Tough Travelling: Royal Romantic Interests
Welcome intrepid adventurers to Tough Travelling with the Tough Guide to Fantasyland!
That’s right, we’ve dusted it down and brought back this feature (created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived by our friends over on Fantasy Faction, then dragged kicking and screaming to the Hive).
It is a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then comment with the link on this article!
Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate, we’re looking at our favourite Romantic Interests that involve Royalty. DJW doesn’t mention romance, relationships, or love; although what she has to say about sex and baths is humorous. But it’s Valentine’s Day, so we don’t really need much more of an excuse.
A big thank you to Nils, Gray, Asha, Theo, Hil and Beth for their recommendations…
I have to begin with Aragorn and Arwen, one of my favourite fictional couples ever. Sorry Eowyn, he was just never for you, at least you got Faramir though! Aragorn, a mortal, and rightful king of Gondor falls in love with Arwen, the immortal elf, daughter of Elrond, granddaughter of Galadriel. Although their relationship isn’t really fleshed out until the Appendices at the end of Return of the King, the movies fixes this and gives their relationship more significance, which I definitely welcomed.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart features two relationships brimming with tension. Phalue and Ranami come from very different backgrounds, Phalue a life of privilege as a Governor’s daughter and Ranami a life of poverty. Although they don’t always see eye to eye, they do love each other and eventually learn to compromise. Secondly Lin and Jovis, which I can’t really say too much about as their growing attraction isn’t apparent until the sequel, The Bone Shard Emperor, and wow is it a rocky journey! I just wanted them to be happy!
Having now read the Stormlight Archives and being partway through the Mistborn trilogy, I have to say Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite authors who writes fantastically developed relationships. Each one is very different, but each couple shows respect and support to one another exactly when they need it. In Mistborn, Elend helps to quell Vin’s insecurities and show her that she deserves to be loved, whereas Vin shows Elend he is capable of being a worthy leader. In Stormlight Archives Navani helps to bring Dalinar back from his despair and uses her scholarly and inventive skills to aid both Dalinar and the people of Roshar. Adolin, with his breezy and light hearted personality keeps Shallan from losing herself to her other identities entirely. I love the way each relationship has balance.
And also The Councillor by EJ Beaton features a relationship full of longing. Prince Jale Chambois & Dante Dalgerath are clearly attracted to each other throughout, with Dante always being tender and supportive to his beloved Prince Jale. Yet they both have duties to their cities, duties which keep them apart. There’s also Lysande and Luca Fontaine, and I loved the way Beaton explored their intense attraction to one another. Yet Luca isn’t one you can trust, and Lysande is too clever to be manipulated, so their narrative was fun!
My personal favourite royal romance from recent years has to be in The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Although it is a tad difficult to talk about it without spoilers.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black definitely needs a mention too, another of her excellent fairytale inspired stories, but one that seems to have caught the attention of the whole YA Romance reading world.
William Goldman’s The Princess Bride vaguely counts, though the actual royal in the equation is not who she ends up marrying. Mainly because he’s a [REDACTED BY KOBOLD LAWYERS]
Oh, and I also quite liked the developing royal romance in This Trilogy is Broken by J P Valentine, although given that the series is still ongoing (I did warn you the trilogy was broken) I am not certain if it will ever come back to the foreground of the story.
Two of my favourite sapphic fantasies have very similar plot set-ups: a princess is betrothed to the prince of another kingdom, but when she gets there, she falls in love with his sister instead! In The Queen Of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin, Esofi arrives in Ieflaria to discover her fiancé has died while she was travelling, but the contract only specifies she is to marry “the heir” – and new heir Crown Princess Adale is a firecracker with no desire to rule. Although this is a proper romance, with a satisfying ending, Esofi and Adale (and their adopted dragon son) pop up as characters throughout the rest of the series, and it’s wonderful to watch them grow!
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst has a similar set up, but is YA rather than adult, and the prince to whom Denna is betrothed is not dead, just really not her kind of person; his sister Mare doesn’t seem to be either, but the more time they spend together, the more sparks fly… I really, really love this trope!
I also want to mention A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith, which has more royal love interests than you can shake a stick at – it’s set at a courting event for young royals where the aim of the game is to make the best match you can. To tell you who pairs off with whom would be spoilery in the extreme, but I loved how this one played with expectations of the ‘perfect’ prince and princess roles; all the characters are so much fun.
And I would be doing myself a disservice not to talk about King Mendanbar from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C Wrede, whom I’ve been a little bit in love with since I was a kid! He’s the resourceful, kind young king of the truly bizarre Enchanted Forest, and he’s not at all regal, which is a huge relief to the main character, Cimorene, who gave up her stifling role as princess to become much happier as Chief Cook and Librarian to a powerful dragon. Mendanbar doesn’t pop up until the second book in the series, but their relationship after that is one of my favourite things about the whole series.
I’m also going to lay my thwarted Tamora Pierce shipper cards down: Alanna should have married Prince Jonathan. So there.
OK Faramir and Eowyn – the two kids with slightly fraught relationships with their father figures, the one sent into ridiculous danger by his dad because he was never going to be as good as his brother, the other kept coddled and away from the dangers of war that she was so clearly equal to by her much loved uncle. They are my favourite pair of peripheral characters who finally got the happiness they deserved.
But of course, how could I mention Tolkein without talking about Beren and Luthien, or JRR and Edith as they might perhaps be better known. Tolkein’s own courtship and eventual marriage was something of a quest which made its way into his fiction both with Beren and Luthien and with Aragorn and Arwen. At the time he met the slightly older Edith, teenage Tolkein – having been orphaned – was under the guardianship of a catholic priest Father Francis. Francis thought Edith’s influence was distracting Tolkein from studying for the scholarship he needed and forbade them from having any contact until Tolkein became a free agent on reaching his majority at the age of 21. In similar ways Arwen’s dad Elrond, and Luthien’s dad Thingol both set strict requirements on the young men courting their daughters – demanding they prove their suitability. The fact that Tolkein was catholic and Edith protestant probably didn’t help Father Francis’s perspective on the romance. That contemporary suspicion between catholic and protestant is reflected in Tolkien’s romances being between men and elves, a different take on the two sides of the tracks story that predates even Romeo and Juliet. Tolkien abided by his guardian’s wishes but on turning 21 immediately wrote to Edith and they rekindled their relationship.
Luthien Tinuviel was an elven princess daughter of King Thingol of Doriath in Beleriand, while Beren was a scion of a royal house of one of the first tribes of men to awaken in Beleriand. Thingol set Beren the impossible task of wrestling a silmaril (stolen jewel crafted by the great eleven smith Feanor) from the crown of Morgoth (fallen angel and original dark lord). Just as Tolkien’s early years with Edith were overshadowed by the horrors of the first world war, Beren and Luthien went through many hardships and adventures including a tussle with Morgoth’s underling Gorthaur (later to be known as Sauron). However, aided by a talking dog (OK Huan the greatest hound that ever lived) and with a bit of a twist on semantics, Beren was able to assure Thingol that he held a silmaril in his hand and so deserved Luthien’s hand in marriage.
Tolkein wrote to his son that the opening to the story where Beren stumbles across Luthien dancing in the forest of Doriath, was inspired by seeing Edith in a woodland glade at Roos in Yorkshire. Edith and JRR’s gravestones also have the names Luthien and Beren inscribed on them
I would say Fitz and Molly, but Fitz is so whiney, who wouldn’t prefer Burrich? *runs and hides*
Miryem and the King in Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver
There’s generally something doomed about a romance that involves royalty, don’t you find?
My current read is Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. I’m not well-versed on Greek mythology at all; I recognise the names but don’t always know their stories, and this was the case for me here. Ariadne is daughter of King Minos of Crete – she’s a Cretan Princess who falls for the Athenian Prince Thesseus. She helps him navigate the Labyrinth and so to defeat the Minotaur, but things aren’t as smooth sailing for her following these events as I’d hoped.
Someone else who has a rough time of it is Sue Lynn Tan’s Xingyin, her protagonist of her debut novel Daughter of the Moon Goddess. Xingyin is eponymous daughter, who only goes and falls for Prince Liwei, the son of the man who imprisoned Xingyin’s mother on the moon, the Celestial Emperor. They are perfect for each other, but it seems heartbreak is set to follow Xingyin.
She could certainly find an empathetic friend in Nahri, from S A Chakraborty’s City of Brass. She’s pretty good at falling for the wrong man and getting hurt, before falling for the son of her enemy – and entering into an arranged marriage with said enemy’s other son, the heir to the throne. Who in turn is in love with someone else. Royalty. They’re just not worth the turbulence!
Which I think is why I loved Adie Hart’s story A Pea Ever After so much (you can find it in the short story collection Once Upon A Winter). It’s a retelling of The Princess and the Pea, wherein we have a fairy godmother who’s taken a turn for the… trap-princesses-in-the-castle-and-test-them-to-find-one-good-enough-for-the-Prince-ey. But the Prince isn’t interested in any of the Princesses, who likewise aren’t interested in him and obviously nor do they care for the circumstances. Our protagonist is Elsie, who isn’t even a princess but rather a District Witch who’s got caught up in the mess. It’s a much more light-hearted example than my others!
Next month, we’ll be looking at our favourite GODS/GODDESSES/DIETIES in fantasy.
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