Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Five romance-free fantasy novels

Now that we’re past Valentine’s Day, let’s have some stories that have no or almost no romantic element. These make a nice change for those of us who think romance is not an essential component to storytelling and sometimes like our protagonists to just save the world without falling in love along the way.

These stories are not necessary romance-free as the series develops. But those that are first books have essentially zero romance. So:

Five fantasy novels where the protagonist does not fall in love:

Patricia McKillip – The Book of Atrix Wolfe

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This is such a perfect book, and honestly, not only did it not need romance, but romance would have ruined it. Or turned it into a completely different book.

Tamora Pierce – Beka Cooper, Terrier. I thought this book was a huge increase in sophistication for Pierce, really at least as far as early MG to older YA. Contrast this with the casual insta-love in some of Pierce’s earlier works. This one is so different. Here, Beka Cooper meets a handsome, competent, secretive, ambitious thief . . . and does not fall in love. Good for her!

Ransom Riggs – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I actually preferred the creepy horror-ish beginning to the peculiar fantasy of the second half as we start to discover what is actually going on. I haven’t quite gotten around to going on with the series. But I liked this book, and I appreciated how the characters were involved with figuring things out and didn’t get involved with each other.

Django Wexler – The Thousand Names. Loved this book! Also loved how no one falls in love during the fast-paced, perilous adventure and how the main protagonist’s story involved growing into herself and into her new responsibilities rather than falling in love. Honestly, I can’t wait for the last book of this series to come out because I will SO enjoy going back to re-read it from the beginning.

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Scott Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora. Romance appears later in the series. And a very fraught romance it is. But this first book doesn’t have that. And all the way through, even after the romance becomes more important, the relationship between Locke and Jean is really the central relationship. Just on the edge of too gritty for me, but the series never pushes the grittiness envelope toooo far, quite, and I admire the way Lynch is developing this complicated story.

It’s tough to think of fantasy novels that really do not have a romantic element, but I’ve sure I’ve missed a few. Can anybody add to this list?

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11 Comments Five romance-free fantasy novels

  1. Craig

    THE HOBBIT has no romance; has, in fact, no female characters with a speaking part if I recall correctly.

    Romance is a dispensable element of Lovecraftian horror, which has a fair degree of overlap with dark fantasy, but I’m not the person to ask for specific examples.

  2. Elaine T

    I thought it was here that I saw grumbling about wanting someone to write an unrequited crush… I don’t see it now, but I’ll offer my suggestion here anyway: McKillip’s SORCERESS & CYGNET, wherein Nyx is crushed on by Rush and she is NOT interested. No romance between the main cast in that book.

    None so far in the Helen Lowe quadrology (3 out) that I’ve been reading, either, although we have a male & female main character. They’ve shown interest in others but nothing is sticking. I picked up the first one because the guy who recommended Rachel’s work also recommended it. The first struck me as not all that special, but book 2 was really good and expanded cast & scenario greatly.

  3. Mary Anne

    The first book in the Queen’s Thief Series, though it plays a big (if understated) part in the later books. Oh wait – may have mentioned that on your previous post about understated romances. Lorna Freeman’s unfinished Borderlands series. I don’t know why I like this series so much – it’s very light, but the characters are just so much fun. And an unreliable narrator – always a good thing. I’ve recently discovered M.C.A. Hogarth. Most of her books have a very strong (if unusual) romance element, but the two Dreamhealers stories do not, and they are nice reads. Some of her stuff can be a little heavy-handed on the angst and martyrdom, but she usually balances it out, especially in this series and the space opera/adventure/romance series “Her Instruments.” Oh yeah – Michelle Sagara’s Elantra series. I think it’s up to 10 books by now, and while you get the feel for a potential for romance, she hasn’t gone there. I actually remember reading something she wrote specifically addressing the lack of romance in her books. Which is kind of funny, as they are published by Harlequin. Karin Lowachee’s Warchild. No romance at all.

  4. Mary Anne

    Oops – just noticed you said fantasy. Which Hogarth is not – more sci-fi. Same with Warchild. Still good, still romance free. But I’m guessing sci-fi has more easily recalled examples of stories sans romance.

  5. Rachel

    True about The Hobbit! You could essentially say the same about TLotR, too.

    Elaine, I was sort of thinking of The Cygnet and the Firebird for subtle romance, decided it wasn’t that subtle, and forgot about Rush’s crush on Nyx. You’re right, and I think McKillip has other books where there is basically no romance, too.

    I haven’t read Helen Lowe’s series yet, but I have the first book. I’ll try to remember to go on to the second book before making a definite thumbs-up/thumbs-down decision about the series. I’ve got one of MCA Hogarth’s books on my TBR pile, too — the first “Her Instruments” book.

    *Someday* I will have to try the Elantra series. Ten books is pretty off-putting when you’re deciding what to try next, though.

    It’s true Warchild was romance-free, but I wound up not being drawn in, for whatever reason. Also I thought it was extremely obvious that the one character was an important bad guy and found it frustrating no one figured that out ages earlier.

  6. Elaine T

    One more that I just finished: E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights , wherein the heroine narrator gets married, but only at the end does she have a chance of actually getting to know the man she married instead of the demon who possessed him. It read like a blend of Scheherezade and Beauty and the Beast.

  7. Elaine T

    I liked it a lot, and so did the Teen. it wasn’t like anything else I’ve read – at least nothing I’ve read recently. It’s YA I believe, officially. Unlike a Beauty and the Beast retelling, the poor possessed guy doesn’t get a chance to come out and show he’s a good man/nice guy. So our (unnamed) narrator’s goal grows from ‘save sister’ to ‘maybe I can do something permanent about the demon? without having much besides hope that the de-possessed man will be an improvement. But he was kind to his horse, maybe that was the demon being influenced by the man.

    And she was a strong character without the stereotypical kickass features – she fit the setting.

  8. Aimee

    I did a blog post for this topic and picked Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series. There is a marriage in the first book, A Natural History of Dragons, but it’s not the point of the story, nor are the romantic feelings the point. It’s a book about scientific exploration! There is actually a non-romantic marriage in the third book, The Voyage of the Basilisk, but I would say that overall, an romance is minor enough to consider the series romance-free.

  9. Rachel

    Aimee, good choices! I agree that there is some romance, but little enough to make the series fit into this category. Also, dragons! And natural history! I really love what Brennan’s done with Lady Trent.

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