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Megan Scott on why readers are so obsessed with the romantasy genre

Megan Scott on why readers are so obsessed with the romantasy genre

It’s 2024, BookTok has amassed an eye-wateringly large audience, and you keep hearing about this new genre called ‘Romantasy.’

The debate is still ongoing about exactly which books should be classed as Romantasy. But the majority of titles you’ll find under its umbrella tend to be second-world fantasies (aka, not contemporary/urban fantasies or paranormal romance—perhaps because they have their own subgenre titles). And while the heat levels vary, the key requirement is a strong romance plotline. Some authors stick to this more than others, making the relationship so crucial that the story could not survive if you removed it, and some just have a romance thread woven through. Many of the titles also include a huge number of indie and self-published novels, which are swiftly being bought up by traditional publishers at every turn.

But what is it that readers can’t get enough of?

As a fan of both genres, I think it stems from the fact that this is the merging of two of the most successful and addictive categories: romance and fantasy. Romance is reportedly the biggest selling genre in the world. Fantasy is the one that most readers are likely to admit was the first type of fiction they ever read, and to go even further: made them fall in love with reading.

And yet, historically, high fantasy has been less focused on both marginalised communities and women, and to possess a heavier focus on world building, themes of war and slower pace. Any sexual or romantic content was more likely to be either sexual assault happening in the background (because of course that one part of the story must be historically accurate), a side story (thinking of Arwen and Aragorn) or a heated night on the journey that’s then left behind when the sun rises. Now, that worked for its readers, and still does for many! Romance wasn’t the point of those titles, and such big themes still need the safe space of fiction to be explored. But, for me personally, and a lot of romance-lovers, it’s left the classic fantasy tomes intimidating and lacking something. Until I faced the fact that I love romance books, I didn’t quite realise that that was the key ingredient missing for me.

I love fantasy. I love the magic and sprawling worlds, and yet layering in a romance hooks me into a story like nothing else. Suddenly, there’s this connection. Now there’s the very real, very intimate details that make a relationship. And after the rise of YA fiction in the 2000’s, beginning arguably with the romance of Twilight, it really does feel like twenty years on, this is the first time most women, queer and diverse communities have seen themselves in sprawling fantasy worlds more regularly, and now, the first time that romance (especially a focus on female pleasure) has been a crucial part of that fantasy journey. Don’t get me started on the fact this is now often considered—especially with the astronomical rise to success of the ACOTAR series—smut, or worse ‘fairy p*rn’. Because of course women having successful sexual relationships or exploring pleasure should now be named something that means ‘to be defiled’.

But that’s a rant for another article.

I wonder if this new genre also slays that hopefully nearly outdated idea, that women can’t ‘have it all’. In Romantasy? You can. You can have blisteringly hot romance, whilst ruling a kingdom where dragons roam the dark skies. You, as the stand-in protagonist, are capable of fighting any personal demons, whilst getting the serotonin and satisfaction of a world-shaking romance along the way. Suddenly, there is more magic to romance, and a more intimate, physical connection to a fantasy world. And thus, along with well-rounded characters, it makes it all feel more real.

The attractiveness of a competent love interest also takes on new possibilities and perhaps adds to the appeal. Suddenly they’re not just good at their jobs, they’re a Vampire King, or the most powerful High Lord in history. They have a magnetic, powerful aura in a way characters in contemporary novels don’t—I’m not looking at you, mafia bosses and CEOs.

But likewise, Romantasy gives women the possibility of being powerful, too, in a way that’s not threatening like it is in real life. You can be a witch, a princess, an assassin. You are powerful. You are destined for love, and you have to be, because there’s a marriage of convenience, or a fated mate, or a prophecy, which strips away the real-life worry over if you’ll ever find your person. In Romantasy we can breathe again. We can dream again.

That’s why I’m obsessed with Romantasy.

Why are you?

The Temptation of Magic by Megan Scott is out now

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