First, let me just admit up front that I am a late-comer to paranormal romance and urban fantasy. While I’m at it, I will add that I am not easily pleased in either genre. I need strong, complex, consistent world building; I have spent many years reading and loving epic fantasy, so my standards in this are pretty high. I have a difficult time envisioning either were-creatures or the undead as suitable partners for humans in romance, although some authors have made one or the other work for me. Consequently, my early forays into reading paranormal romance were pretty disappointing, and the only urban fantasy books that I really enjoyed were those by Charles de Lint.
Fortunately for me, many romance readers are cross-genre readers, and I have gotten some recommendations from people who like the same historical and contemporary romances that I do, as well as from other readers of scfi-fi and fantasy. I still realize that I’m pickier than a lot of readers in these sub-genres, but I have found some authors whose books I love, and whose next work I long for.
The books that first cracked my shell in this area were the Touch Of books by Cathy Clamp and CT Adams. I recommend these quite highly for consistent world building and strong romance. (I attended a panel at RomCon that included Cathy Clamp. She is terrific.) Then came Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series; I enjoyed the first five or six of those before taking a break/coming up for air. Shana Abe was another early winner for me, but her books were easier because there were no animals or vampires in romances with humans; they were like some of my favorite fantasy writers’ books (Patricia McKillip comes to mind), just shelved in romance.
Ann Aguirre was another fairly easy cross-over for me. Her science fiction romances featuring Sarantha Jax are solid, and her urban fantasy books Blue Diablo and Hell Fire are superb. The humans pretty much hook up with each other, although many of them have paranormal abilities, so they weren’t at all difficult for me. They are amazing books, as are her Skin books, written as Ava Gray.
Then came Carolyn Jewel. Carolyn is the author of some very fine historical romance novels, including Scandal, her 2009 RITA-nominated Regency romance. She is also a personal friend, which came about because she caught me raving about Scandal in an online discussion and realized from my screen name that I lived nearby. When I learned that my new friend wrote paranormal romance, I figured that I should try reading it, and I got hooked. My Wicked Enemy is about a DEMON mating with a human, but I found that once again, strong writing and consistent interesting world building overcame my bias. (My Forbidden Desire was also nominated for a RITA, and My Immortal Assassin comes out in January 2011. Loved them both. /plug)
Other writers who have met my personal standard for a combination of good writing, strong world building and believable romance include Meljean Brook in her Guardian series, Nalini Singh in her Archangel and Psy-Changeling books, and Patricia Briggs’ novella “Alpha and Omega.” (Yes, I know I’m very late to the party on this one.) I also recently read Ilona Andrews for the first time, so I have some fine back list books to add to the TBR mountain.
So if, like me, you are primarily a reader of historical and contemporary romance OR primarily a reader of fantasy, these authors might work for you, too. Others, such as the amazing Carolyn Crane (Mind Games and soon Double Cross), Margaret Ronald (Spiral Hunt and Wild Hunt so far) and Gail Carriger (Soulless, Changeless, and soon Blameless) are listed/shelved under fantasy, but they have strong appeal as romances.
I’m sure there are authors I’ve failed to recall, since I’ve gone back and edited this post several times already for that very reason, and there are probably others I should know about but don’t. That’s what comments on blogs are for, right?