You Got Your Romance In My Fantasy!

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When I was in my early teens, I somehow discovered romance novels. I don’t recall now how I made this discovery, I just know that for a while, I read Harlequins and Barbara Cartland stories like other people take deep breaths. Falling in love, according to those books, was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and even if things looked dark now, all would be happy in the end. After a year or two of saccharine smoochies, I moved on to the big chihuahua-killers by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers, which taught me that love was combat, and that it would be the man I despised on sight who’d eventually win my heart. Not long after that, I found my way to the modern gothic novels of writers like Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. It wouldn’t be the man I’d fight with, but the dangerous and deadly circumstances that surrounded him, through little fault of his own, circumstances from which I, the strong woman with all the odds against her, would have to save him. Eventually I learned how real romance is supposed to work. I didn’t despise my husband on sight, nor did I have to wait for luck to get around to paying attention to us. He never tried to force me into loving him, and there were certainly no crazy ex-wives living in towers waiting to burn me alive in my bed on my wedding night. So all those books I read back in the day hadn’t quite hit the mark. And that was okay – they were written to entertain, not to train me. I was highly entertained, and even though romance as a genre isn’t my first choice anymore, I’m not ashamed of having spent all those years lost in literary love affairs. In fact, I love a good romance in my fantasy.

Anyone reading this who’s been working at his or her craft for more than a couple of days already knows that novels must have conflict. If something isn’t going wrong, all you have is pages of people doing day to day tasks. It might be that your hero has to locate a lost magical item to stop an evil mage from destroying the world, or maybe the kingdom will be lost if the prince doesn’t bring home the herb that will wake the king from his sorcerous slumber. There’s a problem that needs solving, and that’s what makes us want to read. Love is just stuffed with conflict. You’ve got two people who are afraid to admit their feelings, or have admitted them but can’t let the world know because their families hate each other. A prince loves a milkmaid, a duchess wants to run off with the stableboy away from her abusive noble husband, a merchant has kidnapped a queen for love. Romance adds a certain spice to fantasy novels, a flavor of reality that brings your characters closer to your reader. I may not want to read romance, but I definitely want romance in my fantasy. Want to see a few of my favorites?

Magda & Glaeken (The Keep, Nightworld)
Glaeken is an immortal warrior, tasked with making sure that his undying enemy remains trapped forever. He’s long ago given up hope of love and happiness, and then he meets Madga, daughter of a Jewish professor who’s being held by the Nazis and forced to work for them. Despite the madness of their situation, Magda recognizes Glaeken’s noble nature and puts herself in peril to help him. The real depth of their love doesn’t show until they return in Nightworld, which takes place in present-day. Magda has grown old, and developed Alzheimer’s, but Glaeken stays by her side, caring for her even though she is no longer the same woman he loved. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful.

Falco & Helena (The Falco mystery series by Lindsey Davis)
Marcus Didius Falco is an informer working for the Emperor Vespasian. He meets Helena Justina, daughter of a Roman senator and a divorcee. Helena was, at first, sharp-tongued and hateful to him, but eventually they grew to understand each other and fell in love. And that was where the fun began. Since Falco is of low birth and Helena is noble, it takes a great deal for the two of them to be together. Yet they manage to make their families accept their relationship and now Falco couldn’t manage even a day without her.

Ki & Vandien (Harpy’s Flight, by Megan Lindholm)
Ki is a gypsy trader, driven by her desire for revenge on the harpy that murdered her family. Vandien is a thief who tries to steal a horse from her. The two of them have pasts to run from, which initially keeps them from killing each other. It is only later that they come to know how important each is for the other.

Evaine & Rhys (Camber of Culdi, by Katherine Kurtz)
Rhys Thuryn is a Deryni healer, married to Lady Evaine MacRorie. In a world of marriages made for political expedience, their pairing is a love match from the beginning. And when tragedy at last threatens their future, the horror and heartbreak was intense enough that I felt it in my bones. I remember calling my best friend (who was reading the books at the same time) and weeping like a child over the phone.

Tarod & Cyllan (The Time Master trilogy by Louise Cooper)
Tarod, a powerful adept, spends years isolated and alone after being betrayed by his family and friends. Cyllan is a plain drover girl, who winds up trapped in his castle when she’s caught in a warp storm. It is Cyllan’s stubbornness and strength that at last break down Tarod’s defenses, allowing him to feel love again. When Tarod’s former friends show up, determined to put an end to him, Cyllan makes the ultimate sacrifice for her love.

So do you like a little romance in your fantasy? What pairings have satisfied you most over the years?

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13 comments to You Got Your Romance In My Fantasy!

  • Misty,
    Interesting that you wrote about this. I’ve been wondering if I put too much emphasis on my MC and his romantic interest in my query. SHADOWSLAYER is an adventure story without a doubt, but Drohan is motivated to protect his former love and show her that he cares.

    I like stories with relationships, even if its not a traditional love story. Relationship or sexual tension ads a certain spice to a story, ala Rick Castle.

    NGD

  • I’m terrible at writing romance. It embarrasses me too quickly. I like it when it’s well handled by other people, but I have a low threshold for idiot relationships in fiction as in life. If I don’t see the appeal of a character or don’t buy why one should be drawn to another, I’m going to get irritated. As I say in my Shakespeare classes, we can’t like a hero but despise who the hero is attracted to without some of our contempt rubbing off on the hero…

  • Misty, I definitely have a romance element in my fantasy! I agree, it definitely adds that extra spice to the story, as a source of conflict, angst, and plot points.

    I enjoyed the romance element in Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, and the romance between Alanna and George. But my absolute favorite, the one I re-read at least once every two years, is Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword. The romance between Harry and Corlath just plain gives me the warm and fuzzies every time I read it.

  • I admit to being a sucker for a good romance in my fantasy reads (and writes). My favorite? Again from TIGANA by Guy Kay — the relationship between the main bad guy, Brandin of Ygrath, and Dianora, who originally intended to seduce and kill him, but then fell in love with him instead.

  • Misty, it seems like we followed the same path in our romance reading. I used to adore the bodice rippers, despite how little I wanted to have anything ripped myself.

    I think the appreciation for romance in books goes back to the adage that readers want to love characters. We want to escape our own dreary lives and find adventure and love in someone else’s world.

    I still find it amazing that, despite the bloody life Jane Yellowrock lives, in stories about blood and gore and fighting and adventure and mystery, the fans talk about Jane’s love life (which is nearly nonexistant) the most. And when I remember MadKestrel or Thieftaker, I remember the love intrests! Love does make the world of readers go round.

    Like AJ, I don’t write romance well. But I am learning! I am working on it.

  • Mikaela

    You have to check out the Raine Benares novels. It contains everything: magic, romance, adventure. It is an urban fantasy set in an alternative world. And it is so good! The draw back is there is only one book a year…

  • I’m with AJ on this one. Amen, brother.

  • Razziecat

    Oh, someone else who likes Ki & Vandien! It’s been years since I read that but it’s their relationship (and the harpies!) that stuck in my mind. And Kurtz’s Rhys..when he died I put that book down for three days. I met Ms Kurtz at a con once & asked her why Rhys died that way…and she said “That’s the way it happened.” Well, now that I write I understand that.

    One of my favorite pairings of all time is Morgon & Raederle from Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy. It gives them strength to fight the evil threatening their world & make it through to the end, without ever being mushy or stupid.

    I also love Aidan and Morgiana from Judith Tarr’s Alamut and The Dagger & The Cross. Both fae, very much alike and yet from different cultures, they have to overcome religious differences and Morgiana’s oath to the Master of Assassins, survive battles in which they fight on opposing sides, and come to terms with Aidan’s previous love, the mortal Joanna, the mother of his child.

  • Razziecat

    Ooops, almost forgot to mention Lynn Flewelling’s Alec & Seregil (grin).

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I think my sentiments might be a little old-fashioned on this front. My favorite romances in stories are the bedrock kind, where trouble may strike but the romance helps them through it rather than it testing the romance. So my favorite romantic pairing is Wash and Zoe in Firefly. Every interaction demonstrates their strength together. Similarly, love triangles often drive me completely crazy. I think it’s as AJ said and it’s an issue of respecting the character at the apex. To me, romance is so much about knowing and trusting your partner and knowing yourself that, unless a lot of character growth is part of the story arch…

  • I think the first actual romantic pairing I read that made me want to put a little romance in everything I did was Caramon and Tika in the Dragonlance Chronicles. Everything I wrote after that had some form of romance in it. I think this is why it was a surprise and realization when I decided to write romance, because I suddenly understood that I’d been doing it all along.

  • Unicorn

    I’m with AJ and Edmund! I blush when I try to write it. But when it’s well done in a fantasy, it can give it a very interesting twist. When the book becomes obsessed with the romance and forgets about the conflict and action, that’s when I get irritated.
    Thanks for the post,
    Unicorn

  • I’m so glad somebody mentioned The Blue Sword and Wash and Zoe! The moment when Wash is being interrogated and he just talks non-stop about his wife – “have you ever loved a warrior woman?” It still cracks me up and makes me smile romantically at the same time. Polgara’s love story in the Belgariad is another of my favorites. I guess like Hepseba I prefer stories in which the love is ultimately a source of strength, even if the characters do have to work out the problems in their relationship. And I want the lovers to be friends, not just sexually attracted to each other. Years ago I read a YA novel called Freckles in which the protagonist’s girlfriend grills a woman about her husband. “Do you like him?” she asks. The older woman laughs and says, “Of course, I love him.” and the the girl replies that one can love someone that one no longer likes, but a happy marriage requires both like and love. I’m not married, but I’ve found that true in other relationships. One can love someone out of a sense of duty, or habit, or affection based on the past, or just plain commitment, even when the person has ceased to be likable. But that kind of story makes for wrenching personal tragedy and growth, not romance or fun.

    My favorite romances were the ones by Georgette Heyer in which the heroine’s wit and good humor bring her and the hero together despite the machinations of others. The books are more French farce than Harlequin romance so they’re hilariously funny.