Romance in Fantasy…what’s the point?

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Danica and I sat down (google hangouts) to talk about romance in fantasy. If you didn’t know, Danica is a dashingly good looking female who loves her romance and has a good opinion on the matter. I myself, know nothing. This discussion is in real time, we didn’t edit any of our answers (except for grammar and spelling) and tried to do it as if we were having a real conversation face to face. We had a lot of fun and in the end, I think we came close to closing this debate. Hope you enjoy our rants!

Red = Jon Snow
Green = Danica is the coolest

Do you like romance in fantasy books?

I love romance in fantasy books, I am a total sap and romantic at heart. I’ll let you in on a secret, I even loved the Twilight romance :O

So you have a biased view on romance in fantasy books then?

What because I admit it? I don’t see how it can be biased, it’s just my personal opinion. What’s yours?

Well personal opinion of course can lead to bias, it is whether or not you are going to be debating with an objective view or not. I don’t mind romance in fantasy books but there aren’t many situations where I think it adds to the story and makes it better.

Well that’s not the question at hand but I see your point. Just because I love it and can buy into it doesn’t mean I can’t be objective, I totally can!

What are some books that you love that had romance underlying it?

I guess all I can think of at the moment is Mistborn, but if you call that romance…

I wouldn’t really. I read Mythago Wood, that had romance at the centre of the story and I really enjoyed it. I can think of many books with romance IN them, but not many that have it as their central theme.

True. I guess Farseer would have a lot of love in it, but romance also plays a part in it. I would say that a lot of fantasy has “love” or relationships in it, but not so much romance. I’ve only read the first Anita Blake book but others have said there is romance in them later.

I am reading the Kitty Norville series at the moment and I would say ‘intimacy’ is a huge theme. I think that might be a better descriptor as it covers a bit more range of emotional relationships.

Would it be more appropriate then, to change this topic to love and relationships in fantasy, rather than “romance” in fantasy?

No I think there is a distinction between what we consider romance and a relationship, I think if we talked relationships there is much more out there to talk about, too broad.

How do you feel about romance in a fantasy book when it involves a gay couple, or is an interspecies relationship?

I’ve only read two books where there was some gay/bi-sexual people, The Steel Remains, Heroes Die, and one other with romance with interspecies. Oh oh! I’ve thought of another book with romance! The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin!

Well it doesn’t count because we are on to a new question, so I win. I haven’t read those but what I have come across is Perdido Street Station and that was totally weird, in the first couple of pages a description of beings other than human having sex, freaked me out a little. Then I got over it, I doubt I will have to come to terms with that in real life anytime soon. Which brings me to my next point, romance involving a gay couple doesn’t bother me at all, and if I was faced with aliens or a completely different species living among us, then I’m sure i’d be ok with that too. If no one is hurting each other :) all good.

What a PC answer! haha. I’ve also read PSS but I’ve totally forgotten the alien sex scenes. With The Steel Remains, it was mostly rough lusty sex rather than romance. Heroes Die sort of handsome romantic undertones but wasn’t really two couples in love. Now with the Left Hand of Darkness, that might actually have romance it in. Two “people” were traversing across an arctic like wasteland and through the challenges and hardship, a bond began to form between the two. However, because the way the “alien” species was, they could never copulate. I really liked this part of the book as it got into the psyche of the characters.

:( That makes me sad! Their bits and pieces meant they couldn’t … make love. Though, lets be honest, sex and physicality doesn’t mean romance, and romance can happen without the physical.

Yes. You are right, so regarding the question. I don’t really mind romantic relationships between gays and alien species, it’s the shock of lusty alien/gay sex that I am not used to. It’s me, not them.

SEE! It’s not so PC when it’s your actual opinion. I am going to refrain from making a joke about you being familiar with lusty heterosexual sex :P

Haha, it’s the way you worded it, it was like someone writing a speech for the President!

What kind of romance is better/acceptable: when it is two young people exploring their first love together, insecure love or Casanova type, swooning women left and right?

This is a great question! Boring disclaimer here, if it is written well it is fine by me. Though who remember exploring their first love as romantic? I hope I’m not the only one that remembers it as awkward. I find that when first love is explored in fantasy it is just painful. I have plenty of examples of this, so I don’t like it at all. Give me swooning love in real life for sure, but keep it out of my fantasy books. Actually scrap that, I don’t like it in fantasy because it makes no sense and people should be realistic about romantic love, so I don’t want swooning love in real life, I take it back.

Give me some examples of first loves being painful. I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean. Do you mean broken hearts or the first moon blood…it hurts!

OMG did you really just say first moon blood? WOW! I meant painful to read. It’s all I don’t know what to do and woe is me and blah blah blah. I wouldn’t like to relive that and I certainly don’t want to read about it.

Hey, if it is good enough for GRRM then it is good enough for me! Yes, I think I know what you mean and I think we can lump in insecure love with first love a lot of the times. Think of Mistborn (does he like me) and Republic of Thieves (she loves me, but she hates me!) makes me not want to read those parts ever again. However, is it the author’s problem they don’t know how to write about that?

UGH I wanted to kick Locke! Drove me insane! Nah, I don’t think it is the authors problem, well no I do. I don’t think you can have a realistic young love without the awkwardness but I don’t think it is necessary to make the reader go through all the personal drama of it in detail.

So you’ve disagreed with all three types in the question. What type of romance is good, does a book need to dedicate pages of build up?

Ah, great question. Hmm let me think. You know how we say, we want the reader to show rather than tell? Well if you show me that this is a guy/girl/species character wants to be with the other in action and in dialogue, I am happy with that. I think pages of telling me how characters feel about each other is a waste of time and space. As for what romance is good, I want realistic romance, without too much of the boring parts :) . Too much to ask? I think not!

I’m going to touch on a soft spot here. What about Dresden?

Ouch, you know where to hit me where it hurts don’t you? Ok, I love Dresden and I will be honest I totally have a crush on the fictional character. BUT Butcher writes some of the CRAPEST scenes. This is where the bias come in, let me break it down.

1. I don’t say that because I want Dresden all to myself

2. The women are all cute and preppy and Butcher writes them ALWAYS as if Dresden is leering at them (Even when he doesn’t want them, he’ll keep leering) (I know gross right)

3. The sex/lack of it is so weird. It comes from nowhere (I’ll stop, spoilerific)

4. The only real romance in the book drives me insane because for what 12/13 books now it’s all ‘no we can’t’ … /kill me now!

5. This is the biggest one. Butches writes Molly, a character who is in high school and makes Dresden comment on her physically. This was the biggest no no for me.

Well, ok i’m done, but you bought that on yourself.

I know true and well what I was getting into there. Almost finished Ghost Story, so I’ve almost caught up!

What is a clear indicator that the romance part of the book is going downhill?

Whining from the protagonists.

Oh so so many things. Firstly and most importantly unrealistic romance. Like wtf … POOF random sex scene or POOF characters totally in love but there has been no development leading up to it.

So a deus ex machina for romance if you will.

Totally! Next one, if the physical part or the emotional part is so off. Ok, so in the books I’m reading now the are werewolves, so apparently they all have sex with each other and that’s cool with the wolf and the human part … um no, excuse me?

Mostly I think when it isn’t helping the fantasy part move along, like if those parts are just there for “romance” then no. It needs to either help move the story along or help us get a good understanding of their character development.

What is the point of romance in a fantasy book?

I don’t know, is there? I mean if it disappeared, it would still be a fantasy book which is at the heart of it what I want. Which is different that saying, I don’t like romance in fantasy. Sometimes I do think it adds to the story.

I agree, but I still like it. If you think about all the elements of fantasy and which you like to have in a fantasy book romance is one them for me! Actually that doesn’t answer the question, the point is that I want it there and authors should cater for me personally!

Is romance required to make a good fantasy book? All the greats have very little romance in them.

So when you think about it, books/series like The Final Empire, A Song of Ice and Fire etc. have very little romance in them. In A Game of Thrones, I would say the only romance is between Ned and Cat, all the others are lust or using love as a tool. I mean, The Final Empire would/could still happen without the romance in them, same story line essentially.

Look, my answer is no it doesn’t, but i think fantasy works because on some level you can relate to the world. I think romance is apart of that.

Of course you are right, but then I think of a book like Legend, which has no romance, no love (except for battle) at all and it is an amazing book.

One of my favourites of all time. So, yea I come back to ‘no’ as my answer but I definitely think it adds to something when it is there and done well.

While we both have differing opinions, the most important thing is that romance, is well written and realistic. If authors can’t do that, then DON’T put it in. We have established that a fantasy book can be good/great without it and it’s better to have all the elements of a story working well together than to have the romance part be total crap.



Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

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Words of Radiance is a behemoth of a book. Both in terms of number of pages and in the scope of storytelling, everything about this second offering in The Stormlight Archives is big, bold and breathtaking.

Continuing his penchant for delivering doorstopper sized tomes, Sanderson serves up well over 1,000 pages of quality writing that enables a more than favourable comparison with The Way of Kings – no small feat given the comparison is with one of my favourite books of all time. Whereas at times I found myself rushing through certain POVs in The Way of Kings (partly due to being so emotionally invested in Kalladin’s storyline), The Words of Radiance suffers none of this with a much more consistent quality of storytelling throughout.

Surprisingly it is Shallan’s story which stands out this time round. I say surprisingly as it was her story, and character, that invoked least interest in The Way of Kings. Through cleverly used extended flashbacks, we explore a lot of Shallan’s history with her family and what led to their present situation. Suspend everything you may have thought previously, as the heart rending truth is revealed in its full complexity. Shallan’s character whilst not going through a full makeover, becomes one which is more multi-faceted than previously assumed and the added strength and depth makes for a much more interesting and enjoyable read.

The story continues on from where The Way of Kings left off with the Alethi armies camped on the Shattered Plains battling as much themselves, due to their incessant political in-fighting, as well as their Parshendi enemies who killed their King. Kalladin, who now leads his Bridge Four cohorts as soldiers within Dalinar’s army continues to struggle to come to terms with what he is becoming and how he views the Lighteyes. Dalinar continues to struggle with his visions portending the arrival of the Voidbringers whilst also attempting to hold the Alethi nation together. Meanwhile, both Jasnah and Shallan are headed to the Shattered Plains in order to warn the gathered forces of a much larger threat than that posed by the Parshendi.

Within these main storylines there are some pleasing character developments within some of the more minor characters. Within Bridge Four Moash, Teft and Rock whilst not to the fore as much as previously, develop quite nicely, although it is Lopen’s character that emerges as one of the best while also providing some humourous scenes which Sanderson pulls off rather deftly.

Also worth mentioning is the Interludes that occur through the book. While some of these read almost as standalone stories, we are able to now see how these are interwoven into the wider story and some of the ensuing storylines that these will provide will be eagerly awaited.

No Sanderson review would be complete without discussing his magic system. Those readers looking for an expansion of the magic system will not go away disappointed. Surgebinding, soulcasting and the role of sprens, shardblades, spheres and stormlight all are explained in further detail creating a much more fuller understanding of how all these things are interrelated.

For those who liked The Way of Kings, it goes without saying that you’ll likely love The Words of Radiance. The storyline is moved along in pleasing fashion, so much so that it makes me wonder how Sanderson is going to engineer a further 8 books in the series, albeit that it appears as if only a further 3 will exist within the first story arc. The plot itself, most especially with respect the Knight Radiants, continues to offer up surprises and it becomes all too easy to become fully immersed in the world of Roshar.

Obligatory pun time to finish things off. Words of Radiance is a storming good read, full of atmosphere(s) that will have you climbing the walls waiting for the next installment in the series, Skybreaker.


Review written by Antoxx



Review: The Golden Arrow by Anna Redmond


If I had had to rate this book after only having read two thirds of it, I wouldn’t have been kind. But now that I have seen how the various elements are starting to come together, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s more complex and less predictable than I originally thought. And I do like it when authors surprise me like that.

The Golden Arrow is told through the points of view of Joseph and Nicola de Brull, a brother and sister from a family of noble lineage. Though their country (Patria) has been democratized, their father retains much of his wealth. Joseph has dedicated himself to succeeding in the new order. Nicola, who is younger than Joseph, is concerned with the sorts of things that young ladies of noble standing might be expected to care about — balls and “pamphlets” (a form of gossip magazine).

An ancient ritual in Patria, stemming from times of war when many noble sons fell in battle, is the binding of “frata.” Essentially, to continue to forge alliances, the daughters of noble houses were bound to each other in ceremonies like marriages. These frata unions were sexual as well as political. Nicola is contracted to enter into one of these unions. She displays true affection for her partner, but also has doubts.

Struggling for power are Pr. Mercer and the Queen Mother, who is the mother of the former (i.e., departed) king and who has awakened after a mysterious illness. Caught between them is Eloise, princess of Patria. She’s been Mercer’s ward and (we think) has not been treated kindly by him. I say “we think” because we’re never in Eloise’s head. We only hear her words through Joseph and Nicola, and it’s not always easy to tell whether Eloise is telling the truth or manipulating one or both of the de Brull siblings.

A few loose ends did get tied up in this book (i.e., the de Brulls’ mother suffers from bouts of illness and we are told the cause late in the book). I am hopeful that the author is going to answer some of my other questions in later volumes: what was the nature of the Queen Mother’s illness and why did she awaken when she did? whose side is Joseph’s father on? why do we keep hearing about Cece the maid?

Some things are done very well. Joseph seemed shallow and easily fooled at first, but he underwent at least one convincing transformation; so did Nicola. Other characters are not as developed, but I think the motivations of the non-POV characters needed to remain hidden so that our protagonists have to figure things out on their own.

I also thought the tension was handled nicely. Some plans go awry and some plans are followed through to completion. When a new plan hatches, we don’t know how things will end. Different characters show up to save our heroes from peril fairly often, but none of these rescues was a “deus ex machina” moment for me. These rescuers all had plausible reasons for being where they were when they effected the rescues. Pacing was also good; while the characters do periodically take a few days of rest, the author doesn’t dwell on these.

The setting is conventional — basically pseudo-medieval European. The sons of non-noble houses are being allowed education and access to government positions; this creates some tension with those who remember or prefer the old order. Some technology is around that doesn’t usually appear in fantasy — for example, accurate pistols and printing presses. Names are mostly real names still in use today, or close variants on real names.

Magic doesn’t come into play until the end of the book and appears to involve frata as well as “seeing.” I expect this element will pick up in future volumes.

The language is a little stilted. I don’t remember any long passages of infodumping, though there were a few shorter ones (for example, describing the history of a rock climbing competition). I think the writing is OK for a debut author.

As for the intended audience, that’s one place I’m still guessing. Nicola is 17 and not a lot of time passes in this book; that might make this a YA novel, but for a few of the scenes involving frata. I hesitate to call them explicit, but they ARE sex scenes. The focus on masquerade balls and gossip and dresses/hair and fancy food makes me think of this more as a book for female readers.

In the end, I think a number of aspects of The Golden Arrow were done quite well. There were a few hiccups, but I’m definitely glad I finished the book — the last part was the best and put the rest into perspective.


Thanks to Tor.com for the review copy. Review written by Sneaky Burrito.