It seems an obvious match, especially with all the unfair stereotyping there is directed at both genres. Romance is Fantasy. Fantasy is Romance. At least, that’s what a lot of readers seem to think (or at least the most vocal ones). I’ve always been told never to apologize for your guilty pleasures, so I’m going to come right out and say it: just like in every genre of literature known to mankind, there are abysmal hacks and triumphant geniuses writing and getting published in romance and fantasy, too. Some of it is smart, funny, and clever. Some of it is horrifying, misogynistic, and poorly plotted. Such is the nature of novel-dom. But on to my wish…
Two of my favorite romance authors, Nora Roberts and Lisa Kleypas, have both tapped into the fantasy genre in their own ways. Roberts wrote (among other things) the “Circle” trilogy, a series that takes place partly in the real world, and partly in a fantasy kingdom. Kleypas has her “Friday Harbor” trilogy out right now (the third releases in August) that treads that fine line between magical realism and true fantasy. Morrigan’s Cross, the first in the “Circle” trilogy, is the first Nora Roberts I ever read, and I really dug it. But there’s only so much room for world-building when you’re penning a bodice-ripping romance, and the fantasy elements took a back-seat to the focal couple in each of the three novels in the series.
The romance novel form (as it stands) doesn’t allow for a lot of complexity. Rich, diverse worlds and deep characters with more on their minds then mating are seldom to be found. And so, I think it would be a treat to see each of these authors given the opportunity to really play around in a fantasy setting, crafting worlds and giving their characters something slightly more pressing to worry about than romance.
That is not to say, of course, that they haven’t done their best with the medium at hand. But romance readers (or I suspect, more often, romance publishers) have a very specific equation in mind when they’re putting together a bestseller, and it doesn’t allow room for much else besides love and happy-ever-afters. Give them the chance to explore a real fantasy world and, I suspect, we’d see something truly magical emerge.