All is not always sweetness and light in romance novels. Very often they are full of treachery and menace and are as likely to feature the plot of an evil cabal as champagne and chocolates. This Valentine’s Day explore the adventurous side of romances with these perilous quests—in which falling in love is a side benefit to staying alive.
Escaping the ravages of Britain after World War II, Claire Randall journeys to Scotland with her husband for a romantic interlude only to be cast back in time to the eve of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Caught in the middle of a violent struggle, desperate to find a way back to her own time, and suspected of being a spy by both the Scottish and the English forces, Claire must find a way to survive. She is aided by the heroic and gallant James Fraser, a man with a price on his head who will risk all to save her. Sweeping, richly set, and full of historical detail, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (Delta: Dell. 1998. ISBN 9780385319959. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780440335160) begins the addictive saga, now spanning seven books, of Jamie and Claire’s adventures.
Deborah Harkness deftly blends history, literature, and fantasy in her smartly written A Discovery of Witches (Penguin. 2011. ISBN 9780143119685. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101475690), a novel in which treachery and risk await readers behind every page. This first entry in the “All Souls” trilogy traces the forbidden love affair between Diana Bishop, a witch and professor at Yale, and Matthew Clairmont, a vampire and scientist at Oxford. At the heart of their alliance is an alchemical work that has been lost for 150 years. When Diana finds and opens the book, she draws the malevolent attention of the magical world. Matthew, attracted to both the book and Diana, must figure out the plans of longtime enemies while he finds a way to protect Diana.
Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk? (HarperTorch: Harper. 2003. ISBN 9780060093563. pap. $7.99) is an early model of the splendid mix of romance and danger made possible by genre blending. Set in Avignon but sweeping widely across the roads of France, the novel is perfectly paced, coolly tense, and wonderfully plotted. Charity Selborne, a war widow, arrives in France for vacation, only to meet a young boy named David, whose father, Richard Byron, has been accused of murder. Seeking to protect David from Richard, Charity soon learns that another game is afoot and that she has become part of a clever trap. Filled with excellent descriptions (including a fabulous car chase) and a lovely restrained quality, this romantic adventure is a rewarding read from its opening page to the closing sentence.
Bee Ridgway’s elegantly imagined The River of No Return (Plume. 2014. ISBN 9780142180839. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101624319) offers romance on a slow simmer. Her novel of time jumps, time manipulation, and secret orders only reveals itself to be a love story after the main premise is established: Lord Nick Falcott, a 19th-century aristocrat about to die in battle but jumped in time to the 21st century, becomes a minor part of an organization known as the Guild. When Nick is called to duty once more, he journeys back to his past and to Julia Percy, who is just discovering her time-manipulation talents. Caught in a risky game, far more convoluted and cold-blooded than he first realizes, Nick must figure out what is going on, whom he can trust, and what role Julia plays in his future.
The Lost Sisterhood (Ballantine. Mar. 2014. ISBN 9780345536228. $27) by Anne Fortier is a complicated, twisty, and evocative tale of the lost history of the Amazons, the glories of Troy, and the modern-day quest to discover their secrets. Diana Morgan, a struggling professor and expert in languages, is approached with an offer she cannot refuse—travel to North Africa to view a newly discovered temple that may prove to contain the early history of the first Amazon queen, Myrina. As she embarks on the quest, Diana encounters Nick Barran, a guide of sorts, who shadows her every move and becomes the center of her romantic interests. In alternating chapters, Fortier tells Myrina’s own story of rising from an orphan girl to becoming queen of a tribe of warrior women.
Few occupations could be more deadly than serving as the poison taster to a ruler under constant threat, but that is the job Yelena must accept if she is to escape the noose in Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study (Mira: Harlequin. 2005. ISBN 9780778327110. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459248267), a gripping blend of political fantasy and romantic suspense. Under the tutelage and control of Valek, chief assassin and head of security of Ixia, Yelena learns about poisons and magic. As she comes into her own powers, her skills put her at greater risk, and her growing attraction to Valek complicates both their positions. Snyder maintains an urgent pace as her intricate and compelling plot unfolds in this opulently set first entry in the “Study” saga.