Jeff Wheeler – Livestream Interview – This Friday!

Jeff Wheeler

Livestream Interview - Friday!

Fantasy-Faction Turns 10! Help Us Spread the Love of Reading!

Help Us Spread the Love of Reading!

Fantasy-Faction Turns 10!

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle



Love in SFF – From True Love to BFFs

Romance in SFF is one of those things that people either love, hate, or are frankly indifferent about. I’m not one of those; I will eagerly admit that I love romance. Since Valentine’s has just been and gone in a flutter of rose petals, stuffed bears, wine, chocolates and the odd grumbling status update about “damn commercialism”, it’s a good time to talk about love.

Guinevere and Lancelot by CG-WarriorLove is a massively important part of life, like it or not. People are happier if they love someone. A parent, a family member, a best friend or spouse—people like caring about someone. It’s not always swoony, clichéd romantic love. It can certainly be platonic and still bring just as much joy. But I think when considering love in fiction, people automatically bypass any kind of love that’s not the absolute weak-kneed, hearts-for-eyes kind of deal. Which is ridiculous, given the wide spectrum of human emotion. Maybe because, for the most part, authors tackle the romantic love most.

But… do they?

Or it is actually the fault of the common reader to pay closest attention to the pure romance in a book and not the strong bonds of family or friendship? In its own way, that tells us a lot: it tells us that although there seems to be a strong vocal presence (from two different branches: one being complaints from The Old Guard, who are really just complaining about “romance novels in space”, female writers and the supposed romance and/or emotion they add to the genre, with the entirely separate and other branch of people being simply fed-up of “instalove” and predictable coupling) bemoaning romance in fiction, it actually isn’t completely loathed. If it were, writers wouldn’t still be doing it and people wouldn’t still be reading it.

WOMEN WARRIORS by roxinationSo I want to look at the whole spectrum of feelings here: strong instances of friendship, family affection, and everything leading up to that dewy-eyed, staring-at-the-stars together kind of romance that people either love or loathe.

The former points are just as important as the latter—but nobody talks about them. People send their friends cards and chocolates for Valentine’s, send Mum flowers. People rely completely on their friends and yet these relationships in SFF get overlooked so people can complain there’s too much romance, too much instalove, too much emotional positivity? There are tumultuous relationships, too, between friends and family and these create story and character arcs in books—as well they should—and I want to show that these are just as important as any other form of love you’ll experience in a book.

I’m going to get it out of the way and deal with instalove first; mainly so we can get over it now, and move on to the different forms of love I want to focus on.

I do not hate instalove. People need to consider that route A is almost always as likely as route B; that either you will fall head over heels with that someone, or you won’t. Of course there are a million in-betweens. But the point is, how many people the world over have fallen in love and remained in love within moments—days—of meeting. I know writers who have talked about it. Elizabeth May, for one. The author of The Falconer admitted that instalove exists, without a doubt. YA author Ryan Graudin agreed, wondering why the notion receives so much irritation from sections of the reading world. I wonder, too.

The Holders (cover)But then I’m the sort of readerly-writerly person who tends to let themes and tropes be themes and tropes unless they are offensive, upsetting or generally don’t behave themselves. In my book (no pun intended) instalove is A-OK. And what if that instant love is completely and utterly normal and explainable in the circumstances? Such as Julianna Scott’s The Holders, where Becca meets Alex and finds herself immediately enamoured with him—because they quite literally are soulmates—and A. E. Rought’s Broken where Emma is inexplicably in love with a boy she’s never met—entirely because she’s at least met his heart.

Furthermore, what sometimes might appear as instalove is really “meet, feel attracted, develop feelings, fall in love.” Arguably, the spark that would eventually lead to romance is struck from that very first meeting. Sometimes a relationship will begin with obsessive attraction and those feelings will move through the story arc and develop into something both stronger and more stable along the way. But that spark was still instantaneous. It still happened like the clicking of fingers.

Of course, there are about one thousand and one ways to fall in love and many absolutely adorable and heartfelt relationships don’t receive the attention they deserve, because everyone is too busy bemoaning instalove or instahate-turned-love. An example that springs to mind is that of Isabelle Lightwood and Simon Lewis in The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. Without the final instalment of the series to tie a neat little bow around their relationship—however it turns out—there’s only so much to say. But, the initial meeting between the Shadowhunter and the Mundane was not amicable. Simon was immediately attracted to Isabelle (but was presently in love with someone else; if we’re counting that first, safe friendship love as being in the same league as lurrrrrrrve kind of love) but quite the opposite could be said of Isabelle. But throughout the series, relationships develop and feelings change and before long a romance is budding between characters whose introduction together was negative.

The Daylight War (UK cover)There are minor instances of the same thing when it comes to characters such as Leesha Paper and Count Thamos in Peter V. Brett’s The Daylight War (Book 3 of The Demon Cycle). The two are not exactly swooning lovebirds at their first meeting, but by the end, a surprising relationship has formed—or at least, started to form. It remains to be seen where it will go, but as a fan of the series, I certainly have high hopes for this, at-first, unlikely pairing.

An even better example of how a relationship can move through various forms is that of Nicodemus Weal and Francesca DeVega, from Blake Charlton’s Spellbound (book 2 of the Spell trilogy). The initial impression of the relationship of certainly not one of love, yet the outcome is especially surprising (it’s also one of my favourite developments in SFF, if we’re being honest).

These are both, I hasten to add, in fact not examples from YA SFF; they are regular, adult fiction and not even in the same neighbourhood as Paranormal Romance. Just good honest romance. Sometimes relationships can spring up like mushrooms: wherever they choose to and sometimes where you can’t see them growing. As a parting example of this, I’ll use the definite insta-hate (and with reason, if we’re calling instilled social prejudice a ‘reason’) is Dancer and Cat from Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series. All of the aforementioned examples start with unsavoury feelings that turn, unexpectedly, into something else.

When it comes to friendship, and therefore, arguably, platonic love, I’ve used the example of Bast and Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles before. There is a definite Frodo-Sam kind of vibe expressed in the closeness shared by Bast and Kvothe and it’s something I’ve always appreciated. There’s no romance, no budding feeling, nothing. Just plain old friendship, of the highest order. Along with Merry and Pippin and Frodo and Sam (Lord of the Rings – in case you’re suffering memory lapse ^_~), it’s good to see that this sort of old-fashioned male friendship can still be expressed.

Hobbits at the Prancing Pony

I wanted to give a male example first, because friendly-love between female characters isn’t going to be so rare an example. You read about close-knit friendships between female characters all the time. It’s rarer to find male-female friendships that don’t develop into romance. But since I want things to be rounded, Aria and Davida in Theo Lawrence’s Mystic City might have an employer-servant relationship, but since Davida has been with the Rose household since she was a child and they are the same age, they developed as close female friends. They love each other—completely and utterly as friends, but with spoken instances of the big L word nevertheless.

City of Bones (cover)Though there is a (rather awkward, pathetic and fleeting) attempt at romance between Cassandra Clare’s Clary and Simon, it is but a drop in the ocean when compared with the length and breadth of their friendship. They’re friends, of the childhood sort, and this is not transformed into romantic love as soon as they come of age. They experiment, naturally, as close friends can, but ultimately, they are simply BFFs and nothing more.

We can take Hermione and Harry as a canon example of this (note I said “canon”, given what Rowling has said about poor Ron and the changes she would make a second time around), given that there are never any romantic feelings between the pair. In fact, the way the relationship between them is translated (most notably through film: recall the scene outside the ball, before Hermione sends little fluttering birds of doom at Ron after seeing him with Lavender, comforted by Harry) is an excellent example of firm-friends and friends being incredibly close. They spend holidays together, write letters. They are very close.

And since Harry is at hand, I’ll use him as an example of male-male friendship. He and Ron are incredibly close—so much so that apart from juvenile pride mixing in with miscommunication and jealousy (we’re talking Goblet of Fire and the awkward “break up” over the Triwizard Cup) or the effects of a locket imbued with an evil piece of Voldermort’s soul, which clearly affects pureblood wizards more strongly, nothing douses their friendship. They have a strong bond and does friendly love feature in there? Yes, it does: caring about someone is just another way of saying you love them in some capacity.

Weasley FamilyFinally, and since Ron is close at hand again, I want to talk about familial love. Ron and his brothers, sister and parents are all very close knit. This is a kind of relationship that gets a bad rep in SFF. We often have absent fathers, dead mothers, evil-stepparents or controlling parents. It’s rather rare to have a good example of a strong and loving family unit, one way or another.

Gathering examples from across the board, I’m going to start with Zenn Scarlett (Christian Schoon’s Zenn Scarlett books) and her family bonds with both her temporarily absent father and her uncle. She is extremely close to her family, so much so that for much of the second book, she is bent on finding her father, rescuing him, no matter the cost. Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son sees Beth’s father given his own POV as he sets out to find his missing daughter, however briefly. It’s an excellent way of showing a relationship from two sides, since we’ve already seen Beth’s feelings for her father. Sean Cummings has Julie (Poltergeeks and Student Bodies) set out to save her mother in the first book and continue forming strengthened bonds with her in the second. Even such as James S.A Corey’s Expanse series sees Holden regularly thinking about his parents back on Earth and expressing fond sentiments of trust and love via message.

The truth is, if you blur the lens of how you regard love, it’s never just as simple a thing as person A meets person B—now kiss! Love is a much wider spectrum than traditionally viewed in fiction. There are hundreds of deep and rewarding relationships waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. It can be enriching to read about love and romance, but it can be equally meaningful to read about best friends and family that will do anything for one another.

Title image by roxination.



  1. Avatar Jonny_Anonymous says:

    I favourite “loves” in fantasy be they romantic or not are Icarium and Mappo from the Malazan Book of the Fallen and Will Parry and Lyra Belaqua from His Dark Materials

  2. Avatar ChickPea says:

    Jean and Locke from Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards have one of the best M/M friendships that I’ve ever read. Those guys love each other in a platonic/familial kind of way.

  3. Avatar Xen says:

    I’d like to see a platonic relationship between a man and a women, no romance involved or tension.

  4. Avatar Jessica says:

    The main group of characters in Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses series have an ever-growing and changing love for each other. Romantic, platonic, familial – it’s all there.

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