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?