Five Favorite Romantic Fantasy Novels by Stephanie Burgis
Nothing like a romantic fantasy novel to get you in the mood. Author Stephanie Burgis has a reading list all romance fans need to check out.
This is an Alexander the Great novel – but it’s not a novel about Alexander the Great nearly as much as it is about Meriamon, a young Egyptian priestess who speaks for her god and stands for Egypt’s political future. She travels with a fabulous supernatural companion, orders around rulers and military commanders with utter self-confidence…and falls for a humble soldier instead of the world-conqueror everyone expects her to marry. I read this book for the first time when I was fifteen, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve re-read it since then. It’s one of the few books that I own in both paper and e-copies, because it’s become such a comfort read, I always want to have it on hand!
I love Lois McMaster Bujold’s whole Chalion series, which is set in an alternate fantasy world that’s strongly based on Renaissance Spain (with, in later books, a side-trip to Renaissance England)…but this book, the second in the series, is my favorite by far. For once (and this is rare in both fantasy adventures and romances!), the heroine is an older woman, whose children are already grown. Ista, a dowager queen whose daughter now rules the kingdom, is a widow with a scandalous and terrible past, who is now expected to quietly and discreetly fade away, living out the rest of her life in a secluded castle. Instead, she finds herself immersed in an exciting new adventure, hunting demons, solving mysteries, and finding a dangerous new vocation for the rest of her life…along with a very hot, intelligent man of her own age who can both appreciate her and act as a sword at her side, supporting her in her new path. I cheered for Ista’s empowerment and for her romance! And I loved the way Bujold mixed real history with her fantasy worldbuilding (and with the really interesting, original and detailed religious system that she created for that alternate, fantasy world).
When I first decided to write this article, I got curious and asked on Twitter and Facebook which books other readers would name as their own favorite romantic fantasy novels. The titles themselves varied widely, but one particular author kept on being repeated over and over again: Sharon Shinn. She’s written a number of wonderful romantic fantasies – I particularly like Summers at Castle Auburn and The Truth-Teller’s Secret, and a whole lot of readers named her Archangel as their very favorite – but my own favorite by far is Troubled Waters. Set in a fantasy world where individual people are deeply tied to particular elements (like fire or water), this novel is about a young woman who begins the novel homeless, orphaned and doomed to a gilded cage of helplessness…but refuses to settle for that fate. By the end, she’s deeply enmeshed in the politics of her kingdom, wielding a devastating amount of magical power – and ready to choose her own romantic partner, a man who is both strong enough to stand up to her when necessary and smart enough to know exactly how fantastic she is.
Set in Victorian England, this fabulously colorful novel-in-letters is full of women dressing as men to attend Oxford lectures, wild chases, faked deaths, mysteries, derring-do, radical politics, secret magical societies…and romance. Ruthlessly sensible Susan sets out to find out what really happened to a supposedly-dead young man of her acquaintance…and finds herself immersed racing across the country in a desperate adventure with him. The climax of this book made me cry; the ending was just perfect.
This was a fun list to make but a terrible challenge to narrow down…so for my fifth choice, I’m going to cheat and confess that I just couldn’t decide among this last set of novels as I tried to finish up my list of five, because they’re all so good – how could I leave any of them out?
-Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard (a retelling of Tam Lin set in Elizabethan England);
-Robin McKinley’s Beauty (a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast);
-Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint (yes, the romance is a bit twisted, but still – romantic and gorgeously written, with swordfights and scheming galore!);
-and Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic (which has one of the most fabulous narrative voices I’ve ever read, and a romantic scene at the end which literally stopped my breath as I read it).
What about you guys? Which romantic fantasy novels are your favorites?
Stephanie Burgis was born in Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband, writer Patrick Samphire, and their children. Before becoming a fulltime writer, she studied music history as a Fulbright Scholar in Vienna, Austria, and worked as a website editor for a British opera company. She has published over thirty short stories for adults. Kat, Incorrigible (US)/A Most Improper Magick (UK) won the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award in 2011 for Best Début Children’s Novel by a British writer. It was followed by Renegade Magic/A Tangle of Magicks and Stolen Magic/A Reckless Magick.
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