Is there a difference between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy?

vintage romantic fantasy lake with swan and magical fairy dust
Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

My latest project, Puck’s Call, is (near as I can tell) a fantasy romance. I’m basing this on the fact that the plot is really fitting nicely into a typical romance plot, and I can even identify the tropes inside it.

In honor of actually, kind of, sort of, knowing what genre my book fits within—which, as you can see from this post, hasn’t always been the case—I’m going to take a little bit of time comparing fantasy romance with romantic fantasy.

Why? Because I like definitions, especially when it comes to finding new things to read.

So here we go.

First off, genres change all the time. A genre will be happily minding its own business and then, bam! A book grabs the imagination of the wider public and soon everyone is talking about this book, especially publishers, who want to repeat that success. Writers come in who either already had books like the one that took off, but couldn’t sell them because “no one reads those kind of books.” Other writers dash off a manuscript that’s a lot like the Big Hit and start shopping it around, thus leading to books that readers kind of enjoy but that, ultimately, make them shrug. And before you know it, bookstores and libraries add a new physical or digital shelf to the marketplace and voila! A genre is born.

Same with subgenres. Originally, there was only fantasy. Then what’s commonly known as “sword and sorcery.” And things kind of blossomed from there.

One of the beauties of writing fantasy is that, as long as there’s magic as a key component, you can do just about anything. And that even means including romance. And now there’s been enough fantasy novels with strong enough elements of romance for it to get its own subgenres.

But this leads me back to my question. Is there a difference between fantasy romance and romantic fantasy?

Given my experiences search? Kind of, but not really. For readers who are looking for more romance in their fantasy, either search term should get you where you want to go, eventually.

From a literary standpoint, I say yes, there is a subtle difference. Here are my definitions, based on what I’ve read so far.

Fantasy romance is romance with a fantasy setting and some fantasy tropes. Romantic fantasy is fantasy with an emphasis on relationships, especially romantic ones.

Sometimes those lines are blurred. The Fire Lord’s Lover by Kathryne Kennedy, though clearly fantasy romance, has such a strong fantasy plot within it that I think it straddles the two genres perfectly.

So, the next question to ask is, what makes a romance. After all I’ve read, both romance novels and books on how to write a romance novel, I say romance is variations on a single theme: Romantic Love Conquers All. If the book in your hands has that as its overarching theme, then it’s a romance.

By that definition, The Fire Lord’s Lover is definitely fantasy romance, because love does truly conquer all, both in the book and in the books that come after it in that series.

Other books to look at, if that’s what you’re looking for, are Master of Crows by Grace Draven, Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell, and just about anything written by Kristine Grayson.

Romantic fantasy, on the other hand, has fantasy’s themes as its main focus. And since fantasy is all about power, it’s about a character, typically female, coming to grips with her own power, both personally and as a member of the wider community. Romance is definitely part of that, and can be a very strong part of it, but unlike fantasy romance, it’s not the main focus.

An example is Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series. The first half of each book I’ve read in that series has nothing to do with romance. Instead, it’s about a woman finding her feet and coming to terms with who she is and what she wants to be. Once she’s done that, then romance enters her life. The first book in the series, The Fairy Godmother, was especially good at that. Other examples include Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals series (Middle Grade, but still good), Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, and I would even include, if you’re into something darker, Anne Bisop’s Black Jewels series. (Hesitant to add that because I’ve only read the first two books in the series. But it seems to fit the definitions I’ve given for romantic fantasy, so far.)

What about you? Does this sound right, or are my definitions off? What other books would you add to these lists? Let me know in the comments!

*An exception appears to be Selene Quarterly, a magazine devoted to spec fic romance. (WARNING: as of my linking today, the cover art on the page is NSFW [Not Safe For Work]. Click at your own risk!)

Woman gothic dark fantasy

Dark fantasy vs. epic fantasy

Woman gothic dark fantasy
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When The Dark Crystal’s spin-off series came out, someone described the initial movie as “dark fantasy.” I’d seen this term on Ralan.com (a great site for those who want to submit short stories to spec fic markets) but hadn’t thought much of it. It’s like horror with fantasy elements, right? I’d think and move on to the more mainstream subgenres.

But I love The Dark Crystal. I loved it as a kid and got irritated when the grown-ups around me talked during any portion of it. I love it so much now that I got a copy and have, whenever I get the chance,  played it for my kids who now tell me they were freaked out by the Skeksies and other creatures and that my love of that movie convinced them that their mom definitely loved dark things.

But to me, that movie is anything but dark.

However, now that I’m aware of my darkish tendencies, I’ve decided to look deeper into this subject.

The verdict? No one really seems to have a firm grip on what it is. But even though it seems to be a personal judgment call, there also seem to be some basic principles. Maybe.

(Please be aware that some of what’s written below is based on what I found and some of it is based on my own analysis.)

1. Dark fantasy is dark. As in, it has a dark atmosphere. Brooding protagonists. Evil all around. Maybe evil within. One person on the SFFWorld forum put The Dark Elf trilogy in that category and another put Moorcock’s Elric in there, too. Given that definition, Tanith Lee’s The Lords of Darkness would also count as dark fantasy, as would The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop. I would also put George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in that as well.

Epic fantasy and heroic fantasy, on the other hand, tends to be lighter in tone.

2. Dark fantasy has a quest, just not, perhaps, an external one. For example, The Lords of Darkness starts out with a love story between a young man and the Lord of Darkness himself, and it appears, on the surface, that the quest is external. But over the course of the many stories, all of which read like short stories or novellas but are all tied together into one overarching plot, it become clear that the Lord of Darkness is the main protagonist and that’s he’s trying to find a way to keep humanity and their worship of him alive.

The Last Unicorn, which I’m starting to think is dark fantasy, starts out as an external quest (to find the other unicorns) but turns into a deeper quest of what it means to be ageless and magical and what it means to be mortal and not-so-magical and how to reconcile the two when both seem at odds and yet both can be strong.

Epic fantasy, on the other hand, has a clear quest that’s external to the main character. The evil guy must be defeated by doing x which will lead to y result. There may be introspection, but it isn’t necessary to the story itself and may, at times, get in the way. (Wonderful as it is, and I really do love it, how much introspection does Aragorn or Frodo go through in Tolkien’s series?)

3. There isn’t necessarily a happy ending. I take issue with this somewhat. Horror is, at the core, a morality tale. Have sex instead of watching the kid, and you might get slaughtered by a monster or end up in some kind of supernatural hell, damned forever. Think you’re innocent? Oh, no, not really. Horror tends to show people as they “really” are and, at the same time, make the innocents prove that they really are better than most of humanity. As a result, there are definite tragedies in the horror genre. (I still haven’t gotten over the ending of The Shining, which really broke my heart.)

But the dark fantasy I’ve read and enjoyed, like The Dark Elf trilogy, does have a happy ending. It may not be the ending you thought was coming. It may not be the kind where all the good people get everything they ever wanted (that includes staying alive). But it’s satisfying and leaves me happy with where the characters are.

In that sense, I would say dark fantasy has a realistic element to it, even in a fantastical setting.

And, by the way, this doesn’t mean there needs to be a lot of profanity or sex. Realism means not everything turns out the way you thought it would. Not everything broken in the course of the story gets fixed.

Contrast this to epic or heroic fantasy, where good always vanquishes evil and there’s a sense that the world has been set to rights. Lord of the Rings is a great example of that, though I’ll admit Frodo’s end makes my point debatable.

4. Dark fantasy either subverts or at least questions what’s good and what’s evil. In The Dark Elf trilogy, it’s very clear to Drizzt what’s good and what’s evil and nothing really varies from that. However, The Lords of Darkness most certainly plays with notions of good and evil, and Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series has people worshiping The Darkness which isn’t actually dark in the typical sense. As mentioned in my review of the first book, Daughter of the Blood, it’s more like a primal beginning. Those who reject the Darkness are the ones who are horrifying in their evil. And, as a side note, Anne Bishops’ book Sebastian, has as one of its primary settings The Den of Iniquity, which turns out to be different than what it initially appears.

Epic fantasy, however, tends to make it clear from the beginning what’s good and what’s evil. The Sword of Shannara is a good example of that, as is The Eye of the World. And, of course, Lord of the Rings. A person can be tempted by evil, but the evil guy is clearly evil and someone to be defeated.

This would put The Dark Crystal more into the dark fantasy subgenre, since the Skeksies, evil as they are, are actually the evil side of another set of creatures, split off as part of their battle amongst themselves. Once they’re joined with the good Mystics, they become whole. And the lesson is that we carry dark and light within us. We cannot truly be split.

5. Dark fantasy doesn’t hold back when it comes to pain. Here’s where I definitely agree with putting The Dark Crystal in the dark fantasy camp. Dark fantasy has pain galore within its pages. Like, horrifying, I don’t know if I can watch this, make have nightmares pain. The use of the dark crystal to drain life, the casual way living creatures are eaten while still alive, the slavery of the podlings, the genocide, the abandonment of a child, and the death of one of the main characters, all of it was pain.

Pan’s Labyrinth was the same. Truly horrifying stuff and the pain so many characters go through made the ending only somewhat worth it. I really wish there had been a stronger joy to that ending because holy crap was there a lot of agony in that movie.

I think I’ve covered most of it. I’ve linked a few sites below if you want to take a closer look, but really, this is a subgenre that’s not clearly defined.

However, in looking at it, I can see that yes, it is a genre I’ve already loved. I just didn’t have a name for it until now.

What about you? Do you think I’m right or wrong? And do you love this subgenre, too? Let me know in the comments!

More About Dark Fantasy:

TV Tropes: Dark Fantasy

Discussion on Reddit of Dark Fantasy and Other Subgenres

Wikipedia: Dark Fantasy

14 Dark Fantasy Books to Read and Explore on Long, Cold Nights

 

Goals for 2020

  • Publish three books in a fantasy romance trilogy starring Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow).
  • Increase friendships. I’ve let too many go this past decade.
  • At some point, finish part three of The Lord’s Tale and put that finished book out there.
  • Use my timer! Work in ten minute sections.
  • Really work on getting a list of reviewers this time and getting reviews as soon as possible for said fantasy romance trilogy.
  • Remember that all creative work comes from life, so live.

Anything beyond this list is a bonus and will be treated as such.

Change in Focus From The Lord’s Tale to New Project Series

I will no longer be focusing on The Lord’s Tale: Part Three as completely as I was before. Here’s why.

When I first began posting updates of the raw draft in PDF form, I noticed something that, at first, didn’t seem like a big deal, but began to cause me a little concern. Each time I posted an update, every PDF I had on my site was downloaded. Sometimes, without anyone even visiting the page where the PDF was located.

I deleted every PDF on my site except for the one I was updating. And still there were attempts to download these nonexistent PDFs.

Now, this could have been a person very interested in my work because they liked it, or it could have been something less wholesome. So, I decided to test it by changing the medium of exchange. After all, if it was a fan, then they would gladly sign up for a free subscription, right? So I set up a subscription on Gumroad, updated part three with a new scene, and announced it both here on my blog and on Twitter.

No one signed up.

Now, there are a lot of ways I could take this. First off, it shows me that, unless you have a following, sharing stories on a blog isn’t the way to go, even if it’s an established story. (Action item: build a following.)

Wattpad would be better, but I didn’t choose it this time because this is the final part of three, and it’s the final part of the second volume in the series, at that. If I had written the other stories on Wattpad, I might have tried, but I’m not going to have strangers jump in right in the middle of the story. And at the midpoint of the series, too.

So, yeah, no Wattpad.

Because I don’t know if this means the story isn’t sellable or not, I’m temporarily calling this a Book of the Heart. It will get finished, and I will update again starting sometime in January. Updates will occur once a month and, again, go through the subscription at Gumroad. For those who want to sign up, I will, in early January, put a link in the sidebar, as well as a progress meter so you see at a glance if any new words have been added.

My main focus, though, is a project that might have a bigger audience than a former baker’s wife who has a complicated romance with a mysterious minstrel.

I’m going to write a fantasy romance featuring Puck, a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow.

And this one, though sweet, will follow the romance beats a lot more closely than Trial of the Ornic does/did.

I’ll still post snippets here and there if I have a really good day, but otherwise, this blog is going to be full of fairies for a while. Hope you don’t mind. And I think I might also post this rough draft on Wattpad, given it’s the beginning of a new series. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I hope all is well in your household and that the holidays are very happy for all of you.

 

The Lord’s Tale, part three, 12/10 update

Thank you for your patience in waiting for this update. I hope you find this new scene for The Lord’s Tale, and this new approach to updating, worth the wait.

Created with GIMP

Series: Trial of the Ornic

Book Description: Within the besieged city of Openwater, Krysilla Jyomsa, now employed by her former husband, Lejer, swears to continue to believe in the oath she made with Zhiv and Daegan to learn magic that will help people, even if it means learning spells outside her trade. When Lady Lia Marilisin, current ruler of the city, asks her to open an enormous portal beneath the noble’s manor, she agrees, swearing that this time she is stronger, the proof of it currently protecting the city. But the magic that waits for her below has secrets they cannot yet imagine. And Lia’s manipulations threaten the lives of everyone Krysilla cares about, from the youngest of them, Tira, to the one Lia wants to make her own, Zhiv Mikailsin, the minstrel who started it all. It doesn’t help that Krysilla feels as if something very important, something she can’t yet see, has begun to go wrong. And that feeling keeps growing the longer she’s away from Zhiv…

If you’d like a more complete recap of the series, please visit the recap page.

Update: Krysilla and Zhiv come to an agreement regarding helping Lia, and Krysilla makes Zhiv more than one promise.

Now available as a free subscription through Gumroad!

Comments are very welcome, by the way. If I get enough of them, I might start updating twice a week! Either enter your comment below or send them through the Contact Me page of this site.

Also, using Gumroad like this is very new for me. Please forgive me as I work out the kinks for the first few updates.

The Lord’s Tale, part three, update postponed

Due to various life factors, there will be no update this weekend. (Saying this because it’s just past midnight where I am which means that, technically, it’s Saturday, not Friday.) Everything’s okay, it’s just some tasks took priority.

I will try to have a scene or two up by Monday, but make no promises.

Also, while I’m here, I may not be updating this coming Friday due to the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S.

Thank you for your patience. I hope to get to a more stable schedule by December.

The Lord’s Tale, part three, 11/15 update

Created with GIMP

Series: Trial of the Ornic

Book Description: Within the besieged city of Openwater, Krysilla Jyomsa, now employed by her former husband, Lejer, swears to continue to believe in the oath she made with Zhiv and Daegan to learn magic that will help people, even if it means learning spells outside her trade. When Lady Lia Marilisin, current ruler of the city, asks her to open an enormous portal beneath the noble’s manor, she agrees, swearing that this time she is stronger, the proof of it currently protecting the city. But the magic that waits for her below has secrets they cannot yet imagine. And Lia’s manipulations threaten the lives of everyone Krysilla cares about, from the youngest of them, Tira, to the one Lia wants to make her own, Zhiv Mikailsin, the minstrel who started it all. It doesn’t help that Krysilla feels as if something very important, something she can’t yet see, has begun to go wrong. And that feeling keeps growing the longer she’s away from Zhiv…

If you’d like a more complete recap of the series, please visit the recap page.

Update: Krysilla returns to the bakery to find Lejer dealing with the ovens.

Comments are very welcome, by the way. If I get enough of them, I might start updating twice a week! Either enter your comment below or send them through the Contact Me page of this site.

The Lord’s Tale, part three, November 15, 2019 update

 

The Lord’s Tale, part three, 11/9 update

Created with GIMP

Series: Trial of the Ornic

Book Description: Within the besieged city of Openwater, Krysilla Jyomsa, now employed by her former husband, Lejer, swears to continue to believe in the oath she made with Zhiv and Daegan to learn magic that will help people, even if it means learning spells outside her trade. When Lady Lia Marilisin, current ruler of the city, asks her to open an enormous portal beneath the noble’s manor, she agrees, swearing that this time she is stronger, the proof of it currently protecting the city. But the magic that waits for her below has secrets they cannot yet imagine. And Lia’s manipulations threaten the lives of everyone Krysilla cares about, from the youngest of them, Tira, to the one Lia wants to make her own, Zhiv Mikailsin, the minstrel who started it all. It doesn’t help that Krysilla feels as if something very important, something she can’t yet see, has begun to go wrong. And that feeling keeps growing the longer she’s away from Zhiv…

If you’d like a more complete recap of the series, please visit the recap page.

Update: Krysilla tries to walk the line between helping the city and keeping her promise to Zhiv. Lia tries to get closer to Zhiv. Zhiv and Daegan talk about Nitty and Zhiv learns Nitty is hiding something.

Comments are very welcome, by the way. If I get enough of them, I might start updating twice a week! Either enter your comment below or send them through the Contact Me page of this site.

The Lord’s Tale, part three, November 9, 2019 update