I honestly don't set out with specific intent to read books that lean towards romance, and if anyone should tell you that I used to be literary buddies with the romance genre (back when the only guy brave enough to show his cosmetically enhanced pectoral muscles and flowy mane on all the covers was named Fabio), they need to take some advice from Pinocchio. Lies! I love dark fantasy, though, even if it tends to mix a bit with the more romantical elements of fiction, and especially so if the protagonist (or deuteragonist, or even the tritagonist) is an interesting strong female character. On that note, here are some you might like to read.
The Black Jewels trilogy, by Anne Bishop, is one of my absolute favorite fantasy series. Set in a world that is divided into three separate yet interconnected realms (occupying identical geographies, but sort of in different dimensions), the story revolves around four engaging and one hundred times interesting characters: Lucivar, a rebellious winged fighter searching for a strong Queen to serve; Daemon, the lethal seducer who longs for a strong Queen to love; Saetan, the once-feared lonely High Lord of the darkest realm who dreams of a daughter to raise in the honorable ways of the Blood and the Craft; and Jaenelle, the mysterious, deadly girl who stands in the center of this triangle with the promise of becoming much more than anyone of them could imagine. With an interesting perspective on gender role reversal, strong female characterization, and fantastic writing, ignore the misleading romantic fantasy connection and give it a try!
The first book in the series is Daughter of the Blood.
The Merry Gentry series, by Laurell Hamilton, while definitely more erotic than romantic, is one of my favorite contemporary fantasies because of the wonderfully complex world Hamilton has spun from threads of fairy folklore, myth, and legend of a wide range of cultures, but with its own unique and gasp-worthy twists. Princess Meredith has been in hiding from her aunt the Queen of the Unseelie Court, home to the more frightening of the fae races, until a case she is working on, in the guise of a human private investigator, reveals her true identity. Faced once more with a world that shunned and almost killed her (repeatedly, and not by accident), now she must navigate unfamiliar territory as a desirable, powerful member of the darkling throng.
The first book in the series is A Kiss of Shadows.
The Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, by Laurell Hamilton, is probably my favorite of all vampire fiction, although mostly the first half of the series until Narcissus in Chains (book ten), where the tone of the series goes from seriously wicked supernatural crime investigation to, well, more bedroom action type stuff (the noir aspect is still there, just not as prominent). Anita Blake is an animator, someone who raises the dead for a living (her firm offers services like will settlement, witness reports, and consolation, posthumously), as well as a vampire executioner, someone legally sanctioned to hunt and kill rogue vampires who’ve broken the law. Hamilton is one of the very first authors to write what is now considered modern urban fantasy, so I consider her take on vampire mythology to be more original than recent additions to the genre (copy-cats!).
The first book in the series is Guilty Pleasures, followed by nine novels that are definitely still my top favorites, with subsequent additions to the series that are still entertaining, if not exactly in the same way.
The Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning, unlike The Black Jewels trilogy does tread more on the romance genre side of the literary line, but its take on fairy mythology is nicely original, and quite dark. MacKayla thinks she’s just a regular girl until the murder of her sister, when she discovers she has the ability to see the fae everywhere, and that her sister was involved with powerful beings and secret societies. Her quest to solve her sister’s murder spans several books, with some poorly strategized cliff-hanger endings (which frankly tried my patience but I had to keep reading if only to get to the series conclusion). Don’t expect pixie dust or dragonfly wings, rather, tentacles, nightmares, and blood-fueled magic are what these fey creatures are all about.
The first book in the series is Darkfever.
The Kushiel’s Legacy series, by Jacqueline Carey, is a wonderfully imagined alternate history slash fantasy. I say that because Terre d’Ange, the main country of the book, is based loosely on France, with surrounding countries echoes of its real-world European counterparts. I’m currently going through an unexpected Francophile phase which is why I picked up the book in the first place – fantasy blended with a bit of historical French culture, yes please! Terre d’Ange and its sister nations were founded by a band of rebel angels (from whom the people are descended), led by Elua, the main deity. Phedre, the protagonista, is a rare anguisette, physically marked with a red mote in her left eye as chosen by one of the rebel angels, Kushiel, as someone who experiences pain as pleasure. Trained in all the arts of a courtesan, secretly as a spy, she uses her skills to infiltrate the royal courts to find her way through tangled intrigue, shadowy politics, and looming disaster. Be warned, this series isn’t for everyone, as the religious and cultural foundations are based on different interpretations of sexual freedom. It isn’t at all gratuitous, though, it’s more restrained than you’d expect, and it is definitely more tasteful (and interesting!) than that book with the fifty kinds of grey or some such.
The first book in the series is Kushiel's Dart.
Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website to order a copy today!