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Guest Post: Want Some Romance in Your Fantasy and Science Fiction? A List by Janicu

>>Saturday, February 12, 2011

With Valentine's Day coming up I started thinking about what options I had to do a special post about romance in relation to fantasy and science fiction. Immediately I knew I was not the one for the job, even though I do read some romantic speculative fiction, I am no expert. So I asked Janicu of Janicu's Book Blog to do a guest post about the subject. She deals with romantic speculative fiction and I find her blog a great source on the genre. She also writes great reviews. I hope you enjoy her post as much as I do!

Want Some Romance in Your Fantasy and Science Fiction? A List 
by Janicu

In sixth grade, I discovered Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman's books, starting with the Dragonlance Chronicles. Three boys and I passed the books back and forth between ourselves at recess. We were just rabid for them. After Chronicles we read Legends, then we branched over to the Darksword series, The Rose of the Prophet, and The Star of the Guardians. I think the fantasy genre was my first love amongst genre fiction, but as I read more of it I realized that I was happiest when there were also romantic elements. It really doesn't need to be much. I'm most drawn to those stories where a couple takes their time to fall in love. It's not love-at-first-sight and serious chemical reactions that get me (although those are good too, if done right), and in speculative fiction, that's often the type of love story you get. A couple may meet and there may be something there, but they have other things to do (see Sagan and Maigrey from The Star of the Guardians). They fall in love slowly, sometimes over several books, and in the meantime there's a lot of wonderful world building to go along with it. So I get two things I love this way: world building plus romance. To this day I still gravitate towards these kinds of books, and that's why I've subtitled my book blog as "reviews by a speculative fiction romantic".

Over the years I've been reading this stuff there are some books that I think are excellent (if not essential) introductory reads in speculative fiction with romantic elements. It may be years since I read some of these, but they made a big impact when I first read each and I've reread most of these at least twice.

Archangel by Sharon Shinn (Gabriel and Rachel). This is the first in the Samaria series, but it can be treated as a standalone (as all books in the series). People were transplanted to Samaria hundreds of years ago by their god, Jovah. It's a world led by angels, but the latest angelic leaders have taken to vice and corruption. Its next archangel, Gabriel is a different man from the current despots, but he's dragging his feet on one of his duties: getting married. Unfortunately for him, he has no choice. He and his wife have to lead the Gloria in praise of their god, Jovah. If they don't do it, Jovah will destroy the world. So six months before Gloria, Gabriel goes to find out who his wife is -- a woman who has been chosen by Jovah and discovers it's a slave named Rachel. A woman whose people have been ill-treated by majority, she wants no part of angels or Jovah.

Don't let the talk of angels and a god named Jovah scare you off. Religion is just a part of the world building and there are elements of both fantasy and science fiction as well as the obvious romance in this one. Gabriel and Rachel are an atypical couple. Rachel has some serious backbone, and Gabriel is a straightlaced guy. They're both obstinate and unhappy about marrying the other, but ultimately they find ways to meet each other halfway without losing themselves. There's something I seriously loved about these two, and it's my favorite book in the series.
Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith (Meliara and a secret admirer). I'm cheating a little here because Crown Duel is actually an omnibus of two young adult books - Crown Duel and Court Duel. Meliara is a countess but lives in a run-down home with her brother and father and don't have much to do with the royal court until Meliaria swears on her father's deathbed to do something about the corruption of the current king. Intent on doing the right thing, but really not knowing a thing about current politics, Meliara spends much of the first book putting her foot in it. There are wince-inducing parts but Meliara always prevails and still manages to stay honest and likable.  She gets a secret admirer in book 2 and this is when things get good (I prefer the second book to the first, but you need to read the first book to get the background story). Through a series of letters she's wooed and eventually realizes she's fallen in love. As a reader, there's an obvious guess as to who her admirer is, but it's a lot of fun watching Meliara being clueless and then finding out. When she does -- it's just precious. This book has given me a soft spot for secret admirer romances, but I haven't run into enough of them (suggestions welcome).

The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee (Jane and Silver). I'm always worried that this one doesn't get enough press because of the title (Amazon has 88 5-star reviews though, which makes me feel better). Seriously though, you have to read it. First of all, Tanith Lee is an amazing writer and her world building in this one is stellar. Jane is a milquetoast heroine, fading into the background around her rich, spoiled, friends and her controlling mother. She's one of the pampered elite in a futuristic city, but she has no purpose. Then one day she sees Silver, a robot so lifelike he seems human, and she becomes obsessed with him. Eventually she runs away with him into the inner city, and in the process she grows up.  I cry every time I read this one, but I still read it when I'm particularly down. Somehow it gives me hope despite it's bittersweet ending. I find it a beautiful story. There's also a sequel, years later with different protagonists, called Metallic Love.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (Harry and Corlath). Sigh. Do I even need to explain this fantasy story? There are so many parts of this book that have been emblazoned in my memory. Harry cringing before the force of kelar in Corlath's eyes when they first meet, and his realization that she needs to come into the desert with them. So this Outlander girl is snatched up by the Hillfolk while she slept and taken into the desert because Corlath's magic urges him to, and she has to adjust to life that is very different from hers. There's a lot of action and hard work on Harry's part but she steps up to every challenge. I love how Aerin of The Hero and the Crown is an inspiration to Harry. And the public declaration of love in this one is swoon-worthy. This one holds up to multiple rereads.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl and Sophie) - This book was my favorite book for a long time. I must have checked it out of the library compulsively when I was a teen. I think part of the reason I love this book is that I'm the oldest of three kids, and I've always hated how the eldest in fairy tales was the first to fail and the youngest was the hero/heroine who triumphs at the end. Sophie is the eldest of three daughters and has similar opinions to my own about this load of malarkey perpetuated by the fairytale industry. She deals with her lot in a pragmatic way that ends up being very funny, and I love how being cursed into looking like an old woman gave her an excuse to be as nosy and forthright as she really wanted to be. She and Howl had an amusing banter, and even though Howl is one of the more vain and mercurial heroes out there, his charm won me over. It pains me when people don't realize that the Hayao Miyazaki film is (loosely) based on a book.

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (Laura and Sorry) - This is another favorite book of my teen years. Hmm, there's actually a lot of YA in my list isn't there? This one is about Laura, who has a younger brother who gets preyed upon by a sort of paranormal creature who needs his life force. Laura has some sensitivity to the paranormal so she knows that her brother's illness is magical, in the same way she knows that Sorenson Carlisle, an odd boy in her school, is a witch. Laura has a good relationship with her family, especially with her mom, a single parent who has recently started dating again. What I most loved however was that it confirmed through Sorry Carlisle my long held suspicion: boys are weird. His character was a quirky one -- from his reading of romance novels to his being a male witch, but he he's also such a guy in a way that makes me grin.


  1. Great list here - you picked a few of my favorites! I've re-read Archangel, Crown Duel and Howl's Moving Castle countless times :)

  2. I loved the Dragonlance Chronicles-- they are truly some of the best fantasy reads out there! And Howl's Moving Castle is another great book. I like the anime film as well. :)

  3. @danya - :) Yes, these are my favorites too. Oldies but goodies I have to say.

    @Kat - YES, Dragonlance was great. I remember them very fondly, and it turned out to be something I had in common with DH. I'm a fan of both the book and the movie of Howl's Moving Castle too. They're different from each other in a good way.

  4. I'm adding The Changeover to my to-be-read pile. I want to read about a boy witch, and if he is weird, even better.

    I kind of like the creepy looking cover too.

  5. @Magaly - GASP, yes, do give The Changeover a read! Weird witchy boy = good stuff. It's an old one, so there are several editions out with different covers. This is one of my favorites.

  6. Hi :D
    I came on over, and ohh yes authors I have not read. I really should read some oldies

  7. Hey everyone! Thanks for visiting!

    AS for the list, I have read two books: Archangel and Crown Duel. I loved both of them. The romance in Crown Duel was so lovely and I loved the idea of the secret admirer.

    Archangel was good for me on many levels and it was one of the only books I ever read in one shot, just to find out what happened with Rachel and Gabriel :)

    The others I have definitely added to my wishlist. I'm particularly interested in the McKinley and Jones!

  8. @Blodeuedd *waves*. Thanks for coming by. Yes, these oldies are worth reading. They're timeless!

    @Lisa - Archangel really hit me when I read it for the first time too. I also liked Jovah's Angel in that series, but I haven't read Angel Seeker yet. The McKinley is really really good. Feels like a book for all ages even though it's in the YA section. If I can push a book on you from this list, I push hardest for that one. Not that I wouldn't mind if you read them alll...:)

  9. Did you ever read Weis and Hickman's Death Gate Cycle? Not so much on the romance front, but still a gorgeous fantasy universe - that was always my favourite of theirs.

  10. YES to Crown Duel, The Blue Sword, and Howl's Moving Castle! I haven't read Archangel yet, but I've enjoyed other books by Sharon Shinn; am thinking of starting the Twelve Houses series at some point.

  11. Janice! Can I just say that this list is amazing? :) I've read and loved all of the books in it except for Tanith Lee's book so I've added that one to my wish list. Archangel is also my favorite Samaria novel although I still haven't read Angelica. It's funny that you mentioned both Sorry and Howl in this post because I feel like the two of them have a lot of similarities.

    boys are weird. -> They really are!

  12. I already had some interest in The Changeover and I've always planned on reading The Blue Sword after I read The Hero and the Crown for the first time last year. I've never read Howl and I'm not sure I will. But I am interested I'm the Tanith Lee now. I think I've read the other two. Archangel - *love*. Thanks for the great list.

  13. @Anne - Oh yes, I have all 7 books of the Death Gate Cycle. Unfortunately I've only read up to book 5. Reason being I was poor and could only afford the books used and it took me so long to get them all together that I think I need to start from book 1 again. I think that the world of fire was my favorite.

    @Christina-reads Ohhh, so lucky that you haven't read ARCHANGEL yet. I wish I could discover it again.

    @Chachic - Yes they are, particularly when you're in high school. I was so relieved to find a weird boy in a book.

    @Holly - Howl and The Changeover have this british feel for me. I wonder if that affects the read for people. The Blue Sword -- I may actually like even more than the Hero and the Crown. It's hard to say though. Aerin is very kick ass. Tanith Lee can be sometimes hit or miss with me, but these ones were hits.

  14. THE CHANGEOVER is not only one of my fave YA romances, it's my fave Mahy book.

    What I love about Howl and Sophie is how imperfect they are.

    Sherwood Smith's INDA books have some complex, ongoing romantic relationships that I'd recommend.

    I'd also recommend Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan sf series as well as her Sharing Knife fantasies.

  15. Fantabulous list! I've enjoyed these all, but you've started up the re-reading itch.

    I find Shinn reliable for romantic spec fic in general. I might also suggest Megan Whalen Turner (once you hit The Queen of Attolia) for intense political fantasy with an incredibly complex and believable relationship, Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog for light-hearted Victorian, and Doris Egan's Ivory series for fun science fantasy, although these aren't quite as strong on the romantic element. Oh, and the phouka totally melts me in The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, for urban fantasy fans.

    Okay, will stop babbling now. But I adore this particular slice of genre! Thanks so much for this post!

  16. What a list Janicu! That SILVER METAL LOVER sounds awesomely fantastic but I must read HOWL soon - like right away. I'm glad to hear you found all these as teens, I'm just discovering so many so I'm glad to see I'm on the right track ;)

  17. Nice list! I've read quite a few but not all.

    I double the Bujold recommendations. The Sharing Knife series was definitely romance (a little light on the action and adventure--not my favorite of her works), and a Civil Campaign (part of the Vorkosigan series) was absolutely fabulous. No steamy sex scenes, but what a fun courtship. :)

  18. @Victoria - Excellent recs. I have INDA on my TBR and this makes me want to read it sooner. And I'm currently slowly making my way through the Vorkosigan series. Loving it.

    @Karalynn - I get recommended Megan Whalen Turner a lot. I really MUST start. And TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG is something I have been eying. I promise I will read these one day! WAR FOR THE OAKS I have read and it very nearly got on my list here!

    @Michelle - Yes, read HOWL! Have you see the Book Smuggler's recent excellent review of it? It got a 9/10 (Damn near perfection!)

    @Lindsay - I'm so happy to hear that about the Vorkosigan series. I'm on uh.. the first parts (I have read the prequels - Cordelia's Honor omnibus) of it so it's great to hear about good things to come.



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