The best romances are those in which heroes and heroines are perfectly matched — equally strong, equally brilliant, equally witty, equally wounded. An even playing field makes the battle for love that much more rewarding. This month, three romances show us how a great match can spark a delicious flame.
In A Promise of Fire (Sourcebooks), the first book in the Kingmaker Chronicles series, Amanda Bouchet matches a magical heroine with a warrior hero to remarkable effect. Cat is the Kingmaker, a soothsayer of sorts who can feel the truth in others and siphon and reuse magic. She has been alone and in hiding for much of her life, terrified of discovery in a world at war. When she is captured by Griffin, a warrior king sent by an oracle, her fear runs at odds with her desire to be a part of his quest for peace — and her desire for Griffin himself. Cat soon becomes a part of Griffin’s band of soldiers, fighting alongside the man she should not love, putting the entire kingdom at risk. High fantasy is a rare find in romance — complex world-building and political machinations can get in the way of a central, essential love story — but Bouchet skillfully melds the genres while crafting a sexy, emotional romance. Griffin and Cat are beautifully matched — together, her magic and his might make for a sparkling read.
With the utterly delightful The Hating Game (Morrow), Australian author Sally Thorne satisfies hearts longing for laughter in their love stories. A classic enemies-to-lovers romance, the book tells the story of Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman, each a genius lieutenant in one of two recently merged companies. Two people have never irritated each other more — a fact that becomes even more clear when they are pitted against each other for a tempting promotion. This classic setup gives the entire book the charming, gleeful feel of the best romantic comedies. Lucy and Joshua are perfectly matched in their titular hating games, willing to go to any length for one-upmanship and conquest. Their battle of wits is tremendously fun — acerbic and sexy and filled with tension. The result is a wicked, witty romance that will capture readers’ hearts long before Joshua manages to capture Lucy’s.
The third book in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series, The Highlander (St. Martin’s), sets a rich, emotional love story against some of the Victorian era’s darkest backdrops. Known as the Demon Highlander, Liam MacKenzie did what had to be done to save his clan and assume the role of laird. Now faced with a title and an inherited family, he requires a governess to keep his children in line. Enter Philomena “Mena” Lockhart, deep in hiding from a husband so abusive she chose a Victorian asylum over life with him. Liam is instantly drawn to Mena, who is understandably terrified of his youth, his power and his sexual allure. She will not cow to him, however, and her remarkable strength makes them perfectly matched. Byrne writes with abandon, her storytelling often edging into wild, mad, emotion. The book begins with two gut-wrenching scenes revealing Liam and Mena’s horrific pasts and continues to toss readers about on a dark, at times unsettling journey.
Sarah MacLean writes romance and reviews it monthly for The Washington Post. Her book, “A Scot in the Dark,” will be published next month.