I Love You Because You're Here: Foul Fantasy Romances
Updated: Jan 22
So I finally finished Robert Jackson Bennett's Foundryside!
It took me almost 2 years. I read about 1/4 of the way through, and there it sat on my bookshelf until the end of 2020.
That tends to happen with Bennett's books. They're good, but I usually struggle to get started. It's not even that they don't hook me in right away; I don't have an explanation. It just doesn't happen.
Anyway, that is neither here nor there.
What I want to talk about today is one of the few things that I didn't like about Foundryside. If you want to know what I did like about it, you will have to wait until my Fair post coming up. But why not get the negative out of the way and leave it on a good note in a couple of days.
I had a few small issues with the book that I don't feel are worth talking too much about.
1) A lot of it was unnecessary bulk that could have been cut without affecting character development or plot, and
2) I thought perhaps the magic system did not need to be so thoroughly and repeatedly explained to me. I skipped past a few passages here and there, saying, "I got it! Let's move on, already."
Honestly, neither of those things detracted too much from the book for me. The issue we are discussing today didn't detract either, but it is a major pet peeve that I struggle to overcome. And I will tell you why, but first, I am going to let you in on a little secret…..
….I love a good love story. Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are my be-all-end-all, but if a saucy romance is injected into these genres, I eat it up.
On the other hand, when a totally lame, superficial romance is injected into those same genres (or any for that matter), I get mad.
It's a major turn off.
Unfortunately, Foundryside had one of these between the main character, Sancia, and another supporting character, Berenice.
Frankly, fantasy tries to do this a lot, and I don't know why. It feels like the author writes the book then sends it to publishers, agents, or editors, who then tell the author they need to include a romance for mass-market appeal purposes. The author proceeds to add a superficial relationship into the narrative to appease the great gatekeepers.
Not saying that's what it is….but that's what it feels like.
There is a chance that I just have higher standards when it comes to romance as well. I want it to be gritty and realistic, and adult...that's maybe the most important one right there. I am not a teenager anymore. I want to read a romance that deals with mature subject matter and the adult emotional implications of that.
Ok. I don't want to write something too scathing about an author I really appreciate...but it might come off that way...so sorry.
There is another fantasy book that did the same thing to me. Again, I could say many good things about the book, but this particular crime stood out. That was V.E. Schwab's, A Darker Shade of Magic.
Another one that almost killed me to read was the love/sex/whatever-the-hell-that-was subplot in Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond. Yuck!
To not shit on any one author here too much, these three books can share the load of my wrath together.
….why do I feel like I'm talking dirty in this post?
Anyway. I'm also going to pull a significant #ShamelessSelfPromo and use one of FFF's own books as an example of how to do it right. K.E. Barron's fantasy epic, The Eye of Verishten, because it is genuinely one of the best examples of a love story in a fantasy that I can think of. It is a vital part of the theme while not overshadowing the book's revenge plot.
In fact, I've just decided that if you go to this link here, you can have The Eye of Verishten for free. It'll be available only for Fantasy January so get on this deal now.
Enough of that, though. Let's get to it.
Here are the reasons the romance subplots in Foundryside, A Darker Shade of Magic, The Last Mortal Bond, and many other fantasy novels suck butt.
Romance that has absolutely no effect on the overall plot.
At least Foundryside and A Darker Shade of Magic (I haven't had time to read the next ones yet, so sue me) I'll give the benefit of the doubt here and only here. Perhaps in later installments, the romance between characters actually serves a purpose to the plot. Hopefully.
Though I will say, that shouldn't matter either. Every decision your protagonist makes should have some consequence on the plot. If anything, your character's feelings for their love interest should at least motivate them to make a few decisions or something.
None of the books mentioned above did this. Every single one of these "romances" could have been taken out and not made a single bit of difference to their immediate book's plot.
FIX: Ensure that your character's love interest is significant enough to affect your character's decision making, and is important enough to add to their overall motivation. All this should influence your character to drive the plot in ANY meaningful direction, ultimately leading to the climax. If this is not possible in your story, then the romance subplot is probably not necessary at all.
How EOV does it:
The two main characters, Sigurd and Katja's, lives become irreversibly intertwined in the beginning as we move through the plot. The above books do this too, but the difference is that in EOV, every decision either one makes immediately affects the other. There is further tension when we realize that their goals are diametrically opposed even though they are working together. As their feelings for each other grow, the tension increases because one or both of them will have to give up on their goals to keep the other happy or risk losing each other forever.
Romance between characters with underdeveloped chemistry and no reason to get together.
First, I will say that "because they are both hot" is NOT a reason for characters to develop a romance.
This one is about character motivation. And most of the time, this rears its ugly head in the form of romances where the only basis is sex...or just straightforward nothing. It doesn't make sense to readers.
I'm talking about those relationships that were not adequately developed on the character and plotting level. All three of the books we're addressing today do this in different ways. Let's start with the worst offender first.
1. The Last Mortal Bond.
I was furious when I read this book (and if anyone wants to, go to my Goodreads rant here to find out all the reasons why). The biggest reason was that my favorite character, Valyn, did a 180 and basically became a new character. Staveley had developed him over two books. All the things he had learned and all the growth he had made in those two books was thrown out the window in the last. And he didn't revert back to a past version of himself either. No. He became something completely different.
Then enter the "romance" if that is what you would call it. (You wouldn't!)
This female character is someone that he dislikes and has not had any romantic inclinations toward before the third book, and suddenly out of nowhere, they are stabbing each other and fucking….at the same time. For no reason.
But hell. Grog male, you female. Grog horny….why not?
2. A Darker Shade of Magic.
This one irked me more than flat out enraged me like the last. But there was an awkward moment in the book when the two main characters really meet for the first time, and one made a magic version of the other. So what does she do? She begins to undress him, threatening to get a peek at his manhood.
Not a terrible idea in and of itself, but here it was pointless. There was no chemistry preloaded between the characters, no reason for her to do that (other than "I'm a bad, look at me"). It was like the author was trying to say, "HEY! These characters are going to get together later," without putting in the effort of making us root for them first.
This happens several times in the book. One character will kiss the other out of the blue, with a "hehe just because" attitude that felt so jarring and out of place. This one really made me think that perhaps an agent or publisher told the author to add the romance to the story after the fact.
It felt so ingenuine.
This romance gave me the title for today's blog post. I love you because you are here! That's about all it took with this one. The two characters had no chemistry (for the reasons we will discuss in the next section). I hated the romance in A Darker Shade of Magic, and for all those reasons I could easily say the same for this one. Though, it didn't feel as clumsy as the other. And at least there was a bit of preloading here and there.
But it felt like hell! We're lesbians: You girl, me girl...Grogette lonely….why not?
I would have liked to see the characters actually have a more personal connection before deciding on each other, is all.
Frankly, I thought she would get together with the captain character at first. I was rooting for it.
Because she had been vulnerable to him, she opened up to him. They had begun building that kind of relationship. Turns out it was just a friendship. That's fine. But can't we get that same level of intimacy with the person she is actually supposed to have feelings for?
Nope! Berenice was nice to her. They shared a kiss. That should be good enough. Move on, reader.
(Side note: Another reason I thought Sancia and Captain Gregor were going to end up together was that their interactions did matter to the plot. And as they grew to like each other, those decisions carried more weight and added tension. Interesting, huh?)
Fix: Characters, like people, need reasons to fall for someone. Even if the end relationship will just be sexual. Chemistry needs to be built over time, especially if it's between two essential characters with arcs. Being thrown into a situation together is not enough reason to build a relationship. It will come across as shallow, like courting teenagers. (Teenagers courting each other! That didn't sound right....)
Suppose you make the relationship deeply connected to the plot and character's decision making. In that case, this should be mostly remedied. You have to think of your character's personality when planning a romance. What might it take to win your character over? You figure out how to woo them, and maybe your love interest character can too.
The idea is to invest your readers in the relationship. You're not only wooing the characters but also the reader. Then when something happens to them, your reader can be appropriately emotional about it. There is nothing worse for you than a reader that doesn't care.
How EOV does it:
Sigurd represents something that Katja finds repulsive at first, a regime-owned killing machine. So it doesn't make sense that she would fall for him just because they find themselves thrown into a challenging situation. However, as the plot progresses, and they move through their arcs, they slowly become people that do make sense for each other. They become emotionally vulnerable, as Sancia and Captain Gregor did. They begin to care for each other. Then when they finally do get together, it makes sense, plus the reader has had time to grow on the idea, and they are rooting for these two crazy kids.
Romance that doesn't provide either of the characters with any character development.
We should all know that a character has to want something for them to be relatable and appealing. If they don't, it is tough to root for them; it's hard to care about them. They start to bore us quickly.
All three of these books had characters who wanted something, of course. But when it came to their love interests, they wanted…. nothing...And their love interests provided them with nothing, wanted nothing from them in return. With the exemption of Valyn in The Last Mortal Bond, his sexual partner obviously wanted sex. Though I really don't think he liked it. He was just there.
It was cringy, to say the least.
Just like a character doesn't appeal if they want nothing, a romance between characters is not appealing if they want nothing from each other.
I feel like A Darker shade of Magic and Foundryside tried to do this, but it just missed the mark for me. Again, it felt superficial and unimportant. (Probably because it had no consequence on the plot.)
(Side note: I know it seems like I'm being hard on Foundryside. But I did really like it. I promise. In fact, look what I literally just got in the mail while writing this....
I'll be sure to update you guys on Twitter on whether or not the romance gets any better!)
Fix: Your romantically entangled characters need to provide each other with something they really want, something that lends to their final arcs. If your character is remarkably lonely like Sancia in Foundryside, then this person needs to be someone who compliments that. Either they need to be open and caring, welcoming to an extreme degree to make her feel like there is a home for her with that person—make all her loneliness disappear. Or perhaps needs to be a person that is just as lonely and understands her to the degree that no one else does (like the captain did!), making her feel like she is not really alone in the world.
How EOV does it:
Katja and Sigurd are both tools for men in an evil regime. Katja wants Sigurd because he makes her feel safe and understood. He doesn't use her like other people in her life have. He sees all the darkness inside her and accepts her for who she is. Sigurd wants Katja because she doesn't see him as a monster, she makes him feel like he is not alone, and he feels seen by her as well, even before she ever sees his face.
The very purpose of Katja and Sigurd's relationship is to highlight the character's growth and arcs; at times, they complement each other and juxtapose each other. There is not a single step in their romance that is for the sake of itself. Not even during the super kinky sex scenes!
…..Or am I?
You'll have to read it to find out.
Oh yeah! Did you forget your free copy?
Here's the link again.
That's it for today, I think.
Go forth and write characters that procreate!!! But remember to make it worth our while.
Comment below and tell me how disappointed you are in fantasy romance...or me....or love in general.
I'm here for you....