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All Fantasy Romance Coverage

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.

A duke falls in love with his secretary, a fairy-tale romance gets a second chance and fate brings two people together in this month’s romance column.

The Duchess Hunt

A no-nonsense duke is secretly crushing on his no-nonsense secretary in Lorraine Heath’s utterly delicious Victorian romance The Duchess Hunt. Upon becoming Duke of Kingsland, Hugh Brinsley-Norton built back the family fortune with the help of his trusted and long-serving secretary, Penelope Pettypeace, who has quietly become his best friend. Now he’s asked her to find him the perfect duchess, even though he’s increasingly fascinated with Penelope. Penelope knows she’s in love with Hugh, but her loyalty to him means she will dedicate herself to selecting the wife of his dreams from the eager ladies of high society, despite the fact that it will break her heart. With desperate secrets on the verge of being revealed and an engagement announcement ball on the horizon, will true love win? Smart characters with shadowy pasts, great sexual tension and steamy love scenes create a grand romance.

Eight Perfect Hours

As Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis begins, Londoner Noelle Butterby is just getting by. She deferred her dreams of becoming a florist several years ago in order to take care of her mother after she had a stroke, and now Noelle has also recently ended a serious relationship. Under it all, the loss of her best friend, Daisy, when they were teenagers has troubled her for years. Out of the blue comes a charming meet cute: During a snowy traffic jam, her car is stopped beside that of Sam, an American on his way out of the country. They hit it off, talking for hours until they’re free to go their separate ways. Noelle can’t stop thinking of him, and then he serendipitously comes back into her life. Again. And again. Until they both begin to wonder if something larger is at work. Louis’ sense of place is marvelous, vivid and lived-in, whether the couple is stuck on a road or sharing confidences in a laundromat. Suspend disbelief and just sit back for this tender kisses-only journey from heartache to happily ever after.

Once More Upon a Time

Bestselling YA fantasy author Roshani Chokshi pens her first adult romance in Once More Upon a Time. Married and enchanted with each other, Prince Ambrose and Princess Imelda thought they had it all, until Imelda fell ill and Ambrose gave up their love to a witch in order to save Imelda’s life. A year and a day later, the same witch offers them a chance to recover their lost love if they’ll retrieve a potion for her. Ambrose and Imelda aren’t completely convinced they want to fall in love with each other again, but as they team up to fight cannibals and changelings, they come to appreciate things they never really knew about each other. Amusing and imaginative—particular proof is a dry-witted horse of many uses and a walnut that opens to reveal magic dresses—this novella is told from the perspective of the lovers but also that of the witch, who has fabulous taste in handbags and looks great for her age (or so she says). This kisses-only fantasy road trip is lots of fun.

A duke falls in love with his secretary, a fairy-tale romance gets a second chance and fate brings two people together in this month’s romance column.

In The Stormbringer, Amris thought he defeated Thyran, an evil wizard intent on remaking all of existence in his own image. But instead, they were both frozen in time and awakened hundreds of years later, restarting a worldwide magical conflict. To make matters even more complicated, the soul of Gerant, Amris’ wizard boyfriend, now resides in a magical sword wielded by Darya, a gifted warrior for whom Amris begins to develop (highly inconvenient) romantic feelings.

Darya and Amris’ love story is sweet and emotionally mature, a spark of hope in the chaotic, action-packed landscape of author Isabel Cooper’s new Sentinels fantasy romance series. We talked to Cooper about dreaming up creepy monsters, crafting her post-snowpocalypse world and why there isn’t any room for jealousy in the three-sided relationship at the heart of The Stormbringer.

You wrote large portions of this book while quarantining with your parents. What was that like?
Lots of logistics! My parents are very respectful of my time, but it’s still really easy to get drawn in to stuff around the house or distracted. I can write on trains and in cafes, but I can’t tune out people I know the same way that I can ignore strangers. I had to establish a fairly strict “OK, I’m going to write for this amount of time, starting now” routine.

"I don’t really have a lot of time or patience for jealousy. It’s one of my bright lines as an author, a reader and, to be honest, a person."

Your previous series have been historical paranormal romances. Why did you decide to go full-on fantasy with this new series, and what have you been enjoying about it so far? Is there anything you miss from writing novels set in our world (sort of)?
I’ve always been very enthusiastic about fantasy as a reader—I saw the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit when I was 7 or 8, read The Lord of the Rings shortly after (though I didn’t understand huge parts of it) and started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was 11. The first books I wrote were much more fantasy with romance elements, and then I gradually transitioned over to romance with No Proper Lady.

I really love the world-building opportunities of secondary-world fantasy. On the positive side, it’s a chance to create entire societies, mythologies and even types of people out of whole cloth (albeit with strong influences from elsewhere). On the negative side, it means I don’t have to stop and look up the date of a particular real-world battle or explain why my heroine has an attitude that wasn’t encouraged in medieval or Victorian Europe.

That said, I do miss having a readily available reference pool! There are resonances in quoting Shakespeare or the Bible that are much harder to set up in fantasy, when the audience doesn’t have the cultural familiarity and possibly baggage to go along with it.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Stormbringer.

The complex but loving relationship between Gerant, Darya and Amris is so beautifully done. Where did you get the idea for his character, and did anything about him and his interactions with Darya and Amris change in the drafting process?
Thank you! When Mary Altman, my editor, and I were brainstorming for the book, she suggested having the hero’s ex as a soulsword would be a nifty potential complication. I totally agreed—it also really helped set up Amris as a real person with a past and emphasize how much he’d lost by being stuck in time.

I don’t really have a lot of time or patience for jealousy. It’s one of my bright lines as an author, a reader and, to be honest, a person, so I knew Gerant wouldn’t be an obstacle per se. It wasn’t until I started writing the story, though, that the relationship really expanded to include all three of them. At the point when he and Darya bring Amris in on their mental link, it became clear how much of an emotional center he really was.

Something that I thought was fun and unique about this series is that it essentially takes place in a post-apocalyptic, post-world war setting. What drew you to that particular setting, and did you do any research to get the atmosphere of it right?
It was around 2013, it was February, and Boston had so much snow that parts of the T system just stopped running for weeks. A bunch of us up there were making various jokes about Narnia and then about apocalypses, as you do, and my friend Hillary suggested that I should write post-snowpocalypse fiction. That idea sort of lurked around my head for a while (I’m running a D&D game with the same basis, though the world is much more straight D&D than the Sentinels universe), and when Mary and I started talking about fantasy, it came right to mind.

I didn’t do specific research about it, but I’ve also always been a fan of post-apocalyptic novels, as long as there’s enough magic that it’s not completely grim. There’s something about a world in the process of rebuilding itself that attracts me. The Stand (which has been making me paranoid when I get a cold since 1995 or so) and Swan Song were distinct inspirations, as was S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse series.

The Sentinels’ various magical abilities were so creative and so much fun! Which of their powers would you most like to have for yourself?
Thanks again! Of the Sentinels that appear in Stormbringer, I think Emeth has the most fun power set: Talking to animals sounds like a good time and would definitely be the most useful in my real life. Maybe I could convince my sister’s dog to calm down on occasion.

This romance is definitely a slow burn, since Darya and Amris are busy worrying about Gerant’s feelings as well as, you know, the end of the world. What do you think makes a slow burn work? Was there anything you tried to avoid?
It’s a hard balance, in my experience! You have to provide opportunities for the characters to get physical, as well as reasons for them not to go for it—and for me, a 21st-century girl who’s never needed any motive other than “he’s cute and there’s nothing good on cable,” those are hard to think of! (That’s another way historicals are easier: You can always have a hero get all flustered and worried about taking advantage.) Emotional slow-burn is easier for me, because emotions and the confessing thereof don’t come naturally, WASP that I am. Having “No, I really like you” revealed like deciphering the freaking Enigma code makes way more sense.

I definitely tried to avoid both Big Misunderstanding and jealousy as a plot device. As I mentioned above, I don’t really like the latter at all, and it’s hard to find a big misunderstanding where people, even people as emotionally bonsai-ed as I am, wouldn’t just talk to each other.

"I’ve had more sex than I’ve fought demons."

The various monsters and creatures Darya and Amris face off against were impressively creepy. Did you take any inspiration from other fantasies or from folklore? How does one go about creating a fantasy monster?
Yay! It really helps to have run role-playing games for a while. I didn’t draw any of the Stormbringer monsters directly from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons bestiaries, but throwing different horrible beasts at my players every week for sure helped me get a sense of what makes a creature creepy or threatening. Mostly the process involved figuring out what the monster “type” was (the twistedmen were shock troops, then I needed a creature that could ambush people from the trees, then something kind of hypnotic, etc.) and figuring out the creepiest way I could make it do its thing.

Folklore definitely helped. I used the Dullahan from Irish stories—sort of the Headless Horseman but up to 11—as an inspiration, and the twistedmen are or look skinless because the stories of the nucklavee made an impression on me in my formative years.

I also spent a lot of time in college playing the Silent Hill and Shadow Hearts games, which are excellent examples of taking a normal person or creature and finding new ways to make it freaky and wrong.

What was the most difficult part of this book to get right? What was the easiest?
Fight scenes were by far the toughest. Translating physical action onto the page so that it’s both exciting and possible to follow is really tough for me. Same thing applies to sex scenes, to some extent—in both, I will inevitably give someone too many hands and only realize that during the first round of edits—but I’ve had more sex than I’ve fought demons.

What’s next for you?
Two more books in the Sentinels series—telling the rest of the story about Thyran’s second attack, revealing what the heck’s up with Olvir and introducing more of the world! After that, fantasy and horror! Also, I keep thinking someone needs to write a Christmas romance called Hither, Page and follow it up with Brightly Sean, but that’s because I’m a horrible person and have eaten half a box of cherry cordials.

There wasn’t any room for jealousy in the three-sided relationship at the heart of Isabel Cooper’s new fantasy romance, The Stormbringer.

Escape the winter blahs with three thrilling romances that represent escapism at its finest.

★ The Stormbringer

The Stormbringer by Isabel Cooper gives paranormal fans everything they could wish for: imaginative world building, fast-paced adventure and characters ready to handle all that’s thrown at them. Darya, wielder of a sword inhabited by the spirit of a wise wizard named Gerant, discovers Amris, a man who’s been frozen in time for a hundred years. Gerant urges Darya to release Amris, whom she learns is not only a general ready to help fight a terrible villain but also Gerant’s former lover. Amris and Darya do their best to resist their immediate chemistry as they travel to warn others of the advancing danger, battling vicious creatures along the way. Written with verve and fantastically drawn battle scenes, this is great storytelling all around.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Isabel Cooper on the three-sided relationship at the heart of The Stormbringer.

The Princess and the Rogue

Kate Bateman pens a delicious Regency romance in The Princess and the Rogue. What’s not to enjoy about a roguish former soldier and a Russian princess in disguise? When they meet at a high-end brothel in London, Sebastien Wolff, Earl of Mowbray, is immediately captivated by Anya, said princess, who is there to tutor the women of the house. Though Anya initially rebuffs Sebastien, they find they have a common enemy, and Sebastien offers Anya sanctuary at his gambling hall, leaving them at the whims of their shared physical desire. There’s danger, a dashing hero and some Cinderella-esque fun when Anya returns to society in a gown worthy of her royal status. Sensual love scenes add heat to this thoroughly entertaining read.

Special Ops Seduction

Megan Crane masterfully combines romance, suspense and a dash of family drama in Special Ops Seduction. Jonas Crow and Bethan Wilcox are lethal members of an elite security team based in Alaska. While they’ve worked together many times, Jonas has kept his distance from the beautiful and kick-ass Bethan. But then their assignment to solve the theft of a brand-new biological weapon requires them to attend Bethan’s sister’s California wedding as a couple. Pretending to be lovers brings the pair closer, and proximity to family gives Bethan a new perspective on herself and what she wants from Jonas. A strong sense of place, whether it’s the wilds of Alaska or the vineyards of California, draws the reader deeper into this irresistible and emotional story.

Escape the winter blahs with three thrilling romances that represent escapism at its finest.

Two magical romances highlight the power of women through their depictions of witty, intelligent and powerful heroines.

G.A. Aiken returns with The Princess Knight, the daring second book in the Scarred Earth Saga. I loved the saga's first installment (The Blacksmith Queen), in which Queen Keeley fulfilled a prophecy to become queen of the western lands—and rival to her youngest sister, Queen Beatrix, the selfish queen of the east. Gemma Smythe, the middle sister of the family, is the proverbial black sheep because she joined a warrior guild rather than becoming a blacksmith like the rest of her mother’s people.

Two years into Queen Keeley’s reign, the battles are bloody, the stakes are high and the tension is through the roof. Both queens are first on the battlefield, leading by fearless example. And readers, they are brutal. Gemma has spent the time since Keeley’s coronation training her sister’s supporters to fight ferociously, executing fast and hard attacks that prevent Queen Beatrix’s army from defending or retaliating. Even among the other warriors and magical beings, Brother Gemma of the Order of Righteous Valor war monks is ruthless.

She sets off on her true hero’s journey when she embarks on a quest to avenge a slaughter at another monk’s monastery, only to realize Queen Beatrix is stealing religious artifacts that will give her unimaginable power. At Gemma’s side is the Amichai warrior Quinn, who can shape-shift into a centaur. He’s a brave man in general, but especially so when he dares let down his guard enough to evolve from being Gemma’s friend to her lover.

This is an elaborate, richly developed world with a robust cast of characters. Though it’s a technically a standalone novel, you would still do yourself a service by starting with the first book, because there’s a lot going on in Aiken’s fun fantasy romance.

Nalini Singh returns to her Guild Hunters series with Archangel’s Sun. This is an epic saga that depicts the battle between lightness and darkness, where angels aren’t the little pudgy pink cherubs of Raphael’s imagination. No, these angels are avengers and bringers of death. They’re dark and intense and so sexy you need to look over your shoulder to make sure karma won’t zap you for giving into the temptation they pose.

This 13th book in the series centers on Sharine, an angel known as “The Hummingbird” who is treasured for her legendary kindness. When Raan, the love of her immortal life, died, she was both emotionally and practically unprepared, because angels do not die unless they are slain in battle. And yet, her archangel did. For centuries, Sharine has mourned Raan’s death with such heartbreaking intensity that her mind fractured and her entire being was nearly overwhelmed by sorrow. Insidious voices inside her mind bombarded her, telling her that everyone she loves dies and no one could stand her—harsh self-criticism for such a peaceful, artistic soul.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read all our reviews of Nalini Singh's work.

When the ruling group of archangels requests that she step in to help Titus, Archangel of Africa, nobody is more surprised than Sharine herself. He’s a powerful and respected warrior with a short fuse who insists on getting his way—especially since he’s battling zombies known as the reborn who are multiplying at catastrophic rates. At 3,500 years old, Sharine is still millennia older than Titus. Her period of mourning made her vulnerable, but it’s not long before she begins to prove her determination and strength, becoming a formidable complement to Titus’ own power. Sharine’s self-confidence returns as she recognizes how fortunate she is to have loved and been loved fiercely in return, and realizes that a second, equally passionate romance may be in the cards with Titus.

Aiken and Singh are two of the finest writers of fantasy and paranormal romance working today. Whatever intensity level you prefer when it comes to love and magical warfare, Romancelandia’s got you covered.

Two magical romances highlight the power of women through their depictions of witty, intelligent and powerful heroines.

A cursed soldier and a bastard prince get a second chance at love amid a world on the brink of disaster in this barbarian fantasy romance. Author Milla Vane continues her Gathering of Dragons series in A Touch of Stone and Snow, which begins as the western realms prepare for war.

Lizzan has been twice shunned. First, she opted to become a soldier instead of a healer, a choice that was a grave disappointment to her family. Then she became the only survivor of a massacre, though no one quite believes her story of being ambushed by wraiths. Her scarred visage marks her as cursed, exiled from her home and avoided by any who dare to look at her. She’s since become a dangerous mercenary. But she is determined to clear her name, even if that means appealing to the goddess Vela. Her task seems simple: complete a quest and bask in glory. Sadly, the quest involves her childhood friend and former lover, who is a painful reminder of all she’s lost: Prince Aerax.

Aerax never thought he would ascend to the throne, given that he is an illegitimate heir. But after the entire Koth line is murdered, he is the only person with a drop of royal blood left to rule. When he and Lizzan are finally brought back together, Aerax is determined to right his wrongs. Lizzan isn’t getting away a second time.

Like its predecessor, A Heart of Blood and Ashes, A Touch of Stone and Snow is a grand and sweeping fantasy romance, an absorbing and story-rich tome of warring kingdoms and dangerous dragons. Expect a slow burn here, as Vane takes her time with the details of the world and its inhabitants.

Lizzan is the ultimate warrior woman, which is a nice departure from the typical scarred soldier hero. A force to be reckoned with in work and play, she broadens the definition of a romance heroine. However, Lizzan and Aerax are not quite a full role reversal from typical hero and heroine archetypes, as Aerax is just fearsome in his own right. While Aerax has always loved and valued Lizzan, and he has many qualities that make him a wonderful complement to her, the most important part of his characterization for this reader is that he’s a cat owner. And not just any cat owner. This hero has a snowy version of a saber-toothed tiger. There are undoubtedly several other readers out there who will join me in leading the charge for more cats in romance novels.

A quick read, this is not; Vane’s work is immersive in every aspect. There’s a grand quest to triumph over evil, Lizzan’s drive to finally gain the acceptance that’s been wrongfully taken from her, a bittersweet romance between two warriors steeped in grief—oh, and a giant snow cat.

A Touch of Stone and Snow is a grand and sweeping fantasy romance, an absorbing and story-rich tome of warring kingdoms and dangerous dragons.

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