Blog, Bookish Life

Comedic Romantasy Is My Self-Care

my favorite comedic romantasy titles - Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher and The Lightning-Struck Heart by TJ Klune

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I’ve spent much of my life being very particular about which genres I actually read. Horror, of course, holds the number one spot. Dark tales that give me panic-inducing nightmares are the wind beneath my wings. Plus I read a lot of memoir, narrative journalism, and sexuality-focused nonfiction. But in 2021, Feminist Book Club introduced me to the works of Jesse Q. Sutanto (Dial A for Aunties and Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, among others), and I realized that I rather enjoyed romance when it was hilariously unhinged. And in 2022, I read books like Kelly Barnhill’s When Women Were Dragons and Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches, and I realized that I rather enjoyed fantasy when it was explicitly feminist, and also a little bit witchy.

Which brings me to the end of 2023, when I picked up T. Kingfisher’s Paladin’s Grace (book one in her Saint of Steel series), and I realized that comedic romantasy—the beautiful marriage between romance and fantasy, with some hearty laughs thrown in—was exactly what I needed in my life.

My First Forays into Comedic Romantasy

When I downloaded Paladin’s Grace, it was only because I had already read everything else Kingfisher had ever written and, well, at that point, I knew I would follow her anywhere, into any genre. After all, I’d already enjoyed Nettle & Bone, a dark fantasy that was practically horror-adjacent.

But the Saint of Steel book wasn’t dark at all. And there were knights and magic and shit, which I normally wasn’t into. And there was unresolved longing. And—hang on a sec… did I actually enjoy romantasy??

I quickly read the remaining three books in the series, which made me laugh a whole bunch, and which also made me horny. Where could I get me some more of that?

TJ Klune’s The Lightning-Struck Heart (book one in the Tales from Verania series) was the fifth book I read in 2024, and it took everything I enjoyed about the Saint of Steel series and kicked it up about a thousand notches. There were knights and magic and shit. And there was unresolved longing. There was also a sassy, oversharing unicorn named Gary, an overprotective half-giant named Tiggy, and a perpetually-sexed-up dragon named Kevin, all of whom were besties with a young wizard’s apprentice grappling with a high-stakes destiny.

Never before had I come across something so over-the-top, chaotically funny. Sure, I’d always had Kingfisher’s books. Her humor always hits the spot for me. But the only other books that have come close for me in terms of their ridiculous humor are The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis (sci-fi romcom), the Adventure Zone graphic novel series by the McElroy fam, with illustrator Carey Pietsch (fantasy), and the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic series by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (superhero stuff).

Where the hell had comedic romantasy been my entire life!?

stack of books on a bed, with a pretty floral pillow in the background

Romantasy Is Having a Moment

While romance and fantasy have long had a measure of overlap in the book world, the romantasy portmanteau didn’t really hit it big until 2023. According to a Guardian piece on the rise of romantasy novels, Bloomsbury claims it coined the term to identify the genre Sarah J. Maas (A Court of Thorns and Roses) was spearheading. But the term has also been spotted on Urban Dictionary as early as 2008 and, well, Book Riot speculates that we’re just seeing more of it as of late because of the rise of romantasy titles on BookTok and various bestseller lists. (They also point out that when a book gets particularly buzzy, the publishing industry likes to bombard us with similar titles until we’re all sick to death of it.)

In addition to various Maas series, other romantasy titles to hit it big as of late include Witch of Wild Things by Rachel Vasquez Gilliland, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, and These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong.

Which: Good for them, and good for those who enjoy reading conventional romantasy titles.

But they’re all too damn earnest for me.

Comedic Romantasy Is Maybe The Secret to Healing My Life?

I’ve written fairly recently about activist burnout, and about finding a way to engage in advocacy in a way that’s sustainable. Perhaps it’s those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness—particularly with the wave of legislative bullshit impacting reproductive rights, trans rights, education, and more—that have left me burned out on my usual feminist nonfiction titles.

And I’ve been grappling with some shit in my personal life, too, so maybe that’s why—even with horror, my true blue—I’ve found myself leaning toward more comedic and campy horror titles, like those by Kingfisher, Grady Hendrix, and Rachel Harrison.

But when I read Paladin’s Grace and The Lightning-Struck Heart, something clicked inside of me.

There’s something about the way fantasy lets you escape into other worlds that makes it feel like a refuge.

There’s something about the way romance lets you tap into your most subconscious romantic and sexual desires that makes it feel indulgent.

There’s something about the way good humor writing can make you belly laugh, allowing you to forget—at least temporarily—the bad stuff that makes it feel like a balm.

There’s something about the way that all of these elements mix together that is truly healing.

Black femme-presenting person enjoying a book and holding an iced coffee

The Literary Elite Need to Give Romantasy Its Due

Writer Jackie Jennings recently wrote a piece for Jezebel about how “the romantasy trend has been cast as unserious, unintellectual smut.”

“I am a smart woman,” she writes, “and I refuse to be shamed for my horny dragon books.”

She goes on to write about how books like Fourth Wing have sat on bestseller lists for weeks upon weeks, and have inspired a slew of #romantasy and #romanticfantasy videos on TikTok that have racked up hundreds of millions of views. Yet despite all the money these books continue to make for publishers, related media coverage treats the trend as a baffling surprise. Which, honestly, is no surprise, considering how dismissive the literary world is of romance, “chick lit,” and other woman-heavy genres, and on how male-dominated the SFF world has been for so long.

It also doesn’t help that our culture remains deeply uncomfortable with female desire and non-procreative sex. Smut going mainstream? The horror!

Literary snobbery aside, the proliferation of these books is clearly scratching an itch for women who love magic and dragons and the sexy-sex.

“[F]or most of my life,” writes Jennings, “I read what dominates fantasy and science fiction: stories with male protagonists, written by male authors, featuring lots of violence and almost no kissing. Thankfully, that landscape has been changing. With the rise of rock stars like N.K. Jemison, Charlie Jane Anders, and Nnedi Okorafor, the genre is, thankfully, decolonizing and queering.”

Can I get an amen?

Whether or not people turn their nose up at my recent reading trends, I’m loading up my TBR with titles like Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert, How to Get a Girlfriend (When You’re a Terrifying Monster) by Marie Cardno, That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon by Kimberly Lemming, and Love in the Time of Zombies by Cassandra Gannon.

If you know of other titles that will make me belly laugh while also getting me just a little bit hot and bothered, I beg of you to drop them below.

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more literary work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, Southwest Review, and other publications. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. She is the founder of Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

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