Romance plots in fantasy novels that are actually GOOD?
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I love a good love story, but I prefer such stories in which 1) the female character is not robbed of anything remotely resembling intelligence when she falls for the man, and 2) the two characters interact with a modicum of intelligence. To put it succinctly, I like a SMART love story, in which the lovers, whatever emotional angst they may indulge in, act like halfway sane adults.
So what are some romantic plots in fantasy novels that actually work well? Ones in which both characters involved come off looking decent? I'm eager to see some recommendations.
For some science-fictiony fantasy you could jump all the way back to MacCaffrey's Restoree or Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Sime/Gen novels (which have been reissued as ebooks). Andre Norton's Witch World novels have a lot of very subdued romance. And have you tried Doris Egan's Ivory series?
I tend to prefer (and write) books which have romance as the sub-plot, but if you're looking for the more primary romance plotline then that's become a distinct sub-genre which is marketed that way.
For fantasy crossed with SF as well as romance, I like Sharon Shinn's Samaria books.
For urban fantasy, some of Kelley Armstrong's books fit the bill, although in others the romance isn't as much to my taste. I especially like Paige and Lucas's relationship, which starts in Dime Store Magic. (The Otherworld series switches narrators every few books.)
Edit to add, the lady is certainly not a simpering weed. It might be what you're looking for.
I'll have to look up "Goblin Moon." And I know I like Patricia Briggs.
I recently read "The Ladies of Mandrigyn" by Barbara Hambly - out of print, but then a friend of mine, who has an extensive library of science fiction and fantasy, loaned me his copy. This book had a touching love plot, though it was very much a subplot (and interestingly enough, the hero and heroine discover their love for one another when they are very far apart).
Juliet Marillier's love plots are generally strong, though "Blade of Fortriu" (annoyingly drippy heroine) and "Heir to Sevenwaters" (everything's all about the intensely magically powerful male hero) disappointed me a little. "Wolfskin" is one of my favorites.
I like Marillier's Sevenwaters trilogy (disliked the fourth book, Heir of Sevenwaters), but after that all her characters and love stories are the same. Very repetitive. I didn't even finish Cybele's Secret; the broody posing bodyguard boy was just too much to stomach.
Of Marillier's love stories (which do get repetitive after a while, I agree) my favorites are these:
The Dark Mirror (I love Tuala)
Child of the Prophecy
Mercedes Lackey's love stories can also get repetitive from time to time, though I do gobble Lackey's work like popcorn. One that stands out as particularly touching, to me, is Phoenix and Ashes.
Martha Wells trilogy The Fall of Ile-Rien has a lovely worldspanning romance subplot, and has her Wheel of the infinite.
In the urban fantasy genre, I don't think anyone has mentioned Eileen Wilks the world of the lupi series - a gifted FBI agent becomes mate of a werewolf Alpha-heir while solving supernatural crimes:-) She used to write true romances, and it occasionally shines through, but she is a competent writer, and the stories are without romance cliches.
Charles de Lint has some fabulous female protagonists, and there is almost always a romantic subplot in his stories. Try Someplace to be flying or Greenmantle.
This is not fantasy, but Lois McMaster Bujold books about Cordelia Naismith are space opera-romance at its best. Intelligent, likable heroine, great plots.
The Kushiel novels, of course (begins with Kushiel's Dart), although as someone said above they are very far from conventional.
An interesting love triangle, of sorts, develops in The Lions of Al-Rassan and upon which much of the ending's impact relies.
I've fond memories of the Mordant's Need duology in this respect as well (begins with The Mirror of Her Dreams).
Ann Bishop's Black Jewels series is excellent, if dark. And straying slightly toward sci-fi, some of Ann Maxwell's earlier books like Timeshadow Rider might appeal. For more traditional romance plotting, Jayne Ann Krentz's (writing as Jayne Castle) Curtain series is romance with a paranormal gloss.
Andre Norton - Ware Hawk or the Crystal Gryphon series - might suit you. Her heroines tend to be strong. And I don't see that your library includes any Ann McCaffrey. Her Pern books often have a romantic element, as well, but the women (in most cases) don't sacrifice their personalities when they fall in love.
Never thought of the Pern books as being all that romantic, but then again ... from what I can recall, I think SunnySD might be right about a fair number of them.
I second both authors. ^_^
I would also agree with Juliet Marillier I love all her books and don't think that the plots all become the same. And anyway there are supposedly only seven plots in the world so something is bound to get repetitive at some point.
And I always recommend Martha Wells to anyone looking for strong female characters, and a good blend of action, romance and dry humour.
Just to give the thread a quick nudge in a certain direction:
What are some of the best romantic plots in fantasies in which the female is the special one (magically empowered, or an "other" creature) and the male is the ordinary human one? I see it the other way around (ordinary gal, extraordinary guy) so often that I find it distressing.
Re: Georgette Heyer--
I am not averse to historical fiction. In fact, it's my second-favorite genre to read. My main area of study for my grad degree was nineteenth-century British fiction, so that should tell you something. So while I am looking primarily for recommendations in the fantasy genre, I certainly won't turn up my nose at a well-written historical romance.
The only genre of fiction I'm NOT interested in is realistic contemporary. I like my reading to transport me to another time and/or place.
Recommendations I second: Definitely Robin McKinley and Patricia Briggs, as well as Bujold's Sharing Knife. The one Emma Bull I read, War for the Oaks would fit your bill. I'm a huge fan of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series, but more for the male characters than the women. I also love Diana Wynne Jones but I don't think of her as romance. If you don't mind YA though, you might look at Tamora Pierce (Alanna would eat Bella for breakfast, it's total tough girl YA).
(One exception: Arkady Desean in Jennifer Fallon's Tide Lords series. I did love her, because even though she's non-magical, she at least gets to be tall and bookish.)
Please forgive the ignorance, but what does M/M mean?
For books where the woman is specifically stronger/smarter/more magical, I'd push Jaran, The Poison Study, and the Black Jewels trilogy.
That's why I'm suspicious of most "magical/mundane" pairings. I do like to see a magical woman and a mundane man paired from time to time, ONLY because we see magical men paired with mundane women so often (superheroes almost always fall for non-super women) that it makes for a refreshing change.
You've hit on my preference as well. I like romances where the two people are _partners_ and where they both bring something to the table. They don't have to be equally powerful, but if the romance revolves around one person who is powerful and understands what's going on and another person who is weak, learning, and needs to be rescued constantly...it needs to be incredibly well written for me to not feel more than a little annoyed by the end.
Georgette Heyer's a good example of romances which are great and where both partners have strengths (Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Devil's Cub, Sylvester) and romances where I won't even read the book any more because the woman who thinks she's strong and independent keeps needing to be rescued by the man who understands it all so much better than she does, eg. Regency Buck. (Regency Buck inspired such a rage-reaction my last time reading it I wrote a story where the heroine runs around rescuing _everyone_.)
It's interesting, though, how everyone has romances which work for them and don't work for them. There are other romantic dynamics that also annoy me, like the "overly sparring" couple, where they seem put on the planet for the sole purpose of making each other lose their tempers. Works for a lot of people, but isn't my kind of story.
So I just finished a book called Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson and I really have to say that out of all the fantasy books kr series I have read this first book in the series did present a completely differet type of magic that I have ever read before. I can't even describe what I mean because Sanderson wove such a intricate story and the characters were phenomenal that if I tried to describe it i all i would not be able to do it justice. I will say however that although it is not based on romance at all there is romance in it and i believe that the next books in the series focus more on that romance. i think sanderson subtlely incorporates philosophy into his work that it makes it deeper and more meaningful than just fun literature for your imagination.
There is the world. One of the kind which tries to cover imagination deficiency issues with Fancy Names. But still, somehow passable.
And there are characters. I am ready to forgive simple plot. I can grit my teeth and bear an universe that was made up just because there had to be some place it all happens. But when a fifty-thousand-year-old undead witch acts like a ignorant teen, and equally old High Lord of Hell (named Saetan Deamon SaDiablo, imagine that!) turns out to be quite a nice family man troubled by his young ward's misbehaviour, there's something a bit off with this whole business. Particularly the parts taking place in Realm of Hell. It felt as if on some level it was meant to be a sort of comedy for children, but then the author changed her mind and just throw in some maturity content and angst by creating the other Realms.
One of the main characters living here is a sex-slave (as all the other men). He's also a short-tempered sadist in constant cold rage, but still is capable of exchanging notes with his long-lost-just-rediscovered father (yes! the High Lord of Hell) on parenting.
There's a prostitute who's an assassin with grudge, and tens of sexually unfulfilled females, including the Main Villain, whose name should be Dominatrix instead of Dorothea. Also, some causes of pedophilia and chid abuse. Not to mention brutality, sadism and occasional slaughter.*EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE* up the wazoo seriously.
And just to be clear on the subject, I have nothing against such elements in literature, as long as it is convincingly justified. And here, it is *Not*.It was presented in such a way that I can't imagine any other reason for its presence in the story but author's whim. And a cheap bait, because, hey, maybe the whole thing is a real garbage, but who doesn't want to read a few spicy scenes featuring Cold Sadistic Bastard?
Another feeling I couldn't shake off while reading, is that the whole thing was a crappy fan fiction story. One of the kind where characters are almost comepletely deprived of their original mentality so their course of action could be shaped accordlingly to the plot the author wants to carry out while including her erotic dreams about them.
I've never experienced such a strong impression of Out of Character Behaviour, as reading this book. The peculiar part is it being an original work of ficion.
One thing I regret is that, despite everything, the book really really had a potential. It coud've been genuinely dark, engaging story of a young Witch raising to power, of people struggling to gain control over their lives, of cruelty inspired by priviledge and its consequences, all set in a richly pictured, harsh world dominated by women. But for me, it wasn't. there was just too much slop to ignore. i honestly can say it felt forced. I didnt like readignsimething that could have been so much more.
If I really had to recommend this book to someone, my best bet would be the darker and more mature part of Twilight fandom, with ability to stomach some sexual controversies and possible squickyness. But, seriously, why bother buying such thing when there's pelnty of it on the Web, with more familiar names like, say, Edward?
And as far as the age difference... Well, at least it's not as bad as Bella and Edward. ;)
This may be strange, but I like to know as much as possible about a book before I commit myself to reading it.
If writers are going to pair someone with magical ability (even if it's common to his/her race) with a partner with no such ability, they have to make a conscious effort to give the non-magic partner some strength of his/her own. When the mundane of the pair is male, writers usually manage to do this. In Shinn's "Mystic and Rider," for example, which I am reading now, the non-magic hero has exceptional physical strength as well as insight and cunning; he brings something USEFUL to the table and does not function as a mere appendage of the magical heroine. We know he can be awesome on his own.
But when the mundane of the pair is female, too many writers -- and many of them female -- do not make any effort to give her strengths of her own. She becomes a looking glass through which the oh-so-awesome magical male may be seen. Examples, apparently very popular with girls:
Twilight et. seq., of course: kick-butt vampire guy, thoroughly ordinary and completely talentless girl
Hush, Hush: angel guy, ordinary girl
Shiver, et. seq.: werewolf guy, ordinary girl (I've heard this one called "Twilight: Team Jacob version")
The Tiger's Bride, et. seq., the latest Big Thing in YA fantasy romance apparently: shape-shifter guy, ordinary girl (who, if the excerpts on Amazon are to be believed, talks and thinks more like a preteen than like a girl bound for college).
In stories like this, the girl's ordinariness is key. She's made as plain as possible so that any girl reader can insert herself into the character's place and imagine herself being loved, rescued, and pampered by the oh-so-awesome magical male.
Drives me NUTS!!
I'm honestly stumped to think of a single example of a magical male/mundane female pairing in which the female was allowed to be awesome in her own right, independent of her much stronger, wiser, more capable S.O., and did not stand in perpetual need of rescue. When bad writers give us this dichotomy, well, we can't expect much better. But when GOOD writers reiterate it, I have to shake my head and wonder.
As a reader, I want something else.
You're right, though. I can't think of any others.
I don't mind if the female has to be rescued occasionally, so long as she gets to rescue back on occasion. I always feel more satisfied if they can stand on their own two feet.
I like female characters who are almost too powerful - or can access overwhelming power in some way - because then their focus tends to shift to interesting moral struggles (the with great power comes great responsibility thing). So much more interesting for me.
okay I know quite a few books that the female is not dependent on her man in the book for example
magic bites by illona Andrews. the heroine is definitely strong and many men actually are put off by how strong she is and how she makes emasculated them. the hero and the heroine are both strong.
also the night huntress series
the woman in this novel was already independent when her man came along was already kicking ass and taking names the guy only helped her to become better at it. I adore cat and bones.
the summoning by Kelley Armstrong the first in the darkest powers trilogy is also a great example of the characters each bringing something to the table in fact that's kind of what the book is based around supernatural teens.
oh and then there is the house of night series it's based around the theme of supernaturals at bording school and the protagonist in the book is actually the anomaly and strongest fledgling at the school and she gets paired quite evenly throughout the whole series with a male to match her for the most part.
there is the Anita Blake series although Anita Blake is kind of normal she lives anything but a normal life and she is definitely kick ass if you have read or do read that series I'd love to talk about it because I am dying for more opinions on some of the books in it.
like I said in my comment above in mistborn by Brandon Sanderson the female is definitely strong and only gets stronger where as her male counterpart is actually the mundane... idk great book to start off a series with. check out the reviews.
the there is the book unearthly i forget who wrote it but the girl in this book is supernatural while her man is not. check out the reviews.
I have so many others where he woman is strong enough to hold her own in the paranormal world she lives in. I love paranormal romance!
if I thinknof anymore I will add them
I'm also interested in seeing how female characters deal with power and the ethical dilemmas attached thereto. That's much more interesting to me, as well, than seeing a relatively, or comparatively, powerless girl or woman try (often in vain) to keep up with her much more powerful S.O.
I don't want to read about heroines like myself. I want to read about heroines BETTER than myself, characters who possess traits I admire and to which I aspire. I want to look up to them, not look sideways at them or (certainly) look down on them or pity them.
I will say, however, that I think it's a difficult series to summarize--and I don't think Lois Bujold is very good with names. :) (Fawn doesn't like her name, if that helps!)
What is Fawn good at?
That's the main thing I ask of the heroines (and heroes) in books: Be good at something. Have some sort of specific talent, interest, or accomplishment. If it isn't fighting skills or magic, fine, just as long as it's SOMETHING -- the healing arts, music, painting, poetry, storytelling. (No, babies don't count. Not for me, anyway.) I like the main characters in stories to shine in some way.
If a heroine isn't good at anything, or if her gifts are so abstract and nebulous that they almost never come to the forefront or prove useful, I tend to lose patience.
The chronicles of Morgaine by C.J. Cherryh
The Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells
And maybe Inda by Sherwood Smith which although it's not pure romantic fantasy has some wonderful romantic sub-plots.
But I didn't notice anyone answering the question "What is Fawn good at?"
Fawn isn't good at any one particular thing, she's just generally intelligent, handy and capable. This gift, far from being so abstract as to never come to the forefront, is constantly being usefully employed. But it isn't "awesome". So if awesomeness is what you are looking for, you're probably better off looking elsewhere.
IMHO, YMMV, other disclaimers as required.
The first and most important thing: I need to know the answer to the question, "Why are they in love?" The writer needs to show, not merely tell, what draws the two characters to each other. If I find myself thinking, "What does he see in her?" on more than one occasion, it's not working for me.
Second, hero and heroine need to be evenly matched, as opposed to a relationship where one character is obviously smarter, wiser, more competent, more capable than the other -- where one is perpetually serving as a guide, and the other as a follower.
Third, the two should communicate intelligently. They should both be smart, and they should have interests, enjoyments, and values in common. They should have something to talk about when they're not threatened by danger of some sort.
Fourth, the two should carry at least something like an equal load in the adventures, as opposed to one constantly having to rescue the other.
Fifth, both characters should have distinct personalities. Both should be complex and interesting people.
Sixth, while the characters should need and depend on each other, they should also each have a measure of autonomy. I prefer it when both characters are IMPORTANT in and of themselves, rather than one character's importance springing solely from her (it's usually "her") relationship with her S.O. The last thing I need is some fantasy version of June Cleaver, capable and competent enough in her own domestic sphere but unable to think and act independently of her role as wife/mom and completely defined by her connection with the man. I was careless in throwing the word "awesome" around. There are many ways of being awesome. But this is what I really mean -- a measure of autonomy, of independent thinking and action.
Finally, seventh, both characters should be good at something.
These are the qualities that make a good love story, for me. But of course, I know not everyone seeks the same things.
Shards of Honor might meet them, but it's not fantasy.
Oh, and if you're scratching for something read at the moment and read ebooks, I'd love to send you a copy of one of mine just to see if you think it measured up.
That's very clear, but I can't think of anything that meets all seven criteria, so I guess I'll go back to lurking.
Jane Austen, in "Pride and Prejudice," provided a kind of template for a witty, well-developed romance between two interesting characters. She followed it up in "Persuasion." ("Emma" is not my favorite.)
Charlotte Bronte, in "Jane Eyre," amped up the angst, but despite the very serious flaws in the hero's character, I couldn't help appreciating the way the two characters moved toward each other by inches, talking to each other, finding each other out. The heroine does NOT sacrifice her honor and integrity for love, even though she is sorely tempted to do so.
My favorite movie romance is probably Bogart and Hepburn in "The African Queen." It seems like a case of "Opposites Attract," but as the two work together, they discover how much they have in common and develop a genuine appreciation and respect for each other, as well as a sexual attraction. Each partner helps the other become his/her best self.
I think that's the thing I love most about a good love story: each character becomes at least a little bit BETTER as a result of the connection they form -- stronger, braver, wiser, more confident, more competent. Not many writers have the ingenuity or the subtlety to pull this off.
I haven't watched The African Queen, but none of the other examples you site here seems to me to match the criteria you gave earlier. I must not have understood your seven points as well as I thought I did.
OTOH, our tastes are actually starting to look pretty similar, so I guess I'll try recommending a few things I liked that haven't been mentioned yet.
You might want to try Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden books, probably starting with Agent of Change and also maybe Julie E. Czerneda, if you've decided to branch into science fiction. In fantasy, some of Patricia C. Wrede's stories might appeal -- you would probably want to start with either Mairelon the Magician, or Sorcery and Cecelia.
As a final note, since I posted about it earlier: I really like Bujold as an author, but The Sharing Knife is not my favorite. Mostly because of the Dag/Fawn romance, to be honest -- I didn't enjoy the process of getting them together. Once they got together, though, I thought they made a fine team, and I enjoyed the rest of the story.
You've nailed my opinion of the Blood Jewels trilogy exactly! Although I abandoned the first book about 100 pages in due to the general awfulness and fan-fic'ed nature of it (if I read fan fiction I want it better written, and with a shipping I dig:-).
Another urban fantasy series I remembered might be interesting is the Retrievers series by Laura Ann Gilman - Wren is a Talent, who makes a living Retrieving objects. Her agent is a normal, with a mysterious past. The romance develops slowly over several books.
I have been reading these recs closely and am most grateful for everyone's participation. Wrede's "The Enchanted Forest Chronicles" has already been on my wish list for some time (I've sniffed around bookstores for it, but only Amazon seems to have it), and I have recently added Martha Wells' "The Fall of Ile-Rien" books. Am reading Shinn's "Mystic and Rider" and Lackey's "The Fire Rose" right now. (Lackey's prose style may not be to all tastes, but she's usually very good about pairing evenly matched heroes and heroines. Rose Hawkins may be, at the start of her story, a highly intellectual "mundane," but it's already clear that she won't stay that way, that she will discover some power of her own to match the accomplished Firemaster who is the book's hero.)
I like Maria Snyder's "Poison Study" books. I like the romantic plot in them and appreciate the interplay between hero and heroine -- but I also like that Yelena has a lot more going on than just the romantic plot.
Another fantasy love story I've enjoyed is Briggs' "The Hob's Bargain." The hero and heroine have some good dialogue scenes in that one.
Marillier may not be everyone's proverbial cup of tea, but I have a weakness for folklore-inspired fantasy novels, and I find her books compulsively readable even if/when I don't care for the central romantic plots (e.g. "Foxmask," "Blade of Fortriu," "Heir of Sevenwaters," and "The Well of Shades"). Of her love stories, my favorites have been "Wolfskin," "The Dark Mirror," and "Child of the Prophecy."
I know i swear it was hard for me to finish The Black Jewel's first book and I never read the rest because there was just too much wrong with the first book.
I will definitely look into the Retrievers series (:
The Dragon books are my absolute favorite of hers. The first book is basically the hero, dealing with his situation - the heroine appears, but only in a few scenes. Though their dialog is great. The second book they rejoin, some loose ends from the previous book jump up and attack them, and things get very interesting. He has to convince her he really is interested; she has a bad case of low self-esteem, but since it's mostly because she's tall and a fighter and not a pretty little butterfly, I don't think you'd have a problem with it.
I don't like the Mercy Thompson books by Briggs nearly as much as the earlier stories; despite a kick-ass heroine, I get seriously bored with books where every marginally eligible male is 'courting' the heroine. Two werewolves and a vampire in the first book, much the same in the second (actually, someone else was added too)...and I stopped reading. The other series in the same universe is better - Alpha and Omega. The heroine starts with a seriously low self-esteem, but grows out of it it more or less once she stops being abused. And I love "abused woman (well, person, though male is rare) learning to trust again" tropes.
I hope you find the Enchanted Forest Chronicles - Cimorene is pretty much exactly what you want.
And possibly you'd like Lilith Saintcrow's romances - the Watchers series, the Society series, and the standalone The Demon's Librarian. The last one has the strongest heroine - she's out and fighting on her own before the man shows up. But the same theme runs through all of them; powerful woman who doesn't really know her power, man assigned to take care of her who is in some way damaged or aligned with the enemy (not by choice, and keeping it in check by willpower), overwhelming attraction. I tend to dislike that last trope, but in Saintcrow's books it works (though I don't read them in quick succession).
Saintcrow also writes straight urban fantasy, with a romantic sideplot, but I find them too nasty to read - the heroine (and to some extent the hero) gets thoroughly broken by the second book of a five-book series. I did get all the way through one (the Dante Valentine series), but there was no payoff for everything Dante went through, so I'm not trying the others. YMMV - and Dante is pretty strong, but she keeps going off in wrong directions because she's being fed lies.
That's in River Marked (unless if I am mixing these two a lot more than I think I am). Silver Borne is the previous one -- which is also nice -- Ariana's subplot that technically started in book 2 or 3 without even having her there finally getting a resolution (and on topic with the topic here, it's one of the good romance stories in the series as well).
Well....not to be too spoiler-y, but there is an "abused woman learning to trust again" trope with Mercy, too. She has some very not nice things happen to her in one of the books (I think it was the 3rd...) and there isn't a quick and easy resolution to her emotional state thereafter. She really does have to learn to trust again, and to learn how to be touched by someone who loves her, etc.
I'll also re-mention the Kushiel books. They definitely seem to fit your criteria - complex, compelling characters on both sides; both of them being very 'good' at something, with the female character being the 'special' one, etc.
You see, I like to write stories with strong romantic elements (don't panic, I am not going to try sell anything) but my characters don't necessarily fall in love with people who are equal to them in power, or who are "good at something".
I've got one (incomplete) story where a totally heroic swashbuckling dude in his mid twenties falls for a teenaged girl with no notable talent. I didn't plan it that way. She was just someone's little sister. But the moment he realized that she had a crush on him, he said "I'm going to wait, and hope that she won't grow out of it," and as far as he was concerned that was that. (Meanwhile his older brother, who is so much like him that most people can't tell them apart, fell for a cynical kick-butt female bodyguard.)
After this sort of thing happens I can stop and figure out why, and there always does seem to be a reason for it. But I can't ever say, "Oops, wait, he doesn't fall in love with her after all, she's not good at anything" and I can't suddenly turn anyone into a concert pianist, rocket scientist, or mage.
So I can't help wondering how important those sorts of things really are. It was the "Each partner helps the other become his/her best self," that struck me as being the goal I want to pursue. It doesn't seem to me that "equally matched" is actually necessary in order for that to happen.
Why does your heroic swashbuckling dude fall for the girl? Because of her determination to bring down the corrupt mayor? Because of her inquiring mind and useful suggestions? Because of her passion for baking? Because she's there?
"Because she's there" is the one which doesn't work for me. I need to see some reason for the attraction (beyond pretty blonde curls). I'm not saying your teenaged girl would have to kick butt like Buffy. But maybe while hero is desperately trying to hold off Cerberus, she could notice the rope which leads to the heavy chandelier, and cut it at the appropriate moment. If all she does is squeal and wait for hero to win, I'm likely to think that she's not worthy of the hero, or my time.
I had a little rant about that in relation to video games a while back: http://www.andreakhost.com/2011/04/girls-stand-about.html
(Though on the whole I like stories where the females are outright heroic.)
In a book called "Brave Dames and Wimpettes: How Women are Really Doing on Page and Screen" (a book which needs a new edition, with more recent examples), Susan Isaacs laid out the characteristics that make a heroine a Brave Dame, and one of the ones that struck home the strongest for me was this:
"A Brave Dame is passionate about something besides passion."
In other words, a Brave Dame has interests and ideals beyond just getting a guy to fall in love with her.
The reason it matters (to me, anyway) that the heroine be good at something is that if she has a talent or skill, it usually springs from an interest or ideal. We wouldn't work really hard to be good at something if we didn't LOVE it -- music, art, swordplay, magic, what-have-you. A talent and/or skill indicates an interest, a "passion about something besides passion," which is one of the hallmarks of Brave Damehood.
Xena and Buffy are Brave Dames, but Beatrix Potter, as she appears in the film "Miss Potter," is also a Brave Dame. She doesn't pick up a sword and fight it out with the bad guys, but she fights to assert her identity and to make her voice heard with the greatest weapon she has -- her capacious imagination. I've said it before but it bears repeating: there are MANY ways a female character can rock. Some of my favorite heroines outside the fantasy genre include Anne of Green Gables, Jo March, Sara Crewe, and Francie Nolan. All of these characters have, in spades, the kick-butt imagination with which I immediately identify.
I recall a well-known author making an interesting point about the March sisters in "Little Women," however. She said the real female hero in the quartet is Beth -- Beth, the shy one who loves to play the piano. Her case was this: Beth is the one who goes out to help the family with the children who are suffering from a contagious disease. She knows she might catch the disease herself, and knows what that might mean. But she goes out anyway, because someone needs her help. That's real courage.
If your heroic swashbuckling dude falls for the teenage girl because she's someone's little sister who will fawn all over him, then that sounds like exactly the sort of romantic story that we're trying to avoid in this thread. But maybe there's more to it. Who is she? And why does he like her, despite the difference in their ages and experience and so on? She doesn't have to be a prodigy or a genius to be an interesting character, but she has to be a person in her own right, not just an extension of swashbuckling dude's ego.
Of course "Someone's little sister" isn't her identity or personality -- it's why she was there. I needed to have some reason to put her in the story that wasn't "because she's going to turn into one of the two female romantic leads", because I didn't know she was going to turn into one of the two female romantic leads.
And she never did fawn all over him, so I guess she couldn't have been there as an extension of his ego.
*whew* :wipes forehead: I guess I'm safe.
As for who she is:
When the hot guy who has come to help her big sister get away from their suffocatingly over-protective father says he can't take her with them because she's too young, she's the sort of person who stows away in his car.
Enterprising might be a good descriptor. :)
Patricia McKillip has some of most lovely, lyrical, and romantic stories around. The amount of focus on the romance element varies from book to book, but they're always wonderful. My personal faves are The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Changeling Sea, and The Bell at Sealey Head.
She doesn't stow away in his car because he makes her go weak at the knees and she thinks she can't live without him. (He's not even the right guy!) But because her sister is having a genuine adventure here, complete with a hot guy and a chance at a more interesting future. And she's getting left behind because she's the little sister? That's so not happening!
I also strongly second the recommendation of Lee and Miller's Liaden books. Try Agent of Change--it's a quick read and if you don't love it (and the turtles), you needn't go on.
No one has mentioned Paksennarion--probably because SHE doesn't have romances, but she's a helluva female lead and in the second trilogy, now 2/3 done, other people are definitely having romances. Start with The Sheepfarmer's Daughter.
Vlad and Cawti in Jhereg and Yendi have that kind of relationship, although Vlad is the viewpoint character. Unfortunately, their relationship takes a dive in the fourth book and Cawti is no longer around much, but it's great while it lasts.
I love Ista in Paladin of Souls but you need to read The Curse of Chalion to appreciate her--and in that book, her daughter certainly is no retiring princess. Great books!
The Thread that Binds the Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is fantasy romance with a capital R, and a great relationship between the leads. One of my favorite stories.
A charming tale by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice, if you can find it, Water Witch is a great little story.
The Ki and Vandien quartet by Megan Lindholm (later Robin Hobb) has a great relationship between the two.
I'm a big fan of The Ladies of Mandrigyn, as well as the sequels The Witches of Wenshar and The Dark Hand of Magic.
One of the problems I have when I try chopping stuff down to "essentials", is that I have a tendency to whack off details that provide important context and not realize that what remains now looks like it means something entirely different.
I believe that it isn't who she is that makes a heroine interesting to me, it's what she does. It isn't being good at something that makes her special to me, it's doing something that really needs to be done. If she manages to accomplish something difficult and vital without having a "gift", I think that makes her even more special.
Her having a passion for something other than passion sounded more on the right track, but, I kept thinking of characters who really had nothing that they were passionate about other than their significant other, and yet I didn't find them boring. So why did some characters like that bore me silly, while others seemed to me to be very satisfactory?
And the answer seems to be that the ones I liked were finding useful things to do with themselves, working toward some goal, over-coming challenges.
A vampire who spends all her time either sleeping or thinking about her mundane lover isn't likely to be fun to read about, and a mundane who sneaks into a secret facility to rescue her alien love who is being held for observation probably will be. The static part of the description, the "vampire" and "mundane" part, is largely irrelevant, and its the active "sleeping and thinking" versus "sneaking into a secret facility to rescue her lover" that makes the difference. It isn't your nouns that make you interesting, it's your verbs.
You can be a world famous pianist who sleeps all the time, an alien military commander who sleeps all the time or a greek god who sleeps all the time... and the key to whether or not you are interesting character to read about is not going to be the "pianist" part or the "alien military commander" part or the "greek god" part, it's going to be the "who sleeps all the time" part. Those who are gifted, in charge or have great personal power might theoretically be more likely to be doing interesting things, but "theoretically more likely to do" doesn't mean they are actually doing it here and now on the page.
So when someone comes who is apparently looking for interesting characters but who is asking for "those with power" and "those who are other", "those who have a passion", etc, some part of my brain kept protesting "Those criteria... I sort of feel like I agree, and yet... there's something that just doesn't quite work for me there."
And I have finally figured out what it was about those criteria that was bothering me. It took me over a hundred messages. ::Sigh:: I guess I'm just slow.
Edit: It could be that what you're calling "who they are" is what I would call "what they are", and that is only an issue in this thread because in most stories the male is the magical/non-human and the female is the human/mundane and the OP was interested in stories with the reverse.
I start with a preferred criteria of "I want both parties to this romance to bring something to the story, to forward the plot, and to fulfil something in each other so that it makes me happy to see them together." It's not required that either of them be kick-ass, godly, whatever.
The imbalance comes from the vast number of the stories where the girl (no matter how kick-ass we're told she is) is shown to function as a rescue object, a cheer squad, a trophy, or a neophyte that the accomplished, knowledgable love interest corrects, instructs, pulls out of hot water, and fixes their messes.
I like romances between people who impress me with their attempts to deal with whatever sticky situation the world have thrown them into. I don't like romances which feel like babysitting. That's all it comes down to.
(It's just even more fun for me when she's a mage who can kill you with a glance, and he's an enhanced swordsman who can move almost faster than light.)
I agreed with you that in a cosmic sense both were aspects of what a person was.
Pretend that I'm interviewing a character, okay?
I ask "Who are you?" I'm told "I am an olympic runner."
I ask "What are you doing?" and I might be told "I'm posting on LT while running on my treadmill", but I also might be told "I'm laid up in bed with a broken leg."
"I am an olympic runner", does not mean "and I will spend this book training for and winning races".
One question gets you the static aspects, the stuff that always applies, the nouns, and the other gets you the currently active aspects, the stuff that applies right now, the verbs.
Characters whose nouns are ordinary can have extraordinary verbs, and that makes for an exciting story, and a fabulous character. Who are you? "I'm a 40 year old sanitation worker" What are you doing? "I'm on a plane that has been hi-jacked by terrorists and I'm organizing an attack that will hopefully take down the plane before they can hit anything with it." But if a character whose nouns are extraordinary, throughout the story has dull as dishwater verbs, then they will be a boring character. Who are you? "I'm an embodiment of the three thousand year old goddess Venus" What are you doing? "I'm sitting in my bedroom pretending to do my chem homework while sulking about how Jupiter won't let me go to that party with the hot boy I met last week."
So, for me, if I want to find out if a character will interest me, I think I want to ask "What are you doing?"
If you think "Who are you?" is the better question, go ahead and ask that instead.
I don't know about you, but I think romance plots are all about character, and therefore romance plots with badly written characters are automatically not good, and I'd rather not have people recommend any to me to read.
Your statement "I want both parties to this romance to bring something to the story, to forward the plot, and to fulfil something in each other so that it makes me happy to see them together," on the other hand, was never on the list of criteria that bothered me.
Although I don't think I share it, exactly.
I'm okay with romantic-leads who act as a quiet source of strength in the background, on behalf of a more active protagonist. I wouldn't want that to happen all the time, I'm too fond of variety, but I wouldn't mark it down as a "not good romance", and I'm not actively seeking the opposite.
Everyone uses language differently I guess.
If I want to know your name, I don't ask "Who are you?", I ask "What is your name?"
Either that, or I just read the post header.
Who is Bella? (And, um... what was her last name?)
Who is Edward Cullen?
Who is Elizabeth Bennet?
Who is Mr. Darcy?
Are these really self-answering questions to you?
Edited to add:
Um... are you going on about this because you don't understand what I'm trying to communicate, or just because you enjoy debating semantics? Because if it's just for the fun of debating, I'm not interested: I'll withdraw. But if I'm not being clear, I will be happy to try come up with different terminology that works better for you.
But I'm going to try to answer the other two questions, even though I know I'm butting my head into someone else's debate.
Elizabeth Bennet is a bright, witty young woman with a strong sense of integrity (her strongest beef with Mr. Darcy is his presumed mistreatment of others) and loyalty to those she loves. She has a hard edge to her (one of my favorite Elizabeth quotes is, "There are few people whom I really love, but fewer still of whom I think well"), but she's capable of great love, and one of her best qualities is her ability to admit when she's wrong and learn from her mistakes. Also, with the striking exception of her misjudgment of Mr. Darcy, she is a fairly shrewd observer of those around her. She reads everyone correctly EXCEPT Darcy and Wickham.
Mr. Darcy we know less about, simply because most of the story is told from Elizabeth's point of view; however, on a few occasions Austen does allow us glimpses inside his head. He is extremely class-conscious and very preoccupied with his social position; he believes he has every reason to be proud. However, he is capable of learning. Like Elizabeth, he has a strong sense of integrity (it's the most important thing they have in common), and he is capable of amiability (his overtures of friendship toward the Gardiners, who are -- gasp! -- in trade) and great kindness (his measures to save Lydia).
Both these characters are defined positively as well as negatively; they are not simply blank slates, and neither are they one-dimensional objects of someone else's desire. They have active personalities.
I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but it's my take on the question, at least.
I teach English, and I tell my students that if you want to get under the skin of a character, start by asking these three questions:
What does the character love/value?
What does the character hate/fear?
What does the character want?
If it's important to know the answers to these questions when we read, it's triply important to know them when we write.
I'm going to have to disagree, here. I think the key to whether or not the character is interesting is WHY the character sleeps all the time. Is it just sheer emptiness or laziness? Or is it a deep, relentless inner turmoil leading to a deep-seated state of emotional retreat and a refusal to live fully in the world? Because if it is the latter, the character is very likely still going to be interesting even if he or she never actively does very much. You'll be getting the story of WHY this person is how she is, and HOW she got to the point where all she does is sleep all the time.
What happens inside a person's head may well influence their outer actions (or lack thereof) of course, but it is what happens inside that is the most interesting in most cases. A book that is all action and no character development might as well be a Hollywood blockbuster movie. ;-)
"Who are you" and "who is Bella" are not the same question, so the fact that the latter is not self-answering is irrelevant. And the answer to neither of them is "I am (my job)" in most situations.
I'm willing to end this discussion, if you want to. I was continuing because you were continuing and thus far it's been a calm and reasonable conversation (and, kceccato, it's a public board, anyone is welcome to jump in :).
So, um, 100 000 words on why the alien commander who is the head of the invasion force is sleeping works for you? All right. I don't think I've ever run into a book like that, but if I ever do, I'll be sure to send it your way.
Me, I'm more interested in what problems the second-in-command ends up encountering because his commander won't wake up, and how he ends up dealing with those problems.
If I were going to write a romance about someone who was sleeping all the time because of deep-seated emotional withdrawal, etc, I would start the story at the point where a change in that situation is introduced. The point when something else starts happening.
I once read a book where pretty much all that happens is that the narrator is sitting in the airport writing a complaint letter and manages to cover his entire life story in the doing. But all he actually actively does in the "current" time frame of the novel is either sit on a chair writing a letter or go for a smoke break. And it was a great book. And the "point when something else starts happening" was the END of the book, not the beginning.
I read another book in which all the narrator does is drive across the country, stopping once in a while for a meal or to spend the night, and ruminating about his past and where he wants his future to go. But all he really DOES, actively, is drive and have a little bit of sex with an old flame. And it was also a great book. And again the "point when something else starts happening" was the end of the book, rather than the beginning.
Neither of those two books involved stopping an alien invasion or single handedly defeating the hijackers, but they were both wonderful, rich books about the inner lives of their characters. Perhaps not to your tastes, though, and that's fine. We're all allowed our own opinions and tastes.
I haven't figured out any other way to explain it yet. If I do, I'll post later. Apparently, I badly need to give my brain a rest. :)
If the frame is all that counts there are a great many fantasy epics in which nothing happens at all.
"Jack woke up. He'd been asleep for four hours. He went to the bathroom. He went back to sleep. Six hours later, he got up and ate some congealing Chinese take-out from the box. Then he went back to bed. He didn't wake up till the next day. Then he drank some water and went back to sleep."
If the entire book was just like that, no one would read it. No one would publish it. If, however, in between all that eating and sleeping and peeing, Jack was reflecting on his life...or even dreaming about it...it would be an interesting book regardless of the fact that in the frame story, the character has no real active life. I just don't think there is such a book as the one you're describing, in which the main character literally neither DOES nor THINKS anything.
Anyway, I don't have anything else to add to the discussion, but I had to share that. :)
I wasn't really talking about books with people sleeping. I trying to explain that this thread had got me to realize that what the character does during the story is more important to me than what the character is.
And so now I've got people telling me that what a character does IS what a character is, as if the distinction that is so important to me is invisible to them, and I've got people going on and on about my example of a character doing something less than interesting as not necessarily being uninteresting as if they thought that example mattered in any way other than just being an example.
I give up. I guess it was silly of me to even talk about it. Nobody cares about my personal epiphanies.
I thought it was an interesting discussion and I'm sorry if you found it upsetting.
I'm sorry if I misunderstood. We are all entitled to our own opinions, though, you as well. But since this was a discussion, I thought it was perfectly ok to add my own thoughts.
I am not upset, I'm just running out of things to say.
You seem to think I should have said "what" instead of "who". Okay. Fine. Mentally edit all my who's to what's. Whatever works for you.
kmaziarz appears to be saying that a book which I said wouldn't be interesting wouldn't be interesting.
Obviously, I agree.
I don't think that the only books that are interesting are ones where people are being very active, so I guess I must have been unclear.
Swinging from rooftops does appeal to me strongly.
But "helping others" also appeals strongly, so does "solving puzzles", so does "raising a family" and "running a business", and "making snarky comments".
When kceccato listed Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Jane Eyre and The African Queen as examples of what she liked, I responded that I hadn't seen The African Queen, but other than that our tastes were starting to look pretty similar. In other words, I have read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Jane Eyre. These books aren't usually considered "action intensive". In fact, Twillight, which I don't like, probably has as just as much (or more) "action" in the space of a lot fewer words.
But we were supposedly talking about heroines and what made them worth reading a romance about.
Pride and Prejudice doesn't have a magical heroine. Elizabeth's not powerful or "gifted". She's good at what? Making witty comments? Yes, that's a factor, but I don't like reading about her because she is someone who is good at making witty comments. Maybe someone else would, but I like reading her because she MAKES witty comments, right there on the page, where I get to 'hear' them and appreciate them.
My sister once lived with girl who apparently was quite musically gifted, but if you asked her to play something for you, she'd look down her nose and give you a look that said "why would I play anything for you?" She played six different instruments, but her own roommate never got to hear her play anything, ever. The impression my sister took away with her wasn't "amazing magical talent!" it was "what a self-absorbed stuck-up bitch!"
It isn't what you have, it's what you do with it.
I'll concede that the whys behind the actions are very important too, but (in general) a girl who spends all her time watching some guy because she loves him is boring, and (in general) a girl who tries to make a better person of herself because she loves a guy is interesting. And although watching a guy because you think his life is in danger is more interesting to me than doing it just because you're in love, if the danger takes too long to materialize, I'm going to lose interest there, too.
I do not think I feel hostile toward anyone here.
I'm just bewildered.
Having, I hope, figured out what the misunderstanding between kmaziarz and myself was, I think I am much less bewildered about that conversation now, but I'm afraid my conversation with you, bluesalamanders, has still got me boggled.
I thought I was contrasting "is" to "does", "static" to "active", and "nouns" to "verbs". Those three comparisons share a common relationship. You can make a little logic problem out of them: "is" is to "does" as "static" to.... "active", "static" is to "active" as "nouns" is to.... "verbs". Etc. My point was saying that when it comes to aspects of character, for me the "does, active, verbs" set overpowered the "is, static, nouns" set, and so the concept basing reading criteria on the "is, static, nouns" set gave me a little fission of, well... "does not compute". (And when I got that frisson while reading this thread I was puzzled, and I wanted to figure out where it had come from.)
As I am understanding it, bluesalamanders wants to talk about the meaning of "who" and suggests that the problem is that it's different than "what". I appear to be being asked, "did you really mean to use who here, or did you really mean to use what?"
Both words are pronouns being used as a stand-in for the noun "the character"? What I want to do is to contrast "the character is" to "the character does". The question of which pronoun would be a better choice when phrasing those in the interrogative might possibly be an interesting one, but it has no bearing on the relationship between "is" and "does".
And yet bluesalamanders claims not to be going off on a tangent... leaving me to wonder what in the world bluesalamanders thinks I was talking about, since it clearly couldn't be what I thought I was talking about.
#133 -Morphidae, thanks for posting. I would have preferred not to have upset kmaziarz and bluesalamanders, but its nice to know that my post was read about how it was intended by someone. :)
I hoped for a fun thread where I could get some cool recommendations. Yet I acknowledge my responsibility in stirring up a proverbial hornets' nest when I put the word GOOD in capital letters. I should have titled the thread something more like, "Romance plots in fantasy novels that I might actually enjoy." Because honestly, that's what this is. "Good" is such a highly subjective term that it's impossible to define to everyone's satisfaction.
It's a personal thing -- Elizabeth Bennet notwithstanding, I enjoy reading about characters (particularly female characters) who are good at something. Lizzy manages to be awesome without a specific, definite talent, and I'm sure many other characters manage the same. (Jane Eyre, by the way, does have a specific talent; she's an artist, and her drawings reflect her vivid imagination.) But particularly where more recently-published books are concerned, I do look for characters who are good at some specific thing. This is my preference. Yet I apologize if I implied that those who may not share my preference lack taste. There again, I was mistaken in the use of the word "good."
My preferences are personal, not some sort of litmus test for quality. The only one I will stand by on those grounds: I do believe that if a love story is to be successful, the hero and heroine must be able to converse about something other than how much they love each other. If they can't talk to each other beyond that, it's going to get old very quickly, and raise legitimate questions about WHY they love each other.
I do apologize for any misunderstanding I may have caused when I kick-started this thread.
I'm still happy for recs, however.
kceccato, As close as I can tell, we like the same books.
But when you said "I enjoy reading about characters who are good at something", even though I appear to like the same books you do, I had trouble agreeing with the statement. Something in the way that was phrased wasn't working for me, and after thinking, I realized that I would preferred it to have said "I enjoy reading about a character who is doing something well".
That's ALMOST exactly the same thing. But it isn't QUITE.
That difference is what I found interesting and would have liked to discuss.
It doesn't appear to me to be a difference that is simply a matter of me liking different things than you. (How could it be, when you have yet to say you liked a book that I didn't also like?)
I wouldn't have said it was a discussion about quality.
It's about looking at things in a different way, and being able to use that different way of looking at them as a useful tool for analyzing whether or not someone might like a particular book.
Or maybe it only works for me.
How would I know if it was useful to anyone else, if I didn't explain it to them so that they could think about it and get back to me about whether or not it worked for them?
Only, unfortunately, I never responded to that part of the message because I needed to think about it more, and I had things I thought were worth saying about the rest of the message that I could say right away, and then the conversation went haring off in other directions. At least, I think it did.
Now I've thought. So if anyone is still listening...
I agree that whys are very important, and they can make an action that I would otherwise consider boring much more interesting, but it seems to be a short term effect. If the action continues for any length, I'm bored again.
And I haven't come up with the reverse, an interesting story that became instantly boring because I discovered that the why was lame. In fact I have a couple examples of the stories where, when the story premise was revealed, I thought it was the lamest thing ever, but the story itself was still a fun read.
But I do have examples of stories that looked like something I might have enjoyed based on what was happening, but one lame why after another lame why just eventually leeched all the fun out of it for me and I gave up on it.
So at first blush, I was boggled.
But as anyone who has read this entire thread can't fail to be aware, I'm very tenacious. So I kept thinking.
And it occurred to me to ask, if the question is "Why?", what's the answer?
So I went back to message #117, where kmaziarz brought up the question "Why?":
"I think the key to whether or not the character is interesting is WHY the character sleeps all the time. Is it just sheer emptiness or laziness? Or is it a deep, relentless inner turmoil leading to a deep-seated state of emotional retreat and a refusal to live fully in the world?"
And I just couldn't help noticing that:
"Lazy" and "empty" are what the character is.
"Retreating emotionally", and "refusing to live fully in the world" are what the character does.
Come Find Me Two Years Ago...
Six words that propel ice-hockey-playing tomboy, Arizona, into an alternate dimension.
She suddenly finds herself living the life of a glamorous cheerleader. She finds herself transported from her happy life with her dad to living with the mother she hates.
Everyone knows her as Arizona Darley, but she isn't. She is Arizona Stevens.
As she struggles to find answers she is certain of two things -- that her mother is somehow responsible, and that she wants to go back home to her real life.
That's until she meets Kellan...
PORTAL is the first book of the Portal Chronicles.
After my recent reading of Patricia Briggs' Masques, I noticed something dismaying -- namely, the frequency of "unequal power" relationships, where one half of a romantic couple is, by his (usually his, but sometimes her) very nature, awesome almost to the point of insanity, while the other half is much more ordinary. Masques is not, thank God, one of those "magical guy/mundane girl" stories like Twilight et. seq. If it had been, I probably wouldn't have read it in the first place. The heroine, Aralorn, does have power, and can use her shapeshifting abilities to great effect. The trouble is that the hero, Wolf, is so much MORE powerful. He's stronger than the heroine in every conceivable way -- much larger, more skilled at fighting, wiser and more experienced, and, of course, much more powerful in the magic department. To be fair, she does save his life once. But he is clearly the "uber" of the pair.
To give you an idea: Wolf's alternate form is, well, a wolf. Aralorn's primary alternate form is a mouse.
Unequal pairings like this are all over the place. The "magical guy/mundane girl" examples (e.g. The Sharing Knife) are simply the most obvious. But even in pairings where both the man and the woman have some sort of power or ability, one of the couple -- almost always the male -- is anywhere from just a little bit to a great deal stronger. (Off the top of my head, I can think of two examples where the female is the more magical one, or "mundane guy/magical girl" stories: Shinn's Mystic and Rider, and Briggs' Raven's Shadow. I know there are more, but I still strongly suspect they're outnumbered by "magical guy/mundane girl." Dark Moon Defender also featured a girl with magic falling in love with a guy without, but in the end I found her such an irritating wuss that it hardly mattered that she was, technically, more powerful.)
An unequal pairing does not automatically make a bad love story. I did enjoy Masques, and I loved Mystic and Rider. But I am wondering:
How many romantic plots in fantasy can we name in which the male and female are on equal footing, or at least close to equal footing, when it comes to magic/power? I realize this question may be somewhat hetero-normative, but when the couples are same sex, the issue of gender imbalance never comes up. And I would like to see more male/female couples who are equals. What are some good ones?
Shadows of Aggar is one book I picked up recently with two female leads, but one is much older than the other, more experienced at her job, Malinda Lo's Ash has the heroine in a love triangle with an old (possibly immortal) fae guy and a huntress that's older than the protagonist, Jane Fletcher's Lyremouth chronicles focus on a warrior and a sorcerer who are equally talented at what they do, but the warrior is seen as lesser by many of the other sorcerers and society at large because she can't do magic, and so on.
That said, I have had much more luck with finding relatively equal pairs when the couple is of the same gender, and would be glad to provide recommendations in that quarter: Eliana and her love interest in Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful duology are presented as equals, and Kendi and Ben in Stephen Harper's Silent Empire series are talented in manipulation of the universal-subconscious-like Dream and in computers respectively come to mind for starters.
As far as heterosexual relationships go, Patricia Wrede's The Raven Ring is a novel I've come to think of as "the love triangle from the Alanna books done right"- the heroine is from an egalitarian warrior culture, and meets up with a lord and a thief both around her own age when she goes to collect her mother's things after receiving notice that she was killed in action. From what I remember, the pairings in all of Wrede's Lyra books that have romance subplots seem relatively equal.
It's interesting (and disheartening) to learn that unequal pairings feature in homosexual as well as heterosexual love plots. The implication of such pairings seems to be that if romantic love is to develop, one character must be drawn to another's weakness. If two people are truly equal, they may become close friends, but inequity is necessary for romantic love to develop.
I'd like to see this theory socked in the eye.
One positive example I'd like to propose: Brust and Bull's Freedom and Necessity. Neither of the characters have any magic about them; in fact, this isn't much of a fantasy novel at all, despite its authors, but is instead pure historical fiction. All the same, James and Susan seem to be on equal footing in terms of intellect and courage and resourcefulness. It's fun watching them interact as partners, with that frisson of attraction.
Both possessing of power/strengths (usually different) is something I like. I don't mind one person being more powerful than the other so long as a big deal isn't made of it.
I _hate_ when a female character is set up as being excellent at something, and the story starts out with her, say, outshooting everyone, or effortlessly outfighting all who come against her. And then some guy turns up and is unequivocally better at this thing which she's previously been the best at, and he's the love interest.
I like "she's a strong mage/he's a strong fighter" or "he's the strongest mage/she's got a weapon which can destroy an army" or "he's got all the social/magical power but she has the ability to kill him at any time" or "he's competent in all these ways/she can shape reality" or "she's a commander of armies/he's an excellent scholar" with these things just being things about the characters rather than a victory for one of them.
In other words, I just don't like the need to measure two romantic partners against each other. I like them to have things they're good at, and I like them to admire and respect each other, and I like them to have a romance which isn't a dominance competition.
Fawn and Dag in the Sharing Knife series are an example - he's amazing, yes, but without her he would have kept on as a patroller and eventually misjudged something to his death. She's got her own talents, and the way she sparks him is what makes all the rest happen. The fact that the only one who sees her that way is Dag (her lack of self-esteem is a constant annoyance) makes it kind of hard to see, though.
And...rats. I thought of one nice equal (in different ways) pair - oh, I know, Briggs' When Demons Walk. Kerim's the local governor-general, a warrior and general and hero (for his side) in the war - and in a wheelchair shortly after the story begins; Sham's a street thief pretending to be a boy, and an expert assassin. And a mage. And the daughter of a noble (from the losing side). And, and, and...there are lots of expectations (it was going to be a Cinderella story, or at least My Fair Lady, until she demonstrated she was perfectly capable of managing in court without any teaching. For instance), most of which are confounded at some point. He is still the more powerful, socially and legally, of the two, and when she cures his curse more powerful (though possibly less dangerous) physically. But they come out a lot more even than either of them, or the reader, was expecting.
145> Actually, the first (?published) Lyra novel, Shadow Magic, has a very unequal pairing - he's a Trader, she's the daughter of a noble. And, by the end of the book, Empress. He keeps falling further behind and trying to leave because she's too high for him...she finally convinces him. It's trying to be "she has all the power" "he takes care of her" but for me, at least, it doesn't show the second half well enough. Or at least, it doesn't show it as meaning uniquely him. The weakest, or one of the weakest, of the Lyra books, for me (The Raven Ring is my favorite!) - not entirely because of the romantic pairing, but that's part of it.
The one "magical guy/mundane girl" pairing that I actually like is in War for the Oaks -- the reason being that Eddi the mortal has a concrete, definable talent, a gift for music, that makes her a good match for the phouka who falls for her. If the mundane girl's talents are less definable and more nebulous (e.g. "she is good with people"), I'm a little less on board. And darn it, I'm afraid I still hate the name "Fawn."
Upon reflection, I would say that Mystic and Rider is less an unequal pairing than the kind of thing Andrea describes: they have different abilities, but both are very, very good at what they do. Measuring IS problematic. The difficulty I had with Masques was that the two leads did seem to be measured against each other, with the woman being distinctly less awesome. It called attention to itself. But Andrea is right: couples do not have to be (and probably should not be) equally good at the very same things, if each has his or her own strong capability.
But Andrea is right: couples do not have to be (and probably should not be) equally good at the very same things, if each has his or her own strong capability.
I rather liked that about the Mistborn trilogy: she has magic, he has idealism. I was a bit upset at first when he acquired magic as well. I liked that she was clearly the stronger one and that it didn't seem to trouble anyone. As it turns out, his magic IS stronger, but he doesn't have a talent for it. She is still way more skilled and therefore more effective, regardless of his larger strength. Also, their respective strengths are still not an issue between them, they combine their strengths to work towards a common goal. If only Sanderson had seen fit to write in more than one awesome woman, I think that really would have made it impeccable...
She hates the name Fawn too, but is still unwilling to just change. Does that make it any better?
Guardian of Honor is about Alexa who gets pulled from our world to Amee. There she finds she has strong magic and she is needed to fight evil. Clearly she also meets the love of her life.
What I like is that even though she is new to magic and to the world, she doesn't let people walk all over her. And although under these circumstances one might expect that love interest Bastien is stronger than her, he is not. On one occasion he takes over a training session, because Alexa's trainer is holding back. One might expect her to be bested in this situation, or at least to have to acknowledge his superiority, but it turns out differently...
When they Pair up, she is the Sword in their relationship, and he is the Shield, something that is a little unusual even on Amee, but there's not much mention of it, apart from some remarks by the most reprehensible character in the book.
In the end, he does save her life, but she has saved his as well, and since they are really working as a team, it can only be expected that the saving of lives will be a back-and-forth business. There really is no superiority issue, the couple works together toward a common goal.
And what I also like is that there are also same-sex Pairings and lovers, without it being an issue. The book really is surprisingly unprejudiced and fair.
152: Guardian of Honor, however, does sound interesting, even though "crossover novels" generally aren't my thing.
150: I agree also that the worst thing about the Mistborn trilogy is the serious case of Highlander Syndrome: Vin is the ONLY strong, capable, powerful woman in that world, at least among the good guys, and as a consequence she is completely without female friends. I find this a flaw in Sanderson's work, even though I otherwise like him. Elantris also features a strong romantic relationship between equals, but Sarene is the only female character who has more than a walk-on part. Warbreaker features two heroines, but 1) they don't interact until the very end, and 2) both of them are far, far less powerful than their male love interests, and in the end they have little to do but watch from the sidelines while their men save the day. (Plus, Siri's being called "Vessel" irritates me even more than the name Fawn.) I haven't read The Way of Kings yet, but I understand it does have a relationship between two (somewhat) positively portrayed female characters near its center, although I haven't heard anything about a love interest for either of them.
What you say with "he can beat anyone and she can take care of him" (genders changed where appropriate) makes sense, and I think it can conceivably be done well... That got me thinking. I think in some of these stories, there are really two sides of the reader-self-insert "my ideal partner" thing going on here: one, the person who is so awesome and the strongest at everything and yet loves plain old meek little self-insert you (who just can't believe that such a hot, capable person would be interested!), and the other the person who just dedicates their lives to making poor, long-suffering, underappreciated self-insert you happy. Neither type of self-insert is as appealing, I think, if one tries to read them as objective stories about people who are not the reader and the reader's fantasy significant other.
>152 zjakkelien: Wow, that sounds like a really pleasant light read. I tried out the author's Heart Mate after enjoying a short story on her website a while ago, and found that book to be a disappointingly genre-typical possessive/overbearing guy romance, but I'll definitely check out Guardian of Honor.
>153 kceccato: I'm all for diverse types of heroes and heroines beyond "the one who's super-good at killing things"- but if a leading character is going to be passive and relational, especially when that character is female and said behavior runs into some really problematic stereotypes still sometimes present in the real world's view of women, it really helps to have other women who are different in major roles, I think, to balance things out. This is the true problem with Highlander Sydnrome- when you only have one major female character (or character of any underrepresented type), the character turns from being "a woman" to being "Woman" within the story, and any flaws in the character are all too easily confused with the author's opinion of women in general, whether or not that was actually what the author intended (especially when the author has chosen to include only a single woman who falls under the shadow of gender stereotypes).
>154 amberwitch: I really do need to move Martha Wells' books up my TBR pile, I hear so many interesting things about them.
>158 jjmcgaffey: Hmm. With Heart Mate, the guy playing mind games with his love interest in the jewelry store just turned me off- he seemed to have no feature strong enough to redeem him from the arrogant jerkness to me, as far as I read (a few chapters in) at least. I think the tragic backstory was supposed to excuse it, but I really didn't feel it. Maybe the second or third books would be more to my taste?
I do know what you mean about re-reads, though. I was thinking about a book I remember as an unconvincing setting with a horribly inequal romance (Speaking Dreams by Severna Park) and was bemused to see I'd rated it four stars at the time I'd read it.
The second one might be a lot more interesting to you - did you get as far as the necklace being stolen? The protagonist of Heart Thief is the villain (ok, one of the villains) of Heart Mate. Definitely not arrogant, nor, quite, low self-esteem - expecting disdain from everyone but not accepting it. And the woman is also excellent - a real power in that society. I don't know (don't remember) how their raw power levels match up, but socially she's the power and he's nothing. Except...then things get interesting. You might try it, anyway.
I liked the setting and the society a lot, and the first few novels have a lot of worldbuilding in them. There are events in the first book that resound through the next several. I don't know if not reading it would drive you nuts - it would me.
In other news, speaking of inequality, I'm currently rolling my eyes at a scene in Agent of Change where Val Con is explaining to Miri that he's so awesome she only had a 15% chance of winning against him if they'd fought with her armed and him not at the beginning of the book, unless she didn't care if she died too, in which case that would have taken her up to a great 33%. Oh, and once he had his weapon back? Only a 3% chance- but that's "significantly higher than most soldiers would have" against him. Then she asks him what her chance against him would be on an average day- 2% chance of killing him, 3% chance of injuring him seriously, unless she surprises him in which case her chances are much higher because he trusts her and might hesitate. Sigh.
Book, this is my frowning face- I like you, but would it have hurt to give her an equal chance against him, or at least stop having her, an experienced mercenary and bodyguard, make slips like not noticing a guy who asks her to dance has a second, more lethal gun concealed on his person in addition to the decorative one he's wearing (the outline of which she can see in his coat from across the room after Val Con points it out)?
From a plot perspective, him being so far above her makes sense because it keeps them together, but when their relationship turns romantic it makes me wince at the differential between them, the way I wince at the huge gap between Shan and Priscilla as well (though Priscilla is at least trained in her powers, she is again completely reliant on him for work, money, and so on, and she's surrounded by his friends in an area he controls all through Conflict of Honors). I do enjoy this series, it's a cool world with likeable characters I enjoy reading about, but I find these patterns troublesome.
>168 zjakkelien: Val Con is a spy, and has a computer-aided ability to calculate statistics on things. It is worth pointing out that he's not threatening her during this conversation or anything of the sort, he is rather detached about the whole thing for reasons that become clear later in the book.
The main point that I like is that romance helps people (specifically women people) sort out all the weird social pressures that exist in real life. It helps explain the value of those kinds of books.
The type of social pressures that are sorted out are very specific to heterosexual women who expect to end up in relationships with more powerful men, according to society's expectations- power being in terms of job experience/hierarchy (the "he's her boss" trope seen in one of the books discussed in the article, for example), social position, and wealth in contemporary and historical romances, but often literally in terms of vastly outmatched physical, magical, or psychic strength in paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction romances.
This covers a lot of women, but for the rest of womankind- not just heterosexual women who are interested in being the "stronger" partner in a relationship with men or looking for more truly equitable relationships with men of their own age and experience level, but also women who are not interested in relationships with men, women who are not interested in relationships with anyone because they are asexual or aromantic or celibate or contentedly single, bisexual and polyamorous women, and many others- there isn't a lot of representation. These options aren't even presented as existing in the vast majority of genre romance, except for maybe a lesbian best friend or a single female best friend once in a while, minor characters. (There is, of course, a subgenre of romance that centers on same-sex relationships, but you won't find it on the shelves marked romance- it'll be relegated to the "LGBT" section. Same-sex romance novels perpetuate a lot of the same annoying tropes as well.)
Not to mention other areas that are lacking in representation- heroines are usually white, from English speaking countries for settings where that's relevant, upper or middle class (by the end of the story if not the beginning), able-bodied, neurotypical cisgendered, either completely traditionally feminine or abhorrent of anything traditionally feminine in their gender presentation, and so on. (And, of course, the same homogeneity pretty much applies to men in romance, if not more so, for men who read the genre- the gender roles for men are pretty much equally circumscribed to traditional masculinity, and one role within a heterosexual relationship.)
The other problem is that some authors, in their representation of what the article calls "extreme" power dynamics, end up excusing controlling, abusive, or downright rapey behavior. He's not controlling by restricting where she goes and who she's around, or installing security cameras at her workplace without telling her (as I've read happens in Briggs' Mercy Thompson series), he's being protective of her. It's not a problem that he threw her against the wall and pinned her wrists above her head hard enough to leave bruises- he has emotional baggage, okay, and her father was his father's enemy (Cashore's Fire, I'm looking at you)- it's cool because he's really a nice guy when you get past that hard shell and get him to let his guard down, he'll be really devoted and love you forever. He's not following rapist logic by obsessing over her and not taking no for an answer, he knows deep down she really wants him, because they have a mystical bond that she just has to realize- he's right, of course, and her protests are wrong and due to her emotional baggage from other guys. She sees the light, and they actually do have a mystical destiny bond, and once she surrenders to that and lets him protect her in exchange for sex and/or emotional healing, it's true love forever.
This is not to discount the no doubt many romance novels that present functional, competent adults in this kind of relationship together that they've worked out by mutual interest and consent, those are cool, but the lack of representation in relationship dynamics and the people who make up the relationships is a problem, and much of the baggage that comes along with the tropes deserve a good, hard look.
I think I've understood the article differently than sandstone 176. The point I was trying to make, by posting the link, is that what happens in a book does not have to parallel what you want real life to be like.
The power imbalances in book relationships allow people to experiment emotionally with how they feel and think about the power imbalances in real life. They don't indicate aspirational thinking.
So if a woman reads, and enjoys, 50 Shades of Grey, to continue the example in the article, it does not have to follow that she's looking for a controlling man. Or even a man at all. Social pressures to behave a certain way are enacted on all women (and men), no matter who they are or what they want or how they identify. When it talks about sorting out social pressure, it does not mean that the ending of the book presents a solution to a social problem. It means the book provides an outlet for experiencing and examining feelings.
And while I agree that romances featured mainly white, straight couples in the 80s and 90s, the genre has really changed and diversified in the past decade, and continues to do so. Fiction in general is diversifying, I think. There are more non-white, non-straight people represented all over the place.
Unfortunately, they're long out of print, but I found copies to be easily available in my local used bookstores' fantasy/futuristic/paranormal romance section when I got them a few years ago. They're relatively quick reads (including the requisite futuristic romance animal companion, the moncats- telepathic monkey/cat hybrids), and I remember them being relatively free of the gender essentialism and other things that tend to throw me out of a romance story.
>177 flemmily: I ask kceccato's indulgence in derailing the thread a bit longer.
One of the comments on the article mentions that they feel a sense of catharsis after reading these intense kinds of stories we're discussing, where an "extreme" relationship comes out with a happy ending after all, and I can empathize with that- it's the same catharsis as one gets in an adventure story where the characters are in for certain doom and they escape, only here the certain doom is emotional instead, with the protagonists being alone forever if the relationship fails on one side, and the protagonists being in a horribly unequal relationship on the other- the "escape" is finding a solution that works for both of them. I can understand that- it's emotionally satisfying from a dramatic standpoint, if nothing else.
I also certainly agree that because people reading about "alpha males" who treat their romantic partners abusively in no way means that they want to be abused, any more than people playing violent video games means that they are going to go out and murder someone. It's an exaggerated version of daily life, and if I'm correctly reading what you're saying about emotional experimentation, I think that's what you're getting at too, that these exaggerations- if a relationship like this can come to a happy ending- can help some of us deal with smaller scale situations in our real lives sometimes. I agree with that too.
However, if we're willing to accept that a story can help us deal with life in a positive way, I think we have to also accept that stories can reflect or reinforce harmful messages or behavior. When so many romances involve a much stronger hero threatening or actively trying to kill the heroine at some point in the story, and these patterns keeps showing up in a significant number of works- just off the top of my head, from the books I've read just in the past year or so, I can think of Curran in the Kate Daniels series, Brigan in Cashore's Fire, Nahadoth and Sieh (and probably also Itempas, though my memory's a little hazy on the order of events there) in Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy, and Val Con in Agent of Change (sort of- they only discuss how easily he could kill her)- I think these are things that we as readers (and authors) of the genre need to talk about and keep talking about.
Is it okay that so many happy endings require the heroines to forgive the heroes trying to kill them along the way first? Does this reinforce the cultural background noise that men can't control themselves and women just have to deal with it- or that women can "civilize" or "fix" men? Is the story replicating this unthinkingly, or does it subvert or question the trope through word choice or minor characters' opinions? I find this kind of discussion directly relevant to discussing what makes a good romance story.
I also want to expand that my taking issue with generalization in your post about romances being valuable for women comes from my personal experience- I do believe you made in good faith, and it's in the same spirit that I object to it. As a questioning woman, I have used romance novels as a part of my exploration of the possibilities of relationships. I'd love if you have good examples of the increased diversity in mainstream SFF romance to add to this thread- Robin Owens' Guardian of Honor was mentioned above and is definitely one I'm going to be seeking out- this might be more of a trend in real-world-set romance, but what I've seen from the futuristics of the 90s through to modern books I've read (eg Wilson's Tairen Soul books, Morgan's Paladin series, Kennedy's Elven Lords books) has been completely heterosexual, and often aggressively gender normative with a sharp definition of what men are like and what women are like, very often accompanied by the idea that this is immutable and rooted in biology through insistence on referring to humans, werewolves, and whatever fantasy sentient beings as "females" and "males" rather than women and men.
I tend to feel like a space alien when I read them because there is no room for people like me left in these books, sometimes literally according to the rules of the universe the author has set up, as in the Tairen Soul books where there are compulsive heterosexual mating pair bonds (and refusing means the man will go mad and die), or Shinn's Angel books where the truest bestest love is those men and women Jovah brings together to produce optimal children, or Nagata's Memory where sleeping with anyone other than your one and only heterosexual partner will kill you because your body is toxic to others. I'm very often forcibly reminded when reading books that I'm not normal, because so many authors have never considered the consequences for anyone other than straight people living in their universes with the rules they've set up (or, I have to think sometimes, non-straight people ever reading their books). I've enjoyed some of these books (the universe of Shinn's Angel books is one I really enjoy), but even though I wholeheartedly believe that the vast majority of authors who do this don't really believe that the world is or should be only populated by straight people, at the same time it's hard for me to look past this kind of worldbuilding and just enjoy the story when it goes hand in hand with the heteronormative message I get from society all the time, the assumption that deep down everyone's really heterosexual or lying to themselves.
I believe it's vital to call this out, that as much good the genre can do for some women it can also be incredibly unwelcoming for others- I would ask that you take a look at (NSFW because of language) article and comments for a more thorough discussion on this topic, with many other voices.
In my "female Other" thread I mentioned an incident that happened at last year's Dragon*Con, which relates directly to the matter at hand. I was in the Dealer's Room at a bookseller's table -- wish I could remember the name of the seller, but the selection of new paperbacks was quite vast, and I was enjoying a nice long browse, checking out the synopses on the backs. But several other people had the same idea, and we had to work out ways to maneuver around each other. It was close quarters, to say the least. So I couldn't help hearing a conversation between three girls who appeared to be teenagers, about a book series they liked (can't remember which), one of those in which an Ordinary High School Girl (TM) becomes involved in a romance with a hunky... I can't remember whether it was a vampire or a werewolf, but it was one of those supernatural entities that YA writers like to cast as love interests for their Ordinary High School Girls (TM).
I couldn't help mentioning, "I wish we saw the genders switched a little more often, and we got plots where the guy is the human, and the girl the supernatural entity."
One of the girls responded, without irony, that she wouldn't like that at all, because if the girl were the supernatural one, she would be more powerful than the guy. This reader said point-blank that she felt the guy should always be more powerful in love stories.
So there we have it, folks. All these writers who insist on recycling the Beauty-and-the-Beast trope ad infinitum are only giving the target audience what they want. And if you're like me and you really want something different, you may just find yourself out in the cold.
Some romantic subplots I've read recently, that I've liked:
James and Susan in Freedom and Necessity
Blaze and Tor in The Aware
Meguet and the Gatekeeper in The Sorceress and the Cygnet
Sun Wolf and Starhawk (ongoing) in The Witches of Wenshar
First: DOWN WITH INSTA-LOVE!
"I've-just-met-you-and-this-is-crazy..." so-called love stories are not what I would call romantic. Rather, they're just an excuse for a really hot hero and a maybe-hot heroine to exchange abstract platitudes about the Power of Love. Latest example: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a book in which the prose style is much stronger and more vivid than the material deserves. Books in which the central characters decide they Love Each Other Forever even though they've exchanged barely half a dozen words do nothing for me.
I seek antidotes to Insta-Love, stories in which the characters actually talk to each other and share experiences and discover some interests and values in common before they decide they're each other's soul mates.
Second: DOWN WITH ABUSE!
With its intelligent, appealing heroine and its intriguing world-building, Kate Elliot's Cold Magic is a great book in every way except one: the heroine falls for a man who has tried to kill her. That's right: he wanted her dead. He was shocked and disappointed when she failed to die from a blow he thought sure would be fatal. Yet she falls for him anyway, and is even prepared to believe him when he says he fell for her at first sight, and that whole tried-to-murder-you thing was just a Big Misunderstanding. Again, not what I call romantic.
But if violence against the heroine is just a side dish in Cold Magic, in Kushiel's Dart, which I'm reading now, it's the main course. I'm on page 350, and the heroine has recently made it clear, by rejecting the only man in the whole darn story who actually likes and respects her, that she doesn't want to be loved. A sexual relationship characterized by gentleness and tenderness has no value for her at all. She relishes abuse; she seeks out degradation. Worse, when I find myself repelled by the abuse she suffers, I almost feel like the book is judging me, wagging its little finger and telling me not to be so "vanilla" in my romantic outlook. Yet I stand by my view that there is NOTHING romantic about being blindfolded and dangled from a hook and flayed by flechettes. Since this is the very kind of thing the heroine likes so much, I find it hard to believe she's eventually going to get involved in a romantic relationship where genuine admiration and respect are part of the equation.
I seek antidotes to the romanticizing of abuse and violence, stories in which genuine admiration and respect and yes, tenderness and gentleness, DO develop between the couples involved. Kindness is not weakness, and I wish more characters in recent and current fantasy seemed to know this. Why is it so hard to find good stories in which the heroine likes a guy (or gal) who is actually nice to her?
I know that a lot of people marry and are happy with people they're not friends with. But it's not what I want to see.
What they do often follow is the romance-y "Bad Boy redeemed by Just the Right One" trope, with a side helping of "some abuse is OK and sexy, if it's the price for unending romance and excitment and never being let down".
The original Beauty and the Beast has nothing about abuse being sexy, and is all about the getting to know.
Dragon Rose, a retelling of a sort of Beauty and the Beast that I read recently did the "getting to know you" part rather well IMO, and between characters who definitely weren't mooning over each other from the start.
Okay, I'm brand new to this and I can see that both of those are in the Touchstones list, I just can't figure out how to make a link with it. Any instructions anywhere?
Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. Ok this is highly controversial. There is a lot of unique angsty romance here, among solving riddles and fighting evil forces. I'll admit that both male and female protagonists are mary sueish, but the point is that the author showed how much of Mary Sue they are, instead of telling us. Oh and the concept may get old as one reads on in the series, after the 1000th time the heroine almost got raped and the 10000th time they are forced to split apart due to some magical rule... But, give the first book a try and see.
Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. This is much more along the lines of traditional feel-good fantasy, though it's far from being cliched. I wouldn't call this series a heavy read, but there is some deeper themes explored here. The romance is not the central focus, but their interaction, especially the main couple, is quirky, cute, and supportive of each other.
Riyria Revelations by Michael J Sullivan. This is also a traditional feel-good fantasy that has a lot of well-foreshadowed plot twist. The romance subplot blends pretty naturally in the later part of the series.
@#32 Belgariad by David Eddings +1. And there is also a younger main couple along the traditional lines of defeat the bad guys and get the princess. Though the romance is very, very light in this series.
The queen of Attolia, who loses most of her power is not truly the heroine. The book is series is complex with a myriad of characters. The book doesn't particularly paint her as a cold-hearted either, it doesn't show her as taking pleasure in other's pain. What the book does tell you is that she protects her power the only way she knows how. She has a sad past and no one to trust. I wouldn't call her a bitch, just a misguided person.
The reason she loses her power is because there is a three way war and the only way THE QUEEN OF EDDIS, can keep her power is by controlling Attolia. The events that lead take place leading upto her loss of power take place that the diction of another Queen. And in no way can the Queen of Attolia be considered a bitch lacking in intelligence or integrity. Although both the kings involved in the race for power can.
. You should check it out.
However "Twilight" isn't the typical pattern. Usually the male lead has "overt" power (eg. inhuman strength) and the female lead has some hidden gift that turns out to be far powerful in the end.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal features a sane adult relationship.
The "October Daye" series features a female lead with magic who never gives up her personality. Not really a romance, but there is a romance subplot.
The Arcadia Bell series features a magical heroine and is one of the few fantasy romances where the couple actually has something in common...their mutual love of Ancient Forbidden Demonology texts.