By Riley Dauber
Many books grew in popularity with readers thanks to the social media app TikTok. Well-known authors like Colleen Hoover and Taylor Jenkins Reid are bound to pop up in recommendation videos, but the app also helps shed light on newer releases and overlooked titles.
Most recently, the platform helped with the creation of the romance fantasy genre, also known as romantasy.
According to Time, “The genre, which seems to have gotten its name from TikTok, blends the two popular categories in often engaging, world-building novels.”
Along with social media recommendations, this genre’s popularity is also due to how much readers love romance and fantasy books; romantasy combines the best elements of the two genres.
According to Slate, “For a generation of readers raised on ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Twilight,’ and ‘The Hunger Games,’ this genre offers up the characters and conflicts of YA fantasy but with more profanity and explicit sex.”
Junior Brionna Odell is specifically focusing on romantasy for her final research project in Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Senior Equity Officer, and Professor of English and American Studies Dr. Alisha Knight’s book history class.
“I mostly only read fantasy novels…with a romantic subplot, but recently I’ve noticed that they’re romance novels but with a fantasy backdrop,” Odell said. “I want to do more research with why this [trend] came out of nowhere.”
Based on her research so far, Odell has determined that the genre is popular with women but receives criticism from male fantasy fans.
She also learned that the romance fantasy genre relies on tropes, including enemies-to-lovers, rivals-to-lovers, close proximity, and a happily ever after. These tropes, specifically enemies-to-lovers, are extremely popular among readers on social media.
The enemies-to-lovers trope is when the two main characters do not get along at first, but grow to enjoy each other’s company and shift from friends to lovers. Rivals-to-lovers is similar, with both main characters fighting for the same position in their specific field.
“Divine Rivals,” the popular romance fantasy novel by Rebecca Ross, was marketed as a rivals-to-lovers book because the two main characters are vying for the same columnist position at the newspaper. However, the book swiftly switches to the fantasy conflict as they are both thrust to the warfront.
The fantasy aspects of these books come in the form of a “second world,” or a world not like our own. The authors may rely on a large amount of worldbuilding to create this new surrounding, or they will only use the fantasy setting as a backdrop.
For example, “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros is one of the most recent and popular romantasy novels. The book follows a young woman named Violet who is forced to train and become a dragon rider by her commanding general mother. Not only is there a war brewing in her world, but she must also deal with fellow rider Xaden.
The book was released in May, and its sequel, “Iron Flame,” recently came out on Nov. 7.
According to The New York Times, “‘Fourth Wing’ has sold more than two million copies globally…it has been on The New York Times’ hardcover fiction bestseller list for more than six months — with three months at No. 1.”
Despite its popularity and critical success — “Fourth Wing” currently has a 4.65 out of 5 average rating on book-rating site Goodreads — the book also received a fair share of criticism for being too cliche.
According to Slate, “‘Fourth Wing’ is a Frankenstein’s monster of borrowed romance and fantasy devices…yet the novel’s world building displays a real lack of commitment and creativity.”
Even though “Fourth Wing” and other romance fantasy books may feel overdone at some points due to the genres’ common tropes, these books also provide readers with a sense of escapism.
According to Slate, “What makes ‘Fourth Wing’ risible to someone who wants something fresh or surprising from a novel makes it a familiar comfort to someone in search of an immersive escape…Sure, you’ve read it all before, many, many times. That’s how you know that everything will turn out alright in the end.”
Odell shares this sentiment, pointing to the importance of literature as a means of entertainment.
“Especially coming out of the pandemic, you see a lot more cozy fantasy novels. You know you’re going to get a happily ever after ending with these novels as opposed to a hardcore fantasy novel,” Odell said.
As she continues her research project, Odell is curious to see if the romantasy genre will increase in popularity and diversity.
“[The genre is] very straight. It’s very white. So, I wonder if we’re going to see more queer romantacy and more BIPOC main characters,” Odell said.
While the future of the subgenre is unknown, it is already clear that TikTok has helped romance fantasy novels grow in popularity. Along with social media’s influence, recent releases like Yarros’ “Iron Flame” add more attention to the rising trend.