I read a lot of fantasy romance--if I had to pick one subgenre of romance to read for the rest of my life, desert island style, that would probably be it. But recently I thought it would be fun to branch out into sci-fi romance--after all, what is better than love in space? (Or love in an alternate, steam-powered history, as the case may be.) Here are some recommendations if you want to mix your romance reading with some scientific shenanigans.
Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin
I already knew I loved steampunk romance, but I’d never read steampunk romance set outside the Western world until this book. And it’s awesome! Set in an alternate version of China’s Qing dynasty (mid-1840s), Gunpowder Alchemy is full of political machinations and gunpowder engines and fun widget-y machines. It’s hard to tell who is good and who is bad--I love books that explore the gray areas of loyalty and morality. And while the romance takes a back seat here to the action and adventure, I really didn’t mind because I was so invested in main character Soling.
Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
I loved Amanda Bouchet’s fantasy romance trilogy, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her first foray into sci-fi. While I didn’t fall quite as in love with the characters in Nightchaser, there’s a lot of room for development in future books. Tess Bailey, captain of the Endeavor, is a Robin Hood of sorts in space. Her crew steals goods and medicines and gives them to the needy. Tess is motivated by a secret past and has hidden for years behind an alias, but her latest caper has put her at risk of exposure. Tess hires Shade Ganavan to help repair the ship so they can make a getaway, but underneath the good looks and swagger, Shade is a bounty hunter who could turn Tess in for a hefty reward. Unless his burgeoning feelings for her get in the way, that is! *squee*
This one is a lot heavier on the romance angle than the sci-fi, which was 100% fine with me, but if you’re expecting hard science you’ll be disappointed. The book opens with Tess and crew flying their ship straight into a black hole and not dying…so yeah, suspend ALL your disbelief and just go with it. Perfect for fans of found families and ragtag bands fighting for justice.
Night Whispers by Alisha Rai
As I was browsing for titles for this post, I did a double take when this cover popped up—I had no idea Alisha Rai had ever dipped her toe in the sci-fi romance pool. But since in my mind she, Penny Reid, and Talia Hibbert are tied for Queen of Contemporary Romance, I had to get my hands on a copy of Night Whispers. It was a little difficult because the title appears to be out of print, but you can find used copies if you poke around. And it’s safe to say this is the most romantic book I’ve ever read with a giant gun on the cover! It’s also surprisingly delightful considering there are zombies involved. Jules is a search and rescue agent in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with bloodthirsty undead called Shadows. James is her contact with the organization she works for, a comforting voice in her ear, but since he’s at a remote base and she’s out in the field, they’ve never met in person and don’t even know what the other looks like. But when Jules suddenly goes off-grid in the middle of a mission, James realizes she means more to him than he ever admitted and takes off to find her despite his intense agoraphobia. Refreshing in lots of ways, especially with the way Jules and James take turns being strong and being vulnerable.
Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Cool worldbuilding alert! Ascension takes place in a universe where spaceship mechanics are called “sky surgeons” and the work is more personal and intuitive than cranking inanimate gears. Thus when Alana, a sky surgeon who’s never been off planet, stows away on a ship, she hopes to build a relationship not just with the crew but with the ship itself. As an uninvited guest, it takes her some time to ingratiate herself with the wildly varied cast of characters that call the ship home, but Alana craves adventure and new experiences and she won’t let her (devastatingly sexy) new captain drop her off back home without a fight. Considering the chronic illness that causes her serious pain even with medication, it would be easier for Alana to stay in her safe little bubble, but now that she’s had a taste of space flight, she’s hooked. This book is effortlessly inclusive, with all kinds of diverse characters and relationships, and while it’s not as polished, I think it would be a good pick for fans of Becky Chambers.
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik
I don’t like to play favorites, but this just might be my top pick of the sci-fi romance bunch. A space princess escapes an arranged marriage only to end up captured and imprisoned with a notorious criminal, and that’s just the opening setup to this balls to the wall adventure. The universe is controlled by three enormously wealthy families, all rivals but currently in an uneasy truce. Ada is a daughter of one of the houses and grew up in the lap of luxury, but since running away from her family and fiancé she’s enjoyed living a lower key lifestyle—that is, until her father’s minions catch up to her. Ada will do anything to escape—seriously, there is no risk this chick won’t take—but she’s not sure if the dangerous yet alluring stranger sharing her cell is ally or foe. Politics, intrigue, action—the pace is nonstop and doesn’t let up until the very last page. This is the book I would put in the hands of people who claim romance is formulaic (and then dance around in victory when they love it).