After introducing you to the gloriously quirky world of BookTok and BookTube, I felt that I may have potentially overwhelmed you with choice now. Based on all the book recommendations that usually fly across my TikTok and YouTube feed, I figured any newbie to book content on social media may feel a little lost as to where to start.
So, in order to help kickstart your journey into the wonderful world of epic fantasy romances and young adult adventure stories mostly involving a precocious, badass female main character, I have picked five top recommendations from my social media feed on BookTok and BookTube. After reading my way through most of these (some are a series, and I didn’t go past the first or second book), I feel I am able to give you an honest rating, including a separate estimate of the spice/smut levels in each book (inspired by BookToker Meemoreads). I am also keeping this as spoiler-free as possible, so my plot summaries remain vague!
To help kickstart your journey into the wonderful world of epic fantasy romances, here’s my honest rating of the five top recommendations from BookTok and BookTube.
From Blood and Ash Series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Be forewarned—this is an ongoing series with a planned total of six books, and the third book in the series, A Crown of Gilded Thorns, only just launched. This is fantasy romance for adults, so there is plenty of spice mixed in pretty much right from the start. I also really appreciated the world-building in this, since many romance novels with a fantasy background kind of focus too much on the spice and too little on making their world and lore make sense. It feels like Armentrout really knows where she is going with her story, slowly and patiently building a pretty dramatic plot filled with surprise twists and turns.
Hawke, the love interest, is a pretty well-rounded male character that doesn’t feel too “alpha,” and I appreciated his open adoration for the heroine’s talents and wit. The relationship between the two felt like one of equal partners, despite the appallingly large age gap so common in fantasy stories. There isn’t much diversity overall in the series so far, with most of the characters white/”tanned” and straight, though one side character reads to me as potentially being queer-coded, so we will see. I did absolutely love and appreciate that Armentrout makes it very clear that her main character Poppy is not skinny, and how much Hawke appreciates her fuller figure.
- Genre: fantasy romance
- Overall rating: 4/5
- Spice level: 3.5/5 (it gets spicier in the second book!)
A Court of Thorns and Roses Series by Sarah J. Maas
Few books have conquered both BookTok and BookTube communities as successfully as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, usually lovingly referred to as ACOTAR. After reading the first two books in the trilogy (which has a few spin-off novels featuring some of the same characters coming out), I can absolutely see why this series is so popular. Maas is known for her elaborate, romantic fantasy romances that hover on the young to new adult genre cusp, and she really knows how to tell a lush, fairytale-inspired love story with an “insert yourself into the story” style main character. In the case of ACOTAR, the heroine is mortal human girl Feyre, caught up in a Beauty and the Beast-inspired plot featuring fairies and all sorts of mythical monsters.
I feel conflicted about this book series, to be honest, and am still not sure if I will finish the third book. Apart from ticking off every genre trope imaginable, I also got tired of everyone being stunningly beautiful and perfectly built. It was a bit too much perfection for my taste, and I longed for at least a hint of grit in all the glitter and glamor. There is also a decisive lack of diversity throughout the novels, and this seems to be a general problem with most of Maas’s books from what I have heard. So, ACOTAR is a bit of a mixed bag, but if you need a few hours of pure escapism and mid-level spice sprinkled in throughout, then it’s a fun read overall!
- Genre: new adult fantasy romance
- Overall rating: 3/5
- Spice level: 2/5 (the spicy scenes were not all that—fight me, BookTok!)
Air Awakens Series by Elise Kova
This five-book young adult fantasy series isn’t as widely popular on BookTube yet as some of the other books mentioned here. I actually noticed it first on BookTok, where the author herself gave a grateful shoutout to BookTokers recommending her books and boosting her Amazon sales unexpectedly. The power of book influencers is truly astonishing! I myself downloaded the whole series as an audiobook instantly after hearing one BookToker describe it as “like ACOTAR but the heroine is actually likeable.” And truly, the main character Vhalla is such a delightfully well-written teenage heroine—strong, intelligent, but not cringingly “badass.”
I would also add that the darkly handsome love interest appealed far more to me than the fairy man candy from ACOTAR. The author does such a fine job showing him with all his flaws, slowly unlearning toxic and problematic behaviors. Both Armentrout and Maas have a tendency to tell (read: info dump) instead of show us why the male love interests should be worth our (or the heroine’s) time at all, but in Air Awakens, the romance plot is woven so beautifully and patiently that I really felt myself falling for the “dark prince” alongside our girl Vhalla. This is a young adult series, so the spice is minimal, but I personally almost preferred this slow burn style romance to some of the smutty scenes I’ve read in the other books. Also, the series features a very diverse range of characters!
- Genre: young adult fantasy
- Overall rating: 4.5/5
- Spice rating: 0.5/5 (but the swoon rating is off the charts!)
Grishaverse Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Thanks to the super successful Netflix adaptation of these books, the Grishaverse trilogy is all over my TikTok feed. The show is actually a mash-up of two popular series from the author, both set in the same steampunk fantasy world. Well, technically, the first season is a mash-up of the first Grishaverse book Shadow and Bone and a show-exclusive prequel to the Six of Crows series. Bardugo mainly writes for a young adult audience, though it gets pretty dark in tone and theme in both book series.
I haven’t read the Six of Crows series and have heard that it is superior in terms of writing and character building, so I may tackle those books next. Shadow and Bone does feature some slightly exasperating characters, and I struggled to feel anything for the main character Alina and her trusty childhood friend Mal until the end of the book. This, as well as the diversity of the characters’ backgrounds, is actually much improved in the show. The main reason I really enjoyed the Grishaverse trilogy is the world building, which is so rich and interesting with its mix of steampunk, Slavic folklore, and magic lore. We also get one of the most compelling and complex villains I’ve ever seen in a fantasy book, plus some wonderful side characters who I often found more interesting than the heroine. Romance is not the central focus of the novels, so if you want smut, you will be disappointed, though there is a bit of steam here and there.
- Genre: young adult steampunk fantasy
- Overall rating: 4/5
- Spice rating: 1.5/5 (all thanks to the Darkling if you ask me)
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
Oh boy, this one. I really didn’t click with this fantasy novel at all and honestly still haven’t brought myself to finish it. Which is strange because the medieval France inspired fantasy setting featuring powerful witches and fanatical witch hunters called Chasseurs should be right up my alley. The story centers around a young witch who, through some wildly constructed circumstances, gets forced to marry her archenemy, one of the aforementioned hunters. You know the drill, enemies to lovers is the main theme here, and again, it usually is a romance trope I enjoy. But for me the romance here just didn’t sizzle enough, with both characters somewhat bland in my eyes.
I liked the world-building in this, but couldn’t get over the clunky prose and slightly cringey scenes between the forced couple. The one thing I appreciated was that the main character is written as a complex, smart woman, who was allowed to stay independent and pretty self-sufficient throughout. But otherwise, the romance just missed real sparks, plus the promising medieval setting with its church versus witches conflict was underdeveloped and mostly clichéd in my eyes. This is a trilogy, with book three in the series coming out in July—I will not continue reading though, sorry!
- Genre: fantasy romance
- Overall rating: 1.5/5
- Spice rating: 2/5 (and I am being generous here)