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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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Escape into magical worlds full of love and adventure.
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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 […]
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Jeffe Kennedy’s The Fiery Crown continues the love story of Queen Lia and Prince Conrí, two former rivals who have recently married in order to form an alliance against an evil emperor. In this guest post, Kennedy recommends six other fantasy romances, all of which are (bonus!) enemies-to-lovers.

One of the reasons I love fantasy romance is that the fantasy setting allows for wonderful enemies-to-lovers romances. What makes a good enemies-to-lovers scenario for me is if the couple are poised against each other for political reasons. This increases the stakes—because the couple’s enmity affects far more than just themselves—and gives a believable grounding to their being in opposition. The story isn’t about one person bullying the other or being cruel for no good reason. In a good fantasy arc, the lives of many people and the safety of entire realms can ride on the same reasons the two are enemies.

Then, I love the delicious coming together of enemies who find the commonality in each other—and learn not only to respect their differences but also love each other for them.

Plus, you get royalty in hiding, tortured sorcerers and fantastic beasts! What more could a reader want?

Here are some of my all-time favorite fantasy romances (by my own definition), including some that were formative for me.


A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

This story features a princess and heir to the throne hiding from her horrible family as a carnival fortune teller. A would-be king, believing she is a kingmaker, kidnaps her to take advantage of her powers. The pair attempting to outwit each other—plus sizzling chemistry—makes this a delightful read.


Master of Crows by Grace Draven

Still my favorite of Grace Draven’s books, this story finds a repressed sorceress sold as a bonded servant to—and planted to spy on—a grumpy and tormented sorcerer. He is not gentle with her as he attempts to free her magic, and their path is not a magically easy one. The moment she realizes he actually cares about her is as surprising as it is heart-melting.


Winds of Change by Mercedes Lackey

The untrained mage, princess and heir to the throne travels to a foreign land to learn to use her powers. While they’re not political enemies, her relationship with the adept who agrees to teach her is adversarial and fraught with cultural misunderstanding. They come together as lovers, but finding a way to reconcile their worlds is much more difficult.


Reluctant Concubine by Dana Marton

The title says it all here: A healer is kidnapped by a warrior race and the enemy of her people. She ends up as one of the High Lord’s concubines—and their journey toward mutual understanding and reconciliation of the chasm between their peoples is surprisingly tender.


Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

Nearly as old as I am, this seminal story can be prickly for the modern reader. Nevertheless, I have an abiding love for this tale of an orphan in hiding, last surviving member of a ruling family, and the dragonrider who finds her and is determined to make her their next queen. The pair are fierce, hot-tempered and still one of my all-time favorite couples.


The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

This is another iconic book for me, though it’s a bit outside the stamp of a romance. Still, the tale of a solitary wizard woman who reluctantly accepts an infant heir from a warrior still bloody from the battlefield and their unlikely love affair is an enduring favorite. The battles for a throne and the families caught in an endless cycle of vengeance create a backdrop for the kind of personal growth required to value love above all.

Jeffe Kennedy’s The Fiery Crown continues the love story of Queen Lia and Prince Conrí, two former rivals who have recently married in order to form an alliance against an evil emperor. In this guest post, Kennedy recommends six other fantasy romances, all of which are (bonus!) enemies-to-lovers.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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