Reading: Romance elements in fantasy

Not so long ago, I got into a discussion about romance elements in fantasy. A user on Goodreads felt that in the last years, it often goes down with at least one of the pair dying before the end or ‘devolving’ into love triangles (especially in YA Urban Fantasy and Paranormal romance sub-genres) and that ‘happy ending’ books are becoming endangered species.

It turned into a discussion about romance elements in present-time fantasy literature that was quite enjoyable and insightful, even if short.

In the end, it touches the topic of satisfaction. I’ve talked about how good ending is about more than just the bad guy’s death some time ago. That is part of the discussion that matters but it’s about more than just the last sentence being “…and they lived happily forever after”.

The opinions thrown around in said discussion were many, including but not limited to:

  • Drama keeps series going forward
  • Authors can’t write happy endings (well or at all)
  • Attempts at realism
  • Focus on single romance might derail the story’s main theme
  • Genre fracturing

The last part might be a valid reason. With the rise of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, it would seem that those willing to write relationships went in that direction, leaving Epic Fantasy in hands (and keyboards) of bloodthirsty beasts that will kill more characters than save. And even though I have little experience with the abovementioned genres, the opinion on them is greatly affected by series like Twilight and Mortal Instruments – both featuring love triangles that can get quite weird to some. Meanwhile, Fantasy went towards increasing death count (hello, G.R.R. Martin) to the point there might not be much left to have a happy ending.

Yet, in that discussion, we’ve realized that at least some people like a well-written happy romance as a backstory in fantasy. Why could that be?

The end feels more like an end.

It’s something I mentioned recently. End of a story should answer (in the best case) all or at least most questions the plot raised unless they are leads to potential follow-up books. Closing off a relationship that was going through some evolution helps to that and a happy ending makes it more satisfactory than any other option.

Something we miss.

Another opinion in the pile was that people read to get away from the drama and problems of their lives, whatever these might be. We can get inspiration from books in one way or another. Seeing a couple go well through untold dangers might give the reader a hope that it might be possible to have a relationship that goes well. I’d guess this is one of the reasons

Realistic weakness.

Heroes in books are willing to do much – and risk much – when someone they care for is in danger. More so if they are in love. A strong relationship is a strength and a weakness in one. It can give moments of pleasure and moments of pain as most bad guys will try to exploit it. It gives the hero a weak spot that just won’t work on someone who’s struggling with a broken heart. It changes the weakness from internal (sadness from the drama) to external (close person in danger). And yes, “kidnap the hero’s love interest to use as ransom” is not an original plot point but it works well.

Making the hero more human and more relatable.

Continuing from the above. Giving the hero a part of his life that is understandable and relatable to most makes them feel more human and thus more relatable. Romance with a happy ending does not mean it goes perfectly well – even if there’s no ‘intruder’ in the form of a love triangle. Fear of rejection, proving your worth, doubts – those are problems most people understand and thus can relate to them. And, through them, to the character.

The memorable moments.

Let’s leave the topic of intimacy/sex scenes itself for another time. Truth is that first kiss/first sex moments can be (for those seeking happy romance) very strong plot point. It might be a moment that defines the characters. It might be something they’ll forever remember, something they’ll use as a light in darker times – to remind themselves that no matter how bad the situation is, there are people that care for them.

External strength.

Having someone close, someone you’d risk yourself for is a potential weakness, as said above. Yet, it’s also a source of external strength. If a hero cares for someone, they’ll risk more and do their very best to make sure their partner is not in danger. And, when he/she is, to make sure they are free of it as soon as possible – even if it means taking on their suffering as the price. Those, again, are moments showing personality of characters and something that gets emotional response from the reader. And it’s most often positive reaction, unlike a fit of jealousy in love triangle scenarios.


I’ll wrap it up here. I believe I’ve mentioned all the main points I wanted to show. I guess it’s obvious now that I am from the group of readers who enjoy this kind of story over the other examples. If you know something that would fit, feel free to give a reading recommendation.

I might also return to this topic at some point. Possibly to show how I see it as a writer, possibly to delve deeper into one of the mentioned points. Who knows.

See you later!

4 thoughts on “Reading: Romance elements in fantasy

  1. I love romance in fantasy but it must be a happy ever after to satisfy my reading needs. I hate it when an author uses and ending (or not a clean ending) to hook the reader into continuing the series. If anything, it stops me from purchasing further books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The end should feel like an end to work like one. That includes closing off plot threads regarding relationships. And a happy end is way more satisfying than any else. It’s not just about the end itself but about the satisfaction that someone who fought hard to get through whatever the bad guys sent at him can finally enjoy some well-deserved rest in the embrace of a lover.
      Also, I don’t mind hints of possible spin-offs as long as the main plotline is closed and said continuation would make sense with its own plot line and story instead of only prolonging the series for sake of itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Romance elements in fantasy, part two: endings | Tomas's blog and web

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