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June 25, 2024

3 Novels for Fans of Romantic Fantasy

by MK French

If you are looking for a book to lose yourself in this summer, check out these romantic fantasy novels.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Afterlife of Mal Caldera by Nadi Reed Perez

book cover of romantic fantasy novel The Afterlife of Mal Caldera by Nadi Reed Perez
June 2024; Titan Books; 978-1803367767
audio, ebook, print (448 pages); romantic fantasy

Mal Caldera is a former rockstar and excommunicated black sheep of her Catholic family. Now that she's dead, her younger sister Cris is left to take care of everything. Other ghosts party in an abandoned mansion they call the Haunt, but Mal wants to contact Cris. To do so, she enlists Ren, a medium who thinks he's a schizophrenic. The more time they spend together, the more they wonder what could have been if they'd met before Mal died. As much as Mal knows bad things happen to ghosts that can't let go of the past, she isn't sure if she's hurting the living.

Mal is quirky and fun from the start, with full knowledge of all her bad habits and reckless past that had sent her spiraling away from the strict Catholicism of her upbringing. It's understandable that Ren believes he's a schizophrenic if he's seen things since his teens since seeing ghosts isn't normal and schizophrenia usually begins at that time. We know that in the world of the book, ghosts are real and have their own rules that some have figured out and passed on and that Ren seeing spirits is real. The two of them have great chemistry, and ties deepen as the novel progresses.

I really like how the book is separated into sections that go through the stages of grief. In real life, the stages aren't neatly separated, and Mal really goes through them in a messy kind of way. We quickly learn about the complicated feelings she had for her family and the life she led after getting kicked out of the house, but also see how her mother and sister feel about her in the glimpses she gets of them.

Saints of Storm and Sorrow by Gabriella Buba

book cover of romantic fantasy novel Saints of Storm and Sorrow by Gabriella Buba
June 2024; Titan Books; 978-1803367804
ebook, print (480 pages); romantic fantasy

María Lunurin lives a double life: she is the dutiful nun Sister Maria who helps the Codicían colonizers as well as a stormcaller. This leaves her in hiding not only from the colonizers who would hunt down those with magic, but her own slighted goddess Anitun Tabu. She does what she can to protect her fellow people and especially her lover Catalina and Cat's younger sister. But discovering a secret threatens that balance, leading her to turn to the scion of a powerful family for help. He happens to love her, sparking Cat's jealousy. Torn in different directions, María can no longer keep her goddess' fury at bay. The goddess storms had been contained for too long, and demands vengeance.

Catalina is of mixed heritage as Lunurin is, and far more religiously devout. Lunurin holds onto her roots and beliefs in the gods, even as the conquering Codicían empire tries to kill all water tenders in Aynila. They don't know about firetenders, and fear the tide tenders and stormcallers because they have power to destroy the Codicían fleet. Using the people for labor and goods, they cast a long shadow over the archipelago villages and even in the convent. Even so, she tries to help the magic users escape detection as best she can, using her few connections to get them out of Codicían reach. Even the Abbotts and other sisters sometimes abuse what power they have. With the increasing tension, Catalina leans in even more into her faith, unknowingly driving a wedge into her relationship with Lunurin and tipping the balance toward the goddess and her powers. 

I loved the world building in the book, the play of old world gods and the conquerors with their rigid faith. It's based on traditional Filipino lore, and gives a sense of familiarity with some situations with the Church. The simmering unrest of course leads to strife on a personal as well as citywide level. I understand Catalina's point of view, but I don't actually like her and don't see what Lunurin does. She actively harms Lunurin and her sister Inez, for all that she loves them, in the name of her faith and her belief that the conquerors were right about native magic. She sides with the Codicían religious and political leaders, blaming the locals for the trouble that befalls them all, and even blames her sister for being groomed. Lunurin absorbed as much of this talk, and blames herself for what she can't control. Her goddess is of storms and vengeance, but only because she was caged and belittled for years, subsumed and turned into the Mother of Sorrow. Lunurin isn't the only one calling for justice, or to slow the Codicían fleet from taking over the entire archipelago. 

In this world, the goddesses are present and able to speak to those people with a corresponding magical gift. Lunurin is the last stormcaller, caught between colonialism and nativism, her mixed heritage just as suppressed as her goddess. It's a difficult position to be in, and hurts those around her as much as it hurts her. Both must find their voices to make a place for themselves in Aynila, and it must be balanced. Rage unchecked hurts everyone, and not everything can be fixed. But all storms come to an end, and the future is a better one when it's not built on blood and subjugation. The ending contains hope for the future, though some betrayals cannot be forgiven.

The Hunter's Gambit by Ciel Pierlot

book cover of romantic fantasy novel The Hunter's Gambit by Ciel Pierlot
June 2024; Angry Robot; 978-1915998170
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); romantic fantasy

Vampires terrorize the human citizens of Mavazem, but Kazan Korvic refuses to cower. She is an expert blacksmith, able to craft and use weapons designed to kill the vampires. When a group of them steal her magical weapons, her skills aren't enough. She is forced to become part of the vampire court and act as Queen, culminating in an extravagant feast where they plan to devour her.

Kazan is a liar but an excellent blacksmith; it takes a lot of skill to work with silver and live wood to create weapons to kill vampires, and she makes weapons that are both practical and useful. She intends to sell an exquisite sword, which unfortunately puts her into the path of vampires who rely on having a human play king or queen for three days prior to their gruesome death as part of a magic ritual meant to keep their Citadel in prime condition. She's up against three major bloodlines of vampires all coming together for this ritual, many of whom have their own secrets and plots that they have been working on for decades.

The idea of a castle full of vampires and the human that they can't kill yet is a fascinating one and leads to an incredible amount of tension throughout the book. She tries to find an escape route, build alliances, and even converse with ghosts that are created when vampires kill humans. The vampires can't see them, a neat little world-building detail, but can still be affected by them in some ways. The vampires are still characters full of agency even if their humanity by definition is gone. Their morals are not the same as humans any longer, and Kazan's shift back and forth. She acknowledges that she lies all the time and is a coward, interested in saving her own life. It happens multiple times, and the vampires are just as self-serving. This makes her very relatable.

I guessed a few of the plot points along the way and was surprised by others, making it very interesting and fun. The bulk of the novel takes place over the three days of the party in the Citadel, and we see those shifting alliances at work each day. I couldn't put the book down, because I had to see what happened next, and the finale was a fitting surprise.

Buy The Hunter's Gambit at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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