a league of her own. It's hard to go from her to say, late McCaffrey, or weak-water prose in some genre fiction, or just maundering (Deborah Harkness is guilty of this imo). I'm not a lit snob at all, but sometimes bad writing just gets in the way of the fun I want to have with a book, you know?

Having said that, here are a few books I've loved...

- Bujold. As others said, all three books in the Chalion series are super. (I felt Sharing Knife was a bit soft.) Also, her SF books are great, if you are open to SF. Cordelia's Honor, an omnibus that starts that series is swoony. All-time favorite.
- Sabriel, Garth Nix.
- The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia McKillip.
- The Folk Keeper, Franny Billingsley (romance is low priority but super satisfying)
- The Agency Books by YS Lee - YA, historical fiction. Well-written romps, great romance.
- Yes to Daughter of Smoke & Bone, but note that while the 2nd book is out, the 3rd isn't until 2014. And they're very connected - kind of one story.

ETA Sharon Shinn's Archangel is a pretty great romance and a very interesting world. The writing annoys sometimes, especially in the later books of the series, but the first book is great.
posted by quincequince at 10:32 AM on February 18, 2013

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