Did you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day? Isn’t commercially mandated displays of affection wonderful? When you get beyond the flowers and jewelry and chocolate and uncomfortable underwear, what you’re left with is a wonderful core — the breathtaking beauty of two people coming together in a relationship of pure happiness. Or at least that’s the way fairy tales make it look.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSo, if Moulin Rouge! is right, and “Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!” why is it so hard to depict love in a book? Most romances in fantasy are completely unbelievable. Big strong man rescues damsel in distress from evil overlord. Damsel falls in love with big strong (usually dumb) man for no other apparent reason than gratitude. Man accepts love as his due for rescuing her. Reciprocates love based on woman’s ability to not stab herself with a weapon and/or be good in the sack.

So maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But anyone who has been in love recognizes what it is and is not, and while a well written romance adds immeasurably to a book (in my opinion) a badly written romance can ruin it. I went back and reread the original Pern trilogy not too long ago and was absolutely appalled at what passed as romance in those books — F’lar basically abuses Lessa when she does something he doesn’t like, and the sexual encounters driven by the dragons mating come dangerously close to rape. While this never really stood out to me when I was a teenager, now that I’m an adult I’m appalled at what is passed off as romantic or acceptable relationships in some of the genre.

So, dear readers, I have a series of questions for discussion: What makes a literary romance work for you? What makes it fail? And what books can you point to as examples of either direction?

Anfantasy and science fiction book reviewsd if you want to get potentially controversial, have gender roles in fantasy evolved with time? Or are the sexist tendencies (hello, basically any cover ever published by Boris Vallejo) just more subtle, and we haven’t really moved beyond basic stereotypical depictions of romance?

Leave a comment, and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of John Shirley‘s Bleak History. Or, if that book isn’t to your fancy, we’ll let you pick one out of our stacks.


  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.