Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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NPR’s 100 best-ever romances

Even though as you know I am not super-keen on romances in general, this particular list — 100 of the all-time great romances from Jane Austen to today — caught my attention. Because not only is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE on the list, but also:j

1. Laura Florand’s THE CHOCOLATE KISS is on it.

2. Sharon Shinn’s ARCHANGEL made the list.

3. Megan Whelan Turner’s Queen’s Thief series is included.

…. and I started saying to myself, Gosh, the people who compiled this list know how to pick romances for non-romance readers! And, of course, they are defining “romance” very broadly, or they would not include MWT’s series, which is not really a romance series imo, even though the romance subplots are important.

Evidently NPR started this with a reader poll, got 18,000 responses, and turned the project over to a couple reviewers and a couple of authors to narrow the list down to 100 titles to recommend. So it is reviewers Bobbi Dumas and Sarah Wendell and authors Sherry Thomas and Michelle Monkou who picked those titles to include.

Though they sorted the titles out by category, they made no effort to pick the top ten in each category, so Historical and Contemporary are the biggest. But SFF would be just about as big if they’d folded Paranormal into SFF, which I could go either way on that.

Other titles and authors that I recognize:

Judith Merkle Riley. I absolutely loved her Margaret of Ashbury trilogy

The Pink Carnation (series), by Lauren Willig. This series, a take-off on The Scarlet Pimpernel, is too silly for me.

The Lotus Palace (series), by Jeannie Lin. I have the first book on my TBR pile.

Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart. Definitely my favorite of hers.

Kate Daniels (series), by Ilona Andrews. I should hope so! Two thumbs up for Kate and Curren!

The Inheritance Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin. Again with a series that I loved but don’t think should be considered a romance series.

A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Okay, I grant you, that one could be considered a romance, though for romances, well, how about The Sharing Knife series instead?

Cry Wolf, by Patricia Briggs. Interestingly, this count this as Paranormal but Ilona Andrews as SFF. Not sure I agree with their dividing lines.

There’s a wide range of titles on this list, from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by Ward, with worldbuilding that is at best iffy and a certain tendency toward bloat, to, well, Pride and Prejudice. I definitely don’t feel that readers who love romances would like every book on this list. Still, it’s interesting to glance over and there are a lot of books on here I really love.

The one romance author not on this list whose books I immediately think of: Teresa Romain. I really like her Regency romances. I get that this is a very large category, but too bad not to see her here.

Anyway, you can click through if you’re interested and see which of your favorites are on there and what got robbed.

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5 Comments NPR’s 100 best-ever romances

  1. Elaine T

    The people who picked the winners for the list certainly have an odd idea of what makes for a ‘romance’ or love story. I certainly don’t see the Jemisen as fitting in any sense.
    MWT… well, there’s a love story in it ,but it isn’t highlighted, not even the way it is in ACC, or SHARING KNIFE.
    I bounced off the Pink Carnation thing, the frame + historical weren’t working for me – I kept seeing gimmicks. It may or may not be a romance, I didn’t get far enough to say.
    ARCHANGEL (you typoed it, above) was definitely a romantic story. Mileage varies as to whether it was a good one. I finished it, but remember a strong impatience with (IIRC) the female main character.

    If something is being labeled and promoted as a good love story or romance I’d expect that aspect to be more prominent than it is in most of the books on the list I’ve recognized that aren’t category romance or by known category authors.

  2. Maureen E

    I don’t know–personally, I think it’s pretty cool to push the definition a little bit and maybe even get some readers who might normally try romances. I love a LOT of the books on this list, which makes me more likely to at least try some of the others.

  3. Pete Mack

    Hmm. I see my taste diverges from yours here! DNF on Ilona Daniels, gave up after 3 books on Alpha/Omega. I do like Briggs’s early fantasy books, and they pretty much qualify as romances. I bog down quickly in UF.
    Agree completely about Jemisin. I don’t see it at all.

    I do recommend Daniel Abraham’s UF, pen name MLN Hanover, however. He uses Tiptree’s technique in reverse to get away with writing it.

  4. Rachel

    Yes, but when you start to include books because they have a fairly important romance subplot, hardly anything gets left out. I’m sure the people who selected the books had arguments about this exact issue — how important does the romance have to be before it counts? A subplot? A secondary plot that influences the main plot? A truly central romance? Does the story have to follow the standard “beats” expected of a romance?

    I think they decided a secondary plot would do, but I think I would have held out for both a central romance and standard romance “beats”. Otherwise there’s SO much overlap between genres that there’s no way to pick up a book and say Yes This Is A Romance and you wind up including things like . . . the Inheritance trilogy. Which just does not fit, imo.

  5. Elaine T

    I can see pushing the definition some, but not so far that novels with (IMO) minimal to no traditional love story are recommended. That’s a set-up for failure of readers to appreciate the book on something of its own merits.

    I’d even think twice about the Megan Whalen Turner series as the love story is so very subtle and lacks – I believe – all the accepted cues. The Bujold at least has a visible, sort of traditional romance story going on along with the politics and science-y stuff.
    The Jemisen makes me wonder what they were smoking when the included it.

    Seriously, Rachel has a point – readers expect certain things when recommended ‘romance’ stories. A lot of what I see in the Sf/f genre on this list doesn’t have them. Readers looking for them, expecting them due to them being on this list will feel cheated and disappointed. It’s not like picking up a Jane Austen, reading the first chapter and then predicting ‘she marries Mr. Darcy’ (and having the English professor husband freak because you’re reading Austen like a romance novel instead of an English Classic – happened to a friend of mine), it’s like picking up Stephen King and expecting Jane Austen. The beats are totally different, even if both books contain a love story.

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