Core Best Fantasy Lists
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Hobb is one of the best characterization writers in the fantasy genre, and many will argue that her Liveship Traders books are her best works. True to Hobb’s style of fiction, this is a deeply character-driven fantasy series. The plot grows slowly and realistically. Main characters end up on opposing sides (and opposing characters on the same side), and plot threads twist and wander. This is not a series where the author “arranges” things to work out. Things happen both good and ill – all organically based on the character’s decisions, whether good ones or bad ones.
I’ve listed this as a romance fantasy series, but this is not a bodice ripper in any sense of the word. Romance is handled gently between the characters and grows slowly. This is my top recommendation for romance fantasy, because the carefully crafted, realistic romance and amazing magical adventure that spans kingdoms, is truly one of the best fantasy tales out there. This tale can be enjoyed by both the ladies and men.
Books in Liveship Traders Series (3)
This is a non-standard fantasy. Magic exists, somewhat, but it’s never really in your face or an all encompassing part of the story. The world exists as an alternative 16th century Europe, rich, baroque, sensual, and corrupt. The heroine of this story is an interesting one – perhaps one of the most interesting female characters in all of fantasy. Phedre is cultured, witty, sensual, sexy, and haughty. She’s also one who enjoys a bit of rough sex now and again. Indeed, the entire premise of the novel (arguably the series), is the sexual torture she endures (and likes). On the surface, this novel may seem like an advert for porn, but in fact, there’s a lot more to it than just the sexual aspect.
At its core, the story is not about the landscape, but about the complex woman who suffers and ultimately triumphs over tragedy. If there is one theme to the novel that you could put your finger to, it’s that yielding does not always mean weakness. This is a romantic fantasy, but it’s also so much more than that. I suspect women will enjoy this book more than men, but I've had some guys say they enjoyed the books.
Books in PhÃ¨dre's Series (3)
Lois McMaster Bujold is famous for her very atypical characters. She demonstrated this with her Miles Vorkosigan character, and she does the same thing with the Curse of Chalion. The main character, Cazaril, is an complex and fascinating character. He’s a man who’s been betrayed by everyone – once a great man, now recovering from years as a slave. Over the course of the novel, the hero undergoes a transformation from timidity to confidence. It’s one of those books where you become emotionally attached to the character – a skill that Lois McMaster Bujold has had many years to hone.
Romance is also an important aspect of this novel, though this book is far more than just “a romance.” This tale is a good read for both men and women.
The protagonist is a male character, but the loose sequel, Paladin of Souls, is told from the perspective of a woman, and arguably much more of a romance novel. I highly recommend the ladies check that one out.
Books in Chalion Series (3)
With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.
In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it.
From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable.
No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale.
This is a beautifully constructed historical fantasy. The author creates a realistic Celtic world, a world caught in flux between the old druidic ways and a newly spreading religion (Christianity).
The heroine, Sorcha, is a strongly realized character who suffers and ultimately triumphs. While this book (and the rest of the series) is a lovely romance, the novel is really looking at a woman's willingness to sacrifice for her family, her loyalty to her people, and her journey to love. One of the best romantic fantasy reads ever and a true fantasy classic.
Read the two sequel books which continue the story of Sorcha's descendents.
Books in Sevenwaters Series (6)
Most of you will probably never have heard of this series (it's taken a back seat to Donaldson’s more controversial work, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which is a pity. This is one of the best romance fantasies I’ve read.
The premise is that of a young and very frustrated woman from earth who finds herself transported to a strange fantasy world. Over the course of the novel, this young woman must overcome her emotional problems, and maybe even find true love and save a kingdom in the process. She must make her way in a world dominated completely by men. It’s an entertaining read all round.
The main character is a woman, and although the author is a man, he does a pretty good job of creating a realistic heroine. The romance aspect is pretty strong in this novel and handled right. All the characters, even the villains, are interesting. No paper-thin characters in this series, thank you.
Books in Mordant's Need Series (2)
If you like books with strong heroines, Graceling probably tops that list. While the book is marketed as a YA book, it doesn’t read that way. In fact, none of the characters are at that age, so I’m a bit confused about why it's been labeled YA.
The book may initially seem like “just another fantasy novel about a girl,” but the story comes off largely as pretty fresh. You’ll never get bored with the characters and there is enough action to keep you glued to the pages. And of course, the heroin Katsa is wonderfully drawn. She’s a strong, competent warrior, she’s not interested in hanging onto a man, and she’s somewhat aloof. And she has real flaws as well as strengths.
Why I recommend this book as one of the better fantasy romances out there is that the romance aspect finds the right balance, being neither too remote nor too mushy. It’s a fine line between the two that an author has to find, and many never find it. Graceling is NOT only a romance though, but has a pretty important role in the story.
Books in Graceling Realm Series (3)
Kay writes a lot of fantasy that appeals to those who enjoy a good, well thought out romance novel. While romance is not the only point of Kays stories (Kay is too intelligent of a writer for that sort of book), it always play an important role. His Sarantium Mosaic is a fantastic duology about a simple painter who gets caught up in empire-changing events. The books told from a male perspective, but theres a good deal of awesome romance tossed into the book.
I could really throw in a number of Kay novels here. If you are looking for some, check out Tigana, and Lions of Al-Rassan. If you want a Kay novel with a lot of romance with a female protagonist also, read A Song for Arbonne.
Books in The Sarantine Mo... Series (2)
A dark fantasy romance with a lot of explicit sex pretty much sums this series up. Oh, and there’s also a pretty interesting world that twists the heaven and hell conventions. Oh, there’s also a good deal of sappy romance, a strong and well developed female heroine, and a charming, but dangerous hero. Perhaps these descriptions are simplifying the series too much, so just read it and find out for yourself. It’s really good, I promise.
Books in Black Jewels Series (9)
This series does something a bit different from your usual fantasy romance. The setting of the book is a different world, a world with different legends and religions. There is a religious aspect to the book, but it’s never religious in a preachy sort of way, but rather used as a plot device.
The romance is subtle and handled with care. Shinn is not one of those ham-fisted authors who forces threads together to make something happen. Everything that happens between the two main characters, happens organically. This series will affect you pretty deeply – it’s not one of those read and discard type books. The first book in the series is the best with the other two sequels slightly worse, though all three you will read back to back no doubt.
Books in Samaria Series (5)
While this is epic fantasy, romance is a huge part of this novel -- it's one of the driving forces behind the hero, Kvothe. The novel (and indeed, the series itself) is one of the best fantasy books written. If you are looking for a great fantasy novel with romance as a major part of the plot, you'll be hard pressed to find a better novel than The Name of the Wind. Part of what makes this series so good is that you really connect on an emotional level with the hero -- he's brought fully to life as the series details his life in exceptional detail.
Books in The Kingkiller C... Series (3)
An interesting premise: a girl who adopts the identity of a guy (through magic of course, since this IS fantasy). This is a dark fantasy series with a well-realized world and an interesting hero/heroine. Lynn is one of those (few) fantasy authors that tackles gender issues. She has another series with a gay hero – a realm where few other fantasy authors have dared to tread (Richard Morgan’s The Steel remains as another). This series is not some light romp through a happy-go-lucky fantasy land where the hero is unbeatable and everyone wins without a scratch. It’s a dour and disturbing story that sometimes makes for an uncomfortable read. Lynn borrowed a few pages from Edgar Allen Poe’s book with an atmospheric, moody tale. One thing this series does is ask the question: does the end always justify the means? And you might find by the end of the first book, your answer changes. Good is sometimes worse than evil. This is a complex series that explores complex stuff.So why place this in the “romance” section? Well, this is a character-driven fantasy that explores some difficult issues. But it also tackles some pretty deep relationship issues as well. You’ll have to read the second and third books for that stuff. All in all, this series is very entertaining and definitely a “cut” above a lot of the other fantasy books.
Books in The Tamir Triad Series (3)
This one’s a pure romance. If you want an emotional fantasy series with some pretty strong characterization and a well-realized world, Rhapsody is the book you're looking for. There are a LOT of the standard conventions pulled right out of a classic “romance novel.” However, where Rhapsody differs from OTHER pure romance fantasy books is that the fantasy world has a bit of work put into it. It’s not a thin backdrop used as the set for some alternative world period romance. It’s actually a real fantasy world (though don't expect anything on the level of Martin's, Jordan's, or other straight epic fantasy worlds).
The character Rhapsody brings Mary Suism to a new level, which can be increadibly annoying if you are reading the story for something other than vicarious romatic kicks.
But my biggest complaint with this series is that after the first book, the romance aspect actually starts interfering with the story. Still, for a straight out “romantic bodice ripper" mascurading as epic fantasy, Rhapsody is alright. Don't look for anything sophisticated, however.
Books in Symphony of Ages Series (8)
This is an epic romance fantasy that doesn’t fall prey to the usual clichés and bad characterization. The author doesn’t spend her time trying to build up an epic story at the cost of characterization. Rather, she focuses on building up two separate cultures, each completely different and diametrical to the other. Magic doesn’t play a huge role, though it’s there and felt. The heroin and her love interest are from different cultures which provide plenty of fodder for romantic tension.
Books in Truth Series (4)
For a romantic fantasy with a mix of politics, magic, romance, and betrayal, Lisle’s Secret Texts trilogy is a must read. Lisle is not as well known as some of the other fantasy authors out there, despite the fact that she’s been releasing quality fantasy novels for almost two decades. Her work always features strong and sensible heroines. Romance is always a central plot to her books. Her worlds are always well constructed. And there’s always a lot of political scheming going on.If you like Holly Lisle’s style, definitely read her other series for more of the same.
Books in The Secret Texts Series (3)
If you’re a fan of historical romance novels with some fantasy thrown in (in the form of time travel), you probably won’t find a more popular author than Diana Gabaldon. While romance is not the only driving force in this series, it’s certainly one of the important ones. Overall, it’s a good series with some very strong romantic elements. While men may enjoy this series, there is no doubt it's meant for the ladies.
Books in Outlander Series (8)
These are 100% fantasy romance and make no apologies about it. Sometimes you want subtle romance with a great plot and a cast of interesting characters. And sometimes, you want a bodice ripping, over-the-top, non-apologetic fantasy romance. And I'm not going to mince words: This book is just that. And hey, the story isn’t half bad either. The sequel, Dragon and Phoenix, is also recommended for those looking for a rip-your-clothes off fanatasy read.
Books in Dragonlord Series (3)
This series is not for everyone, but there are enough romantic elements in this epic fantasy series to make those looking for a good romance fantasy cry with joy. Rawn does a pretty good job with her world-building, creating different cultures, different peoples, and different kinds of magic. It’s got a lot of that over-the-top sappy romance that some people like, a strong female heroine, and an interesting world. One of the better all-out romance epic fantasies on the market.
You should also read Rawn’s Exiles for another fantasy with a strong plot and good romance.
Books in Dragon Prince Series (3)
If you are looking for some classic sword and sorcery that combines action and romance in equal spades, The Sword Dancer series delivers on this. The characters evolve dramatically over the series, there’s a lot of romantic tension between the main character, Tiger, and his companion/ love interest Del. What more can I say? Read it!
Books in Tiger and Del Series (7)
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 Ship Of Magic (Robin Hobb)
- 2 Kushiel's Dart (Jacqueline Carey)
- 3 The Curse Of Chalion (Lois McMaster Bujold)
- 4 Daughter Of The Forest (Juliet Marillier)
- 5 Mirror Of Her Dreams (Stephen R. Donaldson)
- 6 Graceling (Kristin Cashore)
- 7 Sailing To Sarantium (Guy Gavriel Kay)
- 8 Daughter Of The Blood (Anne Bishop)
- 9 Archangel (Sharon Shinn)
- 10 The Name Of The Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
- 11 TamÃr Triad (Lynn Flewelling)
- 12 Rhapsody (Elizabeth Haydon)
- 13 Truth Series (Dawn Cook)
- 14 Secret Texts (Holly Lisle)
- 15 Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
- 16 The Last Dragonlord (Joanne Bertin)
- 17 The Dragon Prince (Melanie Rawn )
- 18 Sword-dancer (Jennifer Roberson)
Publicly Ranked Version of the List58 items >>
- Kushiel's Dart (Jacqueline Carey)
- Graceling (Kristin Cashore)
- Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
- Ship Of Magic (Robin Hobb)
- Tamir Triad (Lynn Flewelling)
- Sword Dancer (Jennifer Roberson)
- codex alera (Jim Butcher)
- Archangel (Kathryn Le Veque)
- Truth Series (Dawn Cook)
- Crown Duel (Sherwood Smith)
- Rhapsody (KG MacGregor)
- Angels' Blood (Nalini Singh)
- Once Burned (Jeaniene Frost)
- Bitter Frost (Kailin Gow)
- Fade Series (Kailin Gow)
- Life's Blood ()
- Cara's Twelve ()
- Havemercy (Jaida Jones)
- Touch (Melissa Haag)
- Prophecy (T C Southwell)
- Elvish (S.G. Prince)
- Secret Texts (Holly Lisle)