Romantic Reads: Our Favorite Couples in Folklore and Fantasy Books
We admit it. We’re both suckers for a good romance.
What makes a good romance is, of course, super subjective. Witty banter, lush and magical backgrounds, friendship transforming into romance, grand gestures, opposites (even enemies) attracting… pick your poison!
When we decided to write about our favorite romances, we had to find a way to narrow it down. Many of our favorites are in film (hellooo Adam and Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive and Mitsuha and Taki in Your Name! We love you!), but we adore a good book list, and so we’ve restricted ourselves to literature for today.
So buckle up! Without further ado, and in honor of Valentine’s Day and our upcoming mini-course, here is our list of our favorite romances from folkloric, fairy-tale, and fantasy literature:
Jilly and Geordie, Onion Girl and Widdershins by Charles de Lint –
“What happens to us being best friends? I can’t even imagine a world without you in it. You know, when I first heard about the accident, I could feel a piece of myself just go so still inside me. It was like something collapsed in my chest, and all I could do was sit there holding the phone and wonder if I’d ever be able to breathe again.” – Geordie Riddell ― Charles de Lint, Widdershins
Ever since I started reading Charles de Lint’s Newford short stories, I have loved Jilly Coppercorn, an artist who escaped an abusive past and believes deeply and profoundly in magic, and her best friend Geordie Riddell, a gentle and down-to-earth musician. Like many of the other characters in de Lint’s world, I found myself wondering “WHY aren’t they together already??” because they are so obviously perfect for each other. Geordie and Jilly so clearly have fun together, understand and accept each other, and are incredibly supportive of each other’s artistic dreams and abilities. De Lint’s novels The Onion Girl and Widdershins are, in a way, tough reads – so many terrible things happen to poor Jilly! – but they are extremely compelling books that finally bring these two wonderful, fundamentally good characters together.
Sophie and Howl, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones –
“I think we ought to live happily ever after,” and she thought he meant it. Sophie knew that living happily ever after with Howl would be a good deal more hair-raising than any storybook made it sound, though she was determined to try. “It should be hair-raising,” added Howl.
“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.
“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me.”
― Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle
In her delightful post “The Best Couples in Books Ever,” the ever-hilarious Sarah Rees Brennan (whose own work appears later on this list) sums up Sophie and Howl thusly: “A vain, cowardly Welsh wizard and a grumpy, practical hat-maker enchanted to look like an eighty-year-old lady. What could be more romantic?…they learn about each other through interacting: Sophie’s impressions of Howl start off from Step 1) Cold-blooded murderer, eats hearts, to 2) Total idiot, in love with his own hair.” And she’s not wrong. Sophie and Howl are both deeply imperfect and deeply magical, a combination that leads to much hilarity, witchcraft, and a surprisingly wonderful romance. I also HIGHLY recommend Hayao Miyazaki’s gorgeous movie adaptation of the same name, in which Christian Bale voices Howl (so hammy, so good) and Emily Mortimer AND Jean Simmons voice Sophie (spectacular).
Alec and Magnus, The Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare –
“What welcome?” Magnus asked. “I’d say it was a pleasure to meet you, but it wasn’t. Not that you aren’t all fairly charming, and as for you—” He dropped a glittery wink at Alec, who looked astounded. “Call me?”
Alec blushed and stuttered and probably would have stood there all night if Jace hadn’t grasped his elbow and hauled him toward the door, Isabelle at their heels.”
― Cassandra Clare, City of Bones
I (and, apparently, a massive subset of the fantasy YA-reading population) adore Cassandra Clare’s novels. Her books are funny, fast-paced, and they take place in the magical versions of cities that I love, from New York City to London to LA. She also has a very inclusive cast of characters in terms of diversity. In her first trilogy, The Mortal Instruments, Clare introduces Alec Lightwood, a young, shy, and deeply closeted shadowhunter, and Magnus Bane, a flamboyant, outspoken, and fabulous bisexual warlock. It’s been so much fun watching Alec come into his own as the series progresses and seeing his relationship with Magnus develop and strengthen. And Magnus is just…a force throughout the entire series. He is constantly getting other characters out of scrapes due to his big heart and his super-awesome warlock magic. And he does it all while wearing glitter and all kinds of fabulous outfits. Both Alec and Magnus have been supporting characters throughout much of the series, but at long last they have their own book, The Red Scrolls of Magic, in which they take a romantic trip around Europe that keeps getting interrupted by demon-worshipping cultists.
Kami and Jared, The Lynburn Legacy trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan –
“Hark,” he said, his tone very dry. “What stone through yonder window breaks?”
Kami yelled up at him, “It is the east, and Juliet is a jerk!”
Jared abandoned Shakespeare and demanded, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Throwing a pebble,” said Kami defensively. “Uh… and I’ll pay for the window.”
Jared vanished and Kami was ready to start shouting again, when he reemerged with the pebble clenched in his fist. “This isn’t a pebble! This is a rock.”
“It’s possible that your behavior has inspired some negative feelings that caused me to pick a slightly overlarge pebble,” Kami admitted.”
― Sarah Rees Brennan, Unspoken
Sarah Rees Brennan is, simply, HILARIOUS, and her gothic mystery trilogy The Lynburn Legacy has incredibly witty dialog. I found myself laughing out loud at the exchanges between Kami Glass and Jared Lynburn, two magical misfits in a tiny English town. I also enjoyed the occasional moody brooding fits, because you can’t have a good gothic novel without some moody brooding. Full of mysterious psychic connections, plucky heroines, family secrets, and enchanting forest magic, the books are a delight, and Kami and Jared are adorable. Kami is so chipper and confident and has amazing fashion sense, while Jared is a slight delinquent who rides around on a motorcycle wearing a leather jacket. (For those of you who read Animorphs when you were growing up, he’s very Tobias-esque, but without the feathers.) And as you read their story, you just desperately want them to be happy and to learn to talk to each other! Which they do!
Dory and Louis-Cesare, The Dorina Basarab Series by Karen Chance –
“There are a thousand ways to die,” he told me quietly. “There are so few really to live. I would gladly risk the former for the latter, and it is my choice, is it not? To risk whatever I must, my heart, my body, my soul, in order to be with you. Is that not what love is?” – Louis-Cesare ― Karen Chance, Shadow’s Bane
Lovers of urban paranormal fantasy, this one is for you. Dory is a dhampir, loathed and distrusted by vampires since she’s one of their few natural enemies. She is tough, blunt, difficult, and insane – she blacks out and goes on violent rampages, only to wake with no memory of what she has done. Louis-Cesare is, literally, the man in the iron mask – a French aristocrat with a strong (and culturally outdated) sense of honor. He’s also a high-ranking vampire. (Let’s be honest, there was no way my list wouldn’t have at least one vampire story on it.) And they are HILARIOUS and delightful together. I love how much of their story is about learning vulnerability and how to communicate and how to belong, even as they fly between hijinks, explosions, and fights against impossible odds.
Beren and Lúthien, The Silmarillion [And Others] by J.R.R. Tolkien –
“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
I’ve always found Beren and Luthien’s story incredibly romantic, at least partially because J.R.R. Tolkien wrote it for his beloved wife. Parts of the story, such as their first meeting, are said to echo their own, and the character names even appear on their gravestones. The more famous Aragorn and Arwen love story doesn’t actually get a lot of text in The Lord of the Rings books, and Arwen in particular is not especially well developed, but Luthien really is. People have connected the tale to all kinds of folkloric inspirations, including “Culhwch and Olwen” (for those of you who took our “Introduction to British Folklore” course) and “The Devil/Giant with the Three Golden Hairs,” a lesser known Grimm tale I’ve always enjoyed. Originally found (mostly) in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, you can now buy their story as a standalone book too.
Meran and Cerin, Various Stories by Charles de Lint –
“… the Kelledys were the closest thing to real magic that [Jilly] could think of in Newford. There was an otherworldly air about the two of them that went beyond the glamour that seemed to always gather around people who became successful in their creative endeavors. It wasn’t something Jilly could put her finger on. It wasn’t as though they went on and on about this sort of thing at the drop of a hat the way that Bramley did. Nor that they were responsible for anything more mysterious than the enchantment they awoke on stage when they were playing their instruments. It was just there. Something that gave the impression that they were aware of what lay beyond the here and now. That they could see things others couldn’t; knew things that remained secret to anyone else.” ― Charles de Lint, “The Stone Drum”
If you’ve ever read Charles de Lint’s Newford stories, you know his amazing gift for bringing magic into the everyday world. Meran and Cerin Kelledy are two of my favorite characters from these stories… and interestingly, this is yet another love in which a magical woman falls for a mortal man (though Cerin has admittedly achieved immortality and has some magic of his own as well by the time the Newford stories are written!) Many of their stories were first written for De Lint’s wife MaryAnn, and I think you can see the two of them reflected in these characters, much like Beren and Lúthien. I love how deep magic feels in De Lint stories, and Meran and Cerin’s love is at the center of that for me. I really like how… comfortable their love is, how peaceful and almost even commonplace… and yet completely magical too. I recommend all the tales in which they feature (and really all of De Lint in general – as you see above, two of his characters made Sara’s list as well!) I tend to like the more modern ones, where they’re in Newford, best, but “The Oak King’s Daughter” (which you can find in Triskell Tales) tells of their first meeting and courtship, so that might be a good place to start.
Lazlo and Sarai, Strange the Dreamer and The Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor –
“I think you’re a fairy tale. I think you’re magical, and brave, and exquisite. And I hope you’ll let me be in your story.” – Lazlo Strange ― Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer
I absolutely love Laini Taylor’s books, and Lazlo and Sarai have such an amazing romance – one that transcends pain, hardship, and even death. One of the best things about them is that they are such clearly defined and well-developed characters on their own – their relationship doesn’t define them or make them whole, it strengthens them. And they’re both just so enchanted with each other… often you’ll get the perspective of one character falling for another, but here you really and truly get both perspectives, and I love seeing how magical each finds the other. Plus that line above? That has got to be one of the most romantic lines I’ve ever read – sigh! Plus he’s a rugged kinda guy who loves stories, which is totally my type, so… :D!
Zeynel and Ayşe, The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya by Reimena Yee –
“I met Zeynel during one of those moments of doubt. He’s been a constant throughout my life since. And that is what gave me the strength to overcome my fear. I could fly as high as I wanted, sure in the fact that he’ll be on the ground rooting for me—or to catch me whenever I fall. The nothing became less scary, and more empowering.” – Ayşe ― Reimena Yee, The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya
This absolutely gorgeous and innovative reimagining of vampire legends is actually a graphic novel, one that exists in book form but that you can also still read for free online here. The love story of Zeynel and Ayşe is unexpected, ridiculously sweet, and heartbreaking all at once. One of the things I love most about this particular love story is that it dares to go far into married life, to when both people are older, heavier, more wrinkled, etc., and their love is just the same – teasing, kind, inspiring, and supportive. Be forewarned – I absolutely sobbed the first time I read this, and teared up AGAIN when I was just looking through it for a quote for this post, so keep that in mind!
Brendan and Evelyn, The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss –
“He looked at her as though unsure how to go on. Suddenly, he put his hand on her cheek, leaned down, and kissed her. The kiss was long, so long and sweet that she felt as though her heart had stopped, or as though it had started beating with the forest itself.” ― Theodora Goss, The Thorn and the Blossom
It’s rare to come across a book so UTTERLY full of things you love, but this one 100% fits the bill for me. I mean, it’s got a jam packed old bookshop, magical places, and two literary grad students and writers who become obsessed with a local folk legend, fall in love, and may or may not be the reincarnated versions of said folk legend characters. The magic in this one is maybe slightly ambiguous, you could read the story as not having any magic at all I suppose, but for me it’s absolutely there. I love that Brendan and Evelyn grow together AND apart – that their true reunification (or what seems like it will be their true reunification!) comes only after both of them find out more about themselves and who they want to be. The text itself is also just beautiful, accordion-style with Evelyn’s version of the story on one side of the book and Brendan’s version if you flip it over and read the other way. I really enjoy being able to see the same story from both of their perspectives. It’s the perfect format for this little jewel of a romance, and my only regret is that it’s not longer.
So there you have it, 10 folkloric/fantasy relationships we absolutely swoon over! What are your favorite romances? Let us know in the comments or in the Facebook group!!
P.S. Secretly (or not so secretly) love all this lovely-dovey stuff? You’re definitely going to want to join us for our Valentine’s Day mini-course on February 13th, so go check it out asap! <3
P.P.S. If you want more book recommendations, you might consider joining our book club too!