Today I am so pleased to welcome Lana Harper to Joyfully Jay. Lana has come to talk to us about her latest release, From Bad to Cursed. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
As a lifelong genre-reader with a special weakness for literary, genre-bending stories like Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Meet Me in Another Life by Caitriona Silvey, and The Magicians by Lev Grossman, I’m also always on the lookout for gorgeous, intricate SF&F that also enthusiastically incorporates sex. I’m an ardent non-believer in the fade-to-black scene, because why shouldn’t speculative fiction celebrate the sexy moments, too? To me, this exclusion occasionally feels like a deliberate choice (and maybe even a value judgment), one that indicates that sex is somehow less worthwhile than other human experiences. This was why I chose to have open-door sex scenes (and quite a few of them!) in both Payback’s a Witch and From Bad to Cursed.
Of course, I also read plenty of fantastic books that skip the steam entirely—it’s not mandatory! But in the event that you’re also looking for a spicy read set against a fascinating alternative world, here are some of my favorites:
The Kushiel Cycle series by Jacqueline Carey (especially the Phedre Trilogy, though the Imriel Trilogy is also fabulous.)
These books are so creatively sexy it’s downright incendiary. For bonus points, I think this was also the first time I’d come across any kink representation set against such an immersive and beautiful world—courtesan, spy, and anguissette Phedre no Delaunay de Montreve lives in Terre d’Ange, an alternative version of medieval France populated by the (impossibly hot) descendants of angels—and it entirely rocked my world. So many beautiful people wearing excellent fashion, so much court intrigue, and so. Much. Spice. It’s also extremely queer-friendly, and I am 1,000% talking about Phedre and femme fatale/gorgeous villainess Melisandre Shahrizai here. (IYKYK.) I’ve never found anything else remotely like these books, and I cannot wait for Jacqueline Carey’s next one.
While there’s a good amount of urban fantasy that does include sex scenes, I was particularly thrilled to find them here. Harry Dresden is my favorite wizard-for-hire, especially now that I live in Chicago and recognize many of the neighborhoods and landmarks from the books. Blood Rites and White Knight in particular feature some awesome spice, though this entire series is built around such a compelling character arc and wonderfully exciting magical plots that all the books are well worth the read.
This is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s charming, lyrical, and just utterly gorgeous. I love everything Naomi Novik writes, but this lovely Eastern-European-inspired fantasy about a girl chosen to serve the Dragon—the surly, reclusive local wizard who lives in a sinister tower but is also responsible for keeping a malevolent and encroaching forest from consuming the local villages—is particularly special to me. There’s also so much simmering sexual tension between Agnieszka and the (admittedly very curmudgeonly) Dragon that I was especially happy to see the author choose not to fade to black here.
Thanks to the show, I think we’re all well aware of how steamy this iconic time-travel historical romance series is, but in my opinion, the books are even better. Claire and Jamie Fraser will forever be #couplegoals—even though I’m well aware that I have no useful skills with which to navigate 18th century Scotland/Europe/America, and would very likely die horribly before I ever met my soulmate Highlander–and I love that we get to see them age together while keeping that spark very much alive.
I have a hard time doing justice to this literary sci-fi masterpiece, because it contains so many beautifully executed elements. Three intertwined plotlines follow ancient Mayan twins at the decline of their civilization, a contemporary Mayan girl traveling to Belize to visit the sacred caves and reach the mythical underworld of Xibalba, and a far-future, high-tech, and nomadic Utopian society in which every individual is free to set their own gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic identity. Along with being absolutely brilliant, this book also offers plenty of highly compelling and fascinating sex—not the adjectives I’d normally use—that somehow also manages to advance the plot.
Opposites attract in this wickedly charming rom-com by Lana Harper, author of Payback’s a Witch.
Wild child Isidora Avramov is a thrill chaser, adept demon summoner, and—despite the whole sexy-evil-sorceress vibe—also a cuddly animal lover. When she’s not designing costumes and new storylines for the Arcane Emporium’s haunted house, Issa’s nursing a secret, conflicted dream of ditching her family’s witchy business to become an indie fashion designer in her own right.
But when someone starts sabotaging the celebrations leading up to this year’s Beltane festival with dark, dangerous magic, a member of the rival Thorn family gets badly hurt—throwing immediate suspicion on the Avramovs. To clear the Avramov name and step up for her family when they need her the most, Issa agrees to serve as a co-investigator, helping none other than Rowan Thorn get to the bottom of things.
Rowan is the very definition of lawful good, so tragically noble and by-the-book he makes Issa’s teeth hurt. In accordance with their families’ complicated history, he and Issa have been archenemies for years and have grown to heartily loathe each other. But as the unlikely duo follow a perplexing trail of clues to a stunning conclusion, Issa and Rowan discover how little they really know each other… and stumble upon a maddening attraction that becomes harder to ignore by the day.
Lana Harper is the author of four YA novels about modern-day witches and historical murderesses. Born in Serbia, she grew up in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria before moving to the US, where she studied psychology and literature at Yale University, law at Boston University, and publishing at Emerson College. She recently moved to Chicago with her family.