Oct 11 2010 2:25pm

Ei rûf ane gôtter: Beth Bernobich’s Passion Play

Passion Play by Beth BernobichI do not normally read paranormal romance. In fact, I’ll openly admit that if a friend at Tor hadn’t highly recommended Beth Bernobich’s Passion Play to me—out tomorrow, October 12th—I most likely wouldn’t have read it. (Well, highly recommended it and given me an advance reading copy.) Boy, would I have been missing out. The romance of the novel is definitely there, and it is very well written and enjoyable. But what hooked me was that there is any entire epic fantasy starting to unfold at the exact same time.

And that is what really surprised me. Perhaps I have just listened to the bad rap that romance gets in general from other sections of the fandom, but I was genuinely, and delightfully, surprised at how prominently the “non-romance” parts of the story stand up on their own. In fact, for a while I thought I was reading a political intrigue with some action thrown in. It reminded me of something I once heard in a writing track, only turned on its head. The factoid was that romance is the most common sub-plot for a reason: it is the most common subplot in real life. Turning that on its head is that, even in a romance novel, there is going to be other stuff going on because no one’s life is strictly a romance.

There is actually a whole bunch I’d love to talk about and go in-depth on, but that would kind of break my no-spoilers promise, so instead allow me to be vague about what I liked: the magic system is retro but well pulled off, and the learning curve exhibited in the book is satisfying. No one got away from the “How do I shot web” trope. The politics and world are complex and well thought out, and I honestly did not see the ending coming, which was satisfying.

On the vague “not so much” side of the house: the romance was a little slowly paced, but I’m not entirely sure that was a bad thing for me. Perhaps it felt natural when I was expecting something fast or over-the-top. Or perhaps it was the fact that Ilse had other things on her mind than getting her libido on (even if understandable so). But I do know that it doesn’t help that I had a bit of a hard time seeing the male romantic lead as truly being the lead for various reasons.

On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable book. What the bigger question I have now, though, is “How have I missed this?” Not Passion Play, as I didn’t miss it, but that paranormal romance novels can be more than two people dancing around each other in awkward situations until they are doing it in sheets? In all truth, I’ve read novels with this same mixture of romance and “other story,” examples being Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden in mainstream and Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore in genre. What else is out there? Where should I look? I’ll likely be reading the forthcoming sequels to Passion Play, but what should I dabble with in the meantime? You know, between all the other books I’m buried under. Suggestions?

Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and probably not a blind incestuous zombie god. To get that reference, read the book or Beth’s short story, “River of Souls.” You can read more of Richard’s ramblings and some of his short stories at You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Alida Saxon
1. alida
I may have to check this out, as I feel the same about romance books in general. One series that looks like ye standard fantasy-romance from the cover is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. Really enjoyed the world the story inhabits, and the plot isn't clubbed to death by the effort to build some kind of improbable romance.
Natalie Luhrs
2. eilatan
I'm curious as to why you feel that this is a romance, particularly a paranormal? I ask because it would be completely out of place among the books that get classified as such by romance readers. There is a romance between two of the characters, but the mere presence of two characters who have romantic feelings and relationships does not a romance make.

I think it's a secondary world fantasy with strong romantic elements. For you, that may be a distinction without a difference, but it is very important to romance readers.
3. BethB
@2: For what it's worth, I approached writing this novel exactly as you described: as a secondary world fantasy that included a love story. (With more love stories, more magic, and lots more politics to follow in the sequels.)
Melissa Shumake
4. cherie_2137
I think tor posting the short story was probably one of the best things, marketing-wise. I will be grabbing the book when it comes out because the short story was so fantastic.
5. Sunset
CL Wilson. Tairen Soul Quintet. The 5th book in the quintet is coming out this month. (The first one is called Lord of the Fading Lands.)

It's technically romance (and boy is the romance definitely there), but we follow the characters for 5 books and the fantasy plot is strong enough that I really think fans of fantasy in general would enjoy it.

My husband had never read a romance book in his life, but he's read all four of the Tairen Soul quintet, and we eagerly await the fifth one.

There's magic, magical creatures, Fey, Elves, Tairen, evil mages, and all sorts of good stuff that you would expect from a great fantasy. And I guess you would call it a second-world fantasy? Not really sure how that goes.
Richard Fife
6. R.Fife
@2 Well, Beth@3 pretty well sums that up, but I will say Tor is marketing it as a romance, which was my primary guideline for saying it is one. The publicist that gave it to me said it was a romance, the editor said it was a romance, and the marketing plan on the back has a whole slew of "target to fantasy, sci-fi, and romance readers." But I do see where you are coming from.
7. Jill Myles
I do think you will run into some head-scratching from the romance crowd, because in our eyes, that is a fantasy with romance elements, not a romance with fantasy elements. So be prepared for a bit of confusion! :)

That being said, I would shamelessly recommend THE IRON DUKE by Meljean Brook. It has a very encompassing steampunk world and a metric TON of romance in it. I adored it and I think it has a ton of really awesome crossover potential for the steampunk fans that don't mind a heavy dollop of romance.
8. Jill Myles
Also, I think Marjorie Liu is a great genre romance writer (paranormal romance) that can also be appreciated by less romance-centric readers. There's sex, but not an overwhelming amount, a fast-paced storyline, beautiful prose, and an ongoing storyline (think X-men mixed with romance). I'd recommend SHADOW TOUCH as a good place to start. She also has an urban fantasy series, but if you want romance, I suggest her Dirk & Steele series.
Natalie Luhrs
9. eilatan
I am perhaps biased, as I reviewed it for RT and it is quite firmly situated in the SF/F section there because it definitely doesn't fit their romance definition. I think it has a TON of crossover appeal, but it just doesn't read like a romance to me at all, at all (it's hard to explain exactly what is not-romance-y about it to me without going into spoiler territory).

Either way, it's an absolutely fantastic book and I have this burning desire to know what happens next. :)
10. Ciara Stewart
I second "The Iron Duke" by Meljean Brook. Best fantasy romance I've read in years!
Mary Kennedy
11. markatken
Sounds like you might like Linnea Sinclair. Her goal is to straddle the SF and Romance genres.

You also might find ideas at
12. Ciara Stewart
Good call. Start with Linnea Sinclair's "Games of Command." It's my favorite.
Amit Kotwal
13. amitkotwal
You might want to try Lois Bujold's "Sharing Knife" series.

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