Is This Just Fantasy?: Valentine’s Day Special
Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and as heart-shaped cookies, chocolates, and balloons fill shop windows, I must acknowledge that the romance is in air–and on the bookshelves. And it seems only appropriate to celebrate the holiday by exploring some of my favorite love stories: the romances featured in young adult fantasy fiction, of course.
While particular subgenres of speculative fiction such as supernatural romance and even dystopian or futuristic romance have enjoyed a particular upsurge in popularity over the past few years, I must make a case for the delightful variety, rich character-driven stories, and, yes, swoon-inducing moments available in high fantasy fiction. Whether you like your romance to be a classic case of initial dislike and misunderstanding turned to love or platonic partnership grown into something more, there’s a something for you! So here are a few of my favorite high fantasy novels and series featuring that unique magic: romance.
Graceling - Kristin Cashore (2009 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 William C. Morris Award finalist) Since discovering her Grace (or superhuman ability) for fighting and killing as a child, Katsa has lived as her royal uncle’s unenthusiastic thug. But with the help of her tentative new ally Prince Po, Katsa sets out on an epic journey to face frightening secrets–about her abilities, her undecided future, and the dark violence spreading through the kingdoms.
Kristin Cashore is a fairly recent but incredibly popular addition to many lists of favorite fantasy writers. Her debut Graceling features not only an action-packed plot and fantastically complex heroine–it also possesses a wonderful romance. The developing relationship between Katsa and Po highlights their complementary personalities and explores the complexities of romance for a woman who has worked hard to earn her independence.
Fire – Kristin Cashore (2010 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults) Like all monsters, Fire possesses irresistible beauty and the dangerous abilities to read and influence human minds. However, unlike the brilliantly colored animal monsters populating the Dells, Fire is the last of her kind—the last human monster. Alienated by her dangerous qualities and her monster father’s dark legacy, Fire prefers to keep her distance from the larger world. But when the kingdom is in danger, Fire emerges to aid the young royal family–and face her complex feelings towards her monstrous self.
I tried to resist, but I couldn’t help but include two of Cashore’s novels in this list. The novels, protagonists, and featured romances are quite different but equally satisfying. Her particular abilities and family history make any kind of human connection difficult for Fire and the slow evolution of her relationship with Prince Brigan suits her journey perfectly.
Crown Duel – Sherwood Smith Countess Meliara promised her dying father that she and her brother would defend their people from the greedy king. But Mel’s stubborn determination to keep that promise leads them into a war for which they are far from prepared. However the brutal realities of the rebellion soon begin to look easy in comparison to the challenges awaiting Mel at the royal court as the country reassembles itself.
This delightful novel–originally published in two volumes–is surprisingly little known in the young adult lit world. Mel is such lovably prickly heroine and her relationship with Vidanric, Marquis of Shevreath, reads like the witty courtship of Lizzie Bennet & Mr. Darcy–with swords & political intrigue.
Huntress – Malinda Lo (2012 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults) The natural world is deeply out of balance. Taisin, a young sage in training, has visions that both she and her classmate Kaede must travel out of the human world to seek answers. Meanwhile, Kaede simply wants a chance to avoid her parents’ expectations and an unwanted marriage. Together, the two young women embark on a dangerous journey, unsure what to expect from their quest–or from each other.
While I appreciate a love story with cinematic build-up and clear resolution, there’s absolutely something to be said for a rich romance without a guaranteed happy ending. Taisin and Kaede’s relationship is tender, intense, and critical to their individual development. Malinda Lo’s debut novel Ash also features a lovely re-imagined fairytale romance.
The Girl of Fire & Thorns (2o12 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults & 2012 William C. Morris Award finalist), The Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom - Rae Carson Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza has grown up knowing that she is the chosen one—marked for some great destiny since birth. But so far, Elisa feels far from remarkable. Then, on her sixteenth birthday, Elisa is secretly married to a handsome king desperate for the political alliance and potential power she provides. Suddenly Elisa is queen of an unknown country on the edge of war and becomes tangled in a dangerous adventure of political intrigue and magical battles.
With this thrilling trilogy, Rae Carson burst onto the young adult fantasy fiction scene with a bang. Elisa is an incredibly appealing heroine and her personal journey from insecure and sheltered princess to strong queen and mature woman is wonderful to follow. Her romantic relationships play a great role in illustrating Elisa’ s evolution as she gains confidence and struggles to balance her political life and personal happiness.
These are just a few examples of the wonderful romances to be found in the pages of thrilling, well-crafted fantasy novels–there are so many more out there! For example, my students also mentioned titles like Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier and A Curse As Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce. Meanwhile, I could write an entire post on the rich complexities of Alanna’s sexual and romantic life as crafted by Tamora Pierce in her Song of the Lionness quartet.
What are some of your favorite magical love stories?
-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading Longbourn by Jo Baker & Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick