As I said in yesterday’s post on mystery series with slow-building romance, I’m a shipper. I adore relationships that take a while to kindle, where you watch two people dance around their attraction before acting on it. Love at first sight kind of bores me (although attraction at first sight — YES), as it seems far-fetched and leaves no place for your couple to go. But a romance that has its ups and downs, setbacks and betrayals? That’s just more interesting. Series books have a great potential to string along a good attraction across multiple volumes. In paranormal romance, a sort of sister to urban fantasy, you are often dealt a different couple in every book, and the happiness of the couple is never really in any doubt. The worldbuilding might be important, but the thrust of the plot will be getting this couple to their happy ending. Urban fantasy that includes romance (and they don’t always — I promise to roundup some great ones that are love-free for those who don’t want any k-i-s-s-i-n-g in their fantasy) can have devastatingly swoony love stories, but that is not usually the point of the story. And because urban fantasy often runs in series, authors often spin out the arc of the couple over many, many books. Let’s face it: the obstacles to love in urban fantasy are high. You might not even be the same species as the object of your attraction. And then there’s the whole “have to save the world from monsters and evil” thing that can get in the way. But when it is done well, the slow burn romances of urban fantasy are some of the best around. Perhaps I should say here that there are SPOILERS for those who haven’t caught up on some of these series. While a lot of urban fantasy telegraphs the love interest to come loud and clear, there are at least a couple that caught me by surprise. In the best way possible.
Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
First book: Moon Called
Set in mostly rural eastern Washington state, this is not precisely urban fantasy, but let’s not quibble. Mercedes Thompson is a skinwalker, able to change her shape to that of a coyote. She works as a VW mechanic and is very much a no frills tomboy. On the worldbuilding side, Briggs’s version of our world includes three major supernatural groups: werewolves, vampires, and the fae, plus random magical creatures like Mercy. The werewolves and vampires are on the down low in early books, although the werewolves come out to the general human population fairly early in the series. Each volume of the series is built around a mystery of some kind, with the first book having Mercy getting involved in investigating a plot against the werewolves. Having been raised among werewolves herself, Mercy isn’t afraid of them (although she’s not stupid – she’s always aware they are predators). When her next-door neighbor and pack Alpha Adam Hauptman is attacked, Mercy takes him to Montana to see the Marrok, the leader of all the wolves and Mercy’s foster-father. In Montana she is confronted with her first love, while dealing with the first sparks of feelings for Adam. Triangle time! But for me, it was obvious that Adam was the guy. They argue, they have heat, and Adam respects Mercy’s toughness and independence. That will get tested throughout the series as Mercy is a trouble magnet! This series has an excellent balance, with the romance present and interesting, but never overpowering the plot.
October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
First book: Rosemary and Rue
Urban fantasy series without vampires and werewolves are hard to find, but this series set in San Francisco is all about half-fae October Daye, and her relationship with the courts of the Fae. The faeries of this series are not sweet winged creatures that drink dewdrops out of flower petals, though. The Faerie courts are full of dangerous creatures that live in their own realms, just through the mists from our world. Toby is half-fae, and as the series opens she has recently awoken from a curse that trapped her away from the world for 14 years. In that time, she lost her human husband and child, and vows to have nothing to do with Faerie. But an old frenemy from the courts calls her as she is dying and demands that Toby find out who killed her, and Tody cannot refuse. This pattern of Toby being asked to investigate crimes that touch the fae and human realms is set in the first volume and works well for the series, as Toby is a sucker for underdogs and helpless victims. She’s strong in a different mold from most UF heroines — not physically likely to kick butt, but principled and fiercely determined. This is not a series that dwells on Toby’s love life, but there is a certain romantic potentiality that is there from the first book. It’s of the variety where the two bicker and snipe at each other, but he seems to be there when Toby needs him. (argh… I don’t want to give this one away — it’s too good!) This ship is for the very patient, but when it finally comes in… seriously, just read these books.
Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
First book: Magic Bites
From a worldbuilding point of view, this is one of my favorite urban fantasies. Set in Atlanta, the world is besieging by unpredictable waves of magic. When the magic hits, technology doesn’t work. Magical creatures like shapeshifters are public knowledge, as are vampires (although they are a completely creepy and cool new take on the creatures). At the start of this series Kate Daniels is a mercenary who usually takes jobs involving magical threats to the city. A magic user herself, Kate has a whole heap of secrets and doesn’t let anyone close enough to get a whiff of them. The murder of her former guardian Greg, a knight for a group called the Order, leads Kate to agree to work for the Order to find his killer despite her own history with the group. Her investigation brings her into contact with were-lion Curran, the local leader of the shifters. Kate and Curran agree to work together, with plenty of semi-hostile-but-with potential encounters to keep things interesting. What I like about this series is that it is interesting in the long play — both with Kate’s love life and with the bigger secrets of her past. Kate and Curran don’t fall into bed together, and the courtship over many books is hilariously complicated, mostly because Kate seems flummoxed that Curran would even want to court her. When the penny finally drops, good lord I get butterflies just thinking about it.
The Others series by Anne Bishop
First book: Written In Red
Usually with urban fantasy the world is recognizably our own, only with magic in it. The Others series is a very different version of our world, a North America where supernatural creatures known as Others hold sway and humans are considered prey and only barely tolerated. Some Other live entirely wild, but some choose to live closer to human settlements in Courtyards, although always on their own terms. In the first book of the series, the Lakeside Courtyard is looking for a new human liaison when Meg Corbyn stumbles in. Meg is on the run from a compound where they have been holding her and other cassandra sangue like her captive because of her ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Simon Wolfgard leads the Courtyard and decides to give Meg a chance as liaison despite the fact that she confuses him: she smells human, but not like prey. This is a really interesting world, with vampires and shapshifters and other things that go bump in the night. It has some of the darkness of Bishop’s Black Jewels books without that series rather over-the-top baroque sensuality. So far, two books in, there is no real romantic relationship between Meg and Simon, but there is a growing awareness between them that neither knows quite what to do with. As the series seems to be leading to a conflict between humans and others, it will be interesting to see how it affects the tenuous friendship building between Meg and Simon.
The Hollows series by Kim Harrison
First book: Dead Witch Walking This is a series with a lot of devoted shipping going on. Partly this is due to the extremely complicated love life of series heroine Rachel Morgan. Rachel is a witch, and in the first volume of the series she is sick of her job at Inderland Security (they police the supernatural community) and quits to form her own secirity company, taking along the best runner the IS has, vampire Ivy Tamwood. The third member of the team is Jenks, a 4 inch tall flying pixie. The supernatural folk came out of the closet in this world after a genetically engineered virus wiped out a significant portion of the human population (don’t ask a human to eat a tomato), and the witches, weres and vampires felt secure enough to make their presence known. Rachel, Ivy and Jenks work with law enforcement to help them deal with threats of both the supernatural and mundane varieties. Her first case involves the mysterious Trent Kalamack, and that is one of the ships to pay attention to in the series, despite their rocky beginnings (he traps her in a cage when she sneaks into his office in the form of a mink) and despite the fact that Harrison throws another suspect in the mix with Nick Sparagmos. Nick was never a keeper, though. In some ways complicated love life of Rachel will remind some readers of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, although I think this series has more interesting things going on than just who is warming Rachel’s sheets. But the ships, they are plentiful. Rachel/Ivy has its devotees, and this is the most reliable relationship that Rachel keeps over the course of the long series. But there is another group that will always ship Rachel/Kisten, the beautiful vampire who really was good for Rachel.
The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
First book: Darkfever
My god, this series. It’s hard to describe how fast I inhaled it, but that does not mean I am blind to its issues. As it starts, Mackayla Lane is reeling from the recent murder of her sister, and a voicemail message sent before she was killed sends MacKayla across the ocean to Dublin, where her sister died. Looking for answers and confused by the sudden appearance of abilities to see things that can’t possible be real, Mac ends up turning to bookstore owner Jericho Barrons for help. He tells her that she is a sidhe-seer, as was her sister, able to pierce the illusions and veils that hide the fae from human eyes. There is a war coming between fae and humanity, and Mac has to find a book called the Sinsar Dubh if she wants to know the truth of her sister’s dead and save the world. Seriously, this series puts MacKayla through the ringer! She starts out horribly naive, even shallow (and when you spend as much time in a character’s head as we do with Darkfever that’s not a good thing) but the series hones her. By the end you believe she really can save the world. But Barrons is a complicated hero to ship. He’s not very nice, and he’s not always very nice to Mac and good grief we won’t even talk about the whole pri-ya thing. And yet… he’s just sort of irresistible.
Disillusionist series by Carolyn Crane
First book: Mind Games
Less well-known than some of the series on this list, I have a soft spot for Justine Jones and her fellow disillusionists. Justine is a hardcore hypochondriac as the series opens, practically unable to function in the world for fear of bursting a blood vessel in her brain (it’s a very specific hypochondria). But a mysterious man named Packard finds Justine and teaches her that there is a way that she can turn her crippling fear into a weapon, pushing her fear onto another person. Packard and his crew target criminals, each of them turning their own neurosis against people who deserve it and freeing themselves (temporarily) from their mental compulsions. But who is Packard? How does he know how to utilize the team this way? There is an undeniable pull between Packard and Justine, but there is also a handsome police chief on the scene. And just when you think you know what’s going on in this book…BAM. It’s really hard to watch some of the ways Justine is manipulated through her emotions in this series, where heroes become villains and villains are really heroes. For those who don’t want to wait five or more books to get a resolution to the story (both the fantasy arc and romantic arc), this trilogy might just be the thing.
If you are looking for more fantasy with romance, don’t forget to try the blender!