The best fantasy books with magic, romance, and a dash of subversion

Colleen Cowley Author Of Subversive
By Colleen Cowley

Who am I?

I write romantic fantasy set in twisted versions of the United States because half of me wishes magic were real. (The wiser half thinks that would be a disaster.) Typical contents of my books: banter, antagonist love interests, dramatically billowing coats, twisty plots, and oppressive systems in need of taking down... by bantering antagonists in magnificent coats. I consume books like they’re as necessary as food—and aren’t they, really? 


I wrote...

Subversive

By Colleen Cowley,

Book cover of Subversive

What is my book about?

In an America controlled by wizards and 100 years behind on women's rights, Beatrix Harper counts herself among the resistance—the Women's League for the Prohibition of Magic. Then Peter Blackwell, the only wizard her town has ever produced, unexpectedly returns home and presses her into service as his assistant.

Beatrix fears he wants to undermine the League. His real purpose is far more dangerous for them both.

The books I picked & why

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The Lord of Stariel

By A.J. Lancaster,

Book cover of The Lord of Stariel

Why this book?

Imagine if Downton Abbey neighbored Faerie. Then make the idea ten times more awesome, and you have The Lord of Stariel. I discovered it right before the final book in the quartet came out and binged them all.

The premise—a family’s magical estate will choose its next lord after the old one passes on—is intriguing enough. But what really sold me on this book is Hetta, the prodigal daughter. She’s level-headed, sharp-witted, and unwilling to be limited by society’s (or her family’s) ideas about the proper role of a lady. 

I don’t want to tell you too much about her counterpart—the book should unfold its secrets. But he’d make a strong showing in a Best Hero contest.


Song of Blood & Stone: Earthsinger Chronicles, Book One

By L. Penelope,

Book cover of Song of Blood & Stone: Earthsinger Chronicles, Book One

Why this book?

This bookand the entire Earthsinger Chroniclesis a must-read. It’s the story of Jasminda the outcast and Jack the spy, but it’s also a cinematic, immersive tale about two neighboring lands—one ruled by a terrifying autocrat and the other filled with fear and hate for the refugees who escaped him. From folktale excerpts at the start of each chapter to powerfully drawn secondary characters, L. Penelope’s world never gives you a chance to recollect that it doesn’t really exist.

You also get deeply romantic moments like this: “I don’t know what to do with you," she whispered, stroking his face, her lips a breath from his own. "I cannot keep you, but I cannot turn you away." Be still my heart.


Snowspelled: The Harwood Spellbook Volume I

By Stephanie Burgis,

Book cover of Snowspelled: The Harwood Spellbook Volume I

Why this book?

In the nineteenth-century setting of Snowpelled, the proper role of a lady is politics, and magic is the domain of men. Cassandra Harwood is the one scandalous exception—but something’s gone wrong. At the start of the story, all we know is that even the simplest spell is now out of her reach.

The mystery unfolds as Cassandra attempts to outsmart an elf lord and avoid her (absolutely delightful) ex-fiancé, the latter task no less difficult than the former. 

I love third-person point of view, but one of the joys of this book is getting the story directly from Cassandra—a woman who became a magician by “utterly refusing to give up on my great plans until the world around me finally saw sense and accepted them.” 


Street Witch: Book One

By S. L. Prater,

Book cover of Street Witch: Book One

Why this book?

What if a society blessed one form of magic use while all but criminalizing the other? Marnie Becker was born a witch in this world, which puts her forever at the margins. She tries to stay (mostly) out of trouble—until it finds her in a big way.

I absolutely love that magic here has a scent, from a hint of maple syrup to a reek of burnt meat. And that her love interest, Bran, declares, “You are never more beautiful to me than when you fix my math.” And that Marnie starts to believe she could help change her country for the better.


Sorcerer to the Crown

By Zen Cho,

Book cover of Sorcerer to the Crown

Why this book?

It’s probably clear by this point that I love books whose characters wrestle with injustice. Sorcerer to the Crown does that—taking on racism, sexism, classism, and colonialism—with a page-turning, witty comedy-of-manners plot. 

Zacharias Wythe, the first Black sorcerer to lead the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, is in a bind. England’s magic is fading for reasons unknown, his racist colleagues are trying to push him out, the ghost of his predecessor keeps offering unwanted advice and he has to give a speech to a girls’ school because a friend fobbed it off on him. What he finds there increases his troubles—and might save his life.

Oh, the characters. You will not forget them. Especially Prunella Gentleman, who has nothing to her name but “her magic and her absurd effrontery,” as Zacharias puts it… as he’s falling for her, of course.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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