This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme arrives just at the right time. Since I read Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses, I have been thinking about why the romance didn’t work for me in that book but other romances in SFF novels push all my buttons. I don’t have a quick answer to the question, but I did remember some of my very favorite couples from fantasy books. They range from tender, romantic, slowly-developing love stories to steamy, sexy, take-me-I’m-yours type romances.
Top Ten Romantic Couples in SFF Books
#1 Naomi Novik – Uprooted (Agnieszka and the Dragon)
This book is not about the romance and I wouldn’t recommend you read it solely for the romance. It is about so many things, all of them awesome, but – WOW – did that love story take me by surprise and get me all emotional. Agnieszka and the Dragon are programmed to push my buttons. They bicker, he is a dick to her most days, there seems to be dislike between them but then they discover that they are both so much better when they work together. There are two scenes in particular that were just so well written, so perfect in every way, that I bookmarked them in case I want to remember what a good sex scene is like…
#2 Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven Cycle (Blue Sargent and Richard Gansey III)
This romance is, by default, much more tame and innocent. Blue cannot kiss a boy because it has been prophecied that her kiss will kill her true love. Whether Gansey actually is her “true love” or not, everyone can see that it’s better not to risk it. Maggie Stiefvater manages, without actual kissing or sex scenes, to create an atmosphere between her characters that can only be called sexy. Blue and Gansey’s yearning for each other is tangible and the fact that they can’t act on it is as much torture for the reader as it is for them.
There is a second couple that I really like in these books, but mentioning them would lead into spoiler territory and I want all of you uninitiated to pick up The Raven Boys spoiler-free and fall in love with it as hard as I did.
#3 N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Kingdoms (Oree and Shiny)
Jemisin does romance really well. In the first book of the series, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I loved the tension between Yeine and Nahadoth, but it was the second book that made me jump up and down on my couch, hoping for two characters to get together. Oree was a fascinating character by herself, but when Shiny steps into her life, I couldn’t keep my eyes of their relationship. This is another romance that goes from initial dislike to love (I know I have a thing…) and I can’t tell you exactly why it worked so well for me. All I know is that by the end of the book I was wringing my hands, full of feelings, needing these two to be together, no matter how impossible it is.
#4 Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett – Havemercy (Thom and Rook, Royston and Hal)
This is a book with only one romance, but I really wanted there to be a second one… I kind of hate the authors for doing what they did with my second couple of choice, but I understand why there is only one couple. Man, it’s really hard to explain this without spoilers…
Royston and Hal are thrown together by coincidence and their romance develops slowly and beautifully. A magician and a young, innocent boy who knows nothing of court intrigue and life in the big city, they each find something to love in the other.
My second couple begins spewing curses at each other. One of them is just a hateful, aggressive, impulsive dick, the other tries to kick some sense and manners into him. It’s hilarious and wonderful and intense to watch.
#5 Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (Jamie and Claire)
Well, there’s a reason these books are now a TV show (an excellent one, I might add). Jamie and Claire are one of my favorite couples, not only because they go through some serious shit together, but because their story starts where most love stories end. The getting together bit is taken out of their hands and they only really get to know each other after they are married (by necessity). It’s also refreshing to see a couple go past the initial honeymoon phase and grow into something sturdier, based on love and loyalty, not just hormones.
#6 Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana (spoiler and spoiler)
Okay, this is difficult to talk about. There are two characters who, somewhere in the middle of the book, fall in love with each other. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and a little bit sexy, and that’s all I can tell you without spoiling the book.
But to make up for that, I’ll tell you about a surprisingly hot scene at the beginning of the book. No actual love involved, just a couple of young people stuck in a small room. This was my first Guy Kay book and I really didn’t expect to read a scene that was so sensual and hot. I’d love to read a book by him that has a romance at its center.
#7 Catherynne M. Valente – Deathless (Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless)
You knew there’d be a Valente book here somewhere, didn’t you? Well, here’s my choice. Marya Morevna is taken away by Koschei the Deathless to be his bride. So far, so accurate to the Russian fairy tale. There are no explicit sex scenes in this book but, trust me, when you read about these two just eating food together, you’ll feel the sexual tension! However, it is a different scene that cemented their love for me. After being separated for a while, Koschei shows up at Marya’s doorstep and delivers the most heartbreaking declaration of love I have ever read. Absolutely stunning!
#8 Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (September and Saturday)
I lied. There’s another Valente book that needs to be on this list. September and Saturday were kind of, sort of, meant to be together from the start (honestly, they even catch a glimpse into their own future). They are children, of course, and grow older over the course of the book series, but it was this third instalment that used their romance to put a dagger in my heart and twist it really hard. Again, no details because spoilers, but I get all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.
#9 Marissa Meyer – The Lunar Chronicles (Cress and Thorne)
Here’s the fluffy book for my list. The Lunar Chronicles in general are very fluffy, fun reads without too much depth. But the third and fourth book gave me Cress and Carswell Thorne. Thorne has been the star of the series ever since he showed up in Scarlet, and juxtaposing him with his very own fangirl Cress was bound to deliver some hilarious and romantic scenes. Their romance is a slow-building thing, mostly due to Thorne’s rogue nature, his arrogance and inability to notice when somebody honestly cares about him. I adored their back and forth, and the little moments they shared. Cress has to grow into herself, Thorne has to realise that he, too, has a heart, and it all ends up as a lovely, romantic action comedy.
#10 Sarah Pinborough – Tales from the Kingdoms (Snow White, Cinderella, and spoilers)
These are three very sexy retellings of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The couples who end up together are not always the ones you’d expect, and the sexy scenes are not always between the couples who end up together. If that makes sense. Three short reads, they are each incredibly sexy without being smut (not that that would be a bad thing). My favorite character is the Huntsman, but I also adored the romance of Snow White. If you want a quick read with steamy sexy times, pick these up.
- The kiss in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
- Tiffany and the Wintersmith in Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
- The ending of Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
- The slow romance in The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
- The hot-and-cold romance in The Precious Stone Trilogy by Kerstin Gier
- The romance in Graceling by Kristin Cashore