Today we’re pleased to welcome Anna Kashina to talk about Romance in Speculative Fiction! Also be sure to check out our giveaway for the first two books in her Majat Code series. The third one, Assassin’s Queen, releases this June. Hope you enjoy!
Romance plays a big role in our everyday life. Because of that, I find it to be a very natural element of fiction as well. In fact, I have been writing for quite a few years before I realized that my adventure fantasy books tend to have prominent romance elements, often skirting the border between fantasy and romance.
By now, writing fantasy seems unthinkable to me without putting at least some elements of romance into it. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I have been born and raised in Russia, where the word “novel” is actually the same as the word “romance” (in Russian “roman”, used equally in both senses). While I have switched languages since then and now write solely in English, it is possible that this word play in itself has affected my mind set early on. So did my reading. When I grew up, every book I read had a love story in it. I could not imagine a book without any romantic relationships at least mentioned, if not developed. I loved happy endings too, even if I grudgingly admitted that some sad endings were inevitable. As I started writing, I did it with a goal to create an ideal book for a reader like myself. While it took me years to achieve this for the first time, I now came to expect this every time. This is likely why I find writing so absorbing and rewarding, and why every one of my books has at least some elements of romance.
My most recent “Majat Code” trilogy–to be concluded this summer with book 3, Assassin Queen–was originally conceived as an epic adventure fantasy focused on politics, intrigue, and fancy swordplay. When I was writing the first book in the series, Blades of the Old Empire, I certainly did not intend for it to come even close to a romance. I did, however, center it around several young characters of both genders. I assume you can guess what happened next.
It originally came as a surprise to me how my characters started acting on their own, as soon as I developed enough details to envision them in my mind. I later came to expect it, but at the beginning I was still under the illusion that my characters were fully under my control, and that they could not possibly do or say anything I did not consciously plan. It was amazing how quickly I learned better. As these young men and women shaped up and began to interact with each other, romantic attractions and jealousy came naturally, without any conscious effort on my side. All I had to do was throw them into different situations and let them do the rest. The brief infatuations and the more lasting love interests that came out of this were often unexpected, and did not always end well, but they definitely made the story much more colorful.
While I did want to have some minor romantic subplots in my adventure, I planned for the love interests to play out differently from the way they did. When I finally came to my senses and let the characters do what they wanted, I couldn’t be happier with the result. This experience taught me one important thing. Good romance, just like any good story, has to be entirely character-driven and can only work if the characters have the kind of a natural chemistry we all experience first hand when we fall in love. Just like in real life, you cannot force or fake it. It has to work out on its own.
In Blades of the Old Empire I tried to keep the romance to a minimum and to the more expected norms, even if many readers still felt it was a lot. Book 2, The Guild of Assassins, tossed all these good intentions up into the air and ended up having a major love story at its core, organically woven into the action and adventure. Much to my surprise and delight, this summer The Guild of Assassins won two Prism awards for fantasy romance, which took me a long way toward believing that I can be a romance author. Of course I credit it all to my characters, who really took it into their own hands despite my best efforts.
Working on the Majat Code trilogy made me realize I feel happy and at ease with writing romance. It also showed me that romance elements in a story cannot work well–at least in my case–if they are inserted by design. Just like in real life, you cannot force two people to fall in love simply because you think they would look good together. There has to be much more, and I believe this “more” is at the core of what separates good and bad romance.
Those of you who read romance probably know that one of the conventions of the genre is achieving the “happily ever after” for the two main characters in love. I am all for it, don’t get me wrong. But hence comes another challenge when working romance elements into speculative fiction. Creating a fantasy world and an epic adventure story that is even remotely realistic has to come with reality checks–including the fact that not all “happily ever after” can possibly work out. Even if these people do really look good together at the start. Even if they have chemistry and are attracted to each other.
Like real life, romance in speculative fiction is not always simple, and cannot possibly follow the expected lines. If done right, romance can naturally weave in with the adventure and become an intrinsic and essential part of the story. It can be a great tool if done right.
Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994 after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
She works as a biomedical researcher and combines career in science with her passion for writing.
Anna’s interests in ballroom dancing, world mythologies and folklore feed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
You can find Anna online at her website: www.annakashina.com, on Twitter @Annakashina and on Facebook.
Defeated by the Majat forces, Nimos and the other Kaddim Brothers retreat to their secret fortress in the southern mountains. Nimos knows that the Majat’s victory is only temporary: during the flight, he managed to place a mark on Kara, one of the top-ranked Diamond Majat. His mind magic would now allow him to use this mark to confer her fighting skill to the Kaddim warriors and turn her loyalties to their side.
The new Majat Guildmaster, Mai, is planning a march against the Kaddim. His key ally, Prince Kyth Dorn, is instrumental in these plans: Kyth’s magic gift can protect the Majat against the Kaddim mind control powers. But Mai and Kyth are having trouble getting over their rivalry for Kara’s affections–even after they realize that this rivalry is the least of their worries, at least for the moment. Something about Kara is not right…
To find the Kaddim’s secret fortress, the Majat must gain passage through the desert kingdom of Shayil Yara, a matriarchal society that despises men and the Majat ways. Fortunately, Kara is not only a top-ranked Majat, but also of the Olivian race, similar to the Shayil Yaran nobility. She seems ideally suited to lead the negotiation. But, with her Kaddim mark and seeming illness, can she be trusted?
Phil Jourdan: Fans of Anna’s The Majat Code saga are going to be thrilled by this new instalment! Expect epic twists, intense romance and the best character work in the series so far.