The last time I wrote about the swooniest fantasy romances, I said that fantasy romance is like a box of chocolates. And at the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, it just gets truer with time: While all of these titles are collected in the same place, each has its own flavor and core. You’ve got your historical fantasy bound by slow-burn contracts; your paranormal romance pitting heart against mind and uniting them with desire; your Regency romance and Shakespearean sequels amplified by magic. You can devour a standalone novella whole or nibble at a long-running epic series.
Best of all, this is yet another sampling of a subgenre that grows every month. May you find your heart’s desire in these pages.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
Plenty of fantasy romances have the reader relating the love story in a breathless rush all at the end, but few have the power to make one constantly look up from their reading with the urge to tell someone else about a perfect little line right at that very moment, before they know how it’ll end. Marske’s stunning debut flawlessly captures those little moments of realizing you’re falling in love with someone—like considering an intricate wallpaper, glancing away, then looking back when you notice a compelling new detail.
Such is the case for Robin Blyth and Edwin Courcey, complementary cogs in the bureaucratic machine, who couldn’t be more mismatched in their dealings with one another. When an unbusheling exposes Robin to the underlying presence of magic all around him, Edwin becomes his unwitting guide to the contracts that govern spells and other encounters between two people. Yet the most breathtaking interlude in A Marvellous Light is when these opposites come across a forbidden queer pamphlet and have that grounding moment of shared understanding—that oh, we know one another. It’s shivery and wonderful, and I hope your feet are firmly planted, because you’re going to be pre-swooning over this book until its release in November.
The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk
Like Marske, Polk focuses on the bindings we forge with other people to bridge the divide between duty and desire—though in this case, there’s a little more wiggle room in the bargain. If you loved the breathless marital negotiations of “the season” on Netflix’s Bridgerton, then you’ll be as enamored of the bargaining season—amplified by magic—as the young ingenues of Bendleton, who have a mere six weeks to ensure their personal and financial futures as brides. All except Beatrice Clayton, whose aura shimmers with the promising glow of a talented sorceress. But in conservative Chasland, women’s magic becomes their husbands’ property, locked out of their grasp by warding collars throughout their childbearing years. Beatrice’s desperation to decode the secrets of a grimoire, which will allow her to make a great bargain with a powerful spirit, lands her in the world of the wealthy and influential Lavan siblings: Ysbeta, who shares Beatrice’s dream—and Ianthe, who represents the security that would lift up her impoverished family and the love that could make her not truly happy, but happy enough. From teaching Ysbeta to hosting a mischievous spirit of chance, Beatrice must constantly evaluate which bargains are worth keeping her word on.
The Greenhollow Duology by Emily Tesh
Despite last year’s list including Silver in the Wood, I have to shout out Tesh’s Greenhollow series again, not only for the bold sequel Drowned Country, but for how it completes this charming novella duology. Drowned Country dares to rework, like a spell unwound, the HEA (or happily ever after) of the first book due to completely relatable human selfishness and insecurity. A two-year time jump, a waterlogged harbor town, and a missing girl whose fate is tied to an ancient vampire provide the perfect morose setting for exes Henry Silver and Tobias Finch to meet again—all, of course, thanks to Henry’s badass folklorist mother Mrs. Silver. The Greenhollow duology is best read together over a long weekend, so that its full impact is clear: the cycling through from the springtime bliss of love to the wintry misery of breaking up; the passing back and forth of magic, and the different ways that each man embodies the boons and burdens of Greenhollow Hall; the promise that spring will come again, and a HFN (happy for now) ending may be good enough.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
This slim novella pulses with hidden power, in a tale about how first love consumes you, and whether or not to welcome that blaze again when you have the chance to be more than a passive participant. Back at her mother’s imperial court in Bình Hải after years as an “exotic” princess in the wintry land of Eptheria, Thanh struggles with memories of the devastating fire that marred her time abroad but that also marked the start of her romance with the brutal yet passionate princess Eldris. When Eptheria comes to Bình Hải with a proposal for less of an alliance than a clandestine takeover, Eldris and Thanh resume their romance on similarly power-struggle terms. But empty promises of safety aren’t enough for Thanh, who has learned enough of fire to consider that its destructive power may hold the key to freedom better than an icy cage.
The Psy/Changeling Series by Nalini Singh
Singh’s long-running paranormal romance series tops every romance reader’s list for its addictive dynamics between the icily controlled Psy, whose need to Silence their psychic powers has frozen all desires; and the hot-blooded Changelings, who possess the gutsy intelligence to face off against the Psy, as well as the devotion to their various shapeshifting clans that the isolated Psy long for. There are also humans caught up in the mix, wanting not to be discounted for their lack of powers and often attracted to either side of the Psy/Changeling conflict depending on what they’re looking for in a mate.
Over the course of nearly twenty novels, truly there is every permutation you could hope for, matching up Psy and humans with leopards, wolves, bears, and even sea-based changelings. Whether it’s seeing an emotionally guarded character slowly open up, or challenging changeling constraints regarding mating, this series proves that there are no limits to your heart’s desire.
Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett
In this sequel to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero’s triumphant return to Milan means a different kind of imprisonment for his daughter Miranda. Forced to hide behind a veil when she ventures outside the castle, lest she haunt the people of Italy with her face, she feels even more displaced than when she and her father were on the island. But when this ghost of a girl encounters a witch, in the Moorish servant girl Dorothea, their burgeoning relationship gives her the confidence to explore just what makes her so supposedly monstrous. Duckett’s lyrical tale shows how a romance can be like holding a mirror to oneself, especially when one has never considered their own reflection.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
We adore an enemies-to-lovers romance—or, as Suri herself put it, reluctant-allies-to-lovers. The morally gray lesbians at the heart of her new Burning Kingdoms trilogy have different yet equally compelling reasons for teaming up: Malini is the quintessential princess in the tower, only it’s the decaying ruins of a once-powerful temple in which her brother has imprisoned her. And the only person who will make the climb is Priya, a carefully anonymous maidservant hiding her forbidden magic. But when Malini discovers Priya’s true nature as a priestess, they have no choice but to embark on two radically different yet entwined familial quests: Priya to be reunited with her long-lost kin, and Malini to depose her tyrannical brother. For all the heat behind their destined partnership, it’s a slow-burn romance (albeit with a wet sari scene) that brings them together.
As a subgenre, fantasy romance keeps growing—what are your favorites?