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My Favorite Adult High Fantasy Romances/High Fantasy With Romantic Elements

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Over on Patreon, I’m running a Jealous Patrons Book Club feature where you can subscribe to recaps or discussion posts for A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I will refrain from putting my opinion on the book here, as that’s not what this post is about.

Instead, this post is about amazing High-Fantasy Romances or High-Fantasy with strong romantic elements that I have read and loved. There are titles on here you might recognize, but overall I feel like these books didn’t get the attention they deserved. You’re gonna see one and go, “Jenny, come on. You really think that one didn’t get enough attention?”

Yes. I think that even the most popular of these should be far more celebrated than they are, even if the only thing left is to declare an international day of appreciation and/or building a statue beneath which the author’s heart and brain will be entombed upon their death, that we may all be grateful to be so close to their most important parts.

That got grim.

Anyway, jam these in your eye holes or your earholes or the tips of your fingers. Which ever way you choose to read (though I’m not sure which formats all of these books are available in, to be perfectly frank). Oh, and I’ve excluded YA High Fantasy from the list because honestly, my list would be like, SUSAN DENNARD OKAY THAT’S ALL YOU NEED LOCK YOURSELF IN A ROOM AND READ EVERYTHING SHE’S WRITTEN, COOL?

These might also seem old, in terms of release. All but one of them are, indeed, decades old. But High Fantasy Romance has been something of a disappointment for me for the past few years. There was such a huge boom in the 00’s in the subgenre, but it feels like its’ petered out a bit. There was also a substantial rise in YA Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy/High Fantasy, so it did feel for a while like publishers went, “And the girly elf books go over here!” and I kind of wandered away from the genre and into books about WWII because congratulations, I’m your dad! But I’m always taking recommendations. Send them my way (and the way of everyone else) in the comments.

 

The cover of the Dream Thief by Shana Abé. Two pewter-looking dragons flank the title, joined at the tail. The background is a blue night sky with a full moon above clouds.The Dream Thief, Shannon Abé.

In the remote hills of northern England lives a powerful clan with a centuries-old secret. They are the drákon, shape-shifters who possess the ability to Turn—changing from human to smoke to dragon. And from the very stones of the earth, they hear hypnotic songs of beauty and wonder. But there is one stone they fear.

Buried deep within the bowels of the Carpathian Mountains lies the legendary dreaming diamond known as Draumr, the only gem with the power to enslave the drákon. Since childhood, Lady Amalia Langford, daughter of the clan’s Alpha, has heard its haunting ballad but kept it secret, along with another rare Gift…Lia can hear the future, much in the way she hears the call of Draumr. And in that future, she realizes that the diamond—along with the fate of the drákon—rests in the hands of a human man, one who straddles two worlds.

Ruthlessly clever, Zane has risen through London’s criminal underworld to become its ruler. Once a street urchin saved by Lia’s mother, Zane is also privy to the secrets of the clan—and is the only human they trust to bring them Draumr. But he does nothing selflessly.

Zane’s hunt for the gem takes him to Hungary, where he is shocked to encounter a bold, beautiful young noblewoman: Lia. She has broken every rule of the drákon to join him, driven by the urgent song of Draumr—and her visions of Zane. In one future, he is her ally. In another, her overlord. In both, he is her lover. Now, to protect her tribe, Lia must tie her fate to Zane’s, to the one man capable of stealing her future—and destroying her heart.


The Dream Thief is technically the second book in Abé’s Drakon series, but it was my favorite. They’re all amazing; the world-building is top-notch, the details are meticulously consistent, and the characters don’t develop so much as they feel incredibly real the moment they’re introduced and we then watch these people that we already feel we know learn and grow from there. The romance was so compelling, I finished this book on two flights. And they weren’t even exceptionally long flights. I just sucked up this book as fast and hard as I could.

 

A woman with her back mostly turned, wearing a fantastical purple ball gown against a background of a blue and orange nebula. The title and author's name are at the bottom.The Queen of Ieflaria, Effie Calvin

Princess Esofi of Rhodia and Crown Prince Albion of Ieflaria have been betrothed since they were children but have never met. At age seventeen, Esofi’s journey to Ieflaria is not for the wedding she always expected but instead to offer condolences on the death of her would-be husband.

But Ieflaria is desperately in need of help from Rhodia for their dragon problem, so Esofi is offered a new betrothal to Prince Albion’s younger sister, the new Crown Princess Adale. But Adale has no plans of taking the throne, leaving Esofi with more to battle than fire-breathing beasts.


Did you watch Game of Thrones and think to yourself, “Eh. Could be gayer?” Do you long for a fantasy world that dares to imagine what it would be like if queerness wasn’t stigmatized all to hell?

It’s this series.

 

The cover of Kushiel's Dart shows a dark haired woman, topless and hugging herself. the background is a misty, far off ruined archKushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good… and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission… and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair… and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.


Content Warning: sexual sadism, rape/coerced consent, child grooming.

Even though this ultimate BDSM-flavored High-Fantasy, this absolutely sprawling tale of loves lost and gained and political alliances sealed behind closed doors is an international bestseller, it has not gotten the attention it deserves among the pantheon of High-Fantasy fiction. While some of the world-building feels dated (particularly a race of people clearly inspired by the Roma, who are not painted in the most flattering light), it tends to face harsher criticism than more problematic series in the genre.

Gee. I wonder what could make this series so different from A Song of Ice and Fire or Wheel of Time.

 

Night’s Rose, Annaliese Evans   The cover of Night's Rose features the title and author's name over a determined-looking blonde woman in a medieval gown, her hand on the hilt of a sword. She's facing to the right, as if striding into battle.

Beauty was not awakened by a kiss. For nearly one hundred years, Rosemarie Edenberg has worked tirelessly to wipe the dreaded ogre tribe from the earth. Now the tribe has gathered in London to work a spell that will destroy the scourge of their kind, the woman they call the Briar Rose.

Two magnetic men will unite to aid Rose–her mysterious Fey advisor, Ambrose, and the vampire, Lord Shenley, an Earl of scandalous reputation and even more scandalous appetites. One will save her, one will betray her, and both will challenge her to face the past that haunts her.

Once upon a time, she was ensnared in the mists of enchantment, cursed to sleep one hundred years. But this beauty wasn’t awakened with a kiss, and has never known happily ever after.

With the help of her handsome allies, Rose may yet find it.


If you’re familiar with the original tale of Sleeping Beauty, then you know there’s a big ole content warning for rape on this one (although if memory serves, it’s just referenced instead of on the page. I’ve never met a heroine like Briar Rose, and the addition of vampires and ogres and basically any fantasy creature you’re into makes this like…I guess the port-wine-dark-chocolate-bonbon of High Fantasy for me. It is intensely rich.

 

The new cover of Jewel of Atlantis isn't as good as the old one. This is just a bare-chested brunette dude staring dangerously and sweating into the camera, on a weird purple satiny background. Jewel of Atlantis, Gena Showalter

All Atlantis seeks the Jewel of Dunamis, which legend claims can overcome any enemy. Grayson James, human agent of the ultra-secret Otherworld Bureau of Investigation, has orders to keep it from the wrong hands — or destroy it. What he doesn’t know is that Jewel is a woman, not a stone! But once he meets this precious gem, destroying her is the last thing on his mind . . .

Jewel, part goddess, part prophet, is a pawn in Atlantis’s constant power struggles. She needs Gray’s help to win freedom and uncover the secrets of her mysterious origins. Gray needs her wisdom to navigate monster-ridden Atlantis. But need blossoms into passionate love as they fight demons, dragons, vampires-and a prophecy that says the bond between them could destroy them both.


This is one of those books that gets classified as Paranormal Romance just because vampires exist in the universe or because a character from the “real” world is involved. This is also another book where I’m recommending the second in a series, but you won’t be lost if you picked this one up first. This book is like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but with a much more competent, less-insulting, non-shrieking heroine. I really think Gena Showalter doesn’t get the recognition as the titan she is because she’s published by Harlequin. Atlantis is a distinct fantasy realm with intriguing world-building and the pace of this book is Chiquita bananas; I tore through it in an afternoon.

 

Last, but not least:

Goddess of the Rose, P.C. Cast The cover of Goddess of the Rose shows warm-toned painting of a woman with stardust in her hair lying naked, wrapped in a sheet and holding a rose above her and gazing at it.

Empousai family roses have bloomed for centuries, thanks to the drops of blood their women sacrifice for their gardens. But Mikki would rather forget this family quirk and lead a normal life. Until she unwittingly performs a ritual, ending up in the strangely familiar Realm of the Rose. As its goddess Hecate reveals, Mikki is a priestess—and the Realm’s been waiting for her…

Long ago, an enraged Hecate cursed her guardian beast and the entire Realm with a slumber only a priestess can undo—and she’s counting on Mikki to set things right. The beast at first terrifies Mikki, but soon intrigues her more than any man ever has. Now, the only way he and the Realm can be saved is for Mikki to sacrifice her life-giving blood—and herself…


Again, not the first in a series. This is actually the fourth installment in Cast’s Goddess Summoning series but again, this could easily stand alone. It won’t, once you read this one; all of the Goddess Summoning books have the same level of emotion and high-stakes conflict both inside and outside of the central romance. It’s also one of the rare Beauty and the Beast retellings where the author actually has the backbone to…go there. You know what I mean.

 

What are your favorites? Leave a comment letting us know. Also, if you read some of these, come back and tell me what you thought!

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16 Comments

  1. Siobhan
    Siobhan

    Not all of these are romances in the current sense (in the process of writing an essay, I asked both Ilona Gordon (of Ilona Andrews) and Seanan McGuire what defines a romance in today’s publishing industry, and the answer from both was “ a love story with a happy ending.” It makes me sad that the current definition is so incredibly limited, but there you go). Some of these meet that definition, some have a love interest that isn’t the primary point of the book (I would include Kushiel’s Dart in that), and some are simply excellent fantasy. I also have problems differentiating between “high” and “low” fantasy, as it seems that if it’s popular with chicks it’s automatically “low” fantasy, and must have many over-described battle scenes to be “high” fantasy. I avoided “urban” fantasy, although I included “alternate history” where noted. I also have no idea how much any given book or author is promoted, as a general rule, because since Twilight I have stopped believing in how popular or promoted or whatever a book is and started following the award winners instead (and just because someone has won a whole ton of awards doesn’t mean most people have heard of them, i.e., Connie Willis, who would be on this list except she mostly writes SF).

    1) seconding Kushiel’s Dart, although I wouldn’t recommend any of Carey’s books in that world after the first trilogy.

    2) The Eternal Sky series by Elizabeth Bear (book 1, Range of Ghosts). This was the first truly amazing high fantasy that I’d read in YEARS. And one of the few epic fantasies that I enjoyed every page of (I get so SICK of minute descriptions of every single swing of every single sword in a battle between armies).

    3) the Graceling trilogy by Kristen Cashore (first book, Graceling). Serious trigger warning on book three for abuse and the difficulty of recovery from abuse.

    3) The Devil’s West by Laura Anne Gilman (book 1, Silver on the Road). Alternate history western fantasy. VERY good.

    4) any of Barbara Hambly’s fantasies. She has a straight, very good non-F/SF murder series, Benjamin January (the “detective” is a black man in pre-Civil War New Orleans), an urban fantasy series involving non-sexy vampires (although I wouldn’t say non-romantic vampires), the James Asher series, and everything else is high fantasy. Am I going WAY back with Hambly? Yes, but I just don’t see her fantasy being promoted nowadays. And written in 1980 doesn’t really affect the medieval period of normal high fantasy.

    5) The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemison (book one, The Fifth Season). Also The Inheritance Trilogy (book one, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, omnibus edition available) and the Dreamblood duology (book one The Killing Moon, omnibus version available).

    6) anything at all by Guy Gavriel Kay. Really wonderful fantasy romances.

    7) T. Kingfisher, almost anything. This is the pseudonym under which children’s author Ursula Vernon writes her grown-up books. While most occur in the same world, they are mostly unconnected (see: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, The Clocktaur War duology (book one, Clocktaur Boys, and the exception to the stand-alones), Swordheart, Paladin’s Grace, and more). These ARE romances, and her sex scenes are wonderful (normally sex scenes bore me as much as battle scenes. Hers Address Stuff, vs. being focused on sexy, and still manage to be sexy. (Note to authors: repeating the word erotic three times in a paragraph does not make something erotic, I’m looking at you, Nalini Singh). For example, in Paladin’s Grace, our heroine doesn’t particularly like cunnilingus. That’s REVOLUTIONARY among most adult romances.

    8) anything by Patricia McKillip. I’m going back decades when I mention The Riddle-Master of Hed (book one, The Riddle-Master of Hed) but she’s still publishing. I am constantly recommending her to fantasy fans who have never heard of her, despite her World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.

    9) Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver should be required reading for all women. Especially those who underestimate their worth, which is almost all of us. Wonderful romances.

    10) Melani Rawn, the Dragon Prince trilogy (book one, The Dragon Prince) followed by the Dragon Star Trilogy (book one, Stronhold, trigger warning for rape). Also the Glass Thorns series (book one, Touchstones).

    11) anything by Sharon Shinn.

    12) Nancy Springer, The Book of Isle (book one The Sable Moon) and Wings of Flame (stand-alone).

    13) The Tensorate Series by JY Yang (book one EITHER The Black Tides of Heaven OR The Red Threads of Fortune). They do wonderful work with gender identity, too.

    14) Mark Lawrence, Book of the Ancestor (book one, Grey Sister).

    15) Django Wexler, The Shadow Campaign (book one, The Thousand Names). TW: rape.

    14 & 15 are afterthoughts, because those specific series by those two authors include queer characters, and because I was mostly skipping over the male authors.

    And that is the Best Of from my Kindle, limited to only high fantasy.

    November 30, 2020
    |Reply
    • Siobhan
      Siobhan

      A note on #1: I may not recommend any of the series that follow the Kushiel’s Dart trilogy, but I love her other stuff. She recently (within the last two years? Maybe?) published a retelling of The Tempest, Miranda & Caliban, that is wonderful, and her Sundering duology is fairly decent, albeit a bit too straightforward for me (after Kushiel’s Dart, I expected many, MANY plot twists). I just feel like she said what she had to say about Terre d’Ange in her first three books, and the rest were very flat and — and I realize that I am saying this about a fantasy novel — pretty unbelievable. I read 90% F&SF, and I’m saying that.

      November 30, 2020
      |Reply
    • Ilex
      Ilex

      I love all of the books in the Tensorate series!

      And as an extra plug, they’re super short so if anyone is looking for relatively quick reads, these books carry a lot of story in surprisingly few pages.

      November 30, 2020
      |Reply
    • Cherry
      Cherry

      Seconding Naomi Novik- Uprooted is amazing too and, though the action ( and intense female friendship) is more the point than the romance, the romance is very good.

      December 5, 2020
      |Reply
      • Siobhan
        Siobhan

        I liked Uprooted a great deal but I LOVED Spinning Silver. I should read Uprooted again, I immediately bought it upon finishing SS, and it might very well have suffered in my estimation because SS was such a surprise (I’ve read it three times now, it’s still a surprise, but not in a “OMG I got so fucking bored with Temeraire, how is this one so good” way).

        December 5, 2020
        |Reply
        • Al
          Al

          Nah, that’s fair about Uprooted; I read Uprooted the year it came out and Spinning Silver a couple years later, and while Uprooted was good, Spinning Silver was pretty amazing in an entirely different way that made it seem better.

          December 6, 2020
          |Reply
          • Siobhan
            Siobhan
            December 6, 2020
  2. Ren Benton
    Ren Benton

    Aaahhhh! The Dream Thief, in which thieves think like thieves! As in, “You can save the day, or you can have this shiny.” “I’M THINKING, OKAY?” Also my favorite of that series. Such a bummer it didn’t get more love at the time.

    November 30, 2020
    |Reply
  3. Ilex
    Ilex

    The Ninth Rain, The Bitter Twins, and the Poison Song (the Winnowing Flame trilogy) by Jen Williams. These books are a great mix of fantasy, science fiction, and some romance. I can’t believe they don’t have a US publisher — I had to order them from the UK, but they were so worth it. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

    November 30, 2020
    |Reply
  4. Siobhan
    Siobhan

    One person I didn’t mention, because she writes urban fantasy, is Darynda Jones (see the Charley Davidson series, book one: First Grave on the Right). But I’m mentioning her now, because I’m signed up for her newsletter*, and one just hit my inbox. She has a habit of promoting paranormal romances (again, not high fantasy, but why not here?) by other authors, especially when someone is offering their e-book free somewhere. So if y’all’s interested, you might want to sign up for that.
    ___
    *I am not Darynda, nor am I plugging her books particularly, or even her newsletter. It’s there if people are interested. I sign up for as many author newsletters as I can, because I can count on authors to let me know when their books go up for pre-order. I CANNOT count on Amazon for that. I will get a notification that an author I Follow has a book coming out — anywhere from shortly after it goes up for pre-order to two weeks after it’s released. There’s absolutely no excuse for that. They could completely automate the system so that the second a book is available, it shoots an email blast to the list of Followers. But apparently that’s too much work for Amazon.

    December 3, 2020
    |Reply
  5. Tessany
    Tessany

    I liked The Hedgewitch Queen (Book 1) and The Bandit King (Book 2) by Lilith Saintcrow.

    December 3, 2020
    |Reply
  6. Salamander
    Salamander

    I keep looking for you on Patreon and I can’t find you. What’s your handle on there?

    December 4, 2020
    |Reply
  7. Kylie SC
    Kylie SC

    New reading!

    I still love Diana Wynne Jones’ two books for adults A sudden wild magic and deep secret. The romance elements are not so strong I guess (there is a love story in both, but not overt). She is primarily known for her children’s and young adult books though.

    Not sure if Lois McMaster Bujold’s world of the five gods series is high fantasy- but the three novels are all love stories with happy ends, the Penrith novellas are different. First one if Curse of Chalion

    December 8, 2020
    |Reply
    • Al
      Al

      Oh, yeah; on the topic — even if Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t ‘for adults’, it’s still an amazing read and a great romantic story. They are way too cute together. While I liked the Ghibli film, that missed a lot of their romantic dynamic, especially in terms of the way the two complement each other.

      December 10, 2020
      |Reply
  8. CC
    CC

    I recommend “The Wolf Hunt,” by Gillian Bradshaw.

    December 9, 2020
    |Reply

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