Do you realize I have eight romances on my Kindle? Eight. Wow.
Four are by Laura Florand – that number will only go up; I’m definitely in line for The Chocolate Touch when it comes out and anyway, I’m sure I’ll eventually buy everything she’s written. Also two by Ruthie Knox, and two by Mina Esguerra (though I’m not sure one of those counts, since it’s really romantic fantasy).
Anyway, eight is a lot for me, since romance has never been a genre to which I’ve paid much attention.
And why have I started reading romances? I can easily identify proximate three reasons:
a) a review at Angieville that made me try Sarah Addison Allen (who, btw, has another book scheduled for release this coming February). This is what first pulled my attention toward romance.
b) a series of reviews at Chachic’s Book Nook that made me try first Laura Florand and then take a chance on Knox and Esguerra.
c) and low prices for many Kindle ebooks, so that it’s the next thing to risk-free to try a new author. It helps when a book also has a charming title and catchy back cover copy, both of which are true for, say, Interim Goddess of Love by Mina Esguerra. Seriously, doesn’t that title make you smile?
But the ultimate reason I’ve started to read a few romances amid all the fantasy and SF and mysteries and nonfiction is that I finally tried a couple that really appealed to me.
Which makes me wonder: What are some really appealing books to recommend to people who don’t read a particular genre? I mean, I would never consider pressing a copy of CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station into the hands of an avowed romance fan who doesn’t read SF. Sure, Downbelow Station is a classic award-winning novel, but it is also big, slow-paced, has a huge cast of protagonists, is filled with complicated politics, and contains essentially no romance at all (I say “essentially” because I can’t remember even a faint thread of romance, but don’t want to re-read the book to check.) It would be ridiculous to recommend it to a romance fan just because it is a great book.
But then, what SF novel would you recommend to a romance fan? Or to a reader who mostly sticks to fantasy? What secondary-world fantasy novel would you suggest for a friend who’s mostly a fan of mysteries? And like that.
Some are easy to pick!
Fantasy to Romance
For your fan of fantasy, if you want to recommend a romance, you just can’t beat Sarah Addison Allen! Right? There’s just enough of a thread of magic through her stories to make a fantasy reader happy, so they’re perfect to bridge the gap between fantasy and romance. And Allen’s romances are handled with, how shall I put this? With some delicacy. They are not highly eroticized, which is another factor I think might appeal to readers who have generally avoided romance.
Romance to Fantasy
What if you want to go the other direction, recommend fantasy novels to readers who prefer romance and maybe paranormals, but who aren’t usually drawn to secondary world non-paranormal fantasy? Okay, I get that fantasy-with-a-strong-romance-subplot is not a rare beast. Even so, Bujold’s Sharing Knife series is an obvious pick. What else? Well, the Medair duology by Andrea Höst uses very definite romance tropes, too. I’d also suggest Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn. We get nice development of a secondary world there, and a romance that develops slowly but surely through the whole story. Shinn is a good choice overall, since a lot of her books have a very strong romance component – the Angel series, for example, are all SFF romances.
Romance to SF
Besides Shinn, whose Angel books read more as fantasy than SF, I’d suggest Bujold’s Shards of Honor, particularly for readers of a certain age, because eventually one does start to appreciate a protagonist who’s over twenty-five. For younger readers, um. Right now Höst’s Touchstone Trilogy is kind of on my mind, since it’s probably my favorite read so far this year. Is it okay if the romance doesn’t really start until the second book, or would that be too disappointing to a romance fan?
Fantasy to SF
What about SF for readers who prefer fantasy? No fair choosing fantasies with SF trappings, like Guilt-Edged Ivory by Doris Egan (which ought to be better known, and would be yet another good SFF choice for a romance fan). If you want to choose something that really is no kidding unmistakably SF, what would it be? I’m going to vote for really good space opera. I think you want a story which is fast-paced, with great characterization and catchy dialogue. Something that will draw the reader in immediately and not give him or her time to worry about the SF setting. In other words, Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice. Another good space-opera is Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon – though I don’t think all her books set in that world are of equal quality. For more consistent quality, Moon’s Vatta’s War series might be a better choice.
Or if you really want to choose something other than space opera? In that case, how about Octavia Butler’s Dawn? Anybody who can read the first few pages and put that one down, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t understand their taste as a reader. It is sociological SF, and of course brilliantly written, because, you know, Octavia Butler.
Literary to SF
Before we stop thinking about Elizabeth Moon, though, I would totally offer The Speed of Dark to a reader who is all into literary and turns his or her nose up at SFF. That is, imo, one of the greatest SF novels ever written.
SF to Fantasy
Speaking of snobs, you do get SF snobs who look down on fantasy. What might you press into such a reader’s hands that might change his mind? That’s tricky, because I think some of this SF vs Fantasy attitude is actually a preference for plot-driven vs character-driven stories (I don’t think this is the whole explanation! Just part of it! Don’t jump on me!). But, stipulating a reader who prefers a plot-driven story, what might you recommend? I’m not generally going to prefer a plot-driven story myself, so it’s hard for me to think of examples. But how about Tim Powers? I think Declare might be a good choice. Especially since Powers’ books also have the rigor that some SF fans value, though it’s rigor in historical research rather than physics.
Literary to Fantasy
Come to think of it, Powers might be another good choice for a reader who usually prefers literary fiction. Another fantasy novel I might suggest for someone who usually reads literary would be A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. I think it might have been considered literary or mainstream when it was published, but don’t kid yourself, it’s fantasy. More specifically, it’s magical realism, a big complicated story of generation-spanning scope. Plus, Helprin’s writing is just exquisite.
Mystery to Fantasy
Okay, how about a fan of mysteries who never reads SFF? I think mysteries divide neatly into two categories, so for fans of Sherlock Holms or Agatha Christie, I’d think of the Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett, Eric Flint and Guy Gordo. On the other hand, for mystery readers who are into character more than plot, I would think of Barbara Hambly’s Stranger at the Wedding, which is very much a mystery even if it is also a secondary-world fantasy. Hambly’s Bride of the Rat God is also a mystery. Come to think of it, so is Those Who Hunt the Night. I guess it isn’t surprising that so many of Hambly’s fantasy novels utilize the style and tropes of mysteries, since she writes both.
Fantasy to Historical
I don’t honestly think it’s necessary to suggest particular historical novels for readers of fantasy. I think fans of fantasy probably already read historicals, since historicals are basically magic-free fantasy. But just in case: people! If you haven’t already read anything by Elizabeth Wein, are you missing out, or what? My personal suggestion is, start with The Sunbird, but hey, really, with Wein, you can start anywhere. Anyway, the books connected to that one have an Arthurian thing going, so they’re sort of fantasy anyway.
And if you haven’t yet read anything by Gillian Bradshaw? Yeah, you should totally go do that, too. Especially if you like romances. Try A Beacon At Alexandria and go from there.
Historical to Fantasy
Is there anybody who reads historicals but not fantasy? Just in case you happen to know someone like that, there are a zillion great historical fantasies, by which I mean fantasies set in a real historical setting, but with magic. If I had to pick just one to suggest, then maybe it would be Judith Riley’s In Pursuit of the Green Lion (if you like a European historical setting) or perhaps Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr for a Greek/Egypt setting.
Or for fantasies that aren’t exactly historical fantasies, but have a historical feel, maybe Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, or else Temeraire by Naomi Novik.
Okay, I don’t suppose I hit suggestions for all possible genre-to-genre combinations – if I tried, I guess it would be, uh, let’s see, the genres are SF, fantasy, mystery, historical, romance, horror, western, and literary, right? So that would be, what, 56 different possible genre to genre combinations? Yeah, not going to try to be complete! But if you’re so inclined, feel free to add a combination I left out, or add to any combination I included!