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Romantasy 101: Here's Where to Start Reading the Hottest Genre of 2024 (Exclusive)

Claire Legrand, author of 'A Crown of Ivy and Glass' and a romantasy expert, shares her favorites with PEOPLE

All the romantasy books to read right now
All the romantasy books to read right now

Dragons and folklore and smoldering glances — or witches and faeries and blush-inducing scenes? If you've been curious about romantasy but don't know where to start, we've got you covered. PEOPLE asked Claire Legrand, whose latest, A Crown of Ivy and Glass, came out in paperback this week, to recommend her favorites.

"One of the hottest words in the publishing industry right now is 'romantasy,'" Legrand explains. "Romantasy is an umbrella term for books that combine the genres of fantasy and romance. Sometimes these books lean more toward the fantasy side of things; sometimes romance is the primary focus."

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So what makes a book fit into the subgenre? "Romantasy books usually have HEAs (happily ever after, a staple of the romance genre), but sometimes they don’t, or they have HFNs (happy for now)," Legrand says. "These genres are beloved for a reason: they allow escape from the everyday into something extraordinary. They fire readers’ imaginations and fill their hearts with hope."

And she should know: Legrand's books have landed on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and she's been a finalist for a number of awards.

"Romance as a genre has been having a moment  over the past few years. Gone are the days of avid romance readers hiding their Fabio-adorned bodice rippers on the subway," she continues. "Now, the genre has broadened to become one of the most inclusive, joyful, loud-and-proud spaces in the reader community, populated by a diverse legion of women, LGBTQ+ folks and people of color. Throw magic into the mix—who doesn’t love a dash of magic?—and you’ve got something truly special."

Here's LeGrand's introduction to the hottest genre around — pun decidedly intended.

'Witch of Wild Things' by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

<p>Amazon</p> Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Amazon

Witch of Wild Things by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

You know the tried and true “heroine moves back home and sparks fly between her and the guy from her past who broke her heart” trope? Well, combine that delicious romantic tension with a dash of botanical magic, family curses and a few ghosts for good measure, and you’ve got the gorgeous Witch of Wild Things.

Related: Emily Henry's Top Five Books on Love Include Titles from Kennedy Ryan, Tia Williams and Casey McQuiston

'Fire' by Kristin Cashore

<p>Amazon</p> Fire by Kristin Cashore

Amazon

Fire by Kristin Cashore

This one’s a classic, and a great choice for readers of young adult (YA) fiction who prefer minimal spice in their love stories. (Quick romantasy vocab lesson: “spice” = sexual content). The plot centers on Fire, a “monster” who can influence people’s minds and reluctantly becomes a key player in her realm’s growing civil war. The tender, slow-burn romance between her and Prince Brigan is to die for, the writing is stunning and the themes of beauty, power and found family are timeless.

'Neon Gods' by Katee Robert

<p>Amazon</p> Neon Gods by Katee Robert

Amazon

Neon Gods by Katee Robert

But if you do prefer spice in your romance stories, and lots of it? Look no further than the staggeringly prolific Katee Robert, whose fun, sexy Dark Olympus series begins with Neon Gods, a fast-paced Hades and Persephone retelling that will have you fanning yourself, um, quite often.

'An Education in Malice' by S. T. Gibson

<p>Amazon</p> An Education in Malice by S. T. Gibson

Amazon

An Education in Malice by S. T. Gibson

This one’s for the dark academia girlies who devoured Ninth House and The Atlas Six. An isolated women’s college, a Gothic aesthetic that would make the Brontë sisters proud, an all-consuming passion between sapphic academic rivals…what’s not to like here? Light a candle to maximize the moody vibes and dive in.

'Kushiel’s Dart' by Jacqueline Carey

<p>Amazon</p> Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Amazon

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

An absolute classic of dark romantic fantasy, anchored by an incredible heroine who is part spy, part courtesan and all courageous heart. If you loved the political intrigues, huge cast and richly detailed world of Game of Thrones, you’ll adore this intricate, epic fantasy that explores complex themes of desire and sexuality. Note: the spice level is strong with this one.

Related: Game of Thrones Actor Kristian Nairn Announces New Memoir: ‘If It Helps One Person, It Was Worth It’ (Exclusive)

'A Fate Inked in Blood' by Danielle L. Jensen

<p>Amazon</p> A Fate Inked in Blood by Danielle L. Jensen

Amazon

A Fate Inked in Blood by Danielle L. Jensen

Picture this: the show Vikings, but completely centered around Viking ruler Lagertha. Now add a scorchingly sexy slow-burn romance, Norse mythology-inspired magic and cinematic action scenes. The pacing is propulsive, and the twists and turns are truly gasp-worthy; you won’t be able to put this book down.

'The Curse of Saints' by Kate Dramis

<p>Amazon</p> The Curse of Saints by Kate Dramis

Amazon

The Curse of Saints by Kate Dramis

This one’s a particular favorite of mine and the series is only getting started (book 2 comes out this June). Epic battle scenes? Check. Dynamic, vivid writing? Check. Gods and magic and holy wolves? An unforgettable, lion-hearted heroine? An electric, enemies-to-lovers romance for the ages? Check, check, check. Mark my words: this series will become a modern classic.

'Faebound' by Saara El-Arifi

<p>Amazon</p> Faebound by Saara El-Arifi

Amazon

Faebound by Saara El-Arifi

If you’ve fallen in love with the intoxicating world of the fae after reading Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince, you’ll adore this epic romantasy. When two elven sisters are exiled to the wilderness, they discover the duplicitous, seductive fae. What follows is a sweeping story of love, desire, betrayal, divided loyalties and jaw-dropping plot twists.

'Payback’s a Witch' by Lana Harper

<p>Amazon</p> Payback's a Witch by Lana Harper

Amazon

Payback's a Witch by Lana Harper

The first book in the Witches of Thistle Grove series, Payback’s a Witch is the perfect choice if you want to try a contemporary romantasy—that is, it takes place in an off-the-map magical place within our actual world. This is a smart, sassy rom-com about queer witches, full of crackling sexual tension and sparkling dialogue that’ll leave you cackling in delight.

'Dance Upon the Air' by Nora Roberts

<p>Amazon</p> Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts

Amazon

Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts

Yes, that Nora Roberts: One of the most famous and prolific romance writers in the world writes romantasy, too. This book holds a special place in my heart as my long-ago intro to the genre. A cozy, small-town island community + a touch of ancient, witchy magic + a gentle, quietly brave heroine + rich friendships between women + mild spice level = a go-to comfort read and a great first step into classic romantasy for newcomers.

'That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon' by Kimberly Lemming

<p>Amazon</p> That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon by Kimberly Lemming

Amazon

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon by Kimberly Lemming

This whole series is just…everything. The first book is about a spice trader who accidentally saves a demon, after which all kinds of hijinks ensue. If you want a sexy, romantasy rom-com with lots of heart and a narrator that will make you laugh out loud, this is the book (and series) for you.

'Where the Dark Stands Still' by A. B. Poranek

<p>Amazon</p> Where the Dark Stands Still by A. B. Poranek

Amazon

Where the Dark Stands Still by A. B. Poranek

Maybe your preferred reading skews a bit darker. Something lyrical and Naomi Novik-esque. If so, new YA fiction release Where the Dark Stands Still—inspired by Polish folklore, and featuring a romance between a woodland demon and a girl on the run for possessing forbidden magic—might be precisely your jam.

'Trial of the Sun Queen' by Nisha J. Tuli

<p>Amazon</p> Trial of the Sun Queen by Nisha J. Tuli

Amazon

Trial of the Sun Queen by Nisha J. Tuli

This epic romantasy is described as A Court of Thorns and Roses meets Fourth Wing. We’ve got Hunger Games-worthy trials, a fast-paced plot and just the right amount of spice, plus a determined heroine who’s impossible not to root for. Have I convinced you? Good.

'Small Town, Big Magic' by Hazel Beck

<p>Amazon</p> Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

Amazon

Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

Personally, I can’t get enough witchy romantic comedies, especially when the protagonist a) is the owner of an indie bookstore; b) is, unbeknownst to her, secretly a witch; and c) falls in love with a hot curmudgeonly farmer who was also her bestie back in the day. Yes. Yes, please.

'House of Marionne' by J. Elle

<p>Amazon</p> House of Marionne by J. Elle

Amazon

House of Marionne by J. Elle

If you, like me, are waiting with bated breath for season 3 of Bridgerton, might I suggest picking up J. Elle’s exquisite House of Marionne in the meantime? This YA romantasy novel is a decadent fever dream of a book, replete with masked balls, scheming debutantes and a delicious love story. Grab your popcorn and curl up with your favorite fluffy blanket to devour all the glittering drama.

'Dragonfall' by L. R. Lam

<p>Amazon</p> Dragonfall by L. R. Lam

Amazon

Dragonfall by L. R. Lam

This sweeping epic fantasy features dragons as ancient gods, a queer-normative society, twisty palace intrigues and a smoldering (pun-intended) enemies-to-lovers forbidden romance. In other words, it’s the book of your dragon-loving dreams.

'The City of Stardust' by Georgia Summers

<p>Amazon</p> The City of Stardust by Georgia Summers

Amazon

The City of Stardust by Georgia Summers

Fans of Neil Gaiman and V. E. Schwab, take note of this bewitching contemporary romantasy novel about gods, monsters and hidden worlds. The story of Violet Summers—sole survivor of a cursed family, desperate to find her lost mother, fighting her attraction to a quietly mysterious man with dubious motives—is exactly the kind of lush, dark fairy tale that will have you reading late into the night.

'The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches' by Sangu Mandanna

<p>Amazon</p> The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Amazon

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Listen, if someone says the words “handsome and prickly librarian” to me, I’m already invested. But throw in an outwardly sensible witchy heroine who secretly has a bit of a thing for breaking the rules, a magical house that serves as a haven for witches in trouble, cozy found-family vibes, and—I can’t stress this enough—a romance with aforementioned prickly librarian? I’m gonna be a fan for life.

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