Romantasy roundtable discussion part two! 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.
This is the second part of the roundtable; the first part can be found here.
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 in part two:
How explicit are the sex scenes in your books, and why? (for the readers, I asked how explicit they like sex scenes in their reads)
Writer/book-specific questions (for the readers, I ask what their fantasy romance catnip is)
What 3 fantasy romance books would you recommend?
Links to the participants’ books, socials, websites, etc.
Carissa Broadbent: My name is Carissa and I write, as I usually like to put it, magic and kissing books — stories with lots of epic fantasy, big stakes, big plots, lots of romance, and capital A-Angst. Right now most people know me from The War of Lost Hearts trilogy, which is an epic romantic fantasy that just concluded in February.
Nisha: Hi Carissa, I’m really looking forward to your new series!
Kimberly Lemming: Hello! I’m Kimberly Lemming and I write diverse fantasy romcoms.
J.D. Evans: I’m Jenn, I write epic fantasy romance under J. D. Evans.
Lionel Hart: I’m Lionel Hart, and I write MM fantasy romance!
Nisha Tuli: I’m Nisha and I write romance, primarily in the fantasy and romcom genres. I mostly write adult, though I’ve dabbled in some YA, too. I published my first fantasy romance novella in April and have the first of a duet coming in August. I’ve got a YA fantasy romance book and an adult romcom on submission.
Rosalyn Briar: Hi! I’m Rosalyn and I enjoy writing dark fantasy fairy tale retellings that are heavy on romance!
Ashley: Hi there! I’m Ashley– so glad to have been invited to join everyone for this fantasy romance roundtable discussion. I’m a contributor to the blog, FanFiAddict. I would characterize myself as a huge mood reader. I always have three books going at once (physical, ebook, audiobook) for different moments of the day- whether it’s at night before bed, folding laundry, commuting to work, etc. I have two young kids, and not a lot of time to read during the daytime hours so most of my reading comes late at night on my ereader or audiobook. I primarily read Sci-Fi/Fantasy, with the bulk of my reading falling within the subgenres of dark fantasy, romance, first contact, time travel, and epic. I prefer multi-pov, character driven stories. Being as this a fantasy romance discussion, I’ll focus on this genre of my reading habits. The romances that I love to read do ebb and flow with the seasons. My heart lies within dark romances, and I am continually cycling through dark fantasy romance, contemporary dark romance, and monster romances. I prefer New Adult/Adult; however, I do enjoy YAs that bring a unique and different style to the genre.
Kristen: My name is Kristen, and I go by that or Star usually, online. I’m originally from Toronto, Canada, and currently live in Houston, Texas. I blog at superstardrifter.com and do the tweets from @suprstardrifter 🙂
How explicit are the sex scenes in your books, and why?
Carissa: I write explicit sex scenes in my books. There are two reasons for this. One, people like them and they’re fun (and this is enough!). But secondly — romances are character writing under a microscope, and that is just as true of sex scenes. Sex is a significant part of romantic relationships and the way characters connect through sex is, in my books, usually an important part of their relationship. Of course, there are tons of amazing romances that do not include on-page sex. It comes down how the author wants to tell that story — in mine, what happens in sex scenes is an important part of their journey, so I want to include that.
Kimberly: My sex scenes tend to be very explicit. Why? Why not honestly. In my opinion sex is a very important part of a healthy relationship and when I see a couple with amazing sexual chemistry when I’m reading, I love to see that come to flourish with a well done sex scene.
Carissa: I think “why not?” is a perfect answer to this question!
Jenn: I thought they were pretty explicit, but my books get labeled low or medium spice frequently in reviews. I do open door sex, but it does tend to be pretty vanilla, and I focus more on feelings and emotions than describing a lot of body parts and moisture levels, if you will. I like the tension vivid sex can add to a relationship, you’re in there, you’re having this explicit moment with the characters where they connect on a new level, where they are vulnerable in a way that they might not be otherwise, then you know, something probably happens that damages that connection. If I closed the door on the act that made the connection, I don’t think damage to what I created in the dark would really hit the same. I do not believe, however, that open door sex is necessary to show that connection, but I do think the amount of tension and buildup you create should have an appropriate amount of outlet. I don’t actually write sex for the physical titillation (though that is a perfectly fine side effect), I write it as an emotional payoff, and I think the way I write it reflects that.
Lionel: Well… very explicit, haha. I like steamy romance, so I wrote steamy romance 😉 It’s definitely 100% open door spice, which is fairly standard for MM as a genre overall, but I know fantasy romance can vary a bit more. I prefer steam, though! Not just for the, ahem, titillation of it, but it brings additional, emotional story beats that readers of spicy romance appreciate.
Nisha: Pretty explicit… I’d give myself a 3-4 on the pepper scale depending on the book and situation. Why? Because I love reading and writing them and I find them purely escapist and entertaining. I’m not one of those people who thinks your characters need a reason to bang other than it’s been a while and they’re horny. I mean I also use them for character development and plot, but that’s not the only reason. loving the generally explicit answers 🤣
Rosalyn: It varies from book to book, but I do enjoy writing out sex scenes in a way that feels romantic and erotic without being too detailed, if that makes sense. I find it important to write these scenes for my characters, as it is a big moment for character and relationship development.
Slight twist on the question for the readers in the group: How explicit do you like your sex scenes in books, and why?
Ashley: I love explicit scenes in books with some conditions. I largely enjoy slow burns so I enjoy the build up in tension and connection. This hits differently for me as a reader because there is an emotional connection by the time it happens. I find that I am satisfied with however many scenes the author wants for their story. I will admit that the fewer there are, the more I tend to long for more although I don’t necessarily want more… confusing, right? It’s all about the perpetual pining. I love when it’s perfectly balanced with what works for the plot. I do begin losing some interest if the plot stalls in favor of sexy time. In terms of the dialogue used during the sex scenes, I think it all comes back around to the mood that I am in. Generally, if I’m in the mood for more explicit sex with dialogue to match, then I will often specifically look for those to read. There are some fantastic novellas out in the world for times like these because the sex and plot are fantastically balanced. I do like it in detail; however, I do believe that fade-to-black scenes can play an important role when used to show a continued connection without taking up page time.
Kristen: The more explicit the better. Nothing makes me happier when reading about two people falling for each other than them boning along the way. I am shameless, but sex is part of the story, to me. I have Ace friends who don’t love graphic sex as much, and I respect that as well. To each their own. Personally, I want my fictional lovers to fictionally get busy though. 😀
Nisha: I pretty much lose all interest at this point. I was recently reading something that had this big slow burn build up and then it went fade to black and… DNF.
Next we ask questions specific to each authors’ books!
Carissa Broadbent: In Daughter of No Worlds, the heroine deals with massive trauma but refuses to let herself be defined by it. It’s very painful to read, but also empowering. Can you talk about the process of writing Tisaanah?
I’m honored that it resonated! To be totally honest, I am so pleasantly surprised that people love Tisaanah as much as they do — romantasy readers do tend to gravitate towards the hot dude in their books and Max really gets to be the snarky quippy mysterious one, so I was really shocked (and honored) when I got so many messages about Tisaanah. When I originally conceived of her, I wanted to write someone who was determined to a fault — who knew how hard it would be to make a difference but go for it with everything she had anyway. I wanted her to be as ballsy as I wish I was! All of the characters in DoNW came to life around each other. She and Max were written to foil each other — someone who would stop at literally nothing (even the morally questionable) for the greater good vs. someone who refused to do anything at all because he had determined that there was no morally pure path to action. Both of those stances are defined by their trauma, and they needed each other desperately to balance out those traits. If Max had never met Tisaanah, he would have remained stuck forever, and if Tisaanah had never met Max…. she would have become Nura. 🙂
Lionel: I just want to say that reading this response has made me really want to read this book!
Nisha: Max WAS hot :p
Kimberly Lemming: Your motto is “Fantasy that fucks,” and That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon certainly lives up to the moniker (which is fantastic, by the way!). It also includes a lot of interesting power play in the sex scenes. Why is this dynamic so interesting to write and read?
The power play in the sex scenes of my debut novel That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon is interesting to me to read and write because I just love a good give and take. When I started creating the character Fallon, I just imagined the morally gray type villain that I usually fall for in fantasy romance. He’s not quite good or bad, he just is. But he is a very dominant man and has no trouble taking over in the bedroom. Cinnamon, his counterpart, needed someone to take control in that moment. She’s the type of woman that will get far too into her head point where she’ll spend all day spinning out of control. By giving over her control to Fallon, she can finally let go and enjoy what she’s been denying herself their entire journey. However the most important aspect of their first sex scene in the Coliseum is that at any time in previous encounters where Cin put her foot down, Fallon stopped immediately. She may have been the one pinned to the bed but she was also the one that had the final say and in total control of that situation. If she was uncomfortable at any point, he would’ve got up and left.
Nisha: both of your characters were fantastic! so well written!
J.D. Evans: First of all, congratulations for winning SPFBO7! It’s such a joy to see a fantasy romance take the crown! Reign and Ruin is a very complex book, with a lot of politics mixed in with the romance. How did you manage to wrangle all the details in a way that made both the political fantasy and the romance hit so perfectly?
Thank you—I remain deliriously happy and also flummoxed about SPFBO. As for the mix, I write my character arcs alongside the fantasy plot, and I try to have points in their character arcs cross with the fantasy plot, so plot points serve in multiple arcs. I wanted the fantasy plot and romance plot to be equal, so I tried to give them equal air time, but it can be hard to balance a romance arc that only spans one book and a fantasy story that spans six +. Beyond that I think it’s subjective whether they’ve hit perfectly. I see people say it had too much sex, not enough sex, too much politics, not enough politics, not enough action, etc. Some said it was too insta-love, some said it was slow. I just wrote the amount of each that I like to read, and hoped there were other readers out there like me.
Lionel Hart: Claimed by the Orc Prince presents a perfectly queernormative world in which male characters can give birth, which is delightful to read. How did the inspiration for this elf-orc arranged marriage romance come to you?
Thanks! There were a few different things that inspired this world. Obviously, there are strong elements of the omegaverse at play, in that males can give birth and go into semi-regular heats during which they can become pregnant. While I do like a lot of MM omegaverse, some of it can also get into some… questionable gender role stuff that makes me uncomfortable, so I wanted to create a world where the parts of it I liked were included, and the parts I didn’t weren’t.
Another big component is the mental bond shared by the main characters, which is also sometimes used in omegaverse, but for me, the inspiration for this actually came from Star Trek! I’m a BIG fan of the Kirk/Spock pairing — it was my fascination with that ship that eventually led to me questioning my own identity and accepting myself as a gay trans man, so it holds a very sentimental place in my heart. The mental bond between Kirk and Spock is a cornerstone of K/S fanfiction (which I have written a little bit of myself, haha), and is an element I find very interesting (especially in spicy scenes!) so I knew I wanted to include it but with a more magical flavor instead of the telepathy angle K/S takes with it.
And finally, I play a LOT of Dungeons and Dragons, so my fantasy world is very heavily inspired by this — in fact, the world that both my Orc Prince Trilogy and Heart of Dragons duology take place in was first created for a D&D campaign I ran a few years ago! It really helped that I had done all that worldbuilding ahead of time when I decided I wanted to write fantasy romance, haha. Obviously some changes have been made, but overall it’s very much the same world.
Nisha Tuli: You play around with the concept of consent in both the arranged marriage and the abduction plotlines of Wicked is the Reaper. How did you think about consent when you were writing your version of these tropes?
So consent is something I think about a lot both when I’m reading and writing. When I consider abduction plots and arranged marriages in fantasy settings, I definitely don’t ascribe all the same real-world morality I do to my own life, or even to contemporary fiction. To me fantasy is fantasy in all ways and I’ll happily read and write about 200 yo fae or vampire hooking up with a 20 yo. I grew up with Twilight and while that’s ick for some people, it’s candy for me.
Though I do read some dark romance and I’ve read some dub con and enjoyed it, but MY personal line is definitely at non con (no judgement, it’s just not for me), and in my own writing, I still aim for fairly clear consent, even when it’s tied up with a plot that is maybe a little bit on the darker side.
When I write anything YA though, I’m very big on ensuring clear and enthusiastic consent since that’s aimed at a younger and more impressionable audience. I do believe adults can tell the difference between the rights and wrongs we see in books and I saw a great quote the other day that said something along the lines of: “I read romance for entertainment, not relationship advice.”
Lionel: So true! Fantasy is exactly that: fantasy. I love that quote, haha.
Rosalyn Briar: A Sea of Pearls and Leaves showcases a variety of LGBTQ relationships. Without spoiling the delightful ending, can you share how intentional this was? Did you know from the outset it would end up this way?
Ingrid, Lilura, and Soren were so much fun to write! Let’s just say while I was plotting, I had no intention of even giving Soren his own POV chapters. I only knew that these three characters would become extremely close. As I was writing the story, though, he continued to grow on me and I couldn’t leave him out of the romance any longer. Since I consider Lilura and her “special heart” to be demisexual, this storyline developed naturally and progressed into something lovely.
A different question for the readers: What is your fantasy romance catnip, and why?
Ashley: By now you may have figured out that I would do anything for all of the slow burn, TRUE enemies to lovers stories dripping with allure, where I feel like I’m immersed inside a fever dream. Make it a forbidden romance in the world of Fae and I say “take my money!” I think I love these stories so much because they are far from my reality and pure escapism! The worlds are often deliciously dark and gritty with this seductive pulse beating at its core. Deconstruct and subvert, allll day! I am also obsessed with fantasy romances where the romance doesn’t follow expectations.. such as where the “other woman” trope is not present to create drama but a strong friendship is formed instead, or the romance is founded around positive communication and dialogue– (speaking of dialogue, I greatly enjoy the banter that is created in a relationship that has a beautiful sort of rhythm).
Kristen: 100% M/M historical romance with magic or mystery (or magical mystery) involved. Magical-Victorian-England-but-Make-it-Gay-AF.
RECOMMENDATION TIME! Name three fantasy romance books you’d recommend to readers and say what you love about them. Give purchase links, please!
Carissa: Oh, this is so tough!
A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J Maas, is almost sickeningly ubiquitous in romantasy-world so I almost feel silly recommending it, but look, there is a reason this series has the genre by a chokehold. If you’re new to the series, you need to read the first book, A Court of Thorns and Roses, in order for this one to make sense, but ACOMAF is the real jewel of the entire series. Maas really did something special with the subversion she pulled off between books 1 and 2. This series is so popular that it gets a lot of backlash, but I think ACOMAF will always be one of my favorite romantic fantasies of all time and was definitely one to introduce me to the world of romantasy. If your tastes run more epic, Maas’s Throne of Glass series (which gets progressively more adult / complex as the books go on — keep at it past those first two!) is also excellent.
Radiance, by Grace Draven. Maas’s books are more romantic fantasy – multi-book arcs following the same characters across more epic plots, which have heavy romance arcs — but Radiance is a classic fantasy romance: standalone with a happily-ever-after ending. It’s not super plot heavy. It’s kind of a beauty and the beast retelling, but a very loose twist on it. The two leads are so charming and likable and their approach to their situation is just refreshingly chill. It’s a lovely warm hug of a book about two very likable people falling in love with each other. I love angst, but it’s hard not to love Radiance. There’s a reason Grace Draven is a fantasy romance legend.
Nisha: This was great–such a good twist on ‘enemies to lovers’
Reign & Ruin by JD Evans. Am I cheating by recommending this right now? Ok, fine, full disclosure, I’m friends with Jenn and she’s an absolutely lovely human being, but long before I was friends with Jenn I low-key hated her because I was so jealous of her fantastic writing in this book (totally kidding, Jenn, I promise). It’s a lush, beautifully drawn story with noble, three-dimensional, relatable characters and a stunning world. It’s a great intro to romantasy for folks into epic fantasy because the world building and plot is so rich. I really, really loved it. And hey, a bunch of other people did too! It won SPFBO, have you heard of it??
I have SO many honorable mentions here that I almost picked and discounted them because they might be sensitive for a lot of people (The Captive Prince trilogy) or because they didn’t quite fit my definition of what a romantasy is (The Song of Achilles; The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, Circe, The Nevernight Trilogy).
Lionel: Seconding Radiance for sure! And those are some fantastic honorable mentions, too!
Kimberly: Here are three Fantasy Romance’s that I really enjoyed:
Famine (The Four Horsemen Book 3) by Laura Thalassa famine is bar none my favorite romance hero. Is he a crazy mass murderer? Yes. Yes he is. But with his caddy attitude and creative use of his ahem, powers, all the red flags just look like roses. Laura has a beautiful way of writing characters have no moral compass simply because they are not human. Famine is a God sent down to destroy humanity and he has absolutely no qualms about doing so. I read plenty of enemies to lovers romance books before. But none where the hero literally had his leading lady stabbed to death and left for dead. When his little flower shows up on his doorstep very much not dead and extremely pissed, a wild adventure ensues.
Magical Midlife Madness: A Paranormal Women’s Fiction Novel (Leveling Up Book 1) by K.F. Breene This one is technically called paranormal, but I feel like there is a lot of crossover between the two genres. K.F. Breene is an absolute master at writing incredibly interesting side characters as well as fascinating adventures. The romance in this first book takes a bit of a back seat to everything else that’s going on but you’re going to be laughing so hard at the interactions between the characters that you won’t mind. This book got me out of the worst reading slump I’ve ever had and I absolutely devoured it in record time.
The Half-Orc’s Maiden Bride by Ruby Dixon Ruby Dixon is in a league all her own. At this point I’m pretty sure that woman could write her grocery list on a napkin and I’d buy it. The half orc’s maiden bride is an adorable romp and I loved every second of it.
Lionel: I had no idea Ruby Dixon wrote orcs! Definitely adding that one to my TBR…
Nisha: THIS WHOLE SERIES. I don’t know how this isn’t her most famous one.
Jenn: Fate of Wrath and Flame by K. A. Tucker Enemies to lovers, strong writing with a great plot and cool mysteries and magic!
I always recommend Grace Draven. Her book Radiance gets recommended a lot, so I’m going to recommend The Undying King. It’s a Novella, pretty dark, but with some Very interesting conundrums, and as always a capable, mature heroine.
The Wraith and the Rose by C.J. Brightley: A scarlet pimpernel retelling, but make it magical (and faeries!). I love retellings that aren’t as popular (looking at you Beauty and the Beast). The setting is Victorian inspired, so it has a historical kind of voice that’s a nice mixup from my usual fare.
Lionel: Great question! I’ve been loving all of Lily Mayne’s work, but her fae romance series has been captivating so far. Big warning, the first book, Mortal Skin, ends in a BIG cliffhanger! But, book two is already out (don’t ask how I dealt with the months of waiting in between books, haha), and ends in a HFN before the series ends with a third installment 🙂
Second, I’m really liking Corey Kerr’s The Middle Sea series, which is an omegaverse MM fantasy romance. The first book was great, but the second book that just came out, The Sorcerer’s Alpha, had me enthralled! It felt much more action/adventure in scope compared to the first, which was a more courtly/royal romance. Both were great, and can be read as standalones, but I would definitely recommend The Sorcerer’s Alpha as a great entry point!
And lastly, this is a little bit of a cop-out because the book isn’t out yet, but I’m REALLY looking forward to Reforged by Seth Haddon! I first found this author on TikTok, and every new piece of information about this MM fantasy romance only makes me want to read it more. I love the royal/bodyguard pairing and the tropes that come along with it, so I can’t wait to read this one.
Nisha: While I of course love SJM and Plated Prisoner is one of my faves, here are a few options that have maybe flown under people’s radar:
The Dying Light by Lily Rooke (and the sequel We Become Shadows) – The Bloodwitch Series is an LGBTQIA+ dark fantasy that features a main character with serious trauma. I love how dark and deep this series goes while still giving the main character hope and love.
The Chrysillium Tree by Laken Honeycutt – This beautiful fantasy book with gorgeous prose has such a wonderful romance! It is so magical!
The Marked Princess by E.P. Stavs – This is the first in the Shendri Series and it is absolutely wonderful! The romance is so well done and I was rooting for the characters the entire time!
Reign & Ruin (Mages of the Wheel Book 1) by J. D. Evans – Oh my god, this book was everything! I need to share one of my favorite quotes from the book because it encompasses everything I need to pull me in: “All magic is beautiful,” she said, “and terrible. Do you not see the beauty in yours, or the terror in mine? You can stop a heart, and I can stop your breath.” All I needed to read was this single quote and I wanted to dive into the book. I couldn’t stop thinking about it every time I had to put it down. The development of the romance was such a slow burn that I was hanging onto every word as Evan’s enveloped me inside these intimate moments that were sultry and seductive. The political intrigue and machinations, and magic system were amazingly executed with a fantastic female lead.
Where Shadows Lie (The Last Gift Book 1) by Allegra Pescatore – Okay, for starters… I loved how there is immediate trope reversal where the chosen one is dead (don’t worry– not a spoiler because it’s at the top of the synopsis). Pescatore excels in creating a compelling world and story-line. I really love how the magic system works. The misuse of magic can have serious effects, which heightens the suspense. My favorite aspect of the series has to be the lore and plot. I can’t get over how well planned this plot has become. There is disability rep, queer rep, immortal dragon gods, court intrigue, plotting, betrayals, and more! If you love plots with carefully architected layers, then this series will be for you. The payoff when plot threads come together is worth every single second!
The First Girl Child (The Chronicles of Saylok) by Amy Harmon – This is an incredibly breathtaking tale of cursed kingdoms, warring clans, love, magical runes, and salvation inspired by Norse Mythology. A dying mothers curse prevents the birth of all daughters for years and years upon a land. Harmon’s prose is exquisite, as she takes her time to set up the story for a fully immersive read. If you’re looking for a book that will have your heart aching, this is the story for you. There is something special about slow burn stories that always find a way to meet my every expectation. The pacing is an essential part of the journey.
Kristen: Three!? THREE!? There are so many great ones! These are just the ones I think that would be good for someone new to the genre. 😀
The entire Stariel quadrilogy, starting with The Lord of Stariel by AJ Lancaster
Any of the books in the World of the White Rat by T. Kingfisher, but most especially Swordheart
The entire Charm of Magpies series by KJ Charles, starting with The Magpie Lord
Okay I’ll stop. >.>
Kristen: I love how like three of us were like ‘Radiance though….’ Jenn is right though, it gets recommended a lot, for good reason. In an effort to spread the Grace Draven love around, I’ll recommend Master of Crows as well. It was also fantastic!)
Find out more about these amazing romantasy authors, and most importantly, buy their books, at the links below!
Carissa Broadbent: Books, socials, and more are on her website.
Lionel Hart: Books, socials, and more are on his Linktree.
J.D. Evans: Books, socials, and more are on her website.
Rosalyn Briar: Books, socials, and more are on her Linktree.
Nisha Tuli: Books, socials, and more are on her Linktree.
Kimberly Lemming: Books, socials, and more are on her Linktree.