Best Romantic Fantasy Books

Fantasy Primary Focuses on Love and Romance and Relationships

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 nautical fantasy featuring pirates, dragons, and magic? What's not to love? To top it off, Liveship Traders is filled with fantastic women. Ronica, the widow of the liveship's former captain is independent, resourceful, and instrumental in galvanizing her town in the face of disaster.  Her daughters, Keffria and Althea, and Granddaughter Malta, all have complex paths to walk, some only to be fleshed out in other series. All are interesting and complicated and central to the story. Even the liveship herself is a character, really. The people in this book are so well-fleshed out and grow so much throughout the trilogy; heroes might become villains and vice versa, you just never know where their paths will lead. Rape comes up in this series, but isn't introduced as some sensationalistic device as some male writers tend to do; it's realistic and gritty, but Hobb addresses the very real struggle of how rape is perceived in society, and how victims can go on to rebuild their lives after trauma. ]She weaves an incredible story told from multiple perspectives, creating layers of mystery and adventure. Each time she peels back one layer to reveal one mystery of the liveships, she reveals another. The intertwining of this series with all her others (Farseer, Rainwilds, The Elderlings) is just masterful and leaves no ends loose or without purpose.

Books in Liveship Traders Series (2)

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)

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Other Kushiel Books

Carey's other Kushiel books are must reads 

Liveship Traders

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 

The Farseer

Read the Farseer which is a strong character-driven fantasy. The protagonist is male though.

In Legend Born

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.

Lois McMaster Bujold is famous for her very atypical characters. She demonstrated this with her Miles Vorkosigan character, and she does the same thing with the Curse of Chalion. The main character, Cazaril, is an complex and fascinating character. He’s a man who’s been betrayed by everyone – once a great man, now recovering from years as a slave. Over the course of the novel, the hero undergoes a transformation from timidity to confidence. It’s one of those books where you become emotionally attached to the character – a skill that Lois McMaster Bujold has had many years to hone.Romance is also an important aspect of this novel, though this book is far more than just “a romance.” This tale is a good read for both men and women.The protagonist is a male character, but the loose sequel, Paladin of Souls, is told from the perspective of a woman, and arguably much more of a romance novel. I highly recommend the ladies check that one out.

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Paladin of Souls

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. 

Sevenwaters Trilogy

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

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.

This intricate retelling of the Celtic Swans fairy tale takes an enchanting story and embellishes it with depth, believable backstory, ancient magic, and great characters.  It is painfully dark, at times horrifying, but also offers elements of hope, devoted love, and healing. One criticism is that while its rape scenes are incredibly graphic, actually loving consensual sex scenes are all but fade-to-black absent. Despite this, Sorcha is simply radiant as the heroine who accomplishes the fantastic tasks required to set things right. She is beloved by and shares a unique bond with her brothers, and while no warrior, her strength is in healing and in quietly (you have no idea how quietly) going about what needs doing with fortitude and courage. Despite her burdens, she is able to see the beauty in the world, and that takes a special kind of magic. Again, folks tend to shelve anything related to fairytale literature as YA or even Juvenile… Daughter of the Forest is definitely ill suited for children, due to the graphic abuse mentioned above. As Sorcha matures, she grows into her strength and intelligence, meeting each painful task with diligence and unfailing love. It is a beautiful story highlighting the power of small and simple things.

Books in Sevenwaters Series (6)

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Sequel Books by Juliet Marillier
Once you finish the Sevenwaters Trilogy, look at her other follow up books after the trilogy ends which is a sequel Trilogy called 'Sevenwaters'. The first book is Heir of Sevenwaters, the second is Seer of Sevenwaters, and final is Flame of Sevenwaters.

For more character driven female-centric fantasy or narratives with strong female characters:

Deerskin by Robin Mckinly 

The Wizard of Earthsea (Book 2 and Book 4 feature lead female characters)

Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb

Also consider looking at our list: Best Fantasy Books for Women
Most of you will probably never have heard of this series (it's taken a back seat to Donaldson’s more controversial work, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which is a pity. This is one of the best romance fantasies I’ve read.The premise is that of a young and very frustrated woman from earth who finds herself transported to a strange fantasy world. Over the course of the novel, this young woman must overcome her emotional problems, and maybe even find true love and save a kingdom in the process. She must make her way in a world dominated completely by men. It’s an entertaining read all round.The main character is a woman, and although the author is a man, he does a pretty good job of creating a realistic heroine. The romance aspect is pretty strong in this novel and handled right. All the characters, even the villains, are interesting. No paper-thin characters in this series, thank you.

Books in Mordant's Need Series (1)

Katsa is a pragmatic graceling born with the ability to kill with her bare hands from the time she was eight years old. Graced as all gracelings are with unique superpowers and marked with two different eye colors, she was orphaned and becomes assassin to the King in her youth. With attachment issues and a very sterile view of murder, she is very flawed; which balances out that she's pretty much invincible, unstoppable as both a warrior and as a person. Light romantic interest flavors the story, but it's nothing so strong as to overpower the heroine and her purpose. The female relationships are so real and relatable, and I love that at times it's just women out there saving the world. No men in shining armor. Just two women as comrades in arms. It's not this huge gender issue that she's a warrior. She just is. Graceling has landed a dozen awards and was nominated for more. Definitely worth a read.

Books in Graceling Realm Series (3)

Kay writes a lot of fantasy that appeals to those who enjoy a good, well thought out romance novel. While romance is not the only point of Kayâs stories (Kay is too intelligent of a writer for that sort of book), it always play an important role. His Sarantium Mosaic is a fantastic duology about a simple painter who gets caught up in empire-changing events. The bookâs told from a male perspective, but thereâs a good deal of awesome romance tossed into the book.I could really throw in a number of Kay novels here. If you are looking for some, check out Tigana, and Lions of Al-Rassan. If you want a Kay novel with a lot of romance with a female protagonist also, read A Song for Arbonne.

Books in The Sarantine Mosaic Series (1)

A landmark step in feminist fiction, this dark fantasy series is unlike anything you've ever read. Bishop takes the physical and typical differences between men and women, highlights rather than diminishes them, and creates a world in which they are acknowledged and accepted. Her work is dark, though. The sexuality is especially dark. It's more of a tool of power rather than meant to be a loving act of any kind. From pedophiles, rape, and incest to torture… it's pretty heavy. Janelle begins as a child, destined to become the greatest witch queen that's ever lived, and this is her twisted, powerful, painful crossing into that role. She is at times cute, at other moments creepy, and at still others downright scary. The fact that she is continually being rescued by the men in her posse knocks it down a few levels on this list for me, but it's touted as a great triumph in feminist fantasy, and it's well-loved by those who enjoy some seriously disturbing storytelling, so it can hang out.

Books in The Black Jewels Series (10)

This series does something a bit different from your usual fantasy romance. The setting of the book is a different world, a world with different legends and religions. There is a religious aspect to the book, but it’s never religious in a preachy sort of way, but rather used as a plot device.The romance is subtle and handled with care. Shinn is not one of those ham-fisted authors who forces threads together to make something happen. Everything that happens between the two main characters, happens organically. This series will affect you pretty deeply – it’s not one of those read and discard type books. The first book in the series is the best with the other two sequels slightly worse, though all three you will read back to back no doubt.

Books in Samaria Series (4)

If you haven't heard of The Kingkiller Chronicles by now, you'll want to pick it up as soon as possible. Rothfuss' award-winning series took the genre by storm in 2007 with its expertly crafted take on a traditional story. On the surface, the series doesn't seem to offer anything particularly new. It's a story of an orphan boy and his bid to enter a prestigious magic school. However, Rothfuss proves that a good story is not just in the idea, but the execution. He crafts an incredible, unreliable narrator, clever, yet flawed and broken. Kvothe opens his story with a hook – how he fell from grace as a powerful wizard to a humble innkeeper. Along the way, Rothfuss introduces incredible characters, who manage to be quirky yet realistic, bringing emotion and nuance to the tale. All of this is tied together with beautiful prose. It manages to be vivid, yet precise, integrating with several plot strands that give the feeling of an epic, but incomplete story. The second book leaves you listlessly waiting for the third, which has been six years in the making. Read if you like: Unreliable narrators, clever protagonists, music in fantasy.

Books in The Kingkiller Chronicle Series (1)

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The Blood Song

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.

The Farseer Trilogy

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

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.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

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).

The Long Price Quartet

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."

The Red Wolf Conspiracy

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.

The Warded Man

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. 

The Lightbringer 

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.

The Night Angel Trilogy

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.

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

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 Wizard of Earthsea

A good old-school fantasy tale that's managed to age very well is A Wizard of Earthsea. A pretty compelling hero character.

The Riddle Master of Hed

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.

Talion: Revenant

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

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. 
  • Master of Five Magics (the most detailed system of magic system and set of rules I've read in fantasy). 

This is a series that's fallen a bit by the wayside in that many don't know about it. But it's a rare treat for those who want a well drawn dark fantasy tale with elements of horror. This is a tale that's moody and suspenseful following a path laid out by Edgar Allen Poe, especially the first book. It's a disturbing tale that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. The story itself is entertaining, but the series also brings up some deeper issues such as what is gender, and do the means always justify the ends. Lyn Flewelling puts a twist on the story around book two which gives the whole tale a whole new spin. 

Books in The Tamir Triad Series (2)

This one’s a pure romance. If you want an emotional fantasy series with some pretty strong characterization and a well-realized world, Rhapsody is the book you're looking for. There are a LOT of the standard conventions pulled right out of a classic “romance novel.” However, where Rhapsody differs from OTHER pure romance fantasy books is that the fantasy world has a bit of work put into it. It’s not a thin backdrop used as the set for some alternative world period romance. It’s actually a real fantasy world (though don't expect anything on the level of Martin's, Jordan's, or other straight epic fantasy worlds).The character Rhapsody brings Mary Suism to a new level, which can be increadibly annoying if you are reading the story for something other than vicarious romatic kicks.But my biggest complaint with this series is that after the first book, the romance aspect actually starts interfering with the story. Still, for a straight out “romantic bodice ripper" mascurading as epic fantasy, Rhapsody is alright. Don't look for anything sophisticated, however.
Most would argue that this series gets worse with every addition. But Wizard's First Rule is good enough to get the series included on the list. It's probably more of a Spice Girls type of 90s nostalgia than an OK Computer 90s classic, but every now and then its worth yanking out the rose colored glasses of the past.Why it's on this listYou can't miss these books. They're almost as obese as the books in Jordan's Wheel of Time series. In some ways, Goodkind's series is almost an evolution from the Wheel of Time: The characters are more interesting, each book is an event not just a continuation of an event, the world is more realistic and – most importantly – Richard Cypher doesn't sulk about being the hero: He's the hero-est hero to ever hero. And for people that are fans of epic sagas like The Wheel of Time, this series will keep you occupied for ages. Also, the author won't do something as inconsiderate as dying halfway through the final book.
For a romantic fantasy with a mix of politics, magic, romance, and betrayal, Lisle’s Secret Texts trilogy is a must read. Lisle is not as well known as some of the other fantasy authors out there, despite the fact that she’s been releasing quality fantasy novels for almost two decades. Her work always features strong and sensible heroines. Romance is always a central plot to her books. Her worlds are always well constructed. And there’s always a lot of political scheming going on.If you like Holly Lisle’s style, definitely read her other series for more of the same.

Books in The Secret Texts Series (2)

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon reinvents the use of time-travel in fantasy and historical fiction, crafting a thrilling drama set in the 18th and 20th centuries. The series follows Claire Randall, an ex-combat nurse who travels through time to the Highlands of Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion. Gabaldon cleverly employs the use of multiple viewpoints, slowly building a complex cross-era plot. In the process, the author's attention to detail in the characterization of central and supporting character leaves the reader feeling as though they know each and every individual in Gabaldon's world. Gabaldon doesn't shy away from adult themes, blending historical fiction with adventure, mystery and, most importantly, love. While Gabaldon's tale is highly engaging and very digestible reading for fans of the fantasy genre, readers should be aware that the adult themes in her books can have very dark elements, including sexual assault and torture. During these scenarios, Gabaldon's excellent prose can be almost too descriptive at times, especially considering that the book is marketed as a romantic fantasy. This novel would not be recommended for younger teens, however, the fainthearted can easily skip the more gruesome chapters and still follow the story.

Books in Outlander Series (10)

These are 100% fantasy romance and make no apologies about it. Sometimes you want subtle romance with a great plot and a cast of interesting characters. And sometimes, you want a bodice ripping, over-the-top,  non-apologetic fantasy romance. And I'm not going to mince words: This book is just that. And hey, the story isn’t half bad either. The sequel, Dragon and Phoenix, is also recommended for those looking for a rip-your-clothes off fanatasy read.
This series is not for everyone, but there are enough romantic elements in this epic fantasy series to make those looking for a good romance fantasy cry with joy. Rawn does a pretty good job with her world-building, creating different cultures, different peoples, and different kinds of magic. It’s got a lot of that over-the-top sappy romance that some people like, a strong female heroine, and an interesting world. One of the better all-out romance epic fantasies on the market. You should also read Rawn’s Exiles for another fantasy with a strong plot and good romance.
If you are looking for some classic sword and sorcery that combines action and romance in equal spades, The Sword Dancer series delivers on this. The characters evolve dramatically over the series, there’s a lot of romantic tension between the main character, Tiger, and his companion/ love interest Del. What more can I say? Read it!

Books in Tiger And Del Series (10)