Carly: What comes to mind when you think of the romance novel? You’re likely envisioning a specific cover as of this very moment, with lots of flowing hair and rigidly defined pectoral muscles. But romance, as a genre, has been and continues to be about so much more than two people entwined on the cover of a book (although, inevitably, there will be some ‘twining within the pages). It’s a wildly successful industry, with romance novels making up over 50% of mass market paperbacks sold each year and more than a third of sold fiction in the United States alone, but it’s also diverse in terms of sub-genres - especially when you toss science fiction and fantasy into the mix.
Kayleigh: You could do a deep-dive into the vast options available in the SFF romance world and barely scratch the surface. There’s something for everyone, from hard fantasy tales and dystopian epics to space operas and explorations of the paranormal. Like its genre counterparts, these books are full of detailed world-building, elegantly composed plotting and deft characterizations, with a hefty dose of kissing on top! Yet, like romance as a whole, this work is frequently maligned or overlooked altogether, which is a shame because there’s so much to enjoy and too many people simply don’t know about it. That’s where we step in.
Carly: After Kayleigh wrote an excellent primer on the rich world of sci-fi and fantasy romance last month, and author Sarah Kuhn educated us on the delightfully feminist underpinnings of the genre, we realized that shining a spotlight was something we wanted to do on a more regular basis here in our corner of SYFY Wire. As self-professed romance novel readers, we’re going to be upping our coverage of SFF/genre romances with a new monthly recommendations series from SYFY Fangrrls, sharing the titles of the books we’ve been devouring lately as well as discussing upcoming releases we’re really excited about.
Since this is our inaugural month, our recs are going to be a little more of the former - but moving forward, we want to highlight books releasing later this year, so if you have or know of a book you want us to read and recommend, reach out to us on Twitter at @SYFYFangrrls using the hashtag #FangrrlsRomance.
Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole: A perfect gateway drug for anyone wanting to try out SFF romance for the first time. Set in a chilling time where all power in America has mysteriously been "turned off", the first book in the Off the Grid series follows a student named Arden who, along with her family and the enigmatic Gabriel, must survive violent scavengers and make their way to safety. The opening chapter grabs you by the throat while the rest of the novel's more slow-burn approach to the fascinating interpersonal dynamics will keep you hooked. Dystopian romance can feel like an odd fit to some readers, but Cole makes it seem effortless and shows the necessity of keeping hope alive during the darkest times.
Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh: There are few writers in SFF who craft worlds as detailed and engrossing as Nalini Singh. The Guild Hunter series is arguably lesser known than her Psy-Changeling saga, but it offers many of the same thrills with a uniquely detailed world. Here, angels live among humans, as do vampires, who are ruled over by their winged leaders. When vampires go rogue, hunter Elena Deveraux is called upon to deal with the task. The first novel opens as she is hired for a job by the intensely alluring Archangel Raphael. If you like your romances a little more alpha focused, this is definitely for you, but even non-romance fans will find much to love in the skillful way Singh details this world. Some elements may feel familiar to urban fantasy lovers, but the details and execution are uniquely Singh.
Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin: Steampunk is a tough subgenre to get right. It's easy to fall into cliches of cogs and clocks, but in the right hands, it can be mesmerizing. Jeannie Lin's Gunpowder Chronicles reimagines 19th century China in the aftermath of the Opium Wars. The nation's gunpowder might fell to the steam power of Britain, forcing them to give the British Empire full access to their major ports. Jin Soling, whose father was executed for his part in the nation's downfall, is called upon by the Crown Prince to help restore the country's fleet of weapons. Lin writes particularly lush prose and has crafted a richly detailed world that offers a uniquely diverse perspective in a genre that desperately needs it. Best known for her historical romance, Lin's foray into steampunk retains everything that makes her sinfully underrated work a must-read.
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews: In a world where both magic and technology occur (though never at the same time), Kate Daniels is a mercenary who just so happens to have a touch of magic of her own. I fell in love with Ilona Andrews (a pseudonym for a husband-and-wife co-writing team) when I read the first book in their Kate Daniels series several years ago. These books are a wealth of worldbuilding and delightful chemistry between the main pairing (one of whom is referred to as the Beast Lord and gets a ton of cat jokes tossed in his direction, the other of whom carries a sword and is an all-around badass in her own right). The series, which is currently expected to conclude with the tenth being released later this fall, is perfect if you like rich urban fantasy with a touch of romance featuring a couple you can really root for.
Gabriel’s Ghost by Linnea Sinclair: Sinclair is a well-known name in the sci-fi romance subgenre specifically, writing the kind of books that I can only describe as what would happen if you blended a boy-meets-girl love story with a sweeping intergalactic narrative. If you love Star Trek or Firefly but always wished there were a lot more than just a handful of kisses and unresolved sexual tension, Sinclair’s works are perfect. Technically, Gabriel’s Ghost is the first in her Dock Five Universe series, a quartet which features three different romantic pairings that are all super strong and fun to follow along with (though I’m kind of partial to Chaz and Sully, the couple introduced in this book).
Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon: This is, to put it simply, a very iiiinteresting alien romance. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sold on this at first from the heroine’s POV, but when the story switched over to the alien’s perspective I fell in love. There’s shades of Earth Girls Are Easy and Beauty and the Beast in this story - in fact, the main alien species in this series very much reminded me of the Beast in overall aesthetic; they’re blue, but they also have horns and a tail and… well, you get the picture. Horns and tail and slightly differing genitalia aside, Dixon has a very fine line to walk in pairing an unsuspecting romantic lead with a human woman who, frankly, isn’t quite sure how she feels being fated-to-be-mated to a big blue guy. This book was super fun and surprisingly sweet, and I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the series.
My bonus rec goes to another Alyssa Cole novel (this one a new release!): I preordered A Princess In Theory after devouring Cole's Off the Grid trilogy (the first book of which Kayleigh recced above). It's been described as the new Princess Diaries, paired with a Wakanda-like society (only without all that handy vibranium). The set-up is pretty amusing: what would you do if the African prince emailing you about your betrothal wasn't actually a scam? Fans of Black Panther who are looking for a new romance to read will also be delighted to discover another Black heroine in STEM too (like our girl Shuri!). It's the first book in Cole's new Reluctant Royals series, and I can't wait to pick up the next installment this summer.
Where To Go If You Want More:
SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com - This site for romance and the readers who love them started back in 2005, and has since grown to become one of the leading communities for finding reviews and discussion of current, upcoming and blast-from-the-past romance novels. They also keep track of which books and e-books are on sale at any given moment with regular posts, which can be either a blessing or a curse depending on the state of your wallet.
Dear Author - Another romance-centric site for readers by readers. Founded as a blog back in 2006, Dear Author reviews romance novels, spotlights the rise of ebooks and digital technology, and discusses everything related to romance books.
Romance Novels in Color - This site is dedicated to showcasing diversity in romance. Each romance novel reviewed by RNIC features either a hero or a heroine of color (or both!).
Vaginal Fantasy Book Club - Co-founded in 2012 by Veronica Belmont, Bonnie Burton, Felicia Day and Kiala Kazebee, this monthly romance book club (held via Google Hangout) focuses largely on genre offerings (including SF, paranormal, historical, urban fantasy, steampunk, etc.).
Love Between the Covers - This 2016 documentary is a wonderful, emotional, heartfelt tribute to the genre and some of its well-known published authors. It's a great introduction to romance novels if you don't know them all that well and want to find out more, as well as learn about how the industry has shifted and evolved - and continues to evolve - over the years.