Romance In Fantasy–Over It!

S. Zainab Williams

Executive Director, Content

S. Zainab would like to think she bleeds ink but the very idea makes her feel faint. She writes fantasy and horror, and is currently clutching a manuscript while groping in the dark. Find her on Twitter: @szainabwilliams.

Love and the search for that special someone is the great quest of many. Love has successfully driven a big rig of stories. Love can animate a reader’s thumb, making it push those pages along like there’s a fat, warm slice of cake waiting at the end of a book. So often in fantasy it’s love as much as magic swords that sweeps the plot. I want cake too and love is a beautiful thing, but I am over it in the genre.

I’m not sure what happened over the course of my reading life. I used to hunt down the romance threads when I picked up new spec fic. But what I look for in my favorite genre has changed over the years. I’m still all over that intrepid female protagonist who battles it out in fantastic settings, but now I find myself cringing at the first heart palpitation. Sometimes I just want adventure, you know?

I don’t need my girl to fall for a guy–I just want her to do some crazy business, get into hijinks, and have capers with some cool world building thrown in. I want a girl who’s willing to fight for what she believes in and what she wants for her life and kingdom. I don’t need her to be driven by some dude with a moody haircut and anthracite eyes that spark her loins, yes, even if he’s the damsel in distress and she’s the knight in shining armor. I just don’t care about him. I don’t want her love for him to be a conflict that pauses her mission or skews her sense of direction for swooning so hard. I want her to be stopped in her path by the horrible, stinking troll snacking on a handful of children, asking her to solve a shrewd riddle to save their lives. And hurry on after the deed is done, before the village hero strides out of the woods to begrudge her claim on legendary status only to end up hopelessly and miraculously wooed by the finale. Stahp. Leave her be. To the next escapade!

And sure, throw some cool male characters in the mix–maybe she’s friends with David the Gnome–no big deal, but just because he’s cool doesn’t mean she has to be romantically interested. Sometimes it feels like an analogy for life. Go ahead, slay some dragons and win some crowns, but don’t for a minute think you have it all if you don’t have luuuuurve.

What would happen if we left out the romance and let a lady get on with her epic day? If her trials had nothing to do with what some guy thought about her and everything to do with decapitating the rotten tyrant waiting throneside? A woman has things to do and it’s not always requiting love; a woman has things to feel and those feelings aren’t always heart shaped.

I don’t want to abolish romance in fantasy. Every reader has her needs. I just want more of my needs fulfilled because I like reading too and I’m bored of the same treatments of endearment. So if you have the perfect book for my predicament, trot them out.