Welcome to my list of favorite fantasy romances – some novels, some novellas, some short stories! The way my life is organized these days, it’s tough for me to write reviews. So some of the books below have them, some do not, but I love them all. Enjoy!
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M. Arbon writes excellent short stories. The emotions and worldbuilding in this one are amazing.
“‘In the middle of the hall there’s this kid standing. In one hand he’s got a knife — the kind all the students keep to sharpen their nibs and carve their names wherever it’s the most pain in the ass to sand them out — but that’s not what’s got everybody frozen, because in his other hand the poor mad kid is holding all his beads.’ Goodman Stone fled tragedy at home to build a new life doing odd jobs at a school in Frael. When one of the students does something unthinkable, Stone comes to his aid. He is helped by schoolmaster Caerel, and as the relationship between the two men deepens, Stone contemplates a decision that will once again reshape the life he’s strung together.”
Note: Arbon uses they/them or she/her pronouns.
This fantasy F/F romance (or romance-adjacent fantasy) jumped up into my faves as I was beta reading it, and I’m so glad it’s available for other folks to read now. Our POV character is a reanimated undead woman who’s pursuing some kind of quest for vengeance… which she can’t remember the details of. The dryad she encounters – or maybe encounters again? – is both beautiful and mysterious, the connection between them sometimes bittersweet but ultimately hopeful. It’s about forgiveness, in the end, and also a love story between the two women. Highly recommended, especially if you like folklore and fairy tale inspired stories.
Diversity note: Bryn uses they/them pronouns, and is queer, disabled, and has dyslexia.
“They say he’s a myth… And Hades prefers it that way. He may do all the work, and Zeus may get all the credit, but at least it allows Hades to preserve the one thing he truly cares to have: his solitude. The mere mention of the Wraith of Khaos Falls is enough to keep order, and he is rarely forced to leave the shadows of Casino Asphodel.
She belongs in the spotlight… And Persephone clawed her way out of Demeter’s shadow to reach it. Now she’s lead in Calliope’s Cirque production but not without great cost, and there is not enough money in the world to pay off the debt accrued for the simple mistake of trusting Zeus. Though it’s easier to ignore the bars when she still has room to fly.
Landing a residency at the legendary Casino Asphodel is everything she trained for. Meeting a man she’d been convinced didn’t exist? She could never be prepared for that. Hades isn’t prepared for her either, but it’s soon evident they’re a force when together. He gives her a soft place to land, and she makes him want to reach for the stars. But when Zeus ups the stakes, they must be willing to go all in, even if it means coming down from the sky. Or stepping into the light.”
Diversity note: Virtues is an AfroMexican trans guy author.
“Messenger angel Kel didn’t want an important assignment any more than her angelic superiors wanted to give it to her. She’s already lost the paperwork and taken an unauthorized shortcut when she falls into a trap that succubus scientist Alba has set on the demonic side of the hinterlands.
Kel’s spotty record can’t take that many more black marks. She negotiates for Alba’s silence: she’ll do anything the demon wants for thirty days. She’s read a book or two about succubi, and the prospect of a month of no-strings sex with Alba beats doing penance hands down. Even when Alba shatters Kel’s lurid hopes, assigning her to organize the library, it’s still better than going back to Heaven. For the first time in her existence, Kel finds out that she’s good at something, and Alba’s no-nonsense encouragement makes her want more than meaningless sex.
Unfortunately, Alba isn’t the only demon in Hell.”
Diversity note: Noether is queer and uses they/she pronouns.
Was so pleased to discover while reading this that I could add it to my queer M/F shelf. From how the She-Wolf describes herself, I think of her as pan.
“By day, Lucían brews potions and illuminates manuscripts in service to the monastery that took him in as a child, wielding magic based in his faith and his purity. By night, he dreams of the world outside the cloister–a world he knows only in books and scrolls…
A mercenary known as the She-Wolf hunts for a shipment of stolen manuscripts. When she needs a mage to track them down, she chooses Lucían for both his adorable blushes and his magic. She purchases his contract, hurling him headfirst into an adventure that will test both his skills and his self-control…
Inexorably drawn to the She-Wolf’s strength, surprising kindness, and heated touches, Lucían fights temptation at every turn. His holy magic is both vital to their mission and dependent upon his purity. How can he serve both her and the Lord if he gives in to his desire? As intrigue and danger forces them closer, how can he possibly resist?”
Diversity note: Gale is queer.
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’ve read three novellas by this author now, under two different pen names, and we’ve moved into auto-buy territory. The other one under this pen name is Help Wanted (Amazon / Goodreads). It’s “a gender and sexuality questioning f/m romance” starring Em, a college student at magical Ashveil Academy who falls for her co-worker at a magical supply shop. It’s charming and kind, and I’m hopeful this will turn into a series, (not just) because MAGIC COLLEGE.
Diversity note: Emery is grey ace/pan and biracial. She/they pronouns.
The first magic + tech post-apocalyptic tale in this series jumped right onto my fave F/F romance list. Allie and Vick are exes and mages, trapped together for 40 days transporting cargo through a wasteland inhabited by demons and dragons, some with acid spit. Magical battles, some beautiful emotional writing as they both grapple with their feelings, and talking it out like grownups earns them their HEA.
The rest of the series continues the journey of the cargo, each one about a different F/F mage couple. Definitely worth a try if you’re into fantasy / sci-fi fusions and kick-ass gals.
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 bi.
I also had to throw in this little novella by Noone:
“Lily learned magic from the last of the kingdom’s great sorcerers who disappeared a year ago, leaving her with a baby and with the responsibility of finding magical solutions for everyone’s problems. She’s overworked and exhausted, and not in the mood to have the king’s disreputable illegitimate half-brother knock on her door, demanding her help. But the king is ill, and the kingdom needs her … and the king’s brother might not be as dreadful as the rumors say.
Will knows his own reputation: the schemes for the throne, the plots and politics, the decadence of his bedchamber, and the lovers paid off with rubies. He’s worked hard on that reputation, after all — it ensures that he’s aware of all the Court intrigue, and can protect his kindhearted younger brother. He can’t protect his brother from a magical illness… but he can find the last powerful magician in the kingdom and beg for her aid.”
Cute novella about Frannie, a fae library student whose magic makes colored lights (want!) and Shirl, a shifter pharmacy tech, who meet and fall for each other… then have to work out some snarls. (Not shifter snarls! Logistics and prioritization snarls.) I’m always looking for more F/F romance, and this one was adorable. Shirl is understandably nervous about Frannie’s reaction to her shifting, given some of her previous relationship experiences. Frannie isn’t as thoughtful as she should be as the two fall into dating, and there are Consequences, and she must Make Amends. The magical society of alternate Richmond is intriguing. Derek, Shirl’s nonbinary roommate, needs more screen time in another story STAT. So here’s hoping this does well enough that Jeffries shares more stories with us.
Diversity note: Jeffries is bisexual.
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 is a disabled, queer, trans man whose pronouns are: he/him/his.
Totally satisfying novella, a steampunky M/M second chance romance mixed with a magical adventure to save the world. In an alternate history United States, 1858, mages have torn open a hole in reality that let through massive amounts of floodwater and also dinosaurs. Survivors have mostly managed to carve out livable areas in what remains. African-American trapper Grove finds out his mage ex-boyfriend, Lawrence, is still alive (and his right hand is now prosthetic due to injury). Lawrence wants Grover’s help closing that pesky rift in the space-time continuum. Not everyone is on board with this plan, though, because rich white people would be more than happy to force a lot of “undesirables” through the rift for good. I adored how Hale was so attentive to race and class when building this world, and I loved both characters for their bravery and general awesomeness.
There are two other stories in this collection as well, set at later times in the same universe (one with a Jewish main character), so this collection a pretty good deal.
I also love Hale’s story Swift and the Black Dog (Amazon / Goodreads), a fantasy short story with HUGE worldbuilding and a stark look at the aftermath of teenage wizards fighting evil (i.e. child soldiers). Jack Swift, the main character, was one of those teenage wizards who overthrew an evil regime. Now someone in the new government – which isn’t as shiny as it was supposed to be – wants the surviving wizards dead. Jack connects with Owen Finch, a young man who’s part of the resistance, and together they track down who’s at the center of the attacks. I loved Jack’s darkness, Owen’s light, and the struggle between them to do what’s right, when they both have different understandings about what that is.
Diversity notes: Hale has a wife, though I don’t know how she identifies.
Super-nerdy M/M romance about a game company tech support guy and a dragon (yes, the dragon shapeshifts into human form.) A charming love story about learning how to communicate with someone who is very different from you.
“Mike St. George’s average life as tech support for a game distribution company becomes unexpectedly eventful when he’s sent to the home of an aristocratic, self-centered dragon and left in charge of installing and protecting the digital side of the dragon’s hoard of games.
But a job’s a job. And while the blue-blooded Zali’thurg might be egotistical and prideful, Mike’s wrangled worse customers. At least this one’s pretty cute, even if it’s in an apex predator sort of way…”
Diversity note: Katz is a nonbinary lesbian, and uses she/they pronouns.
“It’s difficult to find a husband in Regency England when you’re a young lady with only half a soul.
Ever since a faerie cursed her, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear, embarrassment, or even happiness—a condition which makes her sadly prone to accidental scandal. Dora’s only goal for the London Season this year is to stay quiet and avoid upsetting her cousin’s chances at a husband… but when the Lord Sorcier of England learns of her condition, she finds herself drawn ever more deeply into the tumultuous concerns of magicians and faeries.
Lord Elias Wilder is handsome, strange, and utterly uncouth—but gossip says that he regularly performs three impossible things before breakfast, and he is willing to help Dora restore her missing half. If Dora’s reputation can survive both her ongoing curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world… but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.”
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.
I also rec her enemies-to-lovers book The Lodestar of Ys by Amy Rae Durreson (Amazon / Goodreads). Celyn is engaged to Sjurd’s younger brother, while Sjurd is promised to his female best friend, but everything changes when Sjurd’s kingdom is invaded. Celyn has to grow up fast and inadvertently becomes a diplomat, whereas Sjurd becomes even more gruff as he shoulders the burden of physically protecting his people. Then they have to marry each other.
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.
So completely not the kind of thing I usually read, but I really liked this f/m (non-queer) barbarian fantasy romance. A Conan-alike, Kael the Conqueror, finishes up conquering some kingdoms, then can’t understand why people are afraid of him. Come on, people, he knocked off the evil former king! Then he he finds out that the maidens who keep throwing themselves at him are only doing it because they’re scared he’ll go on a rampage if he isn’t kept happy, and he’s appalled at the idea of having a woman in his bed because of fear. So he swears off women. He also can’t figure out why bureaucracy sucks so much, and all in all this whole “king” business just seems like a bad idea.
One of his staff sends missives to every kingdom they can think of looking for a willing bride to de-grumpify the boss, and only one princess shows up: Anja of Ivermere, the only non-magical person from a kingdom full of magic users. And because tropes are fun, they end up on a road trip.
Various things happen, but what struck me as the heart of this book was Kael listening to and believing Anja about her life. Which doesn’t sound like a big thing, except that Anja has never had that before. She may as well be from the Kingdom of Gaslighting, her parents suck so much. It’s amazingly powerful that Kael listens to Anja and basically says “I believe you. Also, you’re valuable, don’t doubt yourself.”
I showed up for the barbarian and the princess, I got a love story about believing and validating women. Who knew?
Not quite a romance novel, but readers who want fantasy + F/F love stories shouldn’t miss this.
A fantasy quest story that turns the Snow Queen fairy tale upside down, blended with an opposites attract F/F romance subplot 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’.
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 and the secondary characters were fantastic.
Alexey Dyed in Red by A.M. Valenza (out of print as of August 2019, I’ll update this when it’s republished / Goodreads)
Satisfyingly complex, though sometimes very dark Russian-flavored fantasy mystery combined with an M/M/M romance between two demons and a wizard. Alexey’s the wizard. He was perfectly happy to spend his time eating pastries and hanging out in the library in the city of Kalinstrad, which kind of adopted him after he turned up there with amnesia. His cozy life, though, is interrupted when two of the Emperor’s servants come to town. Porfiry and Vasiliy are Darkrow, a.k.a. magic-users, and both are demons. They sense something strange about Alexey’s magic, and as they begin to train him it’s like pulling a thread from a web of secrets. I really enjoyed how Valenza rolled out the clues to Alexey’s past and how things unraveled. Alexey’s slightly bratty personality was a delight, and I loved the distinct personalities of each of his Darkrow lovers. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
Content warning: This gets kind of out there at times. Cannibalism in backstory, but it’s, uh, consensual, connected to magic? Some gore is described in flashbacks.
Diversity notes: (1) Porfiry is asexual. Alexey is pansexual. (2) Valenza is Latina.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant (out of print as of August 2019, I’ll update this when it’s republished / Goodreads)
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 agender writer.
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!