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Star-Crossed: 8 Fantasy Books With Forbidden Romance

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Lyndsie Manusos

Senior Contributor

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in web production and content management. When she’s not nesting among her books and rough drafts, she’s chasing the baby while the dog watches in confused amusement. She lives with her family in a suburb of Indianapolis.

Currently, I’m watching Taylor Swift’s Era’s Tour on TV, and I find the Reputation era to be apt for this post. Oh, the deliciousness of doing the bad thing, of going against the grain despite it all. Forbidden romances really dig under the skin of the idea of this, with characters often jumping headlong into a relationship that goes against everything they’ve ever known or been taught.

Forbidden Romance in Fantasy

The relationships in a fantasy forbidden romance are either banned by authority figures, and/or are considered forbidden due to societal or political standings, race, or species. 

Personally, I love a good forbidden romance that is emotionally fraught. I want it to hurt — I want to think, “How is this going to work out in the end?” And for books that are fantasy with forbidden romance — as opposed to books firmly in the romance genre — a happily ever after is not always guaranteed.

I especially love when the forbidden romance is a true enemies to lovers romance — legit enemies, not mere rivals. I want knives held to each other’s throats, a prick of blood before the kiss. I want them to annihilate each other, and then annihilate each other’s hearts. In my experience, a lot of romances claim to do this, but it’s more rivals to lovers, not necessarily enemies, and not necessarily forbidden.  

Let’s see if these fit the forbidden checklist that I love and enjoy.

Let’s see if they hurt.

8 Fantasy Books with Forbidden Romance

cover image of The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, a fantasy with forbidden romance

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

I really love this rendition of The Arabian Nights. Every night, Khalid, the 18-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride, and every morning, that bride is executed. One of those brides was 16-year-old Shahrzad’s best friend, so she volunteers to become one to exact her revenge on Khalid. This is an emotional, action-packed love story where not everything is as it seems, including feelings. Shahrzad loving Khalid is forbidden in many ways, but especially that of her own morality: Can you fall for the person responsible for your loved one’s death?

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey Book Cover

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

There is a lot of exploration of and reflection upon what society deems “forbidden” in this book. I read it last year, and I still think about it at random moments. In Terre d’Ange, the deity Elua says “Love as thou wilt.” As such, love — all the pleasures therein, in all forms and all relationships — is considered sacred.

Phèdre nó Delaunay, a young woman born with scarlet mote in one eye, is a rarity in this world: blessed and cursed to experience pain and pleasure as one. Of all of Phèdre’s lovers and suitors, the most forbidden romance is with that of Joscelin, a Cassiline warrior-priest sworn to celibacy, and Phèdre’s sworn protector.

Cover of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

There is no greater forbidden romance in literature than that of Romeo and Juliet, and there have been many retellings and remixes since. These Violent Delights ranks toward the very top for me. Set in 1920s Shanghai, it follows Juliette Cai, proud heir of the Scarlet Gang, and Roma Montagov, heir to the rival White Flowers. They are each other’s first love and first betrayal.

When those from both gangs start to turn up dead — either from a contagion, madness, or monster — both must set aside their differences to try to solve the mystery together. Otherwise, there will be no city left to rule.

cover of The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon, swirling purple around gold, with different phases of moons, with the outline of a face a a ship in the corners

The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

Of all the fantasy romance out right now, this one takes up the most rent-free space in my mind. This captures enemies-to-lovers more accurately and emotionally than much of the romantasy genre. (I said what I said.) Growing up in a nation under siege by the colonizing Night Emperor, Talasyn has known only war. With rare light magic running through her veins, Talasyn has no idea the weapon she really is.

When she meets Prince Alaric, heir to the Night Empire and wielder of shadow magic, on the battlefield, their fight is ruthless, but a stalemate. Fate continues to place Alaric and Talasyn together, and while each cannot help but fall for the other, their pasts and future intentions pull them apart. Talasyn, in particular, is well aware of the violence and death the Night Empire has caused, with Alaric at the helm. She feels for him, but cannot forgive the atrocities. Whew, what an emotional rollercoaster this is.

Bride by Ali Hazelwood Book Cover

Bride by Ali Hazelwood

When I think of books that really make it hurt, this one, surprisingly, pops up. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a forbidden romance option, but hear me out: While vampyre Misery Lark and Alpha Lowe Moreland’s marriage isn’t forbidden — as they’re literally a match formed by each other’s factions to prevent war — their growing emotions toward each other, and the alliance they form and grow, 100% feels forbidden.

Both are aware of the harm their factions have caused each other; the baggage and prejudices they both carry. Lowe is extremely careful around Misery, knowing her past and emotional trauma. Because of this, each step forward in their relationship is fraught, with events that truly wrecked me in how they wrecked each other.

cover of A Fate Inked in Blood

A Fate Inked in Blood by Danielle L. Jensen

There are few things more forbidden than falling for your stepson. This book takes the reigns on forbidden romance and rides it through the gauntlet. It follows Freya, blessed with a goddess’s blood, who is wed to a fanatical jarl after showing her powers in a battle of life and death. The jarl’s grown son, Bjorn, is also blessed with a god’s blood, and prophecy foretells their fate as intertwined. Loving Bjorn is not only forbidden due to her marriage, but also for the fact that the jarl holds Freya’s family hostage, with their safety entirely dependent on Freya’s support and complicity.

As Skaland stands on the precipice of all-out war, Freya must hone her powers while navigating the rising emotions between her and Bjorn.

Cover of A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair

A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair

A tale as old as time, the story surrounding Persephone and Hades surpasses even Romeo and Juliet. Is theirs a true forbidden love story?

In St. Clair’s retelling, Persephone disguises herself as a mortal journalist, hiding from the fact that though she is the Goddess of Spring, any flower shrivels at her touch. Soon, Persephone finds herself in a contract with the God of the Dead to do the one thing she can’t: create life in the underworld. As she tries to free herself, she realizes she has growing feelings for her captor.

cover image of A Taste of Honey, a fantasy with forbidden romance

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

This was listed in fellow Rioter Laura Sackton’s list of the best M/M historical fantasies, and rightly so. It’s a powerful historical fantasy that follows Aqib bgm Sadiq, fourth-cousin to the Royal Family, as he falls in love with a Daluçan soldier named Lucrio.

Defying his family and expectations, Aqib is swept into a whirlwind romance, willing to risk his position and expectations for the love of Lucrio. While only 160 pages, this is a stunning book of raw emotion, with a breathtaking love story.

What Counts as Forbidden?

For the above list, I handled more big-picture views of forbidden romance in fantasy, but there are many stories that tackle forbidden romance, some more nuanced than others. The beautiful thing about forbidden romance is it can be found across genres, from romance to fantasy to science fiction and all the rest. Thrillers have forbidden romances, as well as horror and literary fiction.

The delight of forbidden romance is universal across literature. We love to read about those who seek to do what is forbidden, for better or for worse — they even, at times, evolve or redefine it. Overall, authors across genres have much to play with in regard to forbidden romance.

If you’re interested in reading more on this concept, check out the following Book Riot articles: