Allison Saft talks all things Romantasy
"I am the cool, mature sort of thirteen-year-old who can browse the adult fiction section and maybe even like something set in the 18th century."
This post was written by Allison Saft, author of A Fragile Enchantment.
When I was thirteen years old, somewhere in the shelves of a Key West bookstore, I happened upon a book with a dragon on its cover. In my memory and perhaps in reality, the dragon is embossed and foiled in gold, and it curls, inviting and ouroboros-like, around the title: The Smoke Thief. It is exactly the sort of cover that calls to a girl who thinks, well, I loved Dragon Rider when I was younger. I am the cool, mature sort of thirteen-year-old who can browse the adult fiction section and maybe even like something set in the 18th century.
This is how I accidentally read my first (and I use this term with genuine fondness) romance novel. The rest is history, as they say.
While The Smoke Thief was my first brush with traditionally published romantasy, it wasn’t a complete shock to my system. The real site of my origin story is a common one among YA authors: online fandom spaces, particularly those dedicated to serialized manga. Those stories–with their sprawling magic systems and enormous casts and even more enormous thematic hearts–captured me like nothing else ever had. While I waited for new chapters to be drawn and translated, forums and fanfiction provided opportunities to spend time with the characters I adored and missed so desperately. I could speculate on their backstories and offer different interpretations of their actions. I could have them talk to and (gasp!) kiss each other. A bleeding-heart romantic’s dream!
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Fan works, which so lovingly render the interior lives of their characters and often spend thousands upon thousands of words lingering on small intimacies, fomented both my taste in fiction and my creative impulses. I came to appreciate writing with a deep focus on character and the texture of desire, where high-stakes action is secondary or holds equal weight to character growth (and yearning). This, I think, is the crux of why I love romantasy. In worlds filled with fantastical, oftentimes dangerous things, emotion rises above all else, even dragons. In these worlds, love is the most magical thing there is.
I’m very happy to see that my favorite genre is so zeitgeisty–and consequently, that there is such a wide range of books to choose from! No matter how you like the dials turned on the romance and fantasy channels, there is something for you. We also have so much more to look forward to! In 2024, I am eagerly anticipating Judy I. Lin’s Song of the Six Realms, Makiia Lucier’s Dragonfruit, and Sylvie Cathrall’s A Letter to the Luminous Deep. In the meantime, I offer you a selection of my favorite young adult and crossover romantasy, romantic fantasy, and fantasy with romantic subplots. If you like my books or share my feelings on the genre, I think you’ll like these, too!
The Regency Faerie Tales series by Olivia Atwater
I read the Regency Faerie Tales in 2022, and they quickly became new all-time favorites, particularly the second book in the series, Ten Thousand Stitches. Lord Blackthorn is everything to me. They’re Regency-era historical romances–with fae and sorcery! I love Atwater’s delightful characters, as well as her thoughtful examinations of class inequity and what we must overlook and suppress to exist aside in “polite” society. I promise you will laugh and cry!
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
This was my favorite book of 2020! It’s a wonderful, smart alternate-world Regency fantasy about a young woman who longs to become a Magus in a world where only men can practice real magic. The inciting incident is the eponymous midnight bargain: Beatrice strikes a deal with a spirit of fortune, who promises to help her get her hands on a magical grimoire. The price? To let it occupy her body during a ball, where she must eat delicious cakes and have her first kiss with a handsome stranger. It is pure whimsy! But it also has some genuinely pulse-pounding stakes.
Mysteries of Thorn Manor by Margaret Rogerson
If you have spoken to me longer than ten minutes, you know that I am obsessed with Margaret Rogerson’s books. I adore Enchantment of Ravens and Sorcery of Thorns and could talk about them at length, but for those of you who want a romance-as-the-plot romantasy, here you go! Since the events of Sorcery of Thorns, Elisabeth and Nathaniel have been living together out of wedlock, which has greatly angered one of the more, shall we say, traditional spirits residing in Thorn Manor. This is the story of their “proper” courtship, and it is so cozy–and funny!
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Melissa Bashardoust’s debut novel, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, was one of the novels that inspired me to write YA. If you haven’t read either of her books, I implore you to remedy that. Her writing is beautiful and elegant; it genuinely reads like a fairytale. This one is probably the lightest on romance of my recommendations, but it does have a gorgeous f/f romance at its heart and something of a bisexual love triangle. Because the plot is so twisty, I honestly just want y’all to experience it without me saying too much about it. If you love reading about young women grappling with what it means to be monstrous, you will love this.
Get your copy of A Fragile Enchantment by Allison Saft here.