Have you ever heard of Juliet Marillier?
If yes, GOOD; this post is for you. If not, don’t fret; this post is also for you.
Juliet Marillier is the author of several novels for adults and young readers, and every one of her books has a few key features in common: They are all written in gorgeous, lush prose; they are all richly detailed historical fiction; and they all possess the perfect balance of epic fantasy and romance.
Inspired by Juliet Marillier’s newest novel, Dreamer’s Pool—the first in a brand new trilogy!—here is a list of romantic fantasy from Marillier and other books in the same style that you might care to read. Scratch that—these are fantasy novels that you absolutely must read.
Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. This is Marillier’s only true stand-alone novel, and one of her more recent entries. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but set in Ireland on the precipice of the Norman Invasion, Heart’s Blood is a powerful reimagining that evokes shades of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
Wildwood Dancing & Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier. These are two young adult companion novels following two very different sisters. Like Heart’s Blood, Wildwood Dancing is a retelling of a classic fable—in this case, the Twelve Dancing Princess, but set in a Transylvanian castle on the verge of impoverishment and following the second-eldest of five sisters, Jena, as she struggles to keep her family together and safe. Cybele’s Secret follows another of the Piscul Draculi sisters, this time, the scholarly Paula, as she accompanies her merchant father to Istanbul and has the adventure of a lifetime. Both sister novels are sweetly romantic without being overly cheesy, and both books are alluring works of historical fantasy showcasing two very different societies.
The Shadowfell Trilogy by Juliet Marillier. This young adult trilogy from Marillier comprises Shadowfell, Raven Flight, and The Caller. Set in an alternate version of Britain on a medieval island called Alba, the Shadowfell trilogy follows young called Neryn as she comes to grips with her ability to summon the Good Folk (fey) and aid a rebellion against a tyrannical ruler. While the series starts out a little slowly—Neryn is a bit too good in power and temperament—the trilogy gets better with each new entry, ending with a triumphant and fitting finale.
The Kushiel’s Legacy Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey. I’m only including the first three books in the Kushiel’s Legacy series (there are two arcs of three books each, as well as a spinoff trilogy featuring a different god, Namaah) because they follow one of my favorite characters of all time: Phedre no Delaunay, spy, courtesan and political agent. Set in a splendid alternate fantasy version of Enlightenment-era Europe, focused primarily in the kingdom of Terre d’Ange (an alternate France), Kushiel’s Dart is a book of truly brilliant worldbuilding, especially in terms of historical and societal detail. Phedre is a heroine for the ages—brave, passionate, and empathetic in the extreme. Note, however, that this is not a trilogy for the squeamish, as it blends pleasure with pain, alternate religion with alternate history and a challenging view of traditional romantic pairings.
The Graceling Trilogy by Kristin Cashore. A YA fantasy series comprising Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue, Cashore’s trilogy can be read as three separate stand-alone novels but are best read in sequence. Graceling follows Katsa, a girl “graced” with the singular magical ability to kill, as she decides to fight against her cruel uncle and search for her own path in a corrupt kingdom. Fire follows a human monster—the eponymous Fire, gifted with a beauty so terrible it drives creatures and those around her mad. Bitterblue builds on the two books before it, following young Queen Bitterblue as she grapples with the legacy of her father’s cruel rule over the Dells. While Bitterblue might not live up to the beauty of Graceling and Fire, the trilogy is flawlessly written, romantic and heart-achingly bittersweet.
The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima. If you haven’t read Cinda Williams Chima yet, you have yet another treat in store. I would recommend starting with this outstanding fantasy quartet (The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown). Starting with The Demon King, Chima’s series is probably the most deserving of the label “YA Game of Thrones” I can think of. The book follows several main characters but truly tells the tale of dual protagonist: Han “Hunts Alone” Alister (heir to a terrible legacy of a great wizard and demon king who destroyed the world) and Queen Raisa ana’Marianna of the great Gray Wolf line, the leader of the matriarchal Queendom of the Seven Realms. This is a series that also gets better with every book, building on the political, social and romantic tensions that threaten to destroy the realm. Trust me. Read this series.
Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. This is a little bit of a cheat, as Mara Daughter of the Nile contains very little actual fantasy (in fact, there’s only one scene in the entire book that is even remotely fantastic, and it’s a very short scene). That said, the historical detail—following the fall of the woman who became Pharoah, Hatshepsut, and the seeds of revolution in ancient Egypt—is flawless, as is the writing and characterizations. Written in the 1950s, Mara follows the eponymous guttersnipe as she is recruited by opposing sides to spy on the other, and must decide where her loyalties ultimately lie.
The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale. I think the secret is out on Shannon Hale, but I’ve always prefered the Books of Bayern (Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, Forest Born) to Hale’s Princess Academy titles. Each YA fantasy novel follows a different protagonist; each protagonist struggles to come to grips with the elemental powers that threaten to overtake and destroy them, and the foes who threaten the land. Each book can be read alone, but you can truly appreciate the beauty and nuance of the series by reading them all sequentially.
The Sevenwaters Saga by Juliet Marillier. Last but certainly not least is Marillier’s most famous series: her Sevenwaters books. Comprising two arcs of three books each, this series is set in medieval Ireland and follows the Sevenwaters clan over the years as they face and are aided by the Fair Folk. A series of curses and familial honor, of romantic love and heartbreak, of legacy and duty, the Sevenwaters books are very near and dear to this reader’s heart. Start with Sorcha’s heartbreaking tale, Daughter of the Forest, a retelling of the Six Swans with a bittersweet twist.
So there you have it: our guide to romantic historical fantasy in the vein of Juliet Marillier. Any other romantic fantasy suggestions? We are all ears.