Best Romantic Fantasy Books
Romance in fantasy is a common theme. But what differentiates romantic fantasy books as a subgenre is how romance is a major part of the plot and the complexity of the relationships between characters.
There are a lot of bodice rippers masquerading as fantasy, but I've picked books that are a few leaps and bounds above that sort of fluff fantasy.
All the novels/series on this list incorporate realistic romantic plots, strongly realized male and female protagonists, gripping plots, and very well crafted worlds. Basically, the best fantasy books out there with a strong romantic inclination.
For more info about the Romantic Fantasy subgenre, check our A Guide to Romantic Fantasy.
Also make sure you check out our new-ish (still in beta) romance sister site for PURE romance book recommendations, check out the site over here: Best Romance Books.
This list will appeal to both men and women, though I suspect most of the books will be more appealing to woman than men. Some of you may want to check out the Top 25 Fantasy Books for Women, which is a related list with a slightly different selection (not just romance-based novels).
A lot of novels on this list are either children's stories or young adult. While they make for great stories, there are some great coming of age stories that feature very mature content. Primarily, Phedre's Trilogy is a fantasy series. It features a medieval world in Terre d'Ange, a mirror of France. It's complete with angelic powers, myths, and warriors. It also contains some BDSM. In the hands of a novice writer, this could become a Fifty Shades sleaze-fest. And though this is Carey's debut, she's far more subtle than that. Sexuality is tied into the very fabric of the world, feeling like an extension of it rather than being thrown in randomly. It's a fantasy book first, and a romance one second. Still, Carey realizes that the discovery of sex is an important role in coming of age. She doesn't linger on it unnecessarily, but it does tie naturally into the thread of the story. We follow Phedre from her roots as a courtesan, where a red mote in her eye makes her undesirable. However, it's more than just a blemish. According to her new patron, it's a mark from the heavens. What follows is an education surpassing her humble beginning. She learns not just language and history but to observe and influence. It's a telling that's epic in scale, stretching across three large books as Phedre uses her knowledge to combat conspiracies and save the ones she loves. Read if you like: BDSM in fantasy, epic fantasy, angels.
Books in Kushiel's Universe Series (2)
Carey's other Kushiel books are must reads
If you like the whole strong female protagonist of Carey's world, then you should read The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb which features a very richly drawn world (same world as Hobb's
Read the Farseer which is a strong character-driven fantasy. The protagonist is male though.
You might also Like Laura Resnick's In Legend Born, which is high fantasy with some compelling females characters with realistic motivations.
If you like Carey's work, I suggest you look at the Top 25 Fantasy Books for Women list which will have quite a few books that you may enjoy.
Read "Paladin of Souls" which is a follow up book set in the same world as The Curse of Chalion.
You might also want to check out her Miles Vorkosigan Science Fiction series.
Starts with Daughter of the Forest. Julian Marillier writes a very good romantic fantasy set in Celtic times. Read if you like the romance and character-driven narrative of The Curse of Chalion.
Kushiel's Dart is another romantic fantasy -- one of the more unique ones in the genre. You might like the books if you like Lois's handling of romantic relationships.
Books in Sevenwaters Series (6)
Books in Mordant's Need Series (1)
Books in Graceling Realm Series (3)
Books in The Sarantine Mosaic Series (1)
Books in The Black Jewels Series (10)
Books in Samaria Series (4)
Books in The Kingkiller Chronicle Series (1)
Without a doubt, The Blood Song, a recent remarkable debut by Anthony Ryan. This is about as close in style and form to The Name of the Wind. Instead of Kvothe apprentice wizard in training, we have Vaelin, a warrior monk in training. The format of both stories is very similar recounted in an after-the-fact manner by the protagonist. Both are coming of age stories about young men in a school setting. And both books had a (somewhat) disappointing sequel. If you like The Name of the Wind, then read The Blood Song.
If you like The Name of the Wind, the closest you get to a similar series in feeling is Robin Hobb's The Farseer. Though the authors have a different style and radically different plots, both authors really delve deep into the mind of the protagonist. And both series are coming-of-age stories in which the narrator is looking back at their youthful life. Through each series, you really get to know the hero. Both stories are about the rise of a no-name boy into something great.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Another tale constructed around the whole "kids go to magic school to become a wizard" conceit. There's a vast difference in the way the stories are told and the characters however. Grossman's tale is a (depressive) postmodern take on the fantasy genre with references to literature and pop culture while Rothfuss's is a celebration of the classic fantasy tale. Grossman's characters are all flawed and psychologically complex -- if not completely broken individuals devoid of heroism. And that's the beauty of the whole tale. The characters thing they are heroes but find they are not. And over the three books that make up the fabulous series, there's a reckoning and growing that takes place with the characters. One of my favorite fantasy series ever. It's series that some who love the more traditional fantasy might not get or like, but if you want a deeper sort of fantasy, this is some of the best out there.
I would also suggest you read Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. Like The Name of the Wind, Lies of Locke Lamora jumps back and forth between the present and the past of the main character. Both are also coming-of-age stories. This book is something special, and the protagonist (it's a story about a master thief) is an absolute blast to read about. Book two has been out for a while and the third book is coming out this year (2011).
Daniel Abraham's The Long Price Quartet is another fantasy series that you might like -- there's some really good characterization going on in the series, though it's not really your standard "epic fantasy."
If you want a good adventure yarn, The The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick (book one of 5) delivers for part of the series. What's the plot about? There are two great empires clashing, crazy god kings set on world domination, and a medley of different characters sharing a ship (including talking rats, miniature people, evil mages, princesses, assassins, and ship boys) all fighting over a powerful talisman that could destroy the world. It's a complex, dramatic, and mostly wonderful new fantasy series. However, the series goes downhill after the third book, but I feel it's still worth a read.
You might also like Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man -- a book (part of a series, of course, with book three already out) that delivers on action. Brett does a good job creating the hero, from village boy to badass fighter/warder. A good book with an interesting hero character (especially following the whole coming-of-age conceit of a young boy growing into his destiny). This book gets my vote as one of the most exciting fantasy books I've read. Trust me, once you start the book, you are not going to want to stop reading it. However, book 2 and 3 really disappointed. Worth reading? On the strength of the first book, yes.
Want an action-packed story of a gifted orphan boy who goes to magic school (and martial school) to become a great wizard/warrior. Want a detailed magic system about colors? Want plenty of coming of age angst? Absolutely read The Lightbringer Series, Week's best work so far.
Some might also like Brent Week's Night Angel Trilogy which is a sort of gutter-rat to badass assassin story. Weeks' Lightbringer series is better on all regards. However, you still might want to read this one as well if you like The Name of the Wind. The story really follows the main character closely; there are a lot of over-the-top heroics and magic (especially the main character who becomes super-powerful) combined with an interesting hero character which makes the book somewhat reminiscent of The Name of the Wind. Name of the Wind is better written, and the magic is more mysterious and toned down with complex characterization (Weeks falls really short here as his characters are pretty simplistic I feel), but the over-the-top heroic antics of the main character/s does bring to mind some of Kvothe's exploits.
A character-driven epic fantasy would be Tad Williams' classic Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Though I warn you, it can take a while before the plot gets rolling in a Tad Williams novel!
A good old-school fantasy tale that's managed to age very well is A Wizard of Earthsea. A pretty compelling hero character.
For a gushy heroic old school fantasy that kind of channels the heroic aspect and lyrical prose of The Name of the Wind, read the Riddle Master of Hed series.
And probably the best fantasy novel I've read about a "hero" would be Michael Stackpole's Talion: Revenant. It's one of the best books I've read, period.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Science Fantasy, but there are some similarities. Both are wonderfully written, lyrical works where to emphasis is just not on what is said but how it is said. Words are not just functional entities, but creatures of beauty and both Rothfuss and Wolfe are master wordsmiths. Both tales are recounted by an now world-weary protagonist (in first person) and the tale told by the narrator may not be completely reliable and just might be embellished in the recounting.
If you liked the whole "coming of age talented young nobody who goes to magic school" conceit, you will probably like these:
- Harry Potter by Rowling. The Black Magician by Trudi Canvas.
- The Wizard of Earthsea by Le Guin.
- The Lightbringer Series.
- Magician Apprentice by Fiest.
- Master of Five Magics (the most detailed system of magic system and set of rules I've read in fantasy).
- The Wheel of Time by Jordan