A Question, on the Nature of YA and Fantasy and Romance

Diana specifically requested that I post this:

Are there any YA fantasy novels that DON'T have romance in them?


If so, what are they?

Note: she says it's not that she's exactly opposed to romance, but rather that she is genuinely curious.

And the truth is, I don't know the answer. Part of me thinks that having romance is what makes some publisher somewhere stamp YA on the manuscript. In a casual family survey, all we've come up with is Tolkien, who wasn't ever labeled that way, so it's hard to know if he really counts as fantasy YA (ditto LeGuin?).

But my readers seem to know a lot more about things than I do (for which I am profoundly grateful). What do you think?

12 thoughts on “A Question, on the Nature of YA and Fantasy and Romance

  1. Hi, I’ve had your blog in my RSS reader for a while now and really enjoy it. I just wanted to chip in here that Diana Wynne Jones has bookshelves of excellent YA fantasy, and her books are usually not centered around romance. See the Chrestomanci series. And the Dark Lord of Derkholm and it’s follow-up The Year of the Griffin. I do love Howl’s Moving Castle, which does have some romance in it, but I’d argue it’s not really the focus.
    Also, I don’t remember romance in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus triology (books narrated by a wiseacre djinn). I was just reminded of these books recently.


  2. Hmmm… how about Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark series? I don’t remember any romance in those books to speak of, but then again it’s been years since I read them.


  3. Hmmm. Is the question really: are there YA fantasy novels FOR GIRLS that don’t have romance? Because I can think of a lot that are generally aimed more at boys, like Brian Jacques’ books, or David Eddings, or Dune, or Christopher Paolini’s books. I haven’t read very far into Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, but I bet that qualifies. Alas, Patricia Wrede’s series, which someone else mentioned, does devolve into (poorly done) romance in the fourth book.


  4. Depending on the age of the characters the romance might consist of just starting to like someone of the opposite sex or it might be the driving focus of the book, but it’s almost always there. I think adults recalling books from their childhood are less likely to remember that aspect, because Chrestomanci and Enchanted Forest and Discworld all have characters meeting and falling in love. It is, after all, one of the things we expect teens and adults to do in order to live happily ever after.


  5. Ah, but His Dark Materials DOES have romance. It even goes further and has sexuality—they are in some way the central tenet of the whole thing, a fantasy world to rival Lewis’s prudish Narnia. And funny to think how it relates to living happily ever after, it’s one way, for sure, but there are others, I think.


  6. I am thinking Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men and the other younger reader novels. I don’t *remember* any romance but it’s been a long time since I read them. Added bonus is that they’re Terry Pratchett. Normal “Adult” Discworld totally has Carrot and Angua, and Sam and Sybil, and Nobby and all the washerwomen etc. and thus does not count as entirely non-romantic.


  7. The Wee Free Men and Hat Full of Sky don’t have romance, but Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight do.
    The later Dealing with Dragon books have romance (not the first one, I don’t think).
    There is almost always a romantic subplot in YA novels, especially those aimed at girls, but sometimes it’s a relatively minor focus. Here are some that don’t really have romance, or at the very most a few glances and small frisson that the non-romantically-inclined reader can ignore if s/he chooses:
    [um, at least as far as I remember. If I forgot some romance, apologies]
    Nation, by Terry Pratchett
    Mare’s War, by Tanita Davis
    Celine, by Brock Cole
    Plain Kate, by Erin Bow
    The Lost Conspiracy, by Frances Hardinge
    Whirligig, by Paul Fleischman
    Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star [I forget the author]
    Welcome to the Ark, by Stephanie Tolan
    House of Stairs by William Sleator [well there is some same-sex longing, but it’s very veiled and hard to catch if you’re not looking]
    Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer
    Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
    The Canning Season, by Polly Horvath
    Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer
    Sold, by Patricia McCormick (I mean, she’s a prostitute, but no, there’s nothing I would call romance)
    Octavian Nothing, by M. T. Anderson
    Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
    Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeiffer
    and there’s more…the problem is that a romance plot (or at least subplot) is of the defining tropes of YA, so books without such a plot tend to be marketed as borderline-middle grade. But there are such.


  8. Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, maybe. Don’t remember any romance, but I could be wrong.
    Also, I only read the first one of the series, but what about Blackbringer (Dreamdark) by Laini Taylor?


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