Freya Marske, author of A Marvellous Light, on her never-too-late discovery of romance novels

Freya Marske lets us in on her secret: she just can't resist a good romance novel.

21/12/2021
4 minutes to read
Freya Marske next to the four romance books she recommends

With The Marvellous Light, Freya Marske has given us a gorgeous, sexy, magical queer romance. And here she fesses up that she finds romantic novels – from Jane Austen's overlooked Anne in Persuasion through to the steamy paranormal creations of Talia Hibbert – simply irresistible. But she didn't always feel this way . . .

Here, Freya reveals her journey to die-hard romance fan and her favourite romantic novels.

They say nobody evangelises like a late convert, so here's my confession. As a diehard science fiction and fantasy fan since I was tiny – a geek in a genre accustomed to being sneered at by other parts of the literary world – I fell into the trap of sneering sideways. I might read about dragons, I told myself, but at least I didn't read trashy books, for silly girls.

My subsequent conversion shouldn't have come as a surprise. I'd always loved SF&F books with prominent love stories – though for a bisexual teenager just starting to crave representation, there wasn't yet a lot in the way of queer love or joyful queer sex to be found in those pages. Even so, I always lapped up the slow-burn yearning, the political marriages leading to true love, and the frantic kisses in the aftermath of battle.

It still took me until my late teens to discover what I'd been missing, to firmly go about tidying up and banishing my prejudices and the whiff of internalised misogyny that came with them, and to fully embrace romance as a genre. 

Why am I a champion of it now? Romance carries with it a promise of joy. Love will win. They'll end up together. The interest and entertainment is in finding out how, and why, but you can trust that you'll close the book with a sigh of satisfaction. That feeling is not always what I'm looking for out of a reading experience; I also love mysteries and horror, comedic fantasy and fast-paced space opera, and the kind of literary fiction that wrings my heart out like a sponge. But when I am looking for it, I can hurl myself with complete confidence into romance's arms.

In addition, the best romance books are absolute masterclasses in emotion and character work. That work has to be strong, because there's nowhere for it to hide. There might also be dragons, or political intrigue, or deadly peril in space, or family drama. But the core of the story is always two – or possibly more! – people learning the difficult lessons as they grow past their flaws and fight towards their happiness.

(Romance is also where the really good sex writing is, if you're wondering.)

As an author I love the challenge of writing compelling romance, and one of my main goals is to bring the genre's strengths to mingle with the other stuff I enjoy. Yearning and intimacy and unashamedly hot sex scenes can sit snugly within the same narrative as magic, and murder and a rollicking good adventure.

Here are five of my favourite romances to get you started:


Persuasion

by Jane Austen

Book cover for Persuasion

This was my first Austen, read somewhere around age ten, and remains an enduring favourite. It delivers the classic trope of second-chance romance by balancing acidic wit, the weight of history and regret, and pure aching emotion – whom amongst us hasn't swooned a time or two at that letter scene? I am half agony, half hope. Like all good romances, it puts the characters into situations where they can see one another's qualities and come to truly understand and value one another. It also gives us the viscerally satisfying arc of the unappreciated Anne finally blossoming into the life, recognition and love she deserves.

The Duke Who Didn’t

by Courtney Milan

Book cover for The Duke Who Didn’t

Thanks to both Austen and Georgette Heyer, Regency romances are one of the most enduringly popular subgenres of historical romance. Traditionally they've been overwhelmingly white and heterosexual, but there are plenty of authors out there changing the game. Courtney Milan is popular for a reason, and this is my favourite of hers, with leads who are both of Chinese descent. It's a vastly entertaining friends-to-lovers romance between a reluctant duke and a woman on a mission to grow her father's sauce business, with a lot to say about integrity and family and how we're shaped by where we grow. And food. So much food. You'll be starving by the end.

The Hellion’s Waltz

by Olivia Waite

Book cover for The Hellion’s Waltz

Another one injecting some diversity into the Regency romance sphere! This time, it's a romance between two women: one a pianist and piano tuner trying to recover her confidence, and one a silk-weaver plotting revenge on a terrible, entitled man abusing the rights of working women. This is a warm romance with impeccably researched period detail and a highly satisfying heist/con plot at its heart. Revenge On Terrible Entitled Men might as well be its own genre and, in this day and age, it's one we need. If you enjoy the TV show Leverage, you'll have a ball with this one.

Mating the Huntress

by Talia Hibbert

Book cover for Mating the Huntress

I love Talia Hibbert's ability to give her characters family and friendship networks that enrich the story and feel very true-to-life. She's best known for her contemporary romances, but I have an enormous soft spot for this paranormal novella about a werewolf becoming smitten with a girl in a coffee shop… who unfortunately happens to come from a monster-hunting family, and who is determined to use his crush on her to entrap and kill him. Despite – because of? – that premise, this is one of the funniest romances I've ever read. Short, sweet, steamy, and hilarious.

Slippery Creatures

by KJ Charles

Book cover for Slippery Creatures

KJ Charles is my favourite romance author, so picking just one of her works for this list was agony. She's an absolute genius at creating flawed, complicated people whose journeys to trust and love and happiness are difficult, and whose happy endings therefore feel absolutely earned. Slippery Creatures is part of a three-book series, The Will Darling Adventures, about an angry bookseller with a large knife, and the flippant aristocratic spy who slithers into his life, combining the best parts of classic 1920s pulp adventures with a superb, sharp-edged love story.

Dive into Freya Marske's magical debut novel:

A Marvellous Light

by Freya Marske

Book cover for A Marvellous Light

For fans of Bridgerton who'd like to welcome magic into their lives. . .

Set in an alternative Edwardian England, this is a comedy of manners, manor houses, and hedge mazes: including a magic-infused murder mystery and a delightful queer romance from debut author Freya Marske. 

Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he's actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society. If it weren’t for this administrative error, he’d never have discovered the incredible magic underlying his world. 

But he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his adversarial magical-society counterpart. Thrown together, Robin and Edwin will discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.


Discover our pick of the best romantic books here.