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Ten Fantasy Romance Novels

October 1, 2010

This, as far as I’m concerned, is a winning combination. A book that has both fantasy and romance, as long as it’s reasonably well written and the characters are likable, is a book I am likely to enjoy. There are many fine examples out there, but here are ten of my personal favorites.

1. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – It doesn’t get much better than this, people. This book has everything: fantasy, romance, adventure, humor, and best of all, a sassy, intelligent female heroine. There are a lot of Cinderella retellings in the world, but I think this is the best. Ella is smart, funny, and independent and she falls in love with the loveable Prince Char, but she is cursed (or “blessed,” depending on whether or not you’re a deluded gift-giving fairy) with obedience. When given an order, she has to obey. This causes some problems. This is technically my second-favorite book of all time, after The Lord of the Rings, but I’ve read it many more times as it has the advantage of being rather shorter. Don’t even talk to me about the horrible movie version of this, however. Shudder.

2. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – When an evil witch puts Sophie under a spell that turns her into an old woman, she leaves home and takes refuge in the moving house of the mysterious wizard Howl. It’s up to her to break the spell that was put on her, as well as the one the witch put on Howl. Sophie and Howl are both unique and interesting characters and this is a great book with a bit of a classic fairy tale aura mixed with an unmistakable Diana Wynne Jones-style quirkiness. There was a movie made of this one too, and while it does differ a bit from the book, I find it much more enjoyable.

3. Wolf Tower (The Claidi Journals) by Tanith Lee – This is the first in a four-book series about a girl (Claidi) who has lived all her life as a servant in a walled castle until a handsome prince arrives. She helps him to escape and they travel together to his home. There’s lots of adventure as well as some humor and Claidi is also a brave, independent heroine. Plus, there are gypsies. The story is told in journal format, which works particularly well here, because it provides direct access to Claidi’s delightful voice. Also, did I mention there are gypsies?

4. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (The Squire’s Tales) by Gerald Morris – Dear Lord, I love these books. The Squire’s Tales (of which there are 10) are based on Arthurian legend, and retold by Gerald Morris in a way that both pokes fun at the most absurd parts of the traditional stories and pays loving homage to them. I love stories of King Arthur and Camelot, and these books are particularly wonderful because of the humor and because the characters are so very real. Technically, this is the third book, but it also works as a stand-alone and it’s my personal favorite. It’s about a girl named Lynette who goes to Camelot to ask for help for her sister, who is being tormented by a miscreant knight. She has to stop the knight and save her sister with the help of a knight/dishwasher and a particularly snarky dwarf named Roger.

5. Stardust by Neil Gaiman – This is a bizarre, but quite good, book which actually translated really well into a movie in my opinion, and I adore both versions (Robert de Niro, and Claire Danes, and Charlie Cox after he gets the makeover with the white suit and the hair, and…um). So a slightly dorky guy named Tristan lives in a town next to a wall between our world and the world of Stormhold. He wants to impress a snotty girl named Victoria, so he crosses the wall in search of a fallen star. The star’s name is Yvaine and it seems that everyone in Stormhold is looking for her for some reason, some more nefarious than others. There are devious princes, evil witches, and swashbuckling sky pirates. Basically, it’s all kinds of fun, and if you’ve seen the movie, I encourage you to check out the book because it is equally entertaining.

6. The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley – This is a little-known book with many classic fantasy elements, and it’s one I’m quite fond of. A princess named Torina has the gift of prophecy and befriends a young soldier named Landon. They become best friends but are separated when the King is attacked and Torina is forced to flee to a neighboring country. She must use her abilities as a seer to find Landon again and to reclaim her place on the throne.

7. The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern) by Shannon Hale – There are now four books in this series, but this is the first and my personal favorite. It’s based on the fairy tale of the same name, wherein a princess on her way to neighboring kingdom to marry the prince is attacked by her serving maid and forced to switch places. Working as a goose girl while the imposter takes her place in the palace, Anidori discovers a special ability to commune with the wind which she must use to stop a war between the two kingdoms. It’s exciting, intriguing and highly satisfying.

8. Shadowland (Mediator) by Meg Cabot – This is the first book in a series which is probably the most similar to Twilight of any of these in that it takes place in our modern world and it’s about a girl who falls in love with a supernatural being—in this case, a ghost. The difference is that this girl, Suze, is a strong character who has more in common with Buffy than Bella. Also, the boy, Jesse, is sweet and not at all creepy (despite being, you know, dead). Suze has the ability to see and talk to ghosts but constantly avoids the accompanying responsibility to help them cross over in favor of exorcisms and fist fights. These are quick reads and I recommend them to Cabot fans, Twilight fans, and anyone who enjoys a good supernatural romance.

9. On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt – Interestingly, this (the second in a quartet, but easily a stand-alone) falls somewhere on the line in between fantasy and historical fiction. It feels like fantasy in a lot of ways, but the only thing that keeps it from being historical is that it takes place in a fictional kingdom. Fictional, but not magical. Innkeeper’s daughter Birle finds herself swept away on an adventure across the most dangerous parts of the Kingdom with a young Lord named Orien. She falls in love with him easily, but they are soon captured and forced into slavery. And that’s only the beginning. This one is a bit dense in parts, but it’s also a suspenseful adventure and a satisfying love story.

10. The Truth-Teller’s Tale by Sharon Shinn – Again, this is actually the second in a series of books that take place in the same world but are only slightly inter-connected. It’s about a set of twin girls, each of whom has a special ability. Eleda tells only the truth and can tell when others are lying and Adele is a Safe-Keeper and cannot repeat any secret that is told to her. When two strange young men arrive in their village, a summer full of romance and Shakespearean-style mistaken identities ensues. It’s another quick read and lots of fun.

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