Romantic fantasy, increasingly marketed as “romantasy,” pairs the idealism of romance with the surrealism of fantasy, giving readers a break from dire headlines and humdrum daily life. “One real big draw of fantasy is exploring these other worlds where you can ride a dragon, wave a wand, and suddenly, there’s a nighttime of stars above you,” says Liz Pelletier, CEO and publisher at Entangled Publishing. “What would the world be like with a little magic?” PW spoke with editors about how romantasy authors are giving their readers that magic.

When Aragorn met Elizabeth Bennet

The best romance stories portray all the joys and complexities of lovers learning to navigate their lives and emotions together, and romantasy offers fertile ground to explore that complexity against the backdrop of an imagined world that operates by its own rules. Aparna Verma’s The Phoenix King (Orbit, Aug.) features an enemies-to-lovers romance between an heir who is hiding a terrible secret that could threaten her ascension to the throne and an untrustworthy former assassin assigned to her guard. “You’re bringing in a lot of complex worldbuilding that layers into why they’re enemies in the first place, which informs their romance,” says Orbit senior editor Priyanka Krishnan. “It just interconnects very nicely.”

A courtesan meets a prince with an insatiable hunger for mortal experiences in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Fall of Ruin and Wrath, a September release from Tor’s Bramble imprint. For Ali Fisher, executive editor at Tor, the magic in Armentrout’s world feeds directly into the couple’s relationship and fuels their growing connection. Another Tor release, T.J. Klune’s Wolfsong (July; originally published by Dreamspinner in 2016), involves a friends-to-lovers romance between a human and werewolf; the characters’ abilities to shape-shift adds a dimension to their love story. “Something that really works between these two genres is the idea of coming into a whole new world with entirely different social rules that go with various forms of magic,” Fisher says.

Adding romance to a fantasy story helps the world feel more familiar to readers, even when that world runs on magic and is populated by werewolves or elves. “No matter how fantastical or speculative or strange the situation, it’s the relationships that anchor the core of those stories that make them shine,” says Sarah Peed, senior editor at Del Rey. Peed edited Alexis Hall’s Mortal Follies (June), which PW’s starred review called “a fresh and delightful addition to the queer romance canon.” In “a magic-infused Regency England,” a noblewoman enlists the help of an alleged witch to rid herself of a curse.

We found love in a magic place

The pandemic has increased the demand for new realities and new worlds, editors say, as readers search for relief from their trauma and stress. “We’ve seen so many readers who feel the need for escapism in the last three years,” says Jessica Wade, executive editor at Ace. Wade acquired Genevieve Gornichec’s The Weaver and the Witch Queen (July), a historical fantasy set in the 10th century that follows a witch who eventually becomes the queen of Norway and her childhood friend, who embarks upon a journey to save her sister after she’s kidnapped by Viking raiders.

Readers who are weighed down by their current realities are looking for a little hope, and the inherently hopeful nature of romance can break up the tension of fantasy stories’ high-stakes plots. “There’s been such an outcry and need for something that just feels warmer, softer, and lovely,” says Nivia Evans, senior editor at Orbit, who acquired Sara Hashem’s The Jasad Heir (July), an Egyptian-inspired fantasy about a queen on the run who strikes a deal with her enemy’s heir in exchange for her life.

Claire Legrand’s A Crown of Ivy and Glass, a May release from Sourcebooks Casablanca, follows a young socialite with a physical intolerance to magic who is seeking a way to ruin her family’s rival and strikes a deal with a man trying to redeem himself after his parents were compelled by a demon. “It’s another layer of escapism, which is something that I look for in books as a reader, and I think others are looking for as well,” says Sourcebooks senior editor Annie Berger.

Just the way you are

Saga senior editor Amara Hosijo points out how the magic system in Chloe Gong’s Immortal Longings (July) challenges readers to think about their identity and what makes them who they are. In this Antony and Cleopatra–inspired tale, the characters can jump into any body of their choosing, so looks aren’t a factor in the romance. “I continue to think about the ways that physical appearance and title and authority are conflated and how they play a role in love,” Hosijo says. PW’s starred review praised Gong for the way she “probes her characters’ sense of identity in her wonderfully high-concept adult fantasy.”

Entangled’s Pelletier agrees that identity is an essential part of romantasy. The Entangled imprint Red Tower will publish Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing in May, which PW’s starred review described as an “epic tale of a reluctant dragon rider’s coming-of-age with a sexy dark academia aesthetic.” Pelletier observes that one of the hallmarks of a good love story is one character seeing something innately lovable in another that no one else sees. “Sometimes you don’t even know you’re special at the beginning,” she says, “and then you find out that you were always extraordinary.”

And they lived happily ever after

The outlook for romantasy’s longevity looks bright, as the subgenre uniquely sets the stage for boundless relationship development over the course of a multi-book series—a significant departure from the structure of traditional romances. “You’re seeing what couples go through over multiple books and the challenges they have in these elaborate worlds,” says Christa Désir, editorial director at Bloom Books, which published the fairy tale–inspired romantasy Mountains Made of Glass by Scarlett St. Clair in March. “We get to see all the machinations of the people who are trying to keep these two apart and how the couple is fighting against them.”

Another factor in romantic fantasy’s burgeoning popularity is YA readers graduating to adult titles and “looking for their next dream,” says Sourcebooks senior editor Mary Altman. YA author Maxym M. Martineau’s first adult fantasy, Shadows of the Lost (Sourcebooks Casablanca, June) is an opposites-attract love story centered on an undying assassin who brings his lover back from the grave. A spin-off from her YA series, The Beast Charmers, Martineau’s darker and more sexually explicit novel “moves up in age range from YA to new adult,” Altman says.

Adrienne Procaccini, senior acquisitions editor at Amazon Publishing, notes that romantasy has “a very strong coming-of-age angle” about the power of finding oneself. The Hanging City by Charlie N. Holmberg, due out from Amazon’s 47North imprint in August, features a young woman who is exiled from human society but finds sanctuary in the enemy city of trolls, where she unexpectedly falls in love with one of their kind. Like other editors interviewed for this piece, Procaccini sees romantasy as a nearly boundless realm. “There’s a very strong appetite for romantic fantasy right now,” she says. “This genre has been around for a long time, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.”

Vivian Nguyen is a writer and editor in Southern California.

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