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She’s written love stories starring monsters and Greek gods, but with Hunt on Dark Waters, Katee Robert has written the high seas fantasy adventure of her dreams.

There’s something about pirates that remains timeless. We gravitate toward the idea of a reckless captain standing at the helm, the salty sea breeze whipping their stylish coat, the horizon an endless blue of possibility. The world feels big in a way that it really doesn’t anymore. Historical—and fantasy—pirates exist out of time and space, and the only rules they follow are the ones they make up. 

Obviously, reality was a bit less glamorous and more rife with scurvy and poop decks, but the mythos of pirates continues to attract and seduce. It certainly does with me, at least.

It’s hard to say when my fascination with pirates began, but I suspect it was the moment I boarded the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland when I was very young. The “briny” air wrapped around me and I sat with wide eyes through scene after scene of glamorized and entertaining glimpses of what a pirate’s life might be like. I was hooked.

Fast-forward some 30-odd years, through my deep obsessions with pirate nonfiction books, the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and the TV show “Black Sails,” to name just a few influences. When it came time for me to circle back to my first love, fantasy novels, it was also an opportunity to mix two of my favorite things into one grand adventure.

I will admit that pirates seemed to be a bit of a long shot. While pirates have been a staple in genre fiction since the beginning of time, they’ve kind of fallen out of popularity in recent years. There’s probably some really interesting reasons why, but I love them and I’ve been on the hunt for spicy pirate romances for ages. They exist, to be sure! But there’s never enough to feed my voracious reading. One book is never enough!

Read our starred review of ‘Hunt on Dark Waters’ by Katee Robert.

Really, though, it all boils down to the fact that I’ve been chasing the high of Pirates of the Caribbean, both the ride and the movies, since my formative years. I saw the first movie in theaters five times. I was addicted to the way my heart beat faster as the music swelled and the sheer possibilities that unfolded when Jack Sparrow grinned and said, “Bring me that horizon.”

I wanted to recreate that feeling while writing—and hopefully for the reader while reading. That moment of looking out at the horizon and having no idea what it might hold. The thrill of a fight against a monster on the deck of your ship. The magic and mystery that comes when things and people aren’t quite what they seem, but you’re seduced despite yourself.

And, because it’s fantasy, everyone is freshly bathed and there’s indoor plumbing!

She’s written love stories starring monsters and Greek gods, but with Hunt on Dark Waters, Katee Robert created the high seas fantasy adventure of her dreams.
Review by

Katee Robert launches a pirate fantasy romance series with the sexy and adventurous Hunt on Dark Waters.

A witch and a thief, Evelyn doesn’t mind courting a bit of trouble, going so far as to steal some jewels from her vengeful vampire ex-girlfriend. She just didn’t expect that escaping her ex’s clutches would result in her tumbling through a portal and into the Threshold, a sort of oceanic waiting room between realms. 

Bowen is a member of the Cwn Annwn: a gang of pirates who patrol the Threshold and vanquish any monsters seeking to terrorize the realms beyond. Bowen, who has no memory of his life before he was tasked with leading the crew, has seen stranger things in the Threshold than a cunning witch appearing out of nowhere. Unfortunately for Evelyn, now that she’s aboard Bowen’s ship, the Crimson Hag, she’s bound by the laws of the Threshold to stay there forever. But Evelyn has never played by rules, so she keeps an eye out for a chance to betray Bowen and find her way home, even as they grow closer while battling otherworldly enemies. 

Why Katee Robert is reviving the pirate romance.

Whip-smart, snarky and most definitely chaotic good (perhaps even chaotic neutral), Evelyn gives as good as she gets and makes every scene she’s in more interesting. Bowen is straight man to Evelyn’s loose cannon: He’s loyal to his crew and takes his responsibilities seriously, and Evelyn quickly finds that getting under his skin is her new favorite pastime. She’s lusty and loud, and never hides her attraction to Bowen, even when they’re at each other’s throats.

However, this is not a will-they-won’t-they romance: The question is rather whether Evelyn and Bowen will make it out alive. Hunt on Dark Waters is a fast-paced and delightful fever dream of fantasy creatures, mysterious magic and sizzling sexual innuendo. Many of Robert’s recent romances have been sexy twists on fairy tales or myths, but Robert threw everything but the kitchen sink into this romance, letting her imagination run wild to create something completely original. Hunt on Dark Waters stands out for its sheer entertainment and excitement. It’s “yes and . . .” from the very first page. Embrace the chaos.

Katee Robert’s Hunt on Dark Waters is a fast-paced and delightful fever dream of fantasy creatures, mysterious magic and sizzling sexual innuendo.
Review by

The descendent of a Chinese medicine god, Elle is far more powerful than her sedate job at a charm shop in Raleigh, North Carolina, demands. But she would rather cast underpowered spells for the faerie agency that owns the shop and cautiously flirt with French half-elf Luc than live up to her full potential. Concealing the extent of her abilities means she can stay in hiding and keep her older brother, Tony, safe from those who would harm him. Luc has problems of his own, including forced service in the same agency Elle works for and two orphaned children stuck in an enchanted sleep from a mission gone wrong. When Luc, who has long suspected the depth of Elle’s power, commissions a special charm to help him ace his assignments (and get some necessary time off so he can focus on a cure for the kids), Elle at first refuses. Demonstrating magic that strong could put the fragile life she has so carefully constructed at risk. But she eventually relents, and as she and Luc work together, their spark of attraction develops into a steady flame. There’s only one problem: Luc’s latest mission is actually to find Elle’s younger brother, who is the reason she and Tony are in hiding in the first place.

At turns tender and exhilarating, Mia Tsai’s debut, Bitter Medicine, is part gentle contemporary romance, part paranormal action novel. At first, Elle and Luc’s interactions are bumbling and awkward, the perfect dynamic for two characters who are entirely focused on duty and don’t know how to put themselves first. The success of their romance hinges on some pivotal questions: Who is Luc when he isn’t at Elle’s shop? Who are either of them, truly, and who do they want to be? This ever-present tension allows Tsai to temper the gentle moments of Luc and Elle’s budding affection with the dangerous reality of their situation, which is that they are trying to live a romantic comedy in the middle of a spy novel. Luc’s secret missions, close calls between Elle and her younger brother’s associates and the web of secrets woven between Elle and Luc are thrilling. But both characters are capable of transcending the espionage genre in favor of a more hopeful narrative—as long as they are brave enough to take the plunge.

Full of heart and hope, Bitter Medicine is both a heartwarming look into the relationships that shape our lives and an all-consuming narrative about a hidden world of magic and intrigue, combining dreamy prose with sharp wit and a propulsive story. It’s perfect for those who are looking for a cozier read but still want enough action to keep things interesting.

A gentle contemporary romance wrapped within a thrilling paranormal adventure, Bitter Medicine is a sharp and propulsive debut from Mia Tsai.
Review by

Arcady Dalca is a mage who specializes in shape-shifting, a thief and also the scion of the most infamous family in the city of Vatra. Their grandfather, the Plaguebringer, was widely believed to have caused the Strikes, virulent and deadly diseases that swept the world. But Arcady does not believe their grandfather was capable of such destruction and has embarked on a quest to discover the truth. Part of that quest requires stealing the Plaguebringer’s seal, a dragonstone amulet that allows the wearer to wield magic, and using its power to shape-shift into a new identity. But the spell Arcady casts to claim the seal rips a hole in the Veil separating worlds and lets an invader through: Everen, the last male dragon, failed seer and prince of a dying world. Everen wants to tear the Veil wide open, letting his fellow dragons back into the world that banished them so that they can escape extinction and wreak vengeance on humankind for their betrayal. Everen is trapped in human form, but he can regain his full power if he wins Arcady’s complete trust—and then kills them.

In writing Dragonfall, author L.R. Lam was clearly inspired by fantasy authors like Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobb, both of whom have written iconic tales starring dragons. But Lam also injects this classic high fantasy quest with a healthy dose of sexual tension. The romance between Arcady and Everen is central to the plot, since the fates of both humans and dragons hinge on their bond. And while all is not well in their relationship by the book’s end, it seems clear that by the planned trilogy’s conclusion, these Veil-crossed lovers will be united, saving the world in the process. 

L.R. Lam knows what fantasy romance needs: dragon shifters.

Lam employs many common tropes of both romance and high fantasy, but their world building is still delightfully imaginative and richly detailed. Despite banishing dragons centuries ago, humans still worship them as gods, with different dragon deities being associated with different kinds of spells. All of the magic in Dragonfall involves asking the world to reshape itself in a specific way, which means that all humans who possess seals have the capacity to manipulate themselves or their environments to fit their needs or desires. Lam delves headlong into the philosophical implications of this, constructing a society built almost entirely around fluidity. This extends from architecture built on a premise of ephemerality, because it can be magically adjusted at any moment, to a concept of gender wholly based on personal preferences, as many people can change their appearances at will. Everen, whose world is one of rigid roles and clearly demarcated boundaries, finds this embrace of inconstancy confounding. But for the genderfluid Arcady, such liberation is the bedrock of existence. Lam’s deep exploration of this fascinating society beautifully balances the somewhat pulpy genre elements.

Grimdark aficionados should steer clear, but Dragonfall will delight fans of well-designed worlds, heroes’ journeys and slow-burning romance. Here there be (sexy) dragons.

Here there be (sexy) dragons: Dragonfall will delight fans of well-designed worlds, heroes’ journeys and slow-burning romance.
Interview by

Centuries ago, the humans of Lumet banished dragons. But in a ritual gone wrong, shape-shifting thief Arcady accidentally lets the last male dragon back into the world. Trapped in human form while on this side of the Veil, Everen is intent on ripping apart the Veil between worlds so that his people can return, but the dragon finds himself forging a surprising bond with Arcady.

There is such a great balance between romance and fantasy in Dragonfall. How do you envision this evolving as you continue the trilogy?
From the beginning, it was always meant to be a pretty equal balance. I absolutely love “romantasy,” as it’s been coined. I decided to try my hand at it because I thought it would be really fun to essentially smuggle a paranormal shifter romance into a fantasy setting with a lot of history and lore and see if I could get away with it. I really love playing with romance tropes, too, so I sprinkled in enemies-to-lovers and made it so the characters are in forced proximity but can’t really physically touch, which resulted in a lot of slow burn. I’m not opposed to it shifting more one direction or the other as I go on; it’ll end up being whatever best serves the story, I expect.

“I’m not good with binaries in general—shades of gray are far more interesting.”

When talking about this book, you’ve mentioned writers like Robin Hobb and Anne McCaffrey, both of whom have created iconic dragons. Were there any fictional dragons that were particularly inspirational to you?
I have been wanting to write my own take on dragons for ages, but it took awhile to find my angle (which was apparently making them turn into quite hot not-quite-humanoids, giving them feathers like dinosaurs, and having them reproduce via parthenogenesis and be mostly female due to rising temperatures in a dying world). Dragons are, after all, the ultimate fantasy creature, but I always wanted to know more. In many stories and myths, dragons are the monsters to be slain, or creatures that were in some way fundamentally unknowable. I knew early on that I wanted to tell this story partly from a dragon’s point of view. What would a dragon society be like?

When I was younger, I was very into Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. As you mentioned, Robin Hobb and Anne McCaffrey have some of my favorite dragons. There are also, of course, the dragons in “Game of Thrones” and “House of the Dragon.” Other big inspirations were Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina and Shadow Scale, which have dragons that turn into humans as well. More recently, I adored The Priory of the Orange Tree by the incredibly talented Samantha Shannon. I enjoyed Julie Kagawa’s Talon series as well. I’m also inspired by film, and one of my comfort movies is the Russian film I Am Dragon, which has gorgeous fairy-tale aesthetics and a dragon learning how to be human who seemingly never learns to wear a shirt.

Dragonfall by L.R. Lam jacket

What were you reading while you were writing Dragonfall, and in general, how do you approach reading while writing?
I see reading and writing as intrinsically linked and believe that part of my job is to read both the classics that came before and the work that’s coming out now. I feel like we’re in a new golden age of fantasy. While drafting Dragonfall, I reread some old favorites such as The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, some Mercedes Lackey and N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (a big influence on me merrily using first-person direct address for Everen’s point of view). And I read new titles such as Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, The Unbroken by C.L. Clark, The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart and more. I also read history, science fiction and nonfiction and listened to audiobooks and podcasts about all sorts of things—writers should always just be magpies and pick up anything shiny, in my opinion.

One of the central plot points in Dragonfall is the Strikes, a disease that gives people black markings on their skin and interferes with their ability to use magic. What were your inspirations for this disease and for how your society responded to it?
I was inspired by the Black Death, which had several resurgences, and by how the radical reduction in population shifted medieval society. The peasant class changed, feudalism’s days were numbered and you had more people moving from the country to the cities, particularly London. I also really liked the idea of there being such a heavy cost to using too much magic. However, I wrote most of the book during the U.K.’s various COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, so that inevitably had an impact, intentionally or otherwise.

As a reader, rather than a writer, do you gravitate toward stories where who the “good guys” are depends on where you’re standing, or ones with a consistent villain? Why?
As a reader, I’ve always found unambiguously good or evil characters a little boring, I have to say. I’m not good with binaries in general—shades of gray are far more interesting. I love antagonists who believe they are the hero or who are doing things that aren’t necessarily evil. I also love a good corruption or redemption arc. Antagonists in stories can exist to remind you that, under the right circumstances, you could very well turn into a villain yourself. Or other people might make you a villain in their minds, even if it’s not necessarily rooted in your actions, because it’s an easier narrative to tell themselves. In the right light, a hero could make a terrible decision in the name of “the greater good.” The greater good doesn’t mean much to the people who suffer the actual negative consequences of that decision. It’s rarely as simple as the Chosen One versus the Dark Lord or good always triumphing over evil.

 “All art is political, even if it chooses to uphold the status quo.”

What appealed to you about creating a signed lingua franca like Trade?
I always wondered why sign language isn’t taught by default in schools. It would make society a lot more accessible for deaf people, and it would have so many other useful applications. In a world where there was a more standardized sign language dialect, you could at least communicate basic things across language divides. Inevitably, things would be lost in translation or nuance would be lost, but you’d have an easier starting point. So I imagined that Trade arose as a result of needing to haggle at markets, though it can also be used for things as innocuous as telling your friend what drink to order from the other side of a crowded tavern or as important as clarifying your gender.

Your magic system is one where language can directly alter the world, and that idea harmonizes beautifully with the nuanced ways you handled gender and status. Is that a connection you see as well? What was important or meaningful to you about exploring the power of language?
I had a reader message me asking if I was a linguist because of the choices I made in Dragonfall, which delighted me. I’m not, but I made a lot of deliberate decisions about how language functions in Lochian society, so this is a nice excuse to geek out about it a little. Humans recite spells, which are really mangled words of the dragons’ language, Celenian. (This greatly offends Everen the dragon.) I worked with a linguist, my friend Seumas MacDonald, who created Celenian as a working language, and we’ll keep developing it over the series. Language can be such a tool of power, as Babel by R.F. Kuang demonstrates so beautifully. Humans already stole dragons’ magic and their world. Stealing their language to wield that magic without even remembering what their ancestors did is salt in the wound.

In Loc, it’s considered rude to assume a stranger’s gender, no matter how they present. A percentage of society can shape-shift, and healing magic can change a fair amount about the body, so biology isn’t seen as something immutable and unchanging, and gender roles are likewise fluid. You therefore default to “they” until that person quickly flashes their gender in Trade, often not even breaking the conversation. It’s a sign of trust and familiarity, like when you switch from the formal to informal “you” in languages like French and Spanish.

Status is also important. If you really respect someone or they’re higher class than you, you capitalize They and there’s a certain inflection to spoken speech. So nobility, clergy, rich merchants or guilders, or those who teach at the university might all be referred to with that honorific. You see it playing out in characters’ attitudes as well: One of the characters, priest assassin Sorin, uses They for most people she meets because she sees everyone as higher status than her, whereas Arcady, a genderfluid thief who despises a lot of the nobility and rages against society’s unfairness, largely refuses to use that honorific for the rich.

Read our review of ‘Dragonfall’ by L.R. Lam.

If you had a choice of dropping into this world, would you choose to be a human or a dragon?
Oh, dead easy. No contest. Why be human when you could be a dragon? And fly?

How do you balance aspiration and escapism with social critique in your work?
When I’m teaching, I ask new writers to consider this, too. I sigh a bit when people complain about “politics in their fantasy” as if it’s something new. All art is political, even if it chooses to uphold the status quo. In epic fantasy, there’s often a strong pro-monarchy angle, for example, and gender roles can be regressive in the name of “historical accuracy” despite these medieval-inspired worlds having things like potatoes and, you know, magical creatures. Those are political decisions, technically. That said, you don’t want to have a diatribe, either. It can be a difficult balance, and no writer will get it right for every reader. Fantasy can defamiliarize elements of our world or society, but it does it at more of a distance than contemporary fiction. The mirror is distorted.

For Dragonfall, I tried to focus on story and character first. As I mentioned, in Loc there’s no judgment in regard to sexuality or gender, whereas another country, Jask, is patriarchal. I suppose it is still subversive to imagine a world that tolerant, even in fantasy. I wrote Dragonfall as an escape when I was stuck inside most of the time. We’re seeing rising threats to transgender and reproductive rights, and the rhetoric and vitriol is honestly quite frightening, both in my original home of the U.S. and my current home in the U.K. This book is launching when queer books are increasingly getting banned. Even saying this in this interview makes me a little anxious. Are people going to say I’m banging on about politics instead of just focusing on the book? But I can’t exactly separate them out.

I obviously hope readers enjoy meeting these characters and falling into the world of the Lumet, but perhaps the book will make them think, too.

The start of a new series, Dragonfall is an enemies-to-lovers romance between a sexy dragon and a clever thief.
Review by

Thea Guanzon bursts onto the scene with a tale of political intrigue and ancient magic in The Hurricane Wars.

This fantasy romance opens in the middle of a war, one that’s been raging for 10 years between the Sardovian Allfold and the Night Empire. We’re introduced to orphaned soldier Talasyn, who as a Lightweaver, someone who can summon energy in the form of light, is the last hope for her people. But before she can reach a temple in a faraway land that will boost her power, she’s intercepted by Prince Alaric, heir to the Night Empire and a Shadowforge (the opposite of Talasyn’s abilities). Talasyn and Alaric should be diametrically opposed. But then, Alaric offers an uncharacteristic olive branch.

The Hurricane Wars is a beautifully written tale of freedom and oppression, of passion and apathy. Guanzon’s narrative is full of vibrant imagery—floating castles, falling boulders and streets paved with gold—and extensive world building exploring how enchanters imbue the elements with hues of emerald and sapphire. As she explains in her Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, the Filipina writer has essentially created an otherworldly version of her country, mirroring its centuries of foreign rule and volatile cyclones, volcanoes and earthquakes.

There’s a lot at stake in this enemies-to-lovers romance, and tensions run high from the first page to the last. Talysyn is the light to Alaric’s darkness, both literally and figuratively, and Guanzon leans into the elemental push and pull of their relationship. The book is lengthy and twisty to the extreme, and there are as many characters as settings to keep up with. Catching up with the action in chapter one feels like jumping onto a moving treadmill, because there are so many details to absorb before you feel up to speed.

An underdog rebel fighting against an imperial oppressor is a familiar tale. However, Guanzon’s intricately imagined world and spirited writing style mark her as an exciting new voice in the realm of fantasy romance. The Hurricane Wars is an entertaining start to a sure-to-be epic series.

The Hurricane Wars marks Thea Guanzon as an exciting new voice in the realm of fantasy romance.
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A Love by Design

Elizabeth Everett’s praiseworthy Secret Scientists of London series returns with the third installment, A Love by Design. Engineer Margaret Gault has recently returned to London from Paris and is intent on opening her own firm, despite all the struggles that await a businesswoman in Victorian England. Maggie quickly finds a promising and exciting commission, but she cannot avoid George Willis, the Earl Grantham, who broke her heart years ago. Unfortunately, George has grown into an extraordinarily handsome man with extraordinary goals—including educating children, regardless of gender. But Maggie can’t allow her still-strong feelings for him to get in the way of her dreams. After all, an engineer can’t be a countess and a countess can’t be an engineer . . . or so she thinks. It’s easy to sympathize with brainy Maggie and her quest for independence, and George proves to be a hero worthy of her. The fight for women’s rights is front and center, giving heft to this otherwise lighthearted romance.

Lunar Love

As Lauren Kung Jessen’s Lunar Love begins, Olivia Huang Christenson has just assumed responsibility for the titular matchmaking business, which is based on the Chinese zodiac. Her grandmother built Lunar Love from the ground up, and Olivia is determined to put its success above everything else, including her heart. But both are at risk when she has a meet-cute with charming startup advisor Bennett O’Brien. Lunar Love relies on personal touches like dating coaching, and Olivia thinks Bennett’s app takes all the humanity out of romance. To prove whose method works best, they make a very public bet to find matches for each other. Along the way, they bond over their multiracial heritages (she’s Chinese, Norwegian and Scottish; he’s Chinese and Irish) while enjoying some absolutely mouthwatering dates, like Chinese baking classes and a dumpling and beer festival. Told in Olivia’s fresh first-person voice, this story will have readers rooting for her to realize that even though their signs are incompatible, everything else points to Bennett being her perfect match.

The Heretic Royal

A princess struggles to find her place in her family in G.A. Aiken’s latest entry in the Scarred Earth Saga, The Heretic Royal. Ainsley Farmerson has been overshadowed by her older sisters all her life—two are now queens (one is, unfortunately, extremely evil), and a third is a ruthless war monk—so Ainsley decides to step up. At her side is rugged centaur Gruffyn, and as they face down dragons, demons and her evil sister’s machinations, Ainsley and Gruffyn forge an unbreakable bond. This tale of magic and mayhem is told from multiple perspectives, and readers will need to keep their wits about them as the action speeds along and the dialogue pings among sarcastic dragons, earnest fathers and obnoxious siblings.

Need a great new enemies-to-lovers romance? How about one between two rival matchmakers, or a Victorian nobleman and a female engineer?
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November 9, 2022

12 fantasy romances you have to read

Escape into magical worlds full of love and adventure.

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Freya Marske’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut, A Marvellous Light, is a stunning, sensual companion novel that follows the threads of the same overarching mystery: a threat to the magical community in Edwardian England. A Restless Truth focuses on Maud Blyth, sister to A Marvellous Light’s Robin, as she discovers her own strengths and explores her sexuality in this magical murder mystery. 

Maud is working as a lady’s companion for the older and sometimes aggravating magician Elizabeth Navenby aboard the transatlantic ocean liner Lyric. When Mrs. Navenby is found dead in her room with several valuable items missing, Maud suspects foul play. As Maud learns more about her employer’s life, she realizes the murder may be connected to the mission Robin and his partner, Edwin, pursued in the first book in the series: to protect three artifacts so powerful they can affect all of the magic in the world.

A delightfully brash and boisterous cast of possible suspects and allies drives the story. There’s Lord Hawthorne, a gentleman with a reputation for sexual prowess; Alan Ross, a shady journalist with a keen ear for gossip; and Violet Debenham, an alluring actor-turned-heiress whose scandalous past only makes her all the more enticing. As they turn the decks of the Lyric upside down in their search for the killer and the objects they stole, Maud is the relatable center of the storm. She’s an immediately engaging protagonist, both because of her desire to prove herself to her brother and the magician community and because of her evolving understanding of her sexuality. Marske conjures yet another spellbinding romance, this time between Maud and Violet, who is as sharp-tongued and adventurous as Maud is wide-eyed and curious. Sparks fly between the two young women upon their first meeting, but will their connection last after the murder is solved? 

A Restless Truth is a thrilling mystery and a lush historical fantasy that will leave readers breathless—both from its exciting plot twists and its captivating romance.

Freya Marske’s follow-up to A Marvellous Light is a stunning, sensual love story wrapped in an exciting murder mystery.

Given our culture’s widespread embrace of all things nerdy and the ever-increasing popularity of romance novels, it’s no surprise that readers are flocking to stories of true love in magical realms and soulmates bantering their way through intergalactic intrigue.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

Mika Moon has a large following online, dazzling her audience with potions and her sparkling personality. The difference between Mika and other young women posing as witches with vlogs is that Mika is actually a witch. Taught to keep her abilities under wraps by her overbearing guardian, Mika knows that the biggest rule of witchcraft is that you never talk about witchcraft. Still, she believes her online activities are innocuous enough: After all, who would truly believe that witches exist? When a mysterious estate called Nowhere House entreats her to come and train a group of three young witches who don’t have control over their powers, Mika is immediately intrigued—and worried. After all, generations of witches have stayed safe by not congregating or doing anything suspicious. But she goes anyway, armed with nothing but her trusty dog, Circe, and a winning smile. At Nowhere House, Mika quickly runs into problems, not just from her young charges but also from Jamie, a testy librarian with trust issues who can’t decide if Mika is the answer to their problems or an even bigger problem herself. But as Mika settles into her role, she begins to understand that Jamie’s thorny exterior guards a man who may not be nice but is kind. And his steadfast presence might just be enough for Mika to lower the walls around her own heart.

In The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, author Sangu Mandanna tells a story of found family, taking chances and, of course, romance. Mandanna combines two classic rom-com tropes—forced proximity and a grumpy-sunshine pairing—with the charm of the English countryside, evoking restrained yet fluffy tales of governesses and duty but in a modern setting. Like a good cup of tea, Mandanna’s novel warms you from the inside out. It’s got just enough sugar and cream to bring a smile to your face but not so much that it seems saccharine.

—Laura Hubbard

Eclipse the Moon

Jessie Mihalik returns to her Starlight’s Shadow series with Eclipse the Moon, an action-packed, sci-fi romance with a central couple that readers will adore.

A hacker and bounty hunter aboard the spaceship Starlight’s Shadow, Kee Ildez needs a break from the ship’s close quarters and the presence of one of her alien crewmates, steely Valovian weapons expert Varro Runkow. She thinks a few weeks of solo investigation on the space station Bastion, where someone seems to be trying to start a war between the humans and the Valovians, will help her shake off her frustrating attraction to Varro. But her plan is upended when she realizes that he has followed her onto the space station. As tensions rise between human and Valovian designers during a fashion exhibit, Kee tries to stay professional and keep her mind on her mission. The peace between the two races has been tentative at best, and even something seemingly innocuous could plunge the galaxy into war.

Mihalik moves the plot along quickly, mixing deadly intrigue, fast-paced action and political diplomacy. Kee and Varro are incontrovertible heroes, and Mihalik embraces the idea of good triumphing over evil, giving Eclipse the Moon a vaguely old-fashioned, space Western-esque feel. Their romance unfolds slowly, as their mutual attraction comes to a head amid the danger on Bastion. The mystery plot often takes center stage, which will please more drama- and action-oriented readers. But Mihalik knows her audience and makes sure to include some very steamy moments amid all the dangerous tension and close combat.

—Amanda Diehl 

A Taste of Gold and Iron

A Taste of Gold and Iron is a slow-burn romance wrapped in a fantasy novel full of court intrigue. Alexandra Rowland’s latest novel opens as Prince Kadou of Arasht has made a grievous political misstep, one that leaves two of his own bodyguards dead and angers both his sister, who happens to be the sultan, and the father of her child. In an attempt to save face for the royal family, Kadou is temporarily banned from court and assigned a new bodyguard, Evemer. Evemer’s disdain for Kadou is matched only by his dedication to formality and protocol, but what he lacks in congeniality he makes up for in skill and dedication. As Kadou and his household are pulled into a conspiracy of break-ins and money forgery, Kadou will have to trust Evemer if he is to pull the royal family out of harm’s way.

Political intrigue dominates much of A Taste of Gold and Iron, so those looking for a book that primarily centers a love story would do well to look to other avenues. However, for readers who enjoy forced proximity and bodyguard romances, A Taste of Gold and Iron offers both, wrapped in a delightful package of espionage and royal duty. In addition to their deft handling of multiple conspiracies and political disputes, Rowland also impresses in their nuanced depiction of anxiety. Kadou has panic attacks that leave him vulnerable to manipulation from both political opponents and his own staff. The story’s acceptance of Kadou’s anxiety expands A Taste of Gold and Iron‘s focus from romantic love to trust and vulnerability as well.

—Laura Hubbard

These reads from writers Sangu Mandanna, Jessie Mihalik and Alexandra Rowland have a couple to root for and a world to get totally lost in.

In Francesca May’s stunning, gorgeously composed fantasy debut, Wild and Wicked Things, a dissipated coven of witches and a meek young woman become unexpected allies.

Annie Mason has led a quiet and ordinary life. When her estranged father dies shortly after the end of World War I, she reluctantly travels to Crow Island to take care of his estate. The island also happens to be the very place her former best friend, Bea, resides in a fancy house on the sea with her new husband. Crow Island is famous across the land for its faux magic parlors and fake spells and potions, but Annie soon learns that its inhabitants also practice true, darker-than-imagined magic. When she rents a summer cottage next to the infamous Cross House, where a coven throws lavish parties that feature Prohibited magic, Annie is given an opportunity to find a place—and maybe a person—that actually feels like home.

May seamlessly transports readers to the shores of Crow Island, straight into the shoes of Annie and de facto coven leader Emmeline Delacroix. Annie is whisked away by the island’s enchantment, and May’s prose echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the finery and wild parties of the era. And while Annie originally thinks she’s being bewitched by the coven’s magic or the island, she comes to realize that she is simply following her innermost desires. The supposedly cursed island gives her time and space to come to terms with grief over lost loved ones and her internalized shunning of her sapphic sexuality. Emmeline’s inexplicable and undeniable magnetism is a clever plot complication but also the perfect setup for a passionate, slow-burning queer romance that feels forged in destiny.

Under all the glamour, Wild and Wicked Things is also a nuanced exploration of intergenerational trauma and abusive relationships. Emmeline hovers over her adoptive siblings, Isobel and Nathan, even though their abusive guardian, coven founder Cilla, is long gone. Annie finds herself in a similar situation as she tries to shield Bea from a marriage gone wrong, and she and Emmeline bond over their roles as protectors and healers. But nothing is truly black and white, from the witches’ backstories and intentions, to Bea’s desires, to Annie’s past. May does not shy away from the macabre, and every twist is better and eerier than the last.

May’s thrilling fantasy takes familiar tropes, mashes them with a mortar and pestle, sprinkles them with a bit of herbs and throws them into the cauldron, creating a fresh and exciting take on witchy historical fantasy.

Wild and Wicked Things is a stunning, gorgeously composed historical fantasy with a compelling queer romance at its heart.
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In The League of Gentlewomen Witches, India Holton returns to the Dangerous Damsels, her magical romp of a series complete with flying houses, adventuring pirates and tenacious witches. In this fast-paced enemies-to-lovers romance, a witch destined to take over a secret society teams up with a roguish pirate captain to recover a stolen amulet.

Charlotte Pettifer is a descendent of the famed Beryl Black, founder of the Wicken League, which fosters the talents of both young and experienced witches. It’s Charlotte’s birthright to lead the league, just like her ancestor, and she’s always thought that her destiny was also her dream job. But a treasure-hunting pirate makes her reconsider her future. When Beryl Black’s long-lost amulet resurfaces, Captain Alex O’Riley sets out to claim it—and so does Charlotte, by stowing away on Alex’s flying house.

India Holton reveals which fictional sorceresses she’d want in her own coven.

Close quarters turn Charlotte and Alex’s rapid-fire banter into a sort of foreplay, but despite their mutual antagonism, their romance skews more toward the sweet and heartwarming end of the spectrum. The dashing, daring Alex provides the perfect foil for buttoned-up and duty-bound Charlotte. It’s not exactly a grumpy-meets-sunshine pairing—more like a stuffy character falling for a free-spirited one. Alex oozes charm; he already made a grand first impression in Holton’s debut, The Wisteria Society for Lady Scoundrels, and he will further secure his spot in readers’ hearts here. They will immediately understand why Charlotte is envious of Alex’s freedom, especially as the weight of becoming the head of the Wicken League looms over her. His very existence and infectious spontaneity make Charlotte waver on her commitment to the league. Can she really live the life she wants while also fully committing to the role of leader?

Holton takes readers on a wild ride through a fun, limitless world, where frivolity and whimsy reign supreme and skilled swordwork and grand displays of magic abound. It’s all a hodgepodge of delightful silliness, with over-the-top action, exaggerated villainy and the fact that it’s possible to fall in love with your sworn enemy while recovering an ancient amulet. Think Mel Brooks meets The Princess Bride with a dash of Austen-esque comedy of manners. And then crank that all up to 11.

It’s impossible to know where the series will go next, but after finishing The League of Gentlewomen Witches, readers will be completely on board for more of Holton’s imaginative, rollicking romances.

Mel Brooks meets The Princess Bride, with a dash of Austen-esque comedy of manners, in India Holton’s imaginative, rollicking romance.
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A River Enchanted, Rebecca Ross’ adult fiction debut, is an elegant fantasy novel of homecoming and mystery. With its lyrical prose and tight world building, this story is both modern and timeless, drawing from the traditions of genre greats like Steven Lawhead and marrying them to the sensibilities of modern works like Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch’s Heart and Tana French’s In the Woods.

The novel opens with the prodigal Jack Tamerlaine’s return to Cadence, the isle of his youth, a land where magic and spirits run free and gossip is carried on the wind as easily as smoke. He soon learns that young girls are going missing on Cadence, seemingly plucked from the air by a formless spirit, leaving no trace of them behind. Adaira, heiress to the laird and Jack’s childhood nemesis, has summoned Jack back to the island to help her find out exactly what has happened to the girls—and to get them back before it’s too late. She wants him to sing down the spirits as her mother once did so that Adaira can ask them what matter of mischief is afoot. But as Jack and Adaira delve deeper into the mystery, the spirits begin to suggest that a far darker secret lies behind the loss of the girls.

Already known for her young adult fantasy novels, Ross has created a world both rich and wonderful in Cadence. The island is full of so much magic, so many feuds and stories—enough that capturing them all in one novel, even a nearly 500-page one, seems a difficult task. But somehow Ross succeeds, guiding readers through the intricate warp and weft of the island and its traditions and creating a brilliant tapestry full of mystery and wonder. And while Ross does revel in world building, she doesn’t tell her story at a remove. The four characters that the book centers on—Jack, Adaira, guardsman Torin and healer Sidra—are vibrant and fully realized, keeping the myth-making quality of the book at bay and instead grounding the story in these characters’ heartaches and fears, their desires and attractions. A sublime mix of romance, intrigue and myth, A River Enchanted is a stunning addition to the canon of Celtic-inspired fantasy.

A sublime mix of romance, intrigue and myth, A River Enchanted is a stunning addition to the canon of Celtic-inspired fantasy.

Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a captivating fantasy romance between the storybook Princess Aurora and the dark sorceress Alyce.

Walter’s immersive world building plunges readers into the Briar Kingdom, built on a system of inequality and discrimination. The fae, known as Graces, are kept as magical servants for cold-blooded mortal nobles. The Graces can create beauty and light, but Alyce’s magic seems to produce only ugliness and pain. Known as the Dark Grace, Alyce is the last descendant of a type of fae known as the Vila, and her relationship with the other fae is complicated—some avoid her, all fear her and most are willing to throw her under the bus. 

When Alyce decides to attend a masquerade ball despite not being invited, she is outed as the dark fairy by one of Princess Aurora’s failed and jealous suitors. Alyce flees, but Aurora runs after her and Alyce is shocked at how down-to-earth the princess is. Aurora must find her true love by age 21 or she will be cursed to sleep forever. She has been kissed by many noblemen, often strangers, to try and break the curse, but none have succeeded. As Alyce and Aurora grow closer, the Dark Grace becomes determined to find a way to break the spell.

Told through the puckish voice of Alyce, Malice is a sympathetic take on the traditionally one-dimensional figure of the dark fairy. Alyce’s wry wit and determination to save Aurora make her instantly sympathetic, a refreshing change from other fairytale retellings that attempt to conjure some meticulous, outlandish backstory to explain the evil doings of a nefarious character. Alyce is feared, yes, but for things she’s had from birth and can’t control. Her growing love for Aurora and her increasing resistance to the status quo shine through her gloomy outlook, and as she learns about the history of Briar and the truth behind the treatment of the fae, Alyce learns some unexpected truths about her powers as well.

This heartfelt, ever-escalating story of true love burns bright, encouraging readers to brush aside shame or condescension and follow their hearts.

Heather Walter’s debut novel, Malice, transforms the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty into a dark and compelling fantasy romance between the storybook princess and the dark sorceress Alyce.

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Fantasy romance is climbing the charts. If you're looking to dip your toes in—or want to discover a new favorite—here are 12 excellent selections.
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Romance readers fell in love with India Holton’s madcap and magical version of Victorian England in her debut, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels. Now, she’s back with more daring witches, dashing pirates and flying houses in The League of Gentlewomen Witches, which follows Charlotte Pettifer, a witch who will one day take over as leader of the titular society, as she teams up with pirate Alex O’Reilly to recover a powerful amulet. We talked to Holton about which fictional witches she would want in her coven and what the Victorian setting allowed her to say about the power of femininity.

How does this book compare to The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels? There’s still a grand sense of adventure, but what else can returning readers expect?
The main thing returning readers will get from The League of Gentlewomen Witches is more. More action, more enemies-to-lovers romance, more tea and more explosions, in all senses of the word. The League takes the Wisteria Society experience up several degrees! Also, the literary allusions focus on Jane Austen this time, which seemed appropriate for my feisty Charlotte and fierce (but rather nonplussed) Alex. 

“I’ve always felt that bookish, introverted and sensitive women can be just as powerful as the warrior type . . .”

Your world is so inventive and fun! What were your inspirations? Was there anything specific you wanted to change about the Victorian period? Why did you decide to blend history and fantasy?
My inspirations for the world were honestly right out of my own head. But I was also influenced by the fun, madcap energy of old rom-com movies and TV shows. 

I chose a historical setting because the things I wanted to say about women were really emphasised by a Victorian milieu, rather than an imaginary world. For example, I’ve always felt that bookish, introverted and sensitive women can be just as powerful as the warrior type, given an opportunity. By placing my heroines in a time period in which women were constrained to be ladylike (“the angel of the house”), I could explore this more easily. So it wasn’t so much about changing the Victorian period as using what it offered for my purpose. Although the books offer light fun, at their heart is a contemplation of how we as a culture view women—and indeed men, too—and how that can harmfully influence their relationships with themselves, as well as with others.  

Do you have any tips on balancing romance with action?
An action-filled plot is a wonderful opportunity to bring two characters together in the forced proximity of a shared problem. But if they have different ideas about solving that problem, or different goals, therein lies the tension. The conflict between them reflects the conflict that incites the action. Also, tying the momentum of their personal relationship to that of the overarching plot provides continual opportunities to address the romance, even while things are exploding all around them. 

The League of Gentlewomen Witches feels a bit spicier than its predecessor. Was that a conscious decision on your part or just where Charlotte and Alex’s journey took you?
My very first glimpse of this story was a scene that included them fighting, then kissing in the rain. I became absorbed in the intensity between the characters and actually developed the entire plot around this one moment. So it didn’t really surprise me that Charlotte and Alex demanded more heat than Wisteria’s Cecilia and Ned.  

If you designed your own magical, moveable house, what details would be essential?
First and foremost, plenty of bookshelves! Also, a comfortable chair in front of the wheel, set high enough that I could see out the window, since I am very short. And a rooftop deck, with good fencing around it because I’m scared of heights! 

Read our review: “The League of Gentlewomen Witches” by India Holton

If you could cast your own League of Gentlewomen Witches, which famous witches (fictional or historical) would you include in your magical girl gang?
Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle, Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” and Nanny Ogg and Agnes Nitt from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. (Not Granny Weatherwax—she’d take over in the worst way.)  

What can we expect next from the Dangerous Damsels series?
I don’t want to say just yet who will be featured in book three; I want to see if readers can guess. But I’m so very excited to share their story, because I fell in love at first sight with both characters. It involves one of my favorite tropes: fake marriage. It also includes rivals-to-lovers, forbidden love and only one bed, of course! 

What are you reading and loving right now?
I’m in the middle of Two Wrongs Make a Right by Chloe Liese, which is a truly delightful rom-com due out this fall. And I’ve also started If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher, which is a charming, hilarious rom-com.

Photo of India Holton courtesy of the author.

The whimsical romance-fantasy-historical fiction mashup of your dreams returns.
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Two new fantasy series place women with magical powers in the world of gladiatorial combat.

In Kill the Queen, the first installment of Jennifer Estep’s Crown of Shards series, Lady Everleigh Safira Winter Blair—equipped with a “mouthful of fancy names” and a nose full of mundane magic—is 17th in line for the throne of Bellona, a kingdom that keeps its combat close and its courtly mannerisms closer. Orphaned by assassins at a young age, Evie has been playing the dull game of palace diplomacy for most of her life, careful to stay on the safe side of her cruel cousin Vasilia, a gifted magic user and the daughter of the queen. This condition of peace is doomed from the first sentence, and Evie quickly finds herself on the run after Vasilia massacres the rest of the royal court. Tracking down a former palace guard who now runs a gladiatorial troupe, the untrained Evie slips into the ranks of the professional fighters, hiding her royal identity while secretly carrying evidence of her cousin’s deed.

Although “Game of Thrones” comparisons are inevitable, and an emphasis on combat fashion assures that The Hunger Games references won’t be far behind (Evie, costumed as a black swan for a death match: “Midnight-black makeup ringed my eyes in thick, heavy circles before fanning out into thin, delicate streaks that resembled shard-like feathers”), several memorable sections seem more indebted to the humbler fantasies of Gail Carson Levine. The opening scene, in which palace cook Isobel instructs Evie in the finer points of pie-making, calls to mind Ella’s friendship with the kitchen fairy Mandy in Ella Enchanted. While the action moves as swiftly as Vasilia’s magical lightning, the story benefits from the author’s decision to endow Evie with a less pyrotechnic skill set: a supernatural sense of smell (initially useful in the kitchen, it proves nothing to sneeze at in a world where so many goblets are poisoned) and a kind of antimagic which serves to defuse opponents rather than overpower them. Introducing a world where magical capacity is inherent and warrior skill is learned, Kill the Queen is a shiny, rapid-fire read for those who like their revenge served in two sittings.

While Kill the Queen embraces the dazzle of the knife’s edge as it builds to a climactic clash, Grace Draven’s earthier Phoenix Unbound proves immune to gladiatorial glam and more susceptible to romance. This first book in Draven’s The Fallen Empire series introduces Gilene, who uses her fire magic to serve as her village’s sacrificial victim in the Kraelian Empire’s ritual burning. Her ability to survive the ordeal, year after year, saves her peers from death but fails to protect her from the painful side effects of her powers or from routine violence at the hands of the Empire’s enslaved gladiators.

When the sympathetic gladiator Azarion sees through the magical illusion that Gilene uses to pull the deception, he harnesses her power as a means of escape and afterward takes her to his clan, where “fire witches” are revered, to bolster his claim to leadership. Rather than romanticize the power struggle between captor and captive, the story strikes an immediate balance between its male and female leads by making them equal victims of the larger power that places them at odds.

In Draven’s setting—more ancient and bleak than that of Kill the Queen—magic is a comparative rarity, which necessitates a stronger reliance on tactile skills. Gilene’s ability to summon fire is treated as a literal craft, an “ebb and flow of magic” that she “spool[s] . . . out slowly.” Both books keep the action coming and promise more to follow, but while Kill the Queen finds its fulfillment in arming an unimposing protagonist for battle, Phoenix Unbound seeks the softer side of characters who have been fighting all their lives. Despite its shorter page count, Phoenix Unbound feels longer than Kill the Queen, but its gradual quality is by design, and students of the slow-burn romance will likely wish for still more time in its campfire glow.

Two new fantasy series place women with magical powers in the world of gladiatorial combat.

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★ Bringing Down the Duke
Evie Dunmore’s Victorian romance Bringing Down the Duke is a superior debut in every way. Annabelle Archer is smart, poor and desperate. Admitted to Oxford University through a benefactress committed to the women’s suffrage movement, Annabelle meets Sebastian Devereux, Duke of Montgomery, and tries to recruit him to their cause. The sexual tension shimmers on the page, and the pair’s sensual longing and cerebral connection make this romance seem unstoppable—although the conflict between duty and desire may prove to be insurmountable. The historical backdrop is not only well done but also integral to the plot, and the characters feel true to their time and societal expectations. Readers will identify with Annabelle and root for her to achieve all her heart’s desires. 

The Blacksmith Queen
G.A. Aiken writes fantasy romance with a grin and a wink in The Blacksmith Queen, the first in a new series. When the Old King dies, a prophecy predicts a new queen, who turns out to be the sister of talented blacksmith Keeley Smythe. To claim the title, there are battles to be fought and allies to win over, forcing Keeley to make new friends (one of them a very attractive warrior). The Smythe clan will steal readers’ hearts and have them cheering for their triumph over evil. Aiken builds a world and characters that feel real despite the sexy centaurs, demon wolves and two suns in the sky. It may be laugh-out-loud funny, but at its heart this is a story of a woman who cares deeply for both the family she has and the one she creates.

Nothing to Fear
Juno Rushdan provides nonstop action and pulse-pounding suspense in her second novel, Nothing to Fear. Operative Gideon Stone of the super-secretive Gray Box organization knows there’s a mole on the team but also knows it can’t be their cryptologist/hacker, Willow Harper. To prove she’s been set up and to save her life, Gideon and Harper go on the run. Gideon is as stony as his name, but he’s falling for the brilliant and beautiful Willow, who has an autism spectrum disorder. Her vulnerabilities and strengths make her a fascinating character and a good foil for her partner, who manages, in her arms, to find his softer side. Detailed descriptions of tactics and firefights add to the authenticity and excitement of this stellar read.

★ Bringing Down the Duke
Evie Dunmore’s Victorian romance Bringing Down the Duke is a superior debut in every way. Annabelle Archer is smart, poor and desperate. Admitted to Oxford University through a benefactress committed to the women’s suffrage movement, Annabelle meets Sebastian Devereux, Duke of Montgomery, and tries to recruit him to their cause. The [...]

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★ Once a Spy
Love and danger breathtakingly intertwine in Once a Spy by Mary Jo Putney. Following Napoleon’s abdication, world-weary soldier Simon Duval resigns from the British army and tracks down his second cousin’s widow, Suzanne. Feeling an instant connection, Simon suggests a marriage of companionship. Simon and Suzanne are mature characters who have experienced the world and its tragedies, making their growing romance both moving and sweet. When danger threatens their lives, readers will root for this couple and their hard-won wisdom and open hearts. Putney’s depiction of the days surrounding the Battle of Waterloo is thrilling and adds just the right amount of historical detail to this superlative romance.

Debut author Sarah Smith pens a fresh and charming take on enemies-to-lovers in Faker. Emmie Echavarre tries to maintain a tough persona at work, including keeping a stoic expression around her co-worker Tate Rasmussen. As much as she finds him physically appealing, he excels at annoying her from his office across the hall. But all that changes when an accident gives Tate the opportunity to show Emmie who he really is—and sparks of a different sort fly between them. Told in Emmie’s energetic voice, this romance depicts all the complexity and awkwardness of getting to know another person. Emmie and Tate must fight off misunderstandings and past hurts to truly become a couple. This egalitarian office romance feels both contemporary and classic (and the steamy love scenes give it an extra edge).

The Orchid Throne
An enchanting world awaits in The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy. It’s the story of Euthalia, queen of Calanthe, who has bought her people’s independence by promising to marry a brutal emperor. But that promise is threatened when the rebel King of the Slaves, Conrí, arrives to tell Euthalia about her part in a fateful prophecy. With detailed world building and an intriguing cast of characters—especially a warrior woman and an enigmatic and amusing wizard—this captivating story will have readers holding their breath while Lia and Con come to terms with a partnership that neither expected. This is a fantasy romance with an exciting and entertaining blend of politics, swashbuckling and sensual fire.

★ Once a Spy
Love and danger breathtakingly intertwine in Once a Spy by Mary Jo Putney. Following Napoleon’s abdication, world-weary soldier Simon Duval resigns from the British army and tracks down his second cousin’s widow, Suzanne. Feeling an instant connection, Simon suggests a marriage of companionship. Simon and Suzanne are mature characters who have experienced the [...]

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From a fantasy kingdom to a scientific outpost to a not-exactly-dream wedding, these five new romances feature settings to sink into.

★ A Heart of Blood and Ashes

Milla Vane tells an engrossing, epic story of warriors, gods, leaders and lovers in A Heart of Blood and Ashes. Commander Maddek learns of his parents’ wrongful deaths and seeks to avenge them while finding a way to keep an alliance of countries together. At his side and at his mercy is the daughter of the very king involved in the murders. Yvenne claims Maddek’s mother had approved their marriage before her father betrayed them, but he’s unconvinced someone so small and weak could be his mother’s choice. But Maddek comes to realize that Yvenne may be his own choice for a life partner—if they can survive. The characters walk through the pages with heart, soul and courage, and are matched by Vane’s equally stellar world building, which weaves seamlessly with thrilling action scenes. Be aware that Vane’s fantasy world contains some raw, grim elements, but this Heart is one to sink into!

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Thrills and (literal) chills are hallmarks of Adriana Anders’ Whiteout. Antarctica serves as an exciting location for this romantic suspense story in which a chef and a scientist must survive a life-and-death trek to safety. Angel Smith has been eyeing glaciologist Ford Cooper during her gig at a remote research station, but she’s made no headway with the “Ice Man” as her return to the U.S. approaches. But after a sudden attack on the station, Angel and Ford are left alone to trek for miles through the unforgiving landscape. With only each other to rely on, the pair finds a passion that keeps their bodies heated and their will to live primed. Riveting action and fascinating glimpses into life at a research station and what it takes to survive the harsh climate make this superb page turner stand out.

The Worst Best Man

A wedding planner rom-com is the very definition of romantic fun, and Mia Sosa doesn’t disappoint with The Worst Best Man. Three years ago, Max Hartley had to explain to his brother’s bride, Lina Santos, that the wedding was off. Fast-forward to the present, and the pair must work together to secure a lucrative new business deal for them both. Lina, who has built walls to contain her emotions, vows that nothing will stand in her way, and Max is sure his easy-breezy personality will see them through. But as they work together toward a common goal, Max begins to see Lina as more than just a business partner, despite their tangled pasts and her determination to protect herself. Sosa’s romance also addresses issues of work and family, and touches on the challenges facing women of color in business. The pages smoke from time to time, but this is essentially a sweet, light confection for the Valentine’s Day season.

Seduce Me With Sapphires

A Victorian-era aristocrat breaks through class walls in Seduce Me With Sapphires, the second book in the The London Jewels Trilogy by Jane Feather. The Honorable Miss Fenella Grantley secretly takes acting classes and is surprised when a playwright, Edward Tremayne, the illegitimate son of an earl, wants her to star in his new work. But Fenella never backs down from a challenge, though she finds Edward both fascinating and irritating. Their physical attraction propels them quickly into bed, allowing Fenella more new experiences, but the divide between the noblewoman and the man scorned by society because of his birth still remains. Feather’s love scenes burn, and readers will hope this intrepid heroine and brooding hero find their way to a bright future as they fight and make up, only to fight and make up again. 

Mermaid Inn

Small-town contemporary romance is iced with extra charm in Mermaid Inn by Jenny Holiday. The romance genre is beloved in part for its tropes, and this story not only includes a character returning home but also a clause in a will that forces the two leads together. Eve Abbot inherits her great-aunt’s inn, which means spending time in the proximity of her first love, who is now police chief of Moonflower, aka Matchmaker, Bay. Sawyer Collins once broke Eve’s heart, and she’s determined not to let him have another chance at it now, but there’s that pesky will and the pesky matchmaking neighbors and her pesky feelings for Sawyer that haven’t gone away. A picturesque locale, delightful citizens and some smoking-hot love scenes give this book all the feel-good joys one expects from the small-town romance subgenre.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Milla Vane about A Heart of Blood and Ashes.

From a fantasy kingdom to a scientific outpost to a not-exactly-dream wedding, these five new romances feature settings to sink into.

★ A Heart of Blood and Ashes

Milla Vane tells an engrossing, epic story of warriors, gods, leaders and lovers in A Heart of Blood and Ashes. Commander Maddek learns of his parents’ wrongful deaths and seeks to [...]

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