10 of the Best SF/F Romances That Romance Readers Don’t Know About

I’ve been hanging out a lot recently with my local chapter of RWA, and two very special ladies there-in. Once of them, Lea Kirk, has written the lovely Prophecy. This is very much a romance with sci-fi elements. As I started to prattle on about all the sci-fi romances I loved with them, my recommendations were met with blank stairs.

For so long, the various commercial genres have been kept artificially separate (with the possible exception of SF/F, but even there people argue about the worthiness of soft fantasy compared to hard sci-fi and such rot). Look, it’s a marketing thing, we all know that. People like categories. And labels. But it occurs to me that much as labeling people or authors causes heartache so labeling books can cause problems. Such as readers who might adore a book not even knowing it exists!

There are a number of wonderful SF/F books with HEAs and glorious romance threads that romance readers don’t know about because they were given cover art and shelf space in the wrong part of the bookstore.

I aim to rectify this!

Some romance readers have already bravely crossed from paranormal romance into urban fantasy. Well, ladies and gentlemen, there is a whole new world after that, and I am giving you a glimpse into the possibilities…

So here is my wholly biased and preferential list of wonderful, satisfying, romances that just happen to be set in a SF or F world. There may be is a bit more world-building and fewer sex scenes than you are accustomed to, but I think they will totally satisfy the romance reader. And frankly, you can always read them and tell me how wrong I was.


1. The Paradox Series by Rachel Bach ~ Devi, a badass mercenary with a core set of moral values, meets Rupert, the starship cook (or is he an alien, or is he an assassin, or both?) with no moral values what-so-ever. You’ll need to read all three to get your HEA. But you can watch this amazing author build a universe destroying problem in which everyone is trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons and every bad guy may actually be a good guy in the end. Bach is the story-crafting mistress of us all!

2. Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller ~ This deeply romantic, fraught tale of a galactic trader bound by duty and the academic who loves him yet understands him all too well. Epic culture clashing, deep soul bonding, and a matriarch who would keep them apart. Spine tingling stuff. Read my full review on Goodreads.

3. Restoree by Anne McCaffrey ~ Perhaps this book is a gimme. The original cover certainly makes it look romance, if old fashioned romance, but I always found it filed in SF/F. Our heroine wakes up on an alien world with an alien face as the nurse to a man with no name. When she begins to remember she takes steps to free them both, sparking worldwide political intrigue and falling in love with the man she was supposed to destroy. Read my review on Goodreads.

4. Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold ~ You don’t have to jump into the never ending Vorkosigan saga, you can just read this book (an omnibus of the two Cordelia books: Shards of Honor and Barrayar). Watch bold as brass and intensely honorable Cordelia fall in love with a most inappropriate alien with universe-wide consequences. Yes you even get an HEA, although it is very hard won. Full review on Goodreads.


5. Warprize  by Elizabeth Vaughan ~ This is book one of a trilogy, but I prefer to read it as a stand alone with an HEA. Our heroine is a healer from a medieval style culture taken captive by invading barbarians. But who really is the captive, and who really is the barbarian?

6. By The Sword by Mercedes Lackey ~ Mercenary and ultimate tough chick, Kero, accidentally rescues a herald and accidentally falls in love in the process. Yes the romance takes a back seat, but it’s still an emotional roller-coaster as the two jockey for power across countries in the midst of war. Read it for the amazing battle sequences and killer side characters, but yes, that oh so impactful HEA.

7. Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer ~ Two romances for the price of one! Regency London with magic and fun, always keeping a light touch, this epistolary book is the story of two girls unraveling a magic mystery, and falling in love along the way. Read my full review on Goodreads.

8. Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr ~ Like your romance steeped in history? This is the story of an ambassador priestess of ancient Egypt and her complex relationship with Alexander the Great. It is also the story of the contentious love she shares with the man assigned to be her guard. Tarr has a unique writing style that I love. Oh and there is a sacred cat. Full review on Goodreads.

9. Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith ~ Do you like your fantasy set in a high court, full of politics and princesses and game playing? Is Pride and Prejudice your favorite Austen? Then this omnibus is for you. Mel is raised in the countryside to be a warrior countess, set out to defeat the evil king, and ends up getting a great deal more than she bargained for in the form of one reserved nobleman. Review on Goodreads.

10. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley ~ A YA fantasy (that really isn’t YA) in which a girl is kidnapped by a desert king to train to be his kingdom’s last female warrior and only hope. Strong personalities and serious conflict drive their relationship (don’t worry – no Stockholm syndrome) and ancient evils will be defeated. Magic swords, hunting cats, and delightful horses abound.

Hard to find but worth hunting down…

Blade Dancer by S.L.Viehl ~ If you like your lovers star-crossed (literally) and soul bound, with both parties trying to defy the connection then this is for you. Tough warrior Jory pulls together seven rejected half-alien children in order to fight for justice, but she doesn’t know what to do when one of them is the love of her life. Read my review on Goodreads.

Soulstring by Midori Snyder ~ Playing with various fairy tale tropes and Greek myths this story follows the courageous journey of a powerful female protagonist with sweet hidden love story and an utterly charming conclusion. Review on Goodreads.

Fire Sword by Adrienne Martine-Barnes ~ Darn near impossible to get hold of, this wonderful book is the start of a larger series, but each one is designed to stand alone. The books tackle fate, mythology, time travel, and the meddling of iron age Celtic gods. One of whom becomes one of the most sympathetic alpha heroes I’ve ever read. This HEA involves resurrections, prophecies, and world snakes. Read my full review on Goodreads.

Taming the Forest King by Claudia J. Edwards ~ Military leader and soldier Tevra is sent in to pacify a branch of the empire mire in secrets and magic. There she is forced to choose between two men without realizing it. One of my favorite tropes, the man who has pined for years but never dared speak up. This is both a killer love triangle, utterly believable, and the HEA to end all HEAs. Read my review on Goodreads.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip ~ If you like your fantasy very high indeed, steeped in riddles and legends and ancient exotic animals than this book is for you. The story of the most powerful sorceress on earth and the seventh son of a seventh son, so steeped in his family’s petty wars that he drags her into them. Or is she using him to her own ends? You’ll get your HEA, it’s bittersweet but there. Everything about this book is magic, including the prose itself. This is my desert island book. Read my full review on Goodreads. 

{Gail’s monthly read along for May is Powers That Be by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.}


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24 Responses

  1. inspirethoughts said:

    Thanks for the book list. you have given me some more authors to add to my list.

    I love the link to the 19th century parasol flirtation gestures…wow didnt know each gesture meant a different meaning.

  2. Unknown said:

    I rather enjoyed Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair. Very fun Sci-Fi Romance. I believe there are other books that follow it, but that is the only one I've gotten around to so far.

    1. quasar said:

      There are four in total of slightly varying quality. I like most of her standalone books better. I think Accidental Goddess is my favorite, but Finder’s Keepers is also excellent. Down Home Zombie Blues is interesting because it takes place on Earth and has a very different tone than her other books (but is still a SF romance).

  3. Susan Pola Staples said:

    I offer five more Mercedes Lackey books:the Vanyel Triology: Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, Magics Price and Oathbound and Oathbreakers. Magic's Price and Oathbreakers made me cry, they were so good.

  4. Gail Carriger said:

    I don't think the Vanyel books can qualify as Romance because they are soo sad. I wouldn't rec the to romance readers because they don't have the right tropes. Don't get me wrong, I love them. But they aren't exactly an HEA.

  5. Gail Carriger said:

    I really like her Command book. More military. But she is already known int eh romance community, quite well, I believe. I'm trying to introduce romance readers to new stuff they may not have heard of before. That said I do agree, and like Sinclair a lot. I wish she had more books out!

  6. BlueRose said:

    Stevermer of course. Try the school for unusual girls. Try the paper magician series. Try the night circus. Try the elemental masters series by sherry thomas. Try Cindy Spencer Pape series and also Shelley Adinas lady of devices series. The glamour ist series by Mary robinette kowal is a stunner. There is lots!

  7. BlueRose said:

    I have one that the romance people seem to know about but never seen mentioned by any sff – the last hour of gann – long and slightly challenging to get through but the payoff is so worth it.

    Lions of Al-Rassan is an epic love story, on many different levels.

    A wind in Cairo is also wonderful and available in ebook now, was impossible to get. For fans of the blue sword especially

  8. Sam Jehanzeb said:

    I'm throwing »Ghost Planet« by Sharon Lynn Fisher into the pot and »Degrees of Wrong« by Anna Scarlett. Both books are SF and they did surprise me a lot. While »Ghost Planet« has a great idea in world building, »Degrees of Wrong« will make you laugh until your belly gets an unintended sixpack.

  9. Kathleen said:

    Thanks for all the great book information. I’m going to need luggage next time I go to the library just to get all the books home.

    1. Gail Carriger Post author said:

      Oh my good I LOVE that book. Also the unfinished fire dancer series. But they are darn near impossible to get hold of. You know she switched entirely to Romance, and that’s why she never wrote anymore SF?

  10. quasar said:

    Local Custom is awesome, but I would pick Scout’s Progress as the best romance in that series. I am also very partial to Conflict of Honors which has long been a comfort book.

    I’m sure I’ll think of dozens more as soon as I post, but here are a couple off the top of my head:

    Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton – Traditional fantasy of manners set in a Victorian society populated by dragons. It’s witty and fun and has lovely prose and has several romances.

    Kat, Incorrigible and sequels, Stephanie Burgis – reminded me a lot of Sorecery and Cecelia in tone and world (it’s not epistolary), the main character is 12 but her two older sisters have romances that drive the plot of the books. Magical society, plots within plots, folks starting to come into their magical abilities and having some mishaps along the way, and a particularly memorable and hilarious potentially public humiliation in Bath.

    The Iron Duke, Meljean Brook – the rest of the series (The Iron Seas) is good, but this one us special. Steampunk featuring a lady inspector at Scotland Yard and the man who freed England from the Horde, the former pirate known as the Iron Duke. Mixes a London society where crass Americans flaunt their wealth and inability to be genteel by consuming sugar (the agent used to slip a nanite virus into England a generation ago) and the mystery of who dropped a former colleague of the pirate onto his private, secure estate from the air with the romance of the two main characters. Magnificent world building.

    Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro – the first book in the Skolian Empire series, it is an immersive military SF romance with a fairly traditional basic setup that plays out nicely and works as a standalone book. Several other books in the series are also romances but many are not (and many of the others are difficult to classify in terms of genre within SF/F), and the books can get a bit tangled together in terms of plot and chronology. Also note that there is government mandated incest to try to encourage psychic traits in the children of the central family needed to keep the government from collapsing and mind control by slavers in the series. Buyer beware if you choose to read on beyond this first book (note that most are good reads, just have the mentioned triggets/issues).

    A Brother’s Price, Wen Spencer – society where women are lords of the manner and and men are rare commodities expected to be shy and virtuous and obedient. Plucky young hero Jerin doesn’t want to marry their awful neighbors, but doesn’t think he’s going to have much choice as he likely will be traded for their brother in a husband swap. Most of his sisters go courting the brother, leaving Jerin home alone with the youngest of his sisters when thry discover a girl half drowning in the creek. Jerin is the only one large enough to rescue her and in doing so changes the course of his lufe. Political intrigue, espionage, treason, romance, and adventure ensue. One of my favorite books.

    Tinker and its sequels by the same author are also good but very, very different. Urban fantasy where elves live in an alternate overlay of Earth and Pittsburgh trades places between the two worlds one day a month. A very scientific urban fantasy with literary references but some elements of the central romance really bothered me (I have friends who weren’t bothered by the same elements).

    On the Edge, Ilona Andrews – Our heroine and her two younger brothers live on the Edge, a world between ours and the magical world. Magic is weak there and many folks don’t have it all. Our heroine can throw pure white though, a level of magic rarely seen and the bane of her existence as all sorts of folks from the magic lands want to steal her or bribe her or otherwise force her to leave her family and her home which she will not do. Trying to eke out a living as an undocumented janitor paid under the table by an unpleasant boss, she doesn’t have the energy or time to deal with her strange and trying family let alone these idiots who keep showing up. Then he arrives…. there are three other books featuring other couples but this first one is by far the best (in fairness, I’m still grumpy that there was no direct sequel to this book as I really wanted one).

    1. quasar said:

      Ugh, I cannot type onmy tablet. I tried to fix all the typos but I see ai missed some.

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