In Defence of Romance: What it Can Do in a Fantasy Story (Or ANY Story)


Today is the start of Wyrd & Wonder (hosted by Lisa, Jorie, and imyril), a month dedicated to the celebration of all things fantastical. Look forward to essay posts, lists, reviews, and more.

Let’s get started!


“But Kathy, who’s going out of their way to attack romance in fantasy?”

Well, no one in particular. But I’ve always come across people–both on the internet and in real life–who look at romance in fantasy with a kind of…disdain, and it’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time. And with some of the recent complaints about Arya’s character development in GoT, I thought, why not, I’ll write a post on the topic.

So to be clear, I have zero problem with people disliking romance or criticizing the romance they find in stories (I mean, I criticize them all the time). Romance isn’t the end-all-be-all–the holy grail for which we have to plan our lives around–and I ADORE books that focus on passionate friendships often more than the romance-centric ones.

But passionate friendships that are as intimate as romance are few and far between in fiction. Because, I don’t know–a lot of people seem to have the idea that close intimacy between two or more people can only exist within the boundaries of sex and romance. (Which is patently untrue. *points to me and my best friend*) That’s why I usually turn to romance when I want my “intense interpersonal dynamic” fix. (This is a whole separate topic for another day.)

So my problem isn’t with the words “I don’t like romance in fantasy.”

My problem is with people who say “I don’t like romance in fantasy” in a tone they also use with phrases like, “I don’t like YA” and, “I only like literary fiction.” Like they expect a medal–or at the very least, an enthusiastic applause—for their abstinence. People who seem to believe that having any kind of romance in a fantasy makes it automatically inferior to ones that don’t, and the mention of romance in a blurb equivalent to a giant biohazard sticker on the cover. And most damningly: people who make others feel bad for liking it in the genre.

That’s how you get my hackles up.

So dear friends, lovers, and people of indiscriminate relations, it’s time to break out the candles and rose petals–we’re going to have a little chat about romance and what it can do in a fantasy story.

(And obviously these points also apply outside of fantasy. But everything’s better with dragons and magic–romance especially. It is known.)

*Presses ‘Play’ on 10-Hour Careless Whisper Sax Loop*




Romance as a Whole

romance 2

Let’s start out big and talk a little about the romance genre as a whole.

I’m of the opinion that every genre has something to offer to other genres–a lesson you can take away as both a reader and a writer–and the romance genre at its best offers character dynamics, the push and pull between two or more individuals. Sometimes it’s a light-hearted and playful “will they or won’t they”. Other times it’s a more intense tug-of-war of differing values a la Pride and Prejudice.

Does it suffer from tropes that are overused and/or harmful? Absolutely. But it’s nothing more than what plagues every genre of literature.

Are the stories realistic? Sometimes no. Sometimes hell no. But growing up in a conservative household had made me go through a mess of reticence and recklessness about sex and shame about kink, and romance books helped me make peace with some of that. So screw realism. Sometimes I just want my Happily Ever After.


Romance as Worldbuilding


This right here is a patch of grass.

And as far as patches of grass go, it’s not a bad one. There’s bits of green mixed in with the yellows and the browns, which is great because variety’s always a plus. So one might even call it nice and pretty.

The problem is that I’m going to forget about this patch of grass as soon as I come across another patch of grass with a tantalizing green/yellow/brown scheme. Because I’m shallow like that. And at the end of the day, it’s a patch of grass, not the floor of Buckingham Palace.

But. Plop onto it two characters who are in love, or in the process of being in love, or  don’t know (or like) each other very much and are doing that weird shuffling dance where they’re trying to figure each other out, and this patch of grass becomes something very special.

Maybe it’s where a knight from one kingdom and a farmer from another laid down to stargaze and share their cultures’ interpretations of the constellations. And amidst that, maybe there were gazes held just a bit too long and shoulders touching, and then not touching, and then touching again.

And the patch of grass becomes the site of something new and delicate.

Or maybe it’s where an asshole elven mage told you how beautiful you were and then dumped you because he has a greater purpose to fulfill and you’re too much of a distraction.

And the patch of grass becomes a field of heartbreak.

The same principle applies to more elaborate worldbuilding. As humans we remember and latch onto information that have strong emotional significance. So if two characters are doing the courtship dance and worldbuilding details gets mixed up in it, that shit’s going to stick in our brains.

It’s not rocket science. It’s neuroscience.

So worldbuilding isn’t just about how much interesting history and politics you can cram into a single book. It’s about making them seem real to the readers. It’s about making us care–making us see more than ancient stone buildings and paragraphs of dry info scrawled in a hefty tome. And what better way to achieve that than through romance?

Romance can assign meaning to meaningless information. It helps add texture and weight and depth to a world that might otherwise seem like a set of cardboard props. Pretty cardboard props, but still cardboard props.


Deeper Exploration & Development of the Protagonist


Which isn’t to say platonic relationships don’t also do this, but the paths to a person’s heart are many (maybe infinite) and varied, and romance can offer a route of a different flavour than, say, friendship.

And I think it gets particularly interesting with unlikeable protagonists.

Because sometimes romance softens a character, scrubbing away at their hard sarcastic edges. It grabs at vulnerabilities and drags them out onto the surface, allowing us to see layers to them that we wouldn’t see otherwise.

Let’s take a grumpy asshole protagonist with a cocky attitude and a distaste for social interactions. No grumpy asshole protagonist would care if Jim the Barkeeper tells them, “You gotta change your ways.” And we don’t care because, well…it’s Jim the Barkeeper. He’s been given maybe ten pages’ worth of screen time and there’s a 70% chance that he’ll end up dead by the end of the book. So his opinion has about as much weight as the dead flies gathering on his countertops.

But if Love Interest #1 says it? Or implies it? That makes things a teeny bit more complicated. It might even force them to examine aspects of themselves that aren’t all that nice and take the slow, reluctant steps to be better.

Romance can also give strength to a character. A sense of purpose they never had before–a belief that maybe, just maybe, they can do this. They can defeat this monster horde. They can lead this army to victory. They can stand in front of the court and deliver a speech that could prevent a war.

I mean, I can go on for weeks. The possibilities are endless and that’s what makes it so damn fun.


Creates & Enhances Interpersonal Conflicts


This is where we talk about the famous/infamous enemies-to-lovers.

My definition of enemies-to-lovers isn’t “two people who wanted to slit each other’s throats 30 minutes ago are now so deeply in love you can see tiny hearts orbiting them.” That’s just…no. And “I hate you but I love you” isn’t something I find particularly interesting, either. My definition is more along the lines of “two people with clashing values and opinions clash, and then slowly come to find understanding and shared affection.” (Which admittedly doesn’t sound as exciting as “I hate you but I love you”)

When done right this trope can be explosive. Because there are few better ways to create compelling, dramatic conflict between two characters than to have them challenge each other every step of the way. One pushes and the other pushes back. And somewhere amidst all that shoving they’ve mapped the contours of each other’s hearts and explored more of their crevices than anyone else ever has. Somewhere along the way a shove became a bump, which became a touch, became a caress.

So how do you go from two jagged pieces scraping against each other into shapes that curl together? What beliefs have changed? Which values have been discarded? In what ways have they made each other better? And if one of them is the villain of the story, what does that mean for their long-term goals?

I can’t begin to describe how infinitely fascinating I find that process. I could write and star in a one-person musical dedicated to how much I love it–especially in fantasy stories because the stakes are usually so much higher.

Enemies-to-lovers underscores the idea that people can learn to understand one another. That despite all our differences, we have the ability to admit mistakes and empathize and push each other to become more complex beings. And that’s a beautiful thing to see in any genre.


Romance as a Beacon of Light in a World of Dark



The Sacred Band of Thebes was an Ancient Greek military unit comprised of 150 male couples. They were responsible for several crucial victories against the Spartan army–which at the time was like kicking a grizzly in the teeth and getting away with it–and the speculation behind their creation boils down to the idea that people fight with greater courage when they’re at their lovers’ side. That in the darkest hours of the battle, with everything going to hell, their love would give them strength to push forward.

Basically, their whole existence was about staring death in the face with light in their eyes. Which leads to my favourite example of what romance can do in fantasy: bringing light to a spot of dark.

Fantasy stories can get very dark very quick, and both the readers and the characters need reasons as to why they should continue, why any of it matters. With danger and horror looming around every corner, you want to cling to whatever hope and goodness you can find, and romance can offer a hell of a lot of hope. (It’s the same reason why we love seeing romance in World War II stories)


The Song of Achilles and Girls of Paper and Fire do this brilliantly. Both stories position their romance in the middle of brutal, horrific, soul-draining situations. In both stories the romance becomes a spot of salvation.

And do you know which subgenre I’m convinced benefits the most from romance? Grimdark. And not the “gritty” kind of romance. Not the kind that’s angry and/or borderline abusive. I’m talking about the genuinely good ones–the sweet, passionate ones that make your eyes mist and your hair curl. It’s all about contrast, you see. Our brain is evolved to pick out details that break up monotony, so all that goodness just makes the grim and dark grimmer and darker, and vice versa.


An example of this would be Ed McDonald’s Blackwing, which surprised and delighted me with a romance that felt fragile in many respects but also honest and heartfelt in a way that stood out beautifully against the rest of the story (which was unsurprisingly grim).

“You say there’s nothing of woman about you? You aren’t some painted vase, delicate and useless. You’re a fucking lioness. The strongest damn thing that ever lived. There’s nothing of you but woman.”

I do feel like I have to defend the honour of painted vases everywhere–they’re far from useless–but you get the point.


Some closing thoughts: I think we can all agree that bad romance in fantasy can be very bad. Hair-pulling, eye-rolling, I-need-to-throw-this-book-at-the-nearest-wall kind of bad.

But when it’s good?

When it’s good it’s like standing at the edge of dawn and seeing the world exhale. It’s like feeling too big to fit inside your skin and you’re spilling everywhere into everything.

It’s like–

Well, it’s like falling in love.

*Presses ‘Stop’*


You may also like


A Storm Of Pages May 1, 2019 - 5:46 am

I agree with a lot of this – I find myself falling into the trap of getting annoyed at a synopsis when it mentions a romance in my fantasy. And it’s not because I don’t like it, it’s just that I have read so many crappy ones, where it’s instalust/love, where it completely overpowers whatever the plot was shaping up to be and all goals and struggles disappear until only the romance remains. Or where it’s obvious who’s going to fall for eachother – mention two characters in the synopsis and it doesn’t matter how much they seem ill-suited when they meet, you just know they’ll quickly fawn over eachother.

Give me an adventure with a group of characters, where it’s not obvious from the start who’s going to end up with eachother, where relationships develop alongside the overarching plot, rather than as a substitute of it!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 4, 2019 - 11:24 pm

“I find myself falling into the trap of getting annoyed at a synopsis when it mentions a romance in my fantasy.” That absolutely happens to me, and more so with YA, because I’ve had more experience with them having romance that are there just for the sake of being there. And like you said, there’s no natural buildup to it. Just because there are two main characters, and just because they happen to be a boy and a girl, doesn’t mean they NEED to end up together. I’m happy we’re seeing a slow increase in friendship-driven YA SFF, though!

And YESSS, the unexpected, surprising relationships are the best kind. 😀

Hannie May 1, 2019 - 6:07 am

I completely agree here, especially about the grimdark fantasies. It’s nice to have this little glimmer of light in an otherwise overwhelmingly depressing tale.

@lynnsbooks May 1, 2019 - 6:22 am

Yeah, I don’t like it when people have a ‘tone’. It happens all the time when I say to people that I read ‘fantasy’ – like, ‘oh, you mean with dragons and fairies’ – usually delivered in a patronising tone as though I am a child!
I don’t tend to read books that fall into the ‘romance’ genre – not because I have any really negative thoughts about them just because I prefer a different kind of story – where romance might happen as an ‘aside’. And, who am I kidding, every now and again I like a good old ‘boddice ripper’ – I can’t deny it. I’m not into love triangles – but I think that’s because they’ve been over done and I’m a bit jaded with instalove. Travel with a person for two or three days and you absolutely love them. But, a good romance included within a good story is always enjoyable imho.
Lynn 😀

hobbleit May 1, 2019 - 10:22 am

I’m not a fan of the romance genre but I do love a bit of romance in fantasy. I just love it when the shit hits the fan and everything looks like it’s going to hell to see a sweet romance build to make everything seem a little less bad.

imyril May 1, 2019 - 11:22 am

I have finished this post with a slight dampness around the eyes and the urge to surge to my feet and yell HELL YEAH. And that’s in spite of being super-critical of romance narratives on a regular basis. I can’t stand formulaic romance – but when it’s done well I am SUCH a softy at heart (I loved Emily Skrutskie’s enemies-to-lovers in The Abyss Surrounds Us; I adored V E Schwab’s take on unwilling allies-to-lovers in Shades of Magic; Melissa Caruso even got me all passionate about a love triangle). But excuse me, I’m now going to go think about patches of grass.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 4, 2019 - 11:08 pm

AHHH I’m so glad you liked the post, imyril!! And oh, I bash on romantic subpots all. the. time! Especially the ones that are there just for the sake of being there, and not because they add anything meaningful to the plot and characters. But I STILL love them so much. I think we’re often critical of the things we love the most because we want them to be better and we know how amazing they can be.

And I’ve been eyeing The Abyss Surrounds Us for a while now, so I’m suuuper happy to hear you loved the romance in it! Enemies-to-lovers stories feat. pirate captains get me all fluttery inside. 😀

imyril May 4, 2019 - 11:57 pm

TASU was a heck of a lot of fun. And the core concept made romance problematic – but it addresses that head-on, which was part of what won me over. Besides, I’m a sucker for kaiju apparently (it was a surprise, I’m embracing it).

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 5, 2019 - 12:39 am

You make it sound better and better. <3 Captive romances can definitely be a hit or miss, so I'm glad to hear this one works out.

acquadimore May 1, 2019 - 11:29 am

This. I often think that a lot of the romance backlash comes from people who – while they won’t phrase it that way – basically think of it as “eww, girl stuff in my books”

On the other hand, I am sometimes annoyed by how little space writers are willing to give to non-romantic relationships, in any genre – if they can write wonderful romances, they can also write stories with friendships and families that don’t feel stagnant, but that’s so uncommon. I’m just tired and aromantic.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of my favorite character dynamics to read is basically “romance, but make it as unromantic as possible” (…usually, villain romances). Close enough that it will be developed, far enough that I still understand it. (…I do like the toxic ones as long as the author seems to know what they’re doing.)

And I definitely agree about the “beacon of light” thing! Girls of Paper and Fire is a perfect example, I would have hated that book without the romance – I need to see the characters happy in dark books at some point, or it gets exhausting and I stop caring.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 5, 2019 - 12:14 am

Ha, pretty much! Most of the snobbish complaints I ever received about romance came from cis dudes, but I uh…didn’t want to state that explicitly.

And “I’m just tired and aromantic” should be a T-shirt. 🙂 I’m wondering if the tendency for writers and publishers to lean towards romantic relationships over non-romantic is unconscious and automatic at this point. Like, it’s so ingrained in our culture that two characters + strong connection immediately equates to romance. And it gets even muddier with male characters. Two male characters being friends is fine. Two male characters being in a relationship is also fine (well, for some). But two male characters being friends with the intimate aspects of a romantic relationship is like no-man’s land, apparently.

And ooh have you read the Foxhole Court books? It’s not really a villain romance, but they have one of the best examples of “romance, but unromantic as possible” I know.

acquadimore May 6, 2019 - 9:13 am

I haven’t read it – I don’t think I will for romance-unrelated reasons (not interesting to me genre-wise right now), but that’s still good to know! I’ve changed my mind about genres before.

I think the tendency to lean towards romantic is automatic both from writer/publisher point of view and from a reader one. I can’t forget the amount of times I’ve seen m/f friendships being mistaken by readers as romantic just because the characters hugged once/tried to kiss and then decided it didn’t work. There’s this weird intimacy = romance conflation in every relationship that includes men in some way that is really uncomfortable

Also, I fear that kind of platonic m/m relationship would be accused of queerbaiting in no time (even if the characters involved were confirmed as queer and still not romantically involved with each other).

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 13, 2019 - 10:11 pm

“I fear that kind of platonic m/m relationship would be accused of queerbaiting.” Oh boy, you’re probably right. Sigh. Sometimes I wish we could scrub away all pre-existing social conventions and just….start over from scratch.

MetalPhantasmReads May 1, 2019 - 12:04 pm

YAY Kathy! I’ve never had a problem with a romance in a story. I know sometimes it distracts from the main story and I think we all can get slightly annoyed. But these kind relationships do help us as people be better and many forget that. If you’re doing a romance, it can do many things that you’ve mentioned and it really does make us more complex but even more human. Amazing post 😀

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 4, 2019 - 6:34 pm

Eep! Thank you, Amanda!! <3 I never have problems with seeing romance in stories, either. It's just that the execution sometimes fall off the mark.

But generally, I love what it says about people, and our ability to form relationships and share the most intimate parts of our lives with each other. It's all just so…feel-good and hopeful. <3 And I know so many people (including myself!) who have had anxiety/depressive episodes and reading romance helped them bear through all that.

MetalPhantasmReads May 6, 2019 - 9:50 am

*fist bump* always! Yeah I think people try to forget or act like they forget that romance or those kinds of relationships are part of our foundation as people and just want to complain :p

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 13, 2019 - 8:58 pm

I know right?? I’m sometimes super tempted to say “Who hurt you?” whenever people (usually guys) go on rants about how they hate romance in stories. XD

Wyrd & Wonder – Perfectly Tolerable May 1, 2019 - 1:31 pm

[…] things, but I kept seeing it EVERYWHERE and its fantasy and I want to do it! (You can blame credit Kathy, Lynn, and Tammy for letting me know about […]

jennifertarheelreader May 1, 2019 - 5:07 pm

This is such a smart, well-thought-out post, Kathy. I had never thought of most of these things, and your analysis is spot-on. I loved what you said about every genre having something to offer other genres. SO TRUE. I’m not the biggest romance fan, or so I thought. I’ve come to like it more recently when it’s smart and funny like with Christina Lauren. But this whole post is a good reframe on the romance genre, and what it has to offer. Well-done, my friend! ♥️

Meeghan reads May 1, 2019 - 8:28 pm

Kathy, I love this post (I might even love you). I’m also now going to go shopping to buy The Song of Achilles, and can you please recommend me all of the books forever, because I am 100% certain that you understand how romance should be done.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 4, 2019 - 5:36 pm

*whispers* You–you haven’t read Song of Achilles yet?? Go go do it!! It’s one of my favourite romances of all time (hell, one of my favourite *books* of all time), and even though I was already familiar the Achilles/Patroclus story, it still broke me into tiny pieces. I was hobbling around like a zombie for DAYS after finishing it.

I think most of my favourite romances are the ones that make me cry ugly tears. I have no idea what that says about me. 😛

Meeghan reads May 5, 2019 - 7:28 pm

Kathy!!! They’re my favourites too!! Did I cry 16 times to get the the ending? Yes! 5 stars! Does this book make me sob so hard that I am a mess lying on the tiles in my house? Yes! 8 stars! Does my husband think that someone in my family died by my constant tears? Yes! 17 stars! 😂

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 8, 2019 - 12:21 am

*high fives* *hands over box of tissue* YESSSSSSS omg you need to recommend me all the books and I need to recommend you all the books! Have you read T.J. Klune’s Wolfsong? It’s got found family and shifters (minus alpha assholes) and ALL the tears to be had!!

PerfectlyTolerable May 2, 2019 - 10:06 am

It is known

Also I love Happily Ever Afters. I don’t care if its realistic, I want a happy ending!! And if people judge me for loving romances then screw them! Haha 😀 Great post!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 2, 2019 - 5:34 pm

Thank you!! And I know right?? Realistic portrayal of relationships in stories is wonderful and sometimes that means heartbreaker endings, but it’s good to balance that with the soft, SUPER unrealistic romances every now and then. 😀

Annemieke May 2, 2019 - 11:15 pm

You wrote these post quite well and passionate. <3 I used to say I disliked romance but that is not entirely accurate. I have difficulty with romance mostly because I come across so many bad romances, in any genre to be honest. Not just fantasy. It had made me jaded to that aspect of a story. But there are some gems. I especially care much about slow burn romances with my favorite characters (The Others and The Copper Cat being big examples here).

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 8, 2019 - 12:04 am

Thank you! <3 And YES, the Copper Cat is an awesome example! I wrote and read a lot of slow-burn fanfic when I was a teen, so slow burn romances will always, ALWAYS be my favourite kind.

sarahkalmakoff May 3, 2019 - 12:05 am

I wish I could put my words into an opinion piece like this. This was marvellous, and you are an incredibly talented writer! I am always irked by people who complain about the slightest inkling of romance in ANY genre. I see that so often. And as someone who prefers friendship over romance as well, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. I think you did an amazing job of saying it too. Everyone should read this honestly

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 4, 2019 - 10:53 pm

Oh my god, that’s super kind of you to say, thank you!! I was kind of nervous because this was the first major essay post I’d done in a while, so your words mean a lot. <3 And I'm perfectly happy with people talking about why a certain aspect of romance didn't work for them, but just dismissing it entirely without even READING the book is a big nope.

Susy's Cozy World May 3, 2019 - 8:08 am

Everything is really better with dragons and magic! 😍 And you did an amazing job with this post! It’s thoughtful and so full on interesting insight. And I agree with you wholeheartedly!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 8, 2019 - 12:22 am

YAAAY I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Susy!! Thank you!! <3

Dani @ Perspective of a Writer May 4, 2019 - 12:14 pm

A+ girl! I so agree with you. Excellent post. ❤️
I think part of the problem is how the romance is used. What does ‘romance’ mean in the story and plot. As you pointed out, we find authors we love that understand and use intimacy well. I wish for more close friendships. They can be as much of a rock as a S.O.
I love adventure groups with a mix of characters and we get to see relationships grow and develop throughout the story. We read for the ride!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 9, 2019 - 12:02 am

Aww thanks, Dani! <3 "We read for the ride!" Oh heck YES. A group of adventurers that forge many different kinds of relationships throughout their journey–including romance–is my favourite! I blame RPGs. 😀

I like that I'm starting to see a bit more friendship-focused stories in SFF YA now, though! There are a few coming out in the latter half of this year that I'm super excited about.

Gerry@TheBookNookUK May 4, 2019 - 3:00 pm

What an absolutely joyous blog post to have read Kathy!

First of all – how am I only hearing about Wyrd and Wonder now??!!! Er it sounds fabulous and I need to check it out.

Second of all – I don’t know how to succinctly agree with and compliment you on your words and so I’m just going to go with – “I agree with what you have said and you said it in such a brilliant way”.

Although I do read romance it isn’t my preferred genre *but* I actually adore romance in the books that I read (mainly fantasy/ speculative/ magical realism) and oddly prefer to have romance or a romantic subplot. If there isn’t a romance angle I actually miss it and sometimes find that something is missing from the story. BUT that’s just me and my preference. It’s hard to pin down why I like romance in stories but I guess it comes down to ‘we like what we like.’

If I tried to pin it down to something tangible I think romance is compelling because there’s a strong component to human nature that seeks human connection and romance is a driving part of that. I know romance isn’t the only human connection to be made and it’s not necessarily the most important but for a lot of people it’s a strong motivation – to love and be loved romantically. There’s a reason *why* romance is an incredibly well read and profitable genre after all!

I hate the condescending nature of anyone who sneers at *any* genre that people read but romance does seem to get its fair share and when romance appears in other genres there are arguments that it ‘dilutes’ it. You know what? I love Lord of the Rings but what made it for me was the plethora and range of relationships that the story contains and not the reams of travelling and talking trees.

I love your reasons for what romance adds to a fantasy story and agree completely.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 21, 2019 - 4:59 pm

YES YES YES do try out Wyrd and Wonder! There’s still 10 days left!

Omg yes, LOTR is a brilliant example. I’m going to be a fantasy heathen and say that I don’t really like Tolkien’s writing style (*hides*), but boy, he absolutely *nailed* all the different types of relationships (mostly male ones, but still).

I love seeing romance in books too! It’s just that sometimes it feels like authors write romance into their stories for the sake of adding romance. Not because it adds meaning and depth to the story, but because they think it’s what’s expected (from the publishers, from the readers). And that’s like a constant source of frustration for me. Just because two characters are going on a quest together, doesn’t always mean they have to smooch by the end of it!

And this is going to make me sound like an alien who’s visiting earth, but I love–and I mean, love–studying and thinking about how people make emotional connections with other people. Because on one hand, you can chalk it up to science–brain chemistry, neural signalling–but on the other hand, there are aspects of love and romance that aren’t…quantifiable. There’s that quote from Interstellar that my friend thought was cheesy but I thought was really profound, where Anne Hathaway’s character argues that “love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.” And I really really love that because it suggests that much of love is still a mystery to us. Probably the greatest mystery of all time. We can’t fully explain or understand it, and that’s the beauty of it. And I love it when stories explore that.

…aaaand I went on a philosophical tangent again. Ahhh I can’t help it, I just love talking about this stuff! 😀

Also, given how you liked The Binding, I think The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley is right up your alley! It’s one of favourite books of all time, it’s got one of my favourite love stories, and it explores that human desire for connection beautifully.

Gerry@TheBookNookUK May 26, 2019 - 1:01 pm

I think I’ve failed at the Wyrd and Wonder for this time round but I now follow the blog so hopefully will be more prepared next time!

I’m not a fan of Tolkein’s writing style either but his storytelling is on point (minus all the songs which I don’t care for). Sometimes I think authors fall into the categories of ‘writer’ or ‘storyteller.’ Sometimes they fall into both but often I think they tend to veer towards one more than the other.

If characters are smooching at the end of a quest than I want that build up to smooching during! But then that build up does have to be written well because I know what you mean about writers putting romance in for the sake of romance. I think it doesn’t work nearly as well when they sacrifice a decent non romantic relationship for a poor romantic one.

Ah you don’t need to apologise for a philosophical tangent, you know I enjoy them! I have a background in Psychology so there’s always part of my part that goes ‘we can rationale and explain everything even love’ and then there’s the part of my brain that goes ‘everything is ultimately down to magic.’ 😛

I’ll have to check out The Bedlam Stacks. I’ve read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street which I enjoyed but didn’t love and found it lacked something. I’ll give The Bedlam Stacks a go though!

Bookish: Book Blogger Hop #26 – The BookNook UK May 5, 2019 - 11:52 am

[…] Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky has articulated beautifully In Defence of Romance: What It Can Do In a Fantasy Story (Or Any Story)  […]

Off The TBR May 6, 2019 - 4:54 am

This is a post I’m going to have to think on a while. I’m one of those who is not a fan of romance. But what I found interesting was your inclusion of Blackwing. I wouldn’t have ever labeled what was in it “romance” per se though I guess I see the romantic element there. So maybe what I have in my mind is something more specific that I don’t like and I need to figure out what that is. Maybe it’s something more specific like Harlequin Romance that is all romance and light erotica? Anyway this gives me something to think on. Thanks!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 9, 2019 - 12:48 am

Oh I’m happy to hear it gave you food for thought! I guess for me, with Blackwing, there was always this undercurrent of tension and awareness and history between the Galharrow and Ezabeth that I couldn’t help but interpret as romance. Maybe subtler than other books, but still romance. Because I don’t think a romantic subplot has to be a slew of longing gazes and wild displays of affection; it could be something quiet and understated like this one.

Norrie May 6, 2019 - 9:36 am

Awesome post! <3
I don't usually look for books whose main purpose is the romance itself, but when characters become romantically involved in other genres it just feels natural. Unless it's a forced thing. Just for the sake of romance, ya know, just so the author can say "i added romance cuz i know folks like that". That's just weird.
i totally agree with what you said about how being romantically involved can show a whole different side of a character. I kinda like that sort of angle 🙂

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 13, 2019 - 10:15 pm

Thanks, Norrie!! <3 Ugh, forced romance is the worst. I guess there's a push–from both authors and publishers–to add romance to stories that don't really need it, because hey, romance sells and it's what people want, right?

waytoofantasy May 6, 2019 - 11:15 am

“Well, no one in particular.” Well, as a moderator of a huge Fantasy forum….a lot of people lol.

This is such a fantastic post and you bring up so many great points. Glad to see someone talking about this. <3

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 8, 2019 - 12:00 am

Hahaha I guess that should have been a “No one in particular (and everyone in particular).” 😀 And thank you!! Glad you enjoyed it. <3

Fiona West May 6, 2019 - 1:40 pm

Reblogged this on Fiona West and commented:
Yes. This. All day, this. THIS THIS THIS.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 7, 2019 - 11:50 pm

Ohh thank you so much for the reblog, Fiona! <3 <3

Jess @ Jessticulates May 6, 2019 - 3:09 pm

Fantastic post! I love this so much, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m ashamed to say I was a romance snob for years (even though I also loved romance when it did pop up in the books I read and shipped the couples I adored like nobody’s business???) and now I’ve learned my lesson and I love to see romance done well, especially in fantasy where, as you so rightly say, the stakes are so much higher.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 13, 2019 - 9:22 pm

Thank you, Jess!! So glad to hear you enjoyed it. <3 One of the millions of reasons for why I love books is how they can help change your views on, well, *everything*–from genres and tropes to real life topics. And I love love LOVE watching people grow to love romance. 🙂

Tonno Bisaccio May 14, 2019 - 1:08 am

…thank you for the post. As in, very well done. (I’m not a reader of romance as a defined genre yet elements of the same are essential, as in, say, scifi., both hard and not, as elsewhere. On the screen musical elements can function as similar, operating as a sort of meta-language, think Blade Runner type – more the first than the second – reaching into those emotional circuits directly. Developed motivation outside of awareness.)

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky May 21, 2019 - 12:04 am

Thank you so much for reading. <3 Your comparison with music is brilliant and spot on.

Wyrd and Wonder Shout Out! May 31, 2019 - 1:04 am

[…] Pages Below The Vaulted Sky wrote this amazing post about romance in fantasy (and in general) and it was just… wow! […]

Dancing out of May 2019 – A Dance With Books June 1, 2019 - 10:04 pm

[…] Kathy from Pages Below the Vaulted Sky talks about what romance can do in a fantasy. ⌘ Jess from Jessticulates shares how Trail of Lightning revitalises first nations horror. (Not a […]

24hr.YaBookBlog June 5, 2019 - 7:40 am

This is a fantastic discussion post & one I want to revisit as I continue writing/drafting!! 😍💞 Romance in fantasy especially is something I’m starting to give more thought about and I loved how your post explored all these differing reasons/themes that are delivered because of romance. Also as an aspiring YA Fantasy writer, this post really solidifies a lot of the thoughts I had about the romance I’m writing–that patch of grass example? Genius–I also loved how you explore romance as world-building!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky June 8, 2019 - 6:19 pm

AHHHHHH you just made my day with this, THANK YOU for your lovely words!!! <3 And I'm so happy to hear this was a good writing resource for you! I just listed out few of the things that bugged me as a reader and things I try to keep in mind as I grow my writing skills. And ooooh what is your WIP about??

24hr.YaBookBlog June 10, 2019 - 1:30 pm

Of course! <3 I love these kinds of discussion posts that really explore literary themes/topics!! & thank you so much for asking! I actually want to keep it a secret for now, b/c its something I hope to publish in the future– so all I can really say its a YA Fantasy with high stakes! XD

May ’19 wrap up – Meeghan Reads June 6, 2019 - 3:15 pm

[…] Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky defended romance novels (and I LOVED THIS so much!) […]

Holly K. Ross July 11, 2019 - 7:25 am

Most excellent post, so well written! I strongly agree!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky July 11, 2019 - 11:20 am

Thank you so much for giving it a read!


Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More