There is plenty of both suffering and struggle in Maxym M. Martineau’s KINGDOM OF EXILES (Sourcebooks Casablanca, paper, $7.99), and plenty of fantasy, too — not just in terms of escapism, but in the genre sense of magic and curses and a vaguely medieval aesthetic.
Our main characters are Leena and Noc. She’s a Charmer, capable of taming magical beasts, exiled from her brethren for crimes she didn’t commit. As if exile is not enough, someone from the Charmers Council has ordered a hit on her. The assassin comes from Cruor, a guild of undead killers who walk in shadows and must deliver on their contracts or forfeit their own lives. When Leena bests him by using one of her beasts, she ends up meeting Noc, leader of Cruor and an exile himself. She strikes a deal with him: her life for four magical beasts.
From there, she and Noc and three of his surprisingly winsome compatriots embark on a multipurpose quest — Leena needs to tame a mythical Myad to prove her worth to the Charmers Council; Noc bears a curse that he wants to remove. The journey is entrancing if episodic as Leena and her escorts travel through the realm, stopping periodically for a taming when she catches wind of a beast. (The book is marketed as “‘Assassin’s Creed’ meets ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,’” but it’s much more like dark Pokémon, and that isn’t a dig.)
Of course, at the same time, Noc and Leena are falling in love. The romance is decidedly the primary plot of the novel — it’s the only arc that gets fully resolved — though it feels a bit perfunctory next to Leena’s gleaming menagerie and the mysteries of Noc’s past and the Charmers’ future. But a bit of wonky balance can be forgiven in such a lush and sweeping swords-and-sorcery romance.
For a less fantastical setting for love, how about … the cutthroat back-room dealings of Silicon Valley? Or the joys of online dating? What if we add the neurological aftereffects of a career in the N.F.L. — are you swooning yet? Perhaps only in the masterful hands of Alisha Rai could this be a recipe for top-notch romance (not to mention the start of a new series).
In the forthcoming novel THE RIGHT SWIPE (Avon, paper, $14.99), Rhiannon Hunter is the C.E.O. of Crush, a dating app she founded after being forced out of Swype, a “dating app built around Hot-or-Not bro culture.” Since then, she’s been building her company (a tech firm with a staff that’s 80 percent women, btw) and protecting her heart, using her own app under a pseudonym for one-night stands.
For the last three months Rhiannon’s been haunted by one of those evenings. She thought she and her date had shared a real connection, but she never heard from him again. Then that date, a former N.F.L. linebacker named Samson Lima, appears at an industry conference. He turns out to be the new spokesman for Matchmaker, Crush’s old-school, compatibility questionnaire-based competition, which Rhiannon has her eye on to buy.