Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group hosted by Lainey from Ginger Reads Lainey and Samantha from Thoughts on Tomes. Every Wednesday of the month, readers and bloggers present their Top 5 Wednesday choices for a specific topic. Today’s book is Books Without Romance which immediately spoke to me. One of my pet peeves is when the romantic subplots completely take over the storylines, more so in fantasy but also in contemporary reads. I love romance, I love relationships, and I love shipping two characters who are attracted to each other, but that’s just not everything there is to literature, isn’t it? Finding books with absolutely no romance was difficult but I believe I’ve found a set of five books that feature fairly little and neglectable romantic subplots. If you have any recommendations for similar books, please let me know in the comments!
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Vicious is the story of two friends who seek the secret to developping supernatural abilities in a research project in senior year. When their thesis moves from theory to experiment, things go awry and destroys their friendship. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison to hunt down his formerly best friend and now archnemesis. In this dark and brilliant novel, there was no space for a romantic subplot. Vicious focuses entirely on rivalry, betrayal, and the blurry line between good and evil. If you’re looking for a gripping read in which two anti-heroes have a go at each other without any romantic distractions, you should definitely pick up Vicious!
Half A King by Joe Abercrombie
For those of you who wish to read a very conventional fantasy – starring princes and kings, warriors and slaves, wars and conspiracies – without a lackluster romance to cheapen its dark glory, Half A King is the book for you. The story follows Yarvi – a prince with a birth defect that left him with a crippled hand, unable to properly engage in warfare – on his quest to reclaim his throne. Betrayed, discarded, and left for dead, Yarvi is accompanied by a strange group of outcasts on his way home, on which he must survive cruelty, hunger, and the bitter cold of winter. The few sparks of romance, if one can even call them that, are quickly extinguished by the harshness of the world. This epic fantasy paints a more realistic picture of survival in the wilds: No cuddling or kissing while starving to death but the threat of being gutted in your sleep to become someone else’s meal.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
If you thought the romance in The Wrath and the Dawn was too cheesy but you really like re-imaginings of The Arabian Nights, then A Thousand Nights might be the better choice. This beautiful book does indeed tell a tale about love, but not a romantic one between a storyteller and a murderous king. Rather, A Thousand Nights is a testimony to sisterhood. Though Johnston cannot excite with a fast pacing or a sizzling romance, she weaves a mesmerizing tale with enchanting world-building, bringing the Middle Eastern-inspired setting to life like few other Western authors I’ve seen. The story evolves about the strength of love, the magic in belief, the virtue of storytelling, and the power of women. If you’re looking for a sweeping romance in which the girl falls in love with a cruel king who kills off his wives, then I’d turn to the aforementioned The Wrath and the Dawn (FYI: I’m not trashing this novel, I loved it, but it’s not for everyone). But if you want the glory of a dark, magical story, then read this book instead!
The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Another book inspired by Middle Eastern folklore, because you can never get enough of those, but coming from a very different angle. Chava, a golem made by a rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic, and Ahmad, a jinni freed from his lamp, meet by chance in the city that never sleeps in 1899. The Golem and the Djinni lies somewhere between historical fiction and urban fantasy, so let’s call it a historical urban fantasy. This is a story of solitude, belonging, and friendship. Yes, friendship. Chava and Ahmad seek each other’s company, not due to some inexplicable force of attraction, but rather because they are two lonesome mythological creatures lost in the Big Apple. Though it is alluded to that they might have/commence a relationship towards the end, there is barely a spark of romance, neither physically nor emotionally. At best, it is a very snail-paced ‘slow burn’. The Golem and the Djinni is one of the underrated reads I like to push on people, so here we are: I’m pushing it on you. This book will lead you through a story of troubled souls, bright city lights, and dark magic.
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The False Prince is another underrated read and perhaps the one that contains the most romance out of these five, though stil remarkably little. In a kingdom on the brink of war, a nobleman devises a plan to find a boy matching the description of the long-lost crown prince and install him on the throne as his puppet. One of the recruited orphans is Sage, and these people got more than they bargained for. Sage is feisty and cunning yet kind-hearted. This utterly character-driven novel hooked me with its brilliant conspiracies, interpersonal wars, and its final twist. Though our dear boy Sage does set his eye on a girl, his eyes are foremost set on the goal of beating his rivals and becoming a prince. The False Prince involves the princely version of a beauty pageant with four lowly, orphaned boys who will fight mean and dirty to get their prize.
So, that’s it – these were my top 5 books without (with little to no) romance! I hope you enjoyed this post and discovered some new reads for times when you can’t stand the fluff, rainbows, and unicorns. If you have any recommendations of your own regarding romance-less books, then please feel free to write the titles down in the comments! I do like romance in books but I also very much enjoy them without characters swooning over each other, so I’d be keen to hear from you! 🙂