Romances are Having A Moment. Well, they’ve been having a moment all through the pandemic, as we turn to more cheerful fare in a bleak world, and yearn for connection more than ever. We don’t cover much in the way of romance on this site, but there were so many good new and upcoming novels combining romance with crime or gothic fiction that I had to do a roundup. In the following books, a woman starts a romance with Death, spies fall in love, queer romance blossoms during an investigation, con artists find attraction in mutual admiration, and Victorian ladies speculate wildly about Frankenstein’s penis.
Sally Thorne, Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match
Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match is an historical rom-com with monsters—a “mon-com”, if you will—and an extremely funny one at that. Angelika Frankenstein, frustrated in love and facing a future as a spinster aunt to her brother Victor’s children, decides to assemble the perfect man from a panoply of recently deceased parts, including the handsomest face (and the second-largest penis) in the morgue. While her new husband’s body makes it clear he’s attracted to her, Angelika’s monster is just too much of a gentleman to act on his desires, and Angelika is getting rather frustrated indeed…
B. R. Myers, A Dreadful Splendor
A wealthy lord’s fiance commits suicide on the eve of their wedding, and a con artist masquerading as a spiritualist is hired to assure him that the bride-to-be’s death was at her own hand. The lord is convinced otherwise, however, and gets the spiritualist to agree to a new plan: perform a seance so convincing as to elicit a confession from the murderer. Of course, sparks must fly between the bereaved aristocrat and the feisty lumpenproletariat, as their shared secret brings them ever closer.
Adalyn Grace, Belladonna
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
In the 19th century, a young woman who can’t seem to die falls in love with her lifelong protector—death himself—as they work together to solve a murder. I don’t see how you could need anything more than the previous sentence to want to read this book.
Alicia Thompson, Love in the Time of Serial Killers
The premise of this one is simple: a woman obsessed with true crime podcasts meets a handsome and charming man. Is he a serial killer? Or has she finally, at long last, met someone she can trust?
Chloe Gong, Foul Lady Fortune
(Margaret K. McElderry Books)
This historical fiction YA is set in 1931 Shanghai and features two pairs of spies—one nationalist, the other communist—as they go deep undercover and try to prevent the coming Japanese invasion. Chloe Gong adds in magic, romance, and supernatural killings for one of the best cross-genre works I’ve read. A fast-paced, tightly-plotted delight of an espionage novel.
C.L. Polk, Even Though I Knew the End
A supernatural detective who communes with the dead and mingles with the monstrous stars in this stylish noir. Polk’s heroine has echoes of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake (but, like, the queer Anita Blake we always wanted), as she sets out to track down the White City Vampire, a serial killer stalking Chicago’s streets. She doesn’t want the job, but if she succeeds, she’ll get a chance to spend the rest of her days with her great love, instead of suffering eternity in hell as consequence of a doomed magical bargain. The setting is historical, although when exactly is up for debate—think “Guys and Dolls”-era but a little bit earlier and also sapphic horror, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from this pulptastic novella.
Philip Ellis, Love and Other Scams
(Putnam, March 2023)
Nothing brings two people together quite like desperation and a get-rich-quick scheme (I’m really hoping there’s some fan fiction that gets this going with The Sting). In Philip Ellis’ utterly charming new novel, coming out next March, a down-on-her-luck graphic designer with a passion for pick-pocketing teams up with a handsome bartender with his own skills at purloining valuable objects after they discover a once-in-a-lifetime chance to steal an enormous diamond.
India Holton, The Secret Service of Tea and Treason
In this Victorian steampunk adventure, pirates use magic to fly houses, upper class ladies are organized in secret, rival covens, and the government’s secret service is made up of servants trained in magic and espionage. Two of these servants-cum-spies are ordered to work together to steal a dangerous weapon from a country manor house during, of course, a large ball, and sparks soon fly between the debonair butler and the amusingly literal-minded ladies maid.
Jas Hammonds, We Deserve Monuments
(Roaring Brook Press)
Jas Hammonds’ new book is stunning, and makes for essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the generational trauma of racist violence in the South. Queer biracial teen Avery has to move from busy DC to a small Southern town when her grandmother gets sick, and she doesn’t have much time to build a relationship with her ailing relative. Avery and her ailing relative begin to bond, but Avery’s not sure if she wants to know all the town’s secrets. But learn them she will, even with a budding romance with the girl next door to distract her.