An Introduction to Romantic Fantasy

         Romantic fantasy is defined by some as fantasy which focuses on relationships of the protagonists. However, Blue Rose has a more specific view in the development of the genre.

         High fantasy was a literary genre that arose in the fifties -- popularized by authors including J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, and others. In high fantasy, the focus was on loners or small groups of outcasts who perform heroic deeds. They might win fame and fortune in the end, but that is outside the scope of the action. In contrast to this, in the mid-1980s, a generation of new fantasy authors -- Diane Duane, Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, and others -- wrote fantasy novels where the heroes may start out as loners, but over the course of the story they develop a sense of belonging and companionship.

         Blue Rose is most closely modeled on the novels of Mercedes Lackey -- including most of her Valdemar novels, of which there are over twenty. Valdemar is a liberal country, which is defended by an elite force of Heralds. The heralds are all individuals selected by the Companions, psychic beings who closely resemble horses. The Companions, then, are a clear model for Aldis' rhydan -- and also the selection process of heralds parallels the Golden Hart's selection of the sovereign of Aldis. Valdemar is also bordered by a conservative theocracy, Karse, which parallels Blue Rose's Jarzon in many ways.

         According to Blue Rose, other common traits of romantic fantasy include a lack of elves or dwarves -- but instead there are intelligent animals and possibly offshoots of humans. The cultures are generally more egalitarian, and there are often women who are openly warriors or other positions of importance. The heroes tend to be more environmentally conscious, and magic is more of an innate psychic ability rather than a product of ancient learning with books and potions.

Recommended Reading (Blue Rose)

The following is the list of recommended reading from the Blue Rose core book.

Kristen Brittain
Green Rider

Diane Duane
The Door Into Fire
The Door Into Shadow
The Door Into Sunset

Mercedes Lackey
Arrows of the Queen
Arrow's Flight
Arrow's Fall
Magic's Pawn
Magic's Promise
Magic's Price
Elizabeth A. Lynn
The Dancers of Arun
The Northern Girl

Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword
The Hero and the Crown

Tamora Pierce
Wild Magic
Emperor Mage
The Realms of the Gods

Personal Recommendations

I haven't read enough romantic fantasy to make any claims about what is best overall. In particular, I haven't read most of Mercedes Lackey. I have read Exile's Honor, which was a prequel to the original Valdemar novels that I found decent though somewhat slow. It's about a veteran soldier, Alberich, from a conservative theocracy who is betrayed by his people, and is forced into neighboring liberal Valdemar where he becomes one of the heralds. He has trouble fitting in, but eventually finds his place when the country is thrown into war.

         My favorite among what I have read of the genre is Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series. It is generally classed as young adult, but is less juvenile than Harry Potter in my opinion. It's about Keladry of Mindelan, the first girl to openly train for knighthood in the Kingdom of Tortall. The first several are her coming-of-age story, as she comes to earn her knighthood.

         I also liked Barbara Hambly's The Ladies of Mandrigyn -- which was about a warlord, Sun Wolf, and his lieutenant Star Hawk, who are hired by the women of the city of Mandrigyn to kill the sorcerer-king who had conquered their city and enslaved the men. A good bit is made of how the women adapt and work when the men have gone, as often happens in the real world in wartime.

         None of these are on Blue Rose's list of recommended reading, but they seem to fit in the general tone. In most of them, romantic relationships are pretty much absent, though the Hambly book does have a love story in the background. The term "romantic" in the genre refers primarily to the fanciful tone of the novels rather than love stories. They have similar action to high fantasy - wars, fighting into the castle of a sorcerer-king, monsters, etc. However, there is a bit more emphasis on culture and description along the way -- and there are more prominent female characters.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue Mar 20 22:47:42 2007