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.
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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.

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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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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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.

Kerrelyn Sparks is back with a fourth book set in the magical world of Aerthlan, home to magical heroes and heroines, dragons, witches and elves. Two moons inhibit Aerthlan’s night sky, and it’s said that any child born on an eclipse when the moons overlap becomes one of the Embraced and is gifted with magical powers. How to Love Your Elf is a light-hearted launch to a new Aerthlan series, Embraced by Moonlight.

Sorcha, one of the Embraced, is a princess of a country at war with its elven neighbors. Brave, adventurous and loyal, Sorcha refuses to stand by when her loved ones are in danger—which is how she finds herself deceived, captured and imprisoned by their enemies. But the mysterious Woodsman, impressed with Sorcha’s spirit, comes to her rescue.

The Woodsman is a throwback to classic characters like Robin Hood and the heroic woodsman in “Red Riding Hood.” He’s enigmatic, brave and strong, and has sex appeal out the wazoo. He’s working on behalf of a sect of elves who want peace between the kingdoms, and he’s got a substantial secret of his own to keep. But until the political subterfuge can play out, the Woodsman remains an elusive presence in Sorcha’s life.

How to Love Your Elf is an inspiringly positive fantasy romance. Aerthlan is inhabited by all kinds of paranormal and magical beings that have their own histories, goals and expectations, yet when cooler heads prevail and diplomacy and a yearning for understanding enter the picture, the world is a happier place. Because, what if? What if I talk to and befriend this being that looks and speaks differently from me? What if I open my heart to the possibility of love and a happy ever after with this individual? What if we laid down arms and forged a peaceful path?

The romance is less prominent in this novel than the preceding three Aerthlan books, but the sweeping adventure and the potential for Sorcha and the Woodsman’s future relationship make How to Love Your Elf a promising start to Sparks’ new series.

Kerrelyn Sparks is back with her book set in the magical world of Aerthlan. How to Love Your Elf is a fun, light-hearted addition to this series of magical heroes and heroines, dragons, witches and the aforementioned elves.

Dame Grace Hensley, the newly appointed Chancellor of the island nation of Aeland, doesn’t quite match her name—she’s impulsive, vibrantly passionate, physically capable to the extreme and willing to risk everything to protect those she loves. Author C.L. Polk takes Grace on a rollercoaster of a journey through a fantastical dystopia that nonetheless feels organic, genuine and believable in Stormsong, the sequel to their acclaimed debut, Witchmark.

Polk’s accessible, elegant writing makes it possible for readers new to the series to jump in and immerse themselves in their magical vision of an alternate Edwardian England, which incorporates concepts that are no stranger to the contemporary reader. Stormsong’s multi-layered plot includes an overarching war between classes and races, including the subjugated and unfortunate witches of Aeland, who possess otherworldly mystical powers, but are discriminated against because of fear, hate and disgust.

Stormsong is also full to the cauldron’s brim with dark family secrets and complicated dynamics. Grace’s brother, Miles, is a witch and advocates for their cause, while her murderous, imprisoned father whispers plans and lies to those in power. Prince Severin of Aeland seems to be a trustworthy ally, but still harbors some shady habits and keeps strange company. And most fascinatingly, Grace continues to cross paths with fervid reporter and former heiress Avia Jessup, with whom she is utterly entranced. Grace must figure out whom she can trust and whom she must abandon in her mission to preserve order as a massive winter storm approaches and Aeland teeters on the edge of revolution.

Readers will grow increasingly anxious as Grace’s world slips into war, genocide and corruption, but her budding romance with Avia adds warmth to this otherwise chilling tale of deceit and dishonesty.

Dame Grace Hensley, the newly appointed Chancellor of the island nation of Aeland, doesn’t quite match her name—she’s impulsive, vibrantly passionate, physically capable to the extreme and willing to risk everything she knows to protect those she loves in the most turbulent of times.

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As fans of “Downton Abbey” can attest, there will always be an appetite for stories of family drama and forbidden love set in the bucolic, modestly glittering England that was. Cue Witchmark by C.L. Polk, a startlingly beautiful fantasy debut that is both magical conspiracy thriller and supernatural love story. But Polk weaponizes their quasi-Edwardian setting: An ornate family home’s staid beauty hides horrifying abuse. A bicycle chase through quaint, narrow city streets is the opening salvo in a battle that will become increasingly macabre. There is something wrong with this world at its core, and all its beauty and decorum serve only as distraction, camouflage or lure for the Anglophilic reader.

After a vicious, victorious campaign to conquer the country of Laneer, soldiers are returning home to Aeland, a small yet powerful island nation and Polk’s alternate vision of England. The mild weather enjoyed by the country’s inhabitants is secretly the work of a hundred mages called Storm-Singers, who together cast elaborate spells to control the weather. The Storm-Singers come from an upper class that calls itself the Invisibles, since they hide their powers from the rest of the country. Not every member of this elite, however, has weather-related abilities. The ones who don’t, no matter the utility of their powers, are bound to the more powerful Storm-Singers, and essentially used as human batteries.

Dr. Miles Singer escaped such a fate by running away from his family and joining the army, secretly using his healing powers to help wounded and traumatized soldiers. But when he discovers a mysterious mental ailment is infecting veterans, and possibly causing them to commit violent acts, he must balance his own self-preservation against the deadly consequences of staying silent. It’s not hard to draw parallels between this tension and Miles’ identity as a gay man, which he must also hide, and Polk depicts his calculations with heartbreaking restraint. Miles doesn’t have the time or space to truly feel how unjust his situation is, which only drives home to the reader how unfairly constrained his existence has become.

Polk’s reticence serves them well in Witchmark’s central love story, which adds another layer of supernatural intrigue. When a handsome, unfailingly kind man named Tristan Hunter starts asking the same questions about the returning veterans, Miles doesn’t know what to make of him. He’s too open to be an agent of Miles’ powerful family, and too seemingly naïve to be a fellow fugitive Invisible. The reason Tristan gives Miles for his lack of knowledge initially sounds insane—he’s not a human being, and he’s not from this world at all. But Polk’s prose is never more beautiful or soothing when describing Tristan and his surroundings, reaching du Maurier-esque gauzy ease, and soon the reader is convinced as well as Miles that the mysterious man is something otherworldly.

The attraction between the two of them unfolds haltingly, a port of calm established over cups of tea and excellent meals, as their investigation reaches further and further into the dark imperialist heart of Aeland. But it is a center that will not hold, and both know that. The increasing darkness of Witchmark is beautifully modulated by Polk, who slowly dims the initial vibrancy of their book, funneling the reader closer to a chilling, utterly fantastic final reveal.

As fans of “Downton Abbey” can attest, there will always be an appetite for stories of family drama and forbidden love set in the bucolic, modestly glittering England that was. Cue Witchmark by C.L. Polk, a startlingly beautiful fantasy debut that is both magical conspiracy thriller and supernatural love story.

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