I originally came to romance through fantasy novels with what AAR would now describe as “strong romantic elements.” (Ok, yes, and X-Files fanfiction. It’s a strong overlap).
Back before YA got its own major marketing classification, a lot of us teens who were good readers but cognitively still kids found that speculative fiction was a good landing pad between kids’ books and Literature For Adults. My pivotal book was Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, which I read in sixth grade and which will be on my keeper shelf until I die. There was action! There was romance! There was psychic-bonded dragon sex!
There was no going back.
At the risk of dating myself, other of the “greatest hits” of this era in my life included:
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Black Trillium by Andre Norton, Julian May, and Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix
Howl’s Moving Castle/The Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
By high school, I hit on Outlander, which segued into mainstream romance. I had found my people.
To this day, I love the worldbuilding thrill of a great fantasy combined with the comfort and satisfaction of a romance. After seeing some commenters talking about the challenge of finding good romantic fantasy/fantasty romances, I thought I’d share some of my and AAR’s more recent fantasy DIKs – and ask for recommendations from you!
If you’re using AAR’s new Power Search, first, try the “fantasy romance” category under “genre.” You can set the filter by grade, or you can check DIK reviews to only get books that received an A- and higher.
Tags may also help you find something you’ll enjoy, although certain tags may lead to books which aren’t pure fantasy (magic, for instance, may take you to urban fantasy as well, or dragons might be shapeshifters in a modern world instead of fantasy creatures). Here are some tags to get you started:
- Fantasy romance (a tag as well as a genre)
- Fairy (generally for fae-type stories)
- Fairy tale
- Shifter romance
Some of our favorite series:
Milla Vane’s A Gathering of Dragons series is one of our most beloved fantasy reads at AAR, with all three stories so far receiving DIKs. If you like the “sword and sorcery” barbarian adventure style fantasy, this is unmissable.
Draven writes a range of worlds. Her Wraith Kings series, which debuted with the opposites-attract Radiance, has two DIKs from us, and her Fallen Empire series has an A- and a B+. Well worth checking out!
The husband-wife team that writes as Ilona Andrews writes books we classify more as urban fantasy and paranormal romance than as fantasy. There is a lot of overlap in readership in these categories, though, so you may find something to love in one of their many series.
Wilson’s Tairen Soul series, about a Fey king (and cat shifter!) who finds his fated mate, rose from a B to a DIK here over the course of three books. All of us fantasy fans know the pain of series that start out strong and collapse, so it’s great to have this one on the right trajectory.
The Chronicles of the Warlands is a great and well-loved series here with two DIKs. The story of a city healer-princess enslaved (?) by a nomadic barbarian warlord is epic romantic fantasy at its finest.
Stand-alones we loved:
Welch has two one-off DIKs here, Seducing the Sorcerer and Salt Magic, Skin Magic
We’ve DIK’d Novik three times, twice for stand-alones. Her nuanced re-imaginings of fairy tales and intricately built worlds make for exceptional reads.
Beneath a Sapphire Sea is an unusual fantasy read starring merpeople, which our reviewer called her favorite book of all time.
By Magic Beguiledis a story of orphaned and separated twin fae princesses and their quests to save themselves and their kingdom.
In The Wind Witch, a mature widow captures a raider and makes him work to save her farm – but both of them are magical.
She’s best known for her Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunters series, but Singh’s Lord of the Abyss is a fantastic Beauty and the Beast fantasy.
Books marketed as YA but well worth adult reads:
Tehlor Kay Mejia:
Mejia earned two DIKs for her duology We Set The Dark On Fire/We Unleash The Merciless Storm.
We have two DIKs here – Graceling and Winterkeep (the graphic novel adaptation of the former was unfortunately a bust) and I would 100% give DIKs to the two unreviewed books, Fire and Bitterblue.
Like most of Romancelandia, you may know Thomas primarily for her historical romances, and if not those, for her Lady Sherlock mysteries. Her fantasy Elemental Trilogy, however, is spectacular. (We don’t have a review of the middle book, The Perilous Sea, but it’s possibly the best of the three! – Ed.) Is there any genre this woman can’t do?
Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days is a marvelous spin on a lesser-known fairy tale, Maid Maleen, set on a fantasy version of the Asian steppes.
I could keep going – but that’s what our database is for!
Now over to all of you. What fantasy romances can you recommend – recent or classics?
~ Caroline Russomanno
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
Have to add a late comment as I just read the most incredible fantasy romance this weekend, Foz Meadows’ A Strange and Stubborn Endurance – mlm/arranged marriage with court politics and a mystery. It’s not out until end of July (read a galley) but oh so very good.
I’m about to read it for review so that’s good news!
I’ll look forward to the review. I’ll be curious to see what you think.
Loved the Blue Sword and followed a similar path of many. I skimmed through the comments quickly but don’t think I saw Sarah J Maas mentioned. Her Court series is amazing and the series sustains well over multiple books.
Presently, at 73, I am not a big reader of fantasy or young adult books. When I was young, I stumbled across the Narnia books and I loved them. As a young adult, Dune was an astonishing reading experience. Recently, I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed Sherry Thomas’s Elemental trilogy – all three books were page turners and I loved them. Thomas is simply a writer who knows how to engage a reader and tell a gripping story. I love her writing.
As you pointed out Mary Beth – good writing is good writing. Sherry Thomas is a great example. As a former middle school librarian, I regularly posit that some of the best writing published in the last couple of decades has come out of the YA segment of the market. (Yes, kids and teens went nuts for Harry Potter. But so did many, many adults.)
Caroline and commenters here have come up with some great titles/authors – including Sherry Thomas. Give a few more a try. You might find that you are – occasionally, but in fact – both a fantasy and a YA reader when the right author is recommended ;-)
Recently I listened to two books by Kim Fielding, Treasure and Farview, and I loved them both. Beautifully written with engaging stories and characters. m/m
I really enjoyed the Stariel series by AJ Lancaster. They have interesting worldbuilding, good characterizations and a bit of romance. They are good in print or an audio. With just four books, it’s long enough to develop an interesting overarching story without being intimidating.
Other series/books that I’ve liked that I don’t think have been mentioned:
-Meljean Brooks’ Iron Seas series.
-Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet series. m/m
-Magic in Manhattan series by Allie Therin (I haven’t read the third one), plus Proper Scoundrels, a spinoff (which is my favorite). m/m
-The various interconnected Guild Codex series by Annette Marie. Fast reads, well done UF universe, some romance.
-Ilona Andrews Innkeeper series and her The Edge series. I enjoyed the first three books in the Hidden Legacy series, but haven’t been able to get into the rest.
-Lois McMasters Bujold Sharing Knife series. I’ve also listened to Curse of Chalion whish is wonderful, and her Miles Vorkosigan SF books are wonderful.
-Diana Wynn Jones
I have a question for you fantasy fans. I would love to read more, but I find myself intimidated by long casts of characters and convoluted plots and worlds with tons of new terminology to learn. I read romance later in the evenings when I am tired, so I would really appreciate some recommendations for fantasy books which are on the simpler or more approachable end of the complexity spectrum. Thanks much!!
Warprize (the first book in Chronicles of the Warlands, mentioned above) by Elizabeth Vaughan is extremely approachable. The heroine’s kingdom is very much like a standard medieval – there’s hardly even magic until late in the series. Also, anything marketed as YA is generally less worldbuilding/infodump; I’d especially try Graceling and Book of a Thousand Days from this list. Naomi Novik here is definitely not a fit for you, and the Milla Vane probably isn’t right either.
Thank you, Caroline. Starting with YA is a good idea. I have read and enjoyed a couple of Naomi Novik books, so maybe I am selling myself short? I love having new things to try— great column!
I really enjoyed the relatively new Stariel series by AJ Lancaster. It’s only four books long and has creative worldbuilding and good plots.
Sometimes a good intro to this genre can be YA or even JF books. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles listed above by Patricia C. Wrede (JF) are a great place to start. Also Diana Wynn Jones has some great titles, like Howl’s Moving Castle. Patricia Briggs’ The Hob’s Bargain is sweet and wonderful, with a touch of romance.
The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley have been mentioned here more than once, and they are beautiful books to start with. Happy reading!
Thanks, Carrie! Those sounds like great ideas— more for my TBR.
I’d add Sherwood Smith (mentioned downthread) to Carrie’s list. Personally, I loved her Crown Duel/Court Duel books, which have one of my favorite heroes. The author has also written some Regencies that are worth pursuing.
Thank you, Eggletina, I will check them out!
I’m reading/listening to more fantasy and urban fantasy these days, mostly because I’m looking more for stories with plot AND romance. Hailey Turner’s Soulbound series (7 books) is excellent (UF) and I just listened to Meghan Maslow’s 4 book Starfig Investigations series, (Fantasy) which is a lot of fun but has plenty of adventure and more serious points to make.
I just listened to the first book in Ava Marie Salinger’s Fractured Souls series (UF), which looks promising – angels and demons fell to Earth 500 years ago with no memories of who they were before. I liked it enough to want to continue with it when I can fit it in!
For those who enjoy m/m, T. Frohock’s Los Nefilim books may be of interest. They’re very atmospheric, depicting struggles between factions of angels and daimons with implications for mankind that span the Spanish Civil War through WWII. They started out as novellas, and the author expanded them into follow-on novels. I still need to read the 3rd (latest) novel, which is on my list to get to this year. I tried the audio narrator for one, but went back to the novel because I didn’t like the audio narrator’s voice for these characters (may have just been me).
Thanks for the rec. I’ve listened to Vikas Adam a few times and enjoyed those performances so maybe the audio will work better for me.
Okay, some years ago I read a fantasy that had been raved about in any number of places. Being an idiot, I can remember neither the author nor the title. It began with the hero, who had bee severely whipped, sinking back to his patrons and expecting nothing from them. I think there were five gods or four gods—that may have been a source of conflict. It was basically set in 15th century Spain (not specified in the book, but I recognized it). I started the sequel but didn’t like it nearly as much.
What was it?
Is it Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion or The Sharing Knife series?
It sounds like Curse of Chalion. Loved that book, and it’s great on audio.
Yes it is! Thank you.
Several years ago I tried to maintain a list of SFR and RSF. I gave up after the genres expanded too much for me to keep up, but the last iteration of the list is at:
Below are some authors I didn’t see already mentioned.
The first that come to mind are the Dragon Kin and Scarred Earth series by G. A. Aiken (set in different parts of the same world).
Several series by Jeffe Kennedy in her Tala world.
Science Fictional (or Paranormal Futuristic) Romances:
Series by Jayne Castle.
Celta series by Robin D. Owens.
Series by Val Roberts.
Fantasy (I include Urban Fantasy as a subset of Fantasy) with Romantic threads:
Series by Leigh Bardugo.
Series by Patricia Briggs.
Series by Lindsay Buroker.
Series by Dave Duncan.
Series by Jeaniene Frost.
Series by Talia Gryphon.
Series by Kim Harrison.
Several other series by Mercedes Lackey, especially the 500 Kingdoms and the older Bardic Voices.
Series by Kelly McCullough.
Series by Tamora Pierce.
Series by Honor Raconteur.
Series by Lisa Shearin.
Series by Wen Spencer.
Series by Shanna Swendson.
Series by Eileen Wilks.
Science Fiction with Romantic threads:
Series by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Series by Lindsay Buroker.
The I Inside by Alan Dean Foster.
Many of the (decades old) works of Philip E. High.
I definitely agree about the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. I’m weeks into a reread of the whole series (squeezing in around new reading).
Nine kingdoms by Lynn Kurland! I found those books here, in AAR. It is not mentioned.
There were so many options in our DB I couldn’t pull them all!
I see most of my recs already mentioned. Stardust by Neil Gaiman is good if you haven’t already read it, and Gaiman narrates the audio.
I’ve always found the line between paranormal romance and fantasy romance a bit confusing. To my way of thinking they are the same genre (romance + magical beings). But leaving shifters and vamps out of the mix for the moment, here is a list of authors/titles that immediately come to mind for me (in addition to some already mentioned that are also favorites):
I am mentioning authors I have not seen mentioned here (recently) and distinguish fantasies with strong romance, and lower down great authors with less romance (a few SF, too)
Sharon Shinn has three fantastic series: Samaria, Thirteen Houses, and Elemental Blessings. I find the elemental blessings strongest as a series, but love Archangel, the first book of Samaria, most.
T. Kingfisher’s Swordheart and Saint of Steel series – wonderful fantasy romances
Roberta Gellis 5 fantasy romances – loose series on imagined Greek mythology starting with Dazzling Brightness
Tanya Huff – I love her Summon the Keeper, urban fantasy with a big funny romance. Her Quarters books are excellent, too, in fantasy, SF her Valor series is great – less romance
SF: R. Cooper Taji from Beyond the Rings- I was amazed at the world building, very explicitly erotic where the sex is integral to the society‘s culture and the plot in an absolutely fascinating way – m/m
Sherwood Smith Coronets & Steel series, Sasharia Series, and her recent Phoenix Feather series. Strong romance in them.
Melissa McShane Crown of Tremontaine – lovely stories, some romance
Liaden universe – lots of romance in these SF stories
Carol Berg is amazing, rai- Kirah series, wow – not romance, though.
Goblin emperor by K. Addison – a gem, no romance
Guy Gavriel Kay – anything – some minor romantic threads.
Some great suggestions here Lieselotte.
T. Kingfisher’s newest – Nettle & Bone (so, so lovely)
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree (flf)
A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland (mlm)
Broken Lands, Aileen Travers, and Dragon Ridden Chronicles series by T. A. White (also their SF series, Firebird Chronicles)
Oh and I’d argue The Goblin Emperor (one of my all time favs) does have a subtle, slow-build romance in it. It is only a small part of the book, but did leave me very hopeful for Maia in the end.
Thank you Jane!
Will look into your suggestions, too, I appreciate them a lot!
Agree on romance in Goblin Emperor – but it is so small and subtle that I did not want to mention. I utterly love that book, reread regularly, and liked (not loved) the sequels.
–>For me, Taji by Cooper is nearly as good on the world building and lonely hero discovering his influence and standing up to overwhelming force while remaining himself. The reasons I do not find it perfect: I would have liked to see the HEA after the “heat” passed, the end was just HFN for me.
The great: I never expected a so explicitly erotic / sexual (more than erotic) novel to be so good at world building and describing immersing yourself into an alien culture and trying to understand each other across a gap, both in the romance and in the politics, the description of the confusion and of the frustration is excellent – and it still all becomes clear (enough) and there is agency and clarity about consequences for the love story and for the empire – so many layers – Taji is an outstanding book I recently read and will reread.
I’ve read GE many, many times as well. I’ve loved the sequels for what they are, but they are not beloved by me as GE is.
One title that I read recently that gave me GE feelings (so much so, I not only re-read it, but went back and re-read GE again), is YEAR OF THE REAPER by Makiia Lucier. It’s not as complex in its political plotting, but does have a hero who reminded me of Maia in that he’s damaged and hurt but remains honorable and determined to do the right thing where and when he can. Oh and there’s a romance subplot too. Loved it.
And thought of another one, this one more fantasy/romance instead of a fantasy with romantic elements. LITTLE FIRE by Hollee Mands. Saw a comparison to C. L. Wilson (mentioned by someone else here) and I’d say, entirely fair.
Thanks Jane, I downloaded samples of both.
I adore The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. I read both books every few years and, everytime, I think of how unique they are.
I love fantasy and this is a great list. I’d add Shannon Hale’s Bayern books, Lloyd Alexander’s incredible Prydain trilogy, and Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series.
Wow, I am so excited to see The Blue Sword cover here!! This whole post is completely on point for me. I had never thought about it in this way, but I did end up loving fantasy and sci-fi because I loved to read, outgrew the ‘kids’ section, and was too young for most adult literature. That list above is pretty much my favorites shelf from middle school. I started with The Blue Sword (still a favorite) then moved on to Dragonflight (which was amazing!) and never looked back.
Now, after years of reading mostly historical romances, I’ve been on fantasy/sci-fi binge. I just finished Ilona Andrews’ backlist, am working my way through Michelle Diener’s class 5 series, and have Naomi Novick on my list next. I can’t wait to check out some of these other titles/authors mentioned above.