Demons, dragons, talking animals, curses… yep, we’re definitely dealing with magic here. Welcome to my list of favorite fantasy romances! I hope you find something great to read and enjoy here.
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This short story romance between a man and a non-binary demon starts with attempted murder. It’s not the demon who’s at fault! Or the man, Tristan, who just wanted to have a nice picnic with his boyfriend. (Is that so wrong?!)
Tristan’s badly shaken by what happened, as one might expect, and finds himself returning to the scene repeatedly, conversing with the demon, as he struggles with the trauma he experienced. It’s a compassionate, well-constructed, comforting story about healing, and I really enjoyed it.
I could not stop smiling while reading this M/M age gap rock star urban fantasy romance – and I was sick at the time! That’s how warm and fuzzy it is! It begins when Kris Starr, bisexual projective empath and washed-up rock singer, realizes with a start that he’s fallen in love with his manager, Justin Moore, who is the cutest and most adorable and kindest and Kris just wants to touch his hair and make him happy forever. This plan hits a snag when Kris finds out that Justin has a boyfriend. A jerk boyfriend. But when Justin’s biggest secret comes out, he turns to Kris for support. And Kris works so hard to be there for Justin! He has zero experience with a real relationship, but he asks friends for help when he doesn’t know something, and he properly prioritizes Justin’s needs over his own wants! It’s two people connecting who are huge fans of each other for all the right reasons. The world-building is also fascinating, a “contemporary” world so different from our own, where everyone has at least a little magic talent and the existence of parallel magical realms is a given.
Content warnings: Domestic violence, being outed in the press.
If you read it and like it, you should know there are three follow-up stories as well! Two are about Kris and Justin. The other, Lightning in a Bottle, is one of my FAVE short stories, though I don’t know how well it would work if you don’t already know Kris and Justin. A songwriter pining for the lead singer of his band, a little encouragement to share his feelings… so sweet! And the author’s note at the end that says it’s not an epilogue is one of my favorite epilogues in romance.
Diversity note: Noone is “bisexual or pansexual – still working out which term” feels best.
Song of the Spring Moon Waning by E.E. Ottoman (out of print as of 9/28/18, I’ll update this when it’s republished / Goodreads)
Quiet, magical romance set in historic China between a trans man scholar and a eunuch who lives in the Imperial palace, brought together by fate. Scholar Wen Yu receives a note asking him to return a bird that he was never given, setting off a chain of events that ends up with him translating a set of poems only visible by moonlight and in an unknown language… and, of course, falling in love. Liu Yi wants the poems translated because he believes they might hold a cure for his mysterious illness. He didn’t realize the translator would be such a fox! These two get so adorably smitten with each other, it’s just a delight to watch them. It starts with a fairy tale and ends with the beginning of an adventure, and everything in between is great.
Diversity note: E.E. Ottoman a disabled, queer, trans man whose pronouns are: he/him/his.
Korean-American gal + African-American guy + second chance romance + magic + zombies. I was going to be crushed if this book wasn’t fun. IT WAS FUN! Veronica Kwon and Jax Taylor are both magical treasure hunters. They were supposed to get married years ago, but Jax broke up with Veronica… by PHONE, while she was in a fitting for her wedding dress! Ouch. But neither of them can deny their elderly friend and mentor his last wish, which is to join him in a treasure-hunting trip to the top of a magical beanstalk. Only thing is, he didn’t mention there might be zombies up there. Totally recommended as pure entertainment, unless giggling zombies will give you nightmares!
p.s. The fact that Veronica calls Jax’s cologne “Southern Sex God” is still cracking me up.
After a long, successful career in public service, Lord Adem Heliodor is asked to retire when it becomes clear to everyone that trauma from a terrifying magical attack is making it impossible for him to work. Since he was a hero during the attack, it seems terribly unfair to Adem, but what can you do when the Queen sends you away? Go back to your country estate and expect boredom, that’s what. Luckily for Adem, and probably his staff, his long-lost love Corun turns up – which is a big surprise, as Adem thought the man was dead. I loved seeing older characters get their romance back, and the space Corum makes for Adem to process his trauma is a lovely thing. The pacing of this story is perfect for the hurt-comfort and healing to be well underway before dangerous plot pops up. It’s lovely and warm, and the villains get their dramatic comeuppance in the end.
This M/F romance, set in the early 14th century, pairs Sophia, a smart-as-hell Jewish female alchemist, and Cathal, a dragon shifter Scottish noble. Their falling-in-love story is so much about how they respect and admire each other, and I adored that about it. Cathal’s good friend lies dying from a magical curse, Sophia agrees to try finding a cure, there are explosions, a demon crawls through a hole in reality to kill someone, there is kissing, Cathal turns into a dragon several times, and of course Sophia saves everyone. I wasn’t ever super-surprised by the plot, but I really liked how science-minded Sophia is, and how Cathal feels so responsible for his people even though running an estate is just about the last thing he’d ever want to do. They’re both good folks! And he’s basically her sidekick, ha! I also thought the description of what Sophia sees when Cathal shifts was pretty cool. Definitely reading the next in this series, which stars Cathal’s warrior sister.
A fantasy quest story that turns the Snow Queen fairy tale upside down, blended with an opposites attract F/F love story between Gerta, an insecure farm girl and Janna, the canny bandit who takes her prisoner to save her life. The tale starts when Gerta’s neighbor Kai, the boy she’s hopelessly in love with, is… well, Gerta thinks he’s been abducted by the Snow Queen, but the reader is pretty clear that Kai goes willingly, just as the reader is pretty clear that Kai doesn’t love Gerta back and is kind of a jerk. But Greta doesn’t get it yet, and she’s a fiercely loyal friend, so she sets off to rescue him. The journey that follows is magical, funny, and emotionally wrenching. Talking creatures, noble sacrifices, Gerta’s growing bond with Janna… well, let’s just say that Kingfisher is IMHO one of the best fantasy writers around and I can’t imagine how this book could have been more perfect. Feminist fairy tale retellings with queer girls, hurray!
Diversity note: Janna is described as having dark brown skin, because y’all, your high fantasy characters don’t always have to be white. Just sayin’.
An enemies-to-lovers gay trans Peter Pan retelling / sequel that is so good, it should be taught in college courses. Peter Pan returns to Neverland after a long absence, and we find out that in early 1900s “reality” he was named Wendy Darling, a trans man living as a cis woman. As a grown man, he was unable to continue the suffocating pretense and escaped back to Neverland.
Peter can’t cope with the changes he finds there and re-ignites his war with Hook in an attempt to reclaim the sense of rightness he once found. His Peter persona is self-centered, cruel, thoughtless, and impulsive, living out some seriously toxic and stereotypical masculinity, which leads to terrible outcomes for those around Peter. James Hook is surprisingly perceptive and patient, though also self-centered, vain, and with his own reasons for escaping from a life that isn’t kind to people who are different. Their growing and uneasy connection, now that Peter is an adult, leads to uncomfortable realizations about Neverland and why/how it functions as it does, as well as what they both need in order to move on.
So smart, so layered, so empathetic to its jerky characters. After you read it, make sure you listen to the March 2017 Hopeless Romantic podcast episode where Chant and his editor Amanda Jean recorded their thoughts at various stages of the writing and editing process for this book. Fascinating peek behind the scenes.
Diversity note: Chant is a queer trans man.
Really, really, really (is that enough really?) good second chance M/M romance. Our main character is Lyon, who entered an apprenticeship with a sorcerer and came out the other side with a disabled arm, PTSD, and a fervent desire to hide in his house for the rest of his life. He’s intermittently suicidal and self-harming. Unfortunately for his plan to hermit, his long-ago ex Tobin arrives as an agent of the King to recruit Lyon for translation work. Tobin is perfect and wonderful and does literally everything in his power to help Lyon and give him space even though they’re both bound to follow the King’s orders. The magical stuff that happens is way cool, the adventure they end up on is intriguing, and Lyon is a complete badass for how hard he works at taking his life back. Tobin’s love doesn’t heal him, but it gives him strength to fight back. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one in years to come.
Content warning: Non-detailed mentions of past sexual assault.
Set in 12th century Ireland during the Norman invasion, this is a mashup of Beauty and the Beast with demon-summoning. Caitrin, a trained scribe, flees domestic violence and the threat of forced marriage to end up at Whistling Tor, a castle reputed to be haunted. Its master, chieftain Anluan, had what I think would be described as a stroke at 13, which caused permanent injury to one side of his body. When Caitrin finds out why he can’t leave the castle, she offers to help, but both of them are carrying some fairly heavy baggage which gets in the way of both that effort and their growing mutual attraction.
There’s a LOT going on in this book, and I sometimes felt like we could have tightened it up a bit – especially because I guessed who the villain was fairly early – but overall I loved the atmosphere, the growing relationship between Caitrin and Anluan, and Caitrin’s healing process. The magic was interesting, the secondary characters were fantastic, and I’m definitely interested to read more of Marillier’s work now.
And that’s the list of my favorite fantasy romance novels! Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!