Fantasy romance and romantic fantasy are among the hottest genres in SFF right now, and for good reason: they’re awesome. They are two ends in a continuum; romance books with a fantasy setting are classified as fantasy romance, and fantasy books with a strong romantic subplot are called romantic fantasy, but there’s a lot of gray area. We’re here to celebrate the continuum and hear from authors and readers in the genres.
We’ve invited six authors and two avid readers of the genres to talk about what it means to them, and we hope you’ll find your next romantasy reads right here! I’ve read them all and they’re fantastic!
We’ve asked a handful of questions to all the participants, and some more specific questions to each of them. You’ll read their responses, and some discussion among them. We hope you enjoy the conversation, and feel free to hop in with questions and comments on the blog!
Here are the questions:
What does romance bring to fantasy that it sorely needs? Or if you prefer, what does fantasy bring to romance that it sorely needs? Feel free to answer either or both questions.
What is the role of tropes in fantasy romance, and in your books in particular? Feel free to touch on romance tropes, fantasy tropes, or both.
How do you deal with gender roles and expectations in your fantasy romance? (for the readers, I asked: How do you see gender roles and expectations dealt with in fantasy romance, and is it different from other romance subgenres?)
Links to the participants’ books, socials, websites, etc
The rest of the questions will be coming in part 2, in a week or so!
Nisha: Hi Carissa, I’m really looking forward to your new series!
What does romance bring to fantasy that it sorely needs? Or if you prefer, what does fantasy bring to romance that it sorely needs? Feel free to answer either or both questions.
Carissa: I think we all know that mainstream SFF has, for a very long time, kinda looked down upon romance and romance-adjacent genres like romantic fantasy. I’m not here to judge anyone for what they do or don’t like, and that includes people who dislike romance plots in their fantasy books — we all like what we like and that is fine! — but the superiority attitude was always very perplexing to me, because romances are master classes in character work. The elements that make a romance ‘work’ — whether that be in a contemporary novel, a classic Harlequin, or a high fantasy romance like what many folks here write — are the bones of what make any moving character relationship arc work. And I think that any author can agree that writing characters is hard. Writing moving arcs is hard. Writing emotional relationships (friendships, familial relationships, any and all!) is hard. Romance novels are distilling all of those things. That’s why I encourage all authors, whether you write romance or not, to read at least a couple of romance novels to learn from them — just as, for example, we can all learn a lot from thrillers for pacing, mysteries for reveals, classic literature for prose, etc. I think that micro focus on character and character relationships is really invaluable, no matter what genre we’re talking about.
Lionel: Wow, this is so true. Romance is such a deep dive into a character, and when it’s done well… *chef’s kiss* To each their own, but personally, I really find the extra emotional depth from a well-written romance brings SO much to fantasy.
Nisha: Agree so much. Writing a romance requires at least three ARCs. It’s an art form.
Kimberly: I’ve always loved romance novels. However, most contemporary romance is too boring for me and often relies on too much inner conflict like the miscommunication troupe. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little inner conflict, but I’m greedy and like a bunch of different seasonings to my dishes. This is where fantasy plays a role. Sprinkle in some world eating giant wolves and a quest on top of the classic ‘Will They Or Won’t They’ and I’ll be on the edge of my seat for the entire book. I love watching a couple learn to work out their feelings for each other while also dealing with a problem outside of themselves. When there’s a Big Bad on the horizon you really get to see not only how the characters react to each other, but also the world around them.
Nisha: This too is why I totally gravitate to fantasy. That extra layer adds so much.
Jenn: Romance and fantasy come in so many flavors, it’s hard to make a broad statement that’s true for all of them. But, one of these reasons I like pairing romance and fantasy is that the scope of the story can be so big. In a fantasy setting, love really can save the world. One of the things I have always enjoyed in fantasy was exploring how small people, small decisions, things we might otherwise say are inconsequential become VERY consequential. And I think love in real life and in fantasy is often dismissed as silly, or unrealistic. But in fantasy, you can explore how interpersonal relationships can change the world, the course of events.
Nisha: YES YES YES
Carissa: Yes, this is so true! Romantic fantasy takes those huge stakes and boils them down to its most personal – that’s a great way of putting it. This is also what resonates most with me in the subgenre.
Lionel: I think romance brings a very “human” element to fantasy. (even if the romance doesn’t exactly involve humans 😉 ) Wanting to love and be loved is a nearly universal thing that just about anyone can relate to, so in a fantasy backdrop where everything else might be unfamiliar, it helps the reader focus on the things that they can relate to, and it helps make characters feel more real where they otherwise might feel too different for readers to really relate to.
Carissa: I definitely agree with this – the human-ness is what I love most about romantic fantasy, too.
Nisha: Hmm, I love the combination of high stakes and lush worldbuilding that fantasy brings to romance. I think it’s a little easier for love to transcend all and be this big huge thing when you’re in a fantasy setting than you get in a more realistic one. Or for your morally grey love interest to tear down the world for his love. Also some of the things I love in fantasy books i.e. kidnapping and over possessive men are not things I’d ever tolerate in real life, but in a fantasy setting, somehow it all seems okay? Maybe that says something about me.
Carissa: Oh, I’m right there with you. It lets us explore things that we definitely cannot in real life, haha.
Rosalyn: Oh, this is an interesting question. I typically won’t read a fantasy book if there isn’t romance, to be honest. I think romance brings a “closeness” to the character that I personally crave. I don’t usually love epic or high fantasy because often those stories are about large-scale conflicts and use the characters as pawns. Again, it is just a personal preference, but I like to really feel close to the character. Stakes that deal with the heart are about as close as you can get!
Nisha: Girl, same.
Ashley: I love how the addition of romance to fantasy adds a layer to the characters that can be built up in phases. It allows the author the opportunity to be creative with character arcs and plotting, moving the plot forward and getting their characters into key positions for that unforgettable moment when they meet. There is a sort of vulnerability that is touched upon. Flawed relationships are very realistic to me and I enjoy stories that explore things on a deeper level, where I find the mind and soul to be one of the sexiest aspects of a person. Within these new and imaginative fantastical worlds, romance– especially queer romances– have been derailing traditional stereotypes. Fantasy, in turn, brings to life a world that is quite different from ours– at least the ones I read are darker, grittier, filled with magic, and dangerous creatures. It’s often in a fantasy romance where I find my favorite trope being delivered (enemies to lovers)– true enemies to lovers and not a “you’re mildly irritating.”
I love when I’m sitting there wondering if they are about to kiss or unalive each other. I know, I know but what can I say… I like my romance darker. Authors pose questions dealing with fantastical elements and tropes such as magic, ancient lore, magical creatures and artifacts, and then have the creative freedom to explore the endless possibilities, breaking through formulalic constraints, such as what if the supposed chosen one (fantasy trope) was your fated mate (romance trope); however, the chosen one thinks they are on the hero of their story, but they are actually more of the villian.. toss in some ancient lore, a gripping quest to collect ancient artifacts from a lost civilization…. and now let’s pose some questions… will the love interest of the chosen one be reluctant and fight against the bond or will they allow the darkness to consume them becoming its mistress.. is the chosen one actually the hero but deemed villainous in their current world… it will also pose the question of can bonds be broken and what are the consequences if they are.. Sorry, I got a little sidetracked there!
Nisha: Unalive–You are clearly on TikTok, lol.
Kristen: Fantasy doesn’t always need Romance, and Romance doesn’t always need Fantasy, but Fantasy elements only serve to get me more interested in the plot outside of the Romance. So, for me, a lot of the time fantasy brings to romance more and more elements that I find interesting to read about. I love Romance and Fantasy separately, but putting both together makes it all the better. I’m much more likely to love a fantasy book if there is a well written romance in it, and vice versa.
What is the role of tropes in fantasy romance? Feel free to touch on romance tropes, fantasy tropes, or both.
Carissa: Ah ha, I love that we’re talking about tropes because they’re often wielded as a bit of a bludgeon against romance and romance-adjacent genres. I appreciate that romance has started to reclaim tropes as a positive thing rather than a negative, because they really do do a good job of distilling a book in a few words to someone who has never heard of it before. What I really like about the romance community in general is that people have (mostly) abandoned pretension and just unabashedly like what they like. I think reclaiming “trope” as a positive or descriptive term is a big part of that — because yeah, cliches exist because people like them. They’re the spices in your cooking dish. You don’t want to serve someone a bowl of garlic, but it sure does make an entree taste good. They don’t define the dish — they spice them up. There are a million different dishes with lots of garlic just like there are a million very very different stories that include, for example, an “only one bed” moment or are retellings of beauty and the beast, or whatever. Tropes give us a shorthand to describe and talk about that “zing.”
Nisha: I love this aspect too (reclaiming tropes) and it does work a lot of the time.
Kimberly: I feel like tropes are important in every genre of writing. Not just fantasy and romance. To put it simply, every story has already been done. Tropes are just the names we gave to plot points we all know and love. Let’s take the Only 1 Bed trope for example. We all know it’s far fetched. If you’re on a business trip, chances are the hotel isn’t going to suddenly have a fire on the left side of the building, cutting their available rooms in half and forcing you to share a room with that suspiciously hot coworker you hate. But isn’t it fun to think about? All the budding anger board lining on sexual tension suddenly builds up into a confined space where you can’t help but deal with each other. It’s hot. It just is.
Nisha: There was a great viral tweet from a hotel manager that said this was actually more common than one would expect 🤣
Jenn: I think tropes bring comfort. If you look at it from a marketing angle, it can help to identify your books to the readers that would most enjoy them. But, from the other angle, for readers, it’s flavors. Today, I am in a sour cream and onion mood, so I don’t want BBQ chips. If you are in an enemies to lovers mood, then you don’t want someone to hand you a best friends to lovers book and say “here, you’ll like this better”. Chosen one is your fantasy pepperoni? But maybe you want to try out some mushrooms on there by adding a bit of found family? You know what you’re getting. Some people like surprises, and some people don’t. Tropes are like specs on a gadget you’re purchasing, so you know exactly what to expect.
On a larger scale, the HEA requirement in romance sometimes gets eyerolls. I’ve seen a number of readers who have experienced trauma, or who struggle with anxiety say that one of the reasons they read romance is because they know that no matter what the characters go through, they will get an HEA or an HFN, and that gives them safety to read and enjoy. I think that’s a very powerful concept, especially in fantasy, where things can get quite dire. These readers go through these hard times with your characters, perhaps (This is a lofty goal) dealing with or releasing a bit of their own traumas, because they know they will be safe on the other side.
Lionel: I love the idea of tropes as flavors! Sometimes all I want is a good sour cream and onion chip, and sometimes I could demolish a bag of BBQ chips. Doesn’t make either better than the other, just what I’m in the mood for at the time — and I can think of so many tropes that I feel the exact same way about.
Nisha: Totally stealing the phrase ‘fantasy pepperoni’
Lionel: Tropes are ultimately a way to promise the reader a particular experience. I have some favored tropes, and I think most people do too, so making those clear helps new readers decide if a book is something they might like or not. While books can certainly be overtly too tropey, all books contain tropes to some degree, and that’s a good thing — people want to know what kind of content they’re going to be consuming! I love the particular flavor of romance tropes that work well in fantasy settings, as you can probably tell from my books (size differences, arranged marriages, and variations on “the power of love saves the world”) so fantasy romance was the first genre I gravitated toward when I first made the decision I was going to pursue a career as an MM romance author.
Nisha: I love tropes and live and die by them. Enemies to lovers is my favourite and what I write most often. I also am a sucker for one bed/horse scenarios, touch her and you die, who did that to you, etc. All the goodies. I recently learned a fun plotting technique that ‘layers’ tropes and I think it really helps bring the plot to life. And let’s face it, in the world of TikTok and tropes marketing, it’s hard to get any traction without them these days. But I’m fine with that–I love them.
Nisha: Adding on that I do notice a lot of people have different perceptions of what enemies to lovers means.. some seem to think it’s only holding a knife to each other’s throats while others are fine with them just being on opposing sides.. I think all varieties are good.
Rosalyn: I think tropes in fantasy romance, as in any other genre, can be fun for the author to play with as well as for readers to enjoy. I know many readers look for certain tropes when purchasing books. It can be a fun way to bring a Romance reader into the Fantasy genre by playing with tropes they already enjoy.
Ashley: I think a large role that tropes play in fantasy romance is through the marketing of the books. I know I am guilty of specifically seeking out certain tropes that I am in the mood to read whether it’s forbidden love, arranged marriage, friends to lovers, found family, etc. Tropes do help to provide some expectation for what a reader can expect from the story. I think that there are some fantasy tropes that perform better when its intended audience is reached. What I mean is, some tropes such as fated mates, often have the “falling in love” occurring quicker and if you’re a reader who may not enjoy this trope, your enjoyment may be affected. There is a fine line to walk here because some tropes may be deeply rooted in the plot and possibly end up being a twist– and knowing beforehand may spoil things i.e. fantasy tropes such as the evil overlord, the secret heir, fated mates. There are some romance tropes that I adore when used in fantasy romance such as the meet cute (how does my fae prince from that lost world come across xyz), forced proximity (because yes!).
Kristen: Well, like in any media, tropes in fantasy romance are just commonly used ideas used for artistic effect. Some of them I find a little tired, like the Alpha/Omega dynamic (which can get really weird in some cases). I don’t dislike Werewolf or Shifter romance but some of the very Alpha Boyfriend stuff makes my eyes roll. Some I absolutely love, like the Only One Bed trope, which I will 100% go for every time. I also love a well written Enemies to Lovers, or Friends to Lovers trope. Romance writers often love to play with the Love Triangle trope, and unless it’s subverted or written really well, I’ll usually bounce off of it. I’ve been surprised a few times! I won’t avoid it completely because of those surprises.
How do you deal with gender roles and expectations in your fantasy romance?
Carissa: I really enjoy using fantasy worlds and situations as extreme lenses to examine issues that face our world. Sexism is a topic that I keep coming back to in that respect because there are so many complexities of it— Tisaanah struggles with that a lot, for sure, because her gender and appearance has both “saved” her (because it made her appealing to her abuser), but also led her to really, really horrible abuse (because… it made her really appealing to her abuser). She’s really reckoning with that, especially through book 1. I think that most women, even those who have never experienced abuse at the level Tisaanah has, can relate to that strange dichotomy on some level. I keep coming back to it in almost all my books, including my new one.
Kimberly: I don’t think about gender roles too much in my fantasy romance. My fantasy world doesn’t really follow any particular roles and I kinda just made up the world exactly as I wanted it without concern of following conventions. Some of my women are very girly and like to wear cute dresses and cook lots of food. Some of them walk around with axes and their skirts. It’s whatever the character wants at the moment that I feel it’s best. People come in all shapes and sizes as well as feminine and masculine characteristics.
Jenn: When I began writing Reign & Ruin I was recently out of the military. I had experienced what you might expect of a woman in the military– sexism, harassment, etc. I think I was, in designing what Naime was dealing with as a woman trying to rule, excising some of my frustration. But I also set out to highlight strength in its many, varied forms. Not just the traits that western society associates with the masculine, but things like social and emotional intelligence. The ability to grieve and carry on, the ability to be kind, to mediate, to be supportive. How these traits are in fact, strength, and how vital they are to a functioning society. I will probably move away from writing my misogyny into my books in the future, just because it’s, you know, old news.
Lionel: This is a complicated question for me since I write MM romance, so women are always going to be supporting characters just by the nature of the genre. But, I try to keep my fantasy worlds overall free from sexism and homophobia — after all, it’s a fantasy world of my own design, and so I’m definitely not going to put these very real struggles into my fantasy escapism, haha. Kudos to those who tackle these issues in their writing, but that’s just not what I’m trying to do.
Carissa: Kudos to you for that! I think we need that kind of escapism wherever we can get it. 😉
Nisha: Ooh, good question. Like I mentioned above, there are definitely things in a traditional M/F dynamic that I love in a book that I’d never be okay with in real life… but that’s why I read and write. To escape reality and just because I enjoy reading something, doesn’t mean I endorse it. I do tend to write what some might term as ‘bitchy’ female characters and I can see in comments when people’s internalized misogyny is showing but I’m not changing them to suit anyone’s expectations of what female characters ‘should’ be. Ultimately, I only write female MCs (and maybe another POV from a male character) and they’re going to kick ass.
Rosalyn: One of my biggest pet peeves is what I call the “Virgin Mary falls for Casanova” trope. I hate when the FMC’s are required to remain “pure” and are something to be conquered by the MMC. I have often flipped this trope and tend to write about an experienced woman falling for a less (or non) experienced man just out of spite. I also love to write about the woman saving the man as much as he saves her!
Nisha: Re: purity: ugh, agree. I’ve only written one ‘virgin’ character, but there was a specific reason and it wasn’t because she had to be innocent.
Nisha: Re: less experienced man: I’m writing one where the dude is a virgin and it’s so much fun!
Slight twist on the question for the readers in the group: How do you see gender roles and expectations dealt with in fantasy romance, and is it different from other romance subgenres?
Ashley: Falling into trope characterizations sometimes result in paper thin characters of the more traditional route– females having to fight against a barrier due to gender as if there are no other qualities, the male hero with a tragic past, or the girl who is “not like other people.” I think falling into gender stereotypes can happen regardless of subgenre because it may feel natural leaning into the traditional. I have recently finished two queer fantasy romances with characters defying gender expectations. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows and Jack of Thorns by A.K. Faulkner both have characters that defy male stereotypes — and move past roles of gaining social power. Jack of Thorns, for example, features a male character that is a florist and helps his mom run a flower shop. I think an author can break out of stereotypes when they deconstruct/subvert tropes because now they are not relying on what is traditionally done. Focusing on character traits beyond gender and appearance such as kindness, empathy, skillset, honor, drive, compassion, etc would be great to see more of as a reader.
Kristen: It can be different across subgenres. Especially so if the romance takes place in a historical setting. In an alternate universe, one can mess with the idea of gender roles without it taking away any of the realism of the setting. In a Regency Romance, for example, there are only so many ways that you can make gender roles more flexible without losing the realism of the setting. But if you make it Regency-But-There’s-Magic, it’s already outside of reality by its very nature. So at that point, what else about that world could then be different than ours?
How explicit are the sex scenes in your books, and why?
The answers to this question are now live in part 2, along with questions specific to each author’s book, as well as recommendations from all the participants for other romantasy books to discover!
Find out more about these amazing romantasy authors, and most importantly, buy their books, at the links below!