8 of the Swooniest Fantasy Romances

This Valentine’s Day, your perfect date is obviously a book—the more achingly romantic, the better. We’ve got eight prospective dates for you, depending on if you want to be thrilled by an enemies-to-lovers tale, take sides in a love triangle, or wonder what could possibly happen when there’s only. one. bed. But these love (or something like it) stories aren’t just heady escapism—alongside the in-denial crushes and highly charged adjusting of collars is thoughtful commentary on consent, on meant-to-be and happily-ever-afters, even on the mere heartbeats separating love and death.

Find your ideal match, or choose them all! We’re open-minded.

 

Stormsong by C.L. Polk

“Are you dazzled?” “Quite.” This exchange sums up the immediate romantic tension between flashbulb-wielding reporter Avia Jessup and Dame Grace Hensley, a Storm-Singer who despite her influence as Voice of the Invisibles and Chancellor is buckling under the pressure to restore Aeland to its former prosperity. The socialite-turned-journalist is the only person who can help Grace endear herself to the common man as she repents for the terrible fallout (weatherwise and otherwise) of a necessary sacrifice. Between secretive meetings and spotlight-grabbing at royal balls, these women bargain information and access in the hopes of revealing the truth—not just regarding Aeland’s fate, but about their growing feelings for one another.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Le Cirque des Rêves has it all: ethereal magical attractions, a limited timespan (open only from sunset to sunrise, the circus wandering from city to city), and a pair of star-crossed lovers among its ranks. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, rather than be allowed to develop their respective powers of illusion, are instead locked into a deadly competition as high-stakes and neverending as the circus itself: a battle of magic that will not end until one of its participants can no longer go on. Despite their destined rivalry, Marco and Celia cannot deny the stronger connection that their love has created—but their refusal of the contest threatens the existence of the entire circus.

 

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

If what gets your heart hammering is the energy and twists of a K-drama, you’ll love how Cho’s debut contextualizes all of those tropes within a supernatural setting rooted in folklore. Miyoung is an anti-social teen trying to get through an uneventful last two years at school… only for her secret identity as a gumiho (nine-tailed fox) to be revealed when she saves a boy named Jihoon from a dokkaebi (goblin). But in doing so, she loses her yeowi guseul (fox bead, or soul), rendering her as helpless as any other human girl. In this newly vulnerable state, Miyoung enters into the slowest of slow-burns with Jihoon: Initially not attracted to each other, they reluctantly become friends, and eventually must confront their growing, and forbidden, feelings—even as they grapple with the aforementioned dokkaebi and other enemies. The drama!

 

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Richard Anderson SFF book covers Skullsworn Brian Staveley

Set in the world of The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this standalone is How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days with an epic fantasy skin and slightly higher stakes… as in death. As in, death cult acolyte Pyrre has fourteen days to complete her Trial: kill a half-dozen people according to the lyrics of an ancient song, including the one she loves. The trouble is—you guessed it—Pyrre wouldn’t know love if it stabbed her with one of her own thigh-holstered knives. Under the guidance of two Witnesses, Pyrre must rekindle an old flame (a bareknuckle boxer straight of out of a bodice-ripper, no less) while proving her dedication to her god Ananshael. Like Pyrre’s mentors, imparting their own idiosyncratic lessons about love and death, Staveley infuses the story with enough sexual tension and true soul-searching that acknowledges the morbid tone while gilding it with hope.

 

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

The romance between huntress Feyre Archeron and immortal faerie Tamlin initially seems like the stuff of epics: he spirits her away to his world as punishment for killing a faerie wolf; imprisoned, her feelings for this beastly man morph from fury to fervor; what begins as a bond decided by a treaty becomes a passionate relationship. But as Maas’ quartet continues, as Feyre adjusts to the faerie world of Prythian and even begins to make a place for herself within it, so too do her romantic entanglements shift. Enter arrogant Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court in contrast to Tamlin’s place as High Lord of the Spring Court—and suddenly Feyre gets a good old-fashioned love triangle to complicate her magical life further.

 

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh, small cover

All due respect to Rent, here’s how you really measure a year in the life in Greenhollow: in rainy autumn meet-cutes; in the small one nursing the big one back to health; in reading fairy stories at one’s bedside… oh, and in saving your beloved from the clutches of the very woods that bind you, along with the help of his terrifying folklorist mother. Henry Silver and Tobias Finch’s love grows like a new sapling: slow and steady, until you blink and it’s like it’s been there all along. We can’t wait to see what the next year holds in store for these two in Drowned Country!

 

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

If you’ll permit me to quote one more love song: Come what may, I will rave about this series until my dying day. Romance—desire, sex, love, manipulation—is baked into nearly every key interaction, from small-scale (negotiating a night with an anguissette) to world-changing (the game of thrones and wartime treaties). And while Phèdre/Joscelin is a series OTP for a reason, there are countless other relationship dynamics for whatever your preferred romance subgenre is: enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies, friends-with-benefits, arranged marriages, your beloved has lost her memory and you must remind her of your love, and so forth.

 

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

While reflecting on the best SFF of the decade, swoony fantasy romance certainly had its place: Polk’s Witchmark especially stood out for how it interprets one of the most enduring romance tropes—the “we can never be together” obstacles—within its own rich world. Before Grace and Avia are expressing their attraction via ink and scoops, Grace’s brother Miles Hensley and the enigmatic Tristan Hunter confront their own unique bond. Like his fellow otherworldly Amaranthines, creatures of exceptional beauty and undeniable pull, Tristan could stun Miles with the kind of glamour that enslaves humans to lifetimes of sweet torment… but he wants a dynamic on more equal standing, or none at all. This tension matches perfectly to the life that Miles turned his back on, as a magical battery to his Storm-Singer sister, making Miles and Tristan’s will-they/won’t-they even more achingly sweet.

 

What are your favorite fantasy romances?

Natalie Zutter recommends reading a bunch of romance in a row; it’s like devouring a giant box of truffles, but without the stomachache. Talk fantasy romance with her on Twitter!

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