This month I’ve been running Read My Valentine: a reading challenge that focuses on romance novels for the duration of February. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the romance genre and, like any genre, there’s a lot of less than stellar material. If you’re a speculative fiction reader new to romance or looking to get started, it can be difficult to know where to begin. So here are a few speculative fiction stories that eased me into romance:
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey is an epic fantasy about a masochistic bisexual courtesan who finds herself uniquely positioned to save her country from treachery. It’s probably a little odd to include Kushiel’s Dart on this list because it isn’t really romance at all; it lacks romance tropes and is much more at home with other epic fantasies. However, it is very much a book about love. One of its most famous phrases is “Love as thou wilt”, which serves as the unofficial motto for Phaedre’s home country, Terre d’Ange. Sex, BDSM and polyamory are all shown in a positive light. As far as I’m concerned, this alone makes it an excellent primer for the romance genre.
Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier is a historical retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I’m a sucker for Beauty and the Beast retellings, but it’s a bit problematic as a romance. Heart’s Blood reworks Stockholm Syndrome into a sweet romance by giving its Beauty more independence. Caitrin stays at the castle not because she’s coerced into it but because she is fleeing from her past. She can leave any time she wants to. Instead, she chooses to stay and get to know Lord Anluan of her own accord while attempting to unravel the mystery of the castle’s curse. It plays more to the tropes of romance than Kushiel’s Dart and is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of explicit sex. However, what they have in common with each other and with the romance genre is their centring of relationships.
The Court of Lightning by Amy Rae Durreson is a fantasy m/m romance. For decades, the Court of Ice has been seeking to conquer the other courts. With the Court of Lightning defeated, the Court of Wind is one of the last remaining but they are under increasing threat. In order to survive, Master Artificer Arashan and paladin Tirellian must team up to venture into the ice-encased heart of the Court of Lightning. Deep within enemy territory, their old friendship thaws into something more.
Of the three books, this one is the most strongly embedded in the romance genre and follows the tropes most closely. However, Durreson was a fantasy writer before she switched to romance and the world-building in the story puts to shame many fantasy novels I’ve seen in print. The relationship between Arashan and Tirellian is deftly done and very sweet. If Kushiel’s Dart and Heart’s Blood are at opposite ends of a spectrum, this is what lies in the middle.
The Court of Lightning is available for free.
These were some of my gateways into romance. Next week, a few of my friends will be joining me to give their recommendations.