The word “trope” has several definitions, but the one I’m focusing on in this series is “commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” So, things like “friends/enemies to lovers” or “secret billionaire” or “forced proximity.” I’ll be covering my likes, my dislikes, the ones that just make me shrug, and the reasons why they elicit that response. For clarity, I will say I got this idea from a YouTuber/author named Alexa Donne, but I’ll be focusing primarily on the romance and urban fantasy genres.
First off… a disclaimer! I’m not saying these tropes are bad (okay, one or two kinda are, but they’re not in this post), these are just my personal preferences. If you like something I dislike, and a lot of folks do, that’s okay! If you dislike something I love, again a lot of folks do, that’s also okay! If we all read/liked the same books, libraries would be small and boring.
So, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in with a like and a dislike.
Like: Fated Mates
Most commonly used in paranormal romance, I’ve loved the fated mates trope since I read the Elfquest comic books as a kid. I think the idea that there’s a perfect person for everyone if only you could find them is both intriguing and heartbreaking. Intriguing because… what if your mate proved to be a jerk? What if they’ve married someone else and are happy with their spouse (I’ve actually seen this one covered)? Heartbreaking because life isn’t all sunshine and roses. People die too soon. They turn down that job offer across the country (where their mate lives) due to personal or financial reasons. I’d think if fated mates were a reality, there are a lot of unmated people out there.
One objection to the trope that’s popped up more often in the past few years is the lack of agency of the couple. Since they didn’t choose this person, it doesn’t feel like a healthy relationship. While I’ve seen the trope abussed in this way in some DubCon books I’ve noped out of, most of the time the couple have to each accept the bond in some way or it won’t “take.” That returns the control back to the couple.
I’ve also read that those who don’t like the trope feel it makes the HEA unearned, and I get that. Maybe they prefer a slow burn, or it takes all the mystery out of the relationship, but I’ve yet to read a fated mates book where the couple didn’t have to overcome a lot of obstacles to reach their happy ending. Some are internal, like past trauma, opposing species (in shifter books), religious beliefs, or family situations. Others are external, like war, job changes/relocation, or financial differences. Below are a few of my favorite books featuring fated mates.
Alpha Night by Nalini Singh – Part of the Psy/Changeling series of paranormal romance books, Alpha Night has an instant bonding of wolf alpha Selenka Duryev and psy Arrow Ethan Night… but that’s just the beginning (literally, I think it was in the first 2 chapters lol). I can’t say too much for fear of giving away major portions of the plot, but they had to fight and fight hard for their HEA. Outside events, their own demons, and their obligations to their pack/organization all conspire to keep the two apart. It’s exhausting and beautiful and very much Nalini Singh at her best.
Fair Game by Patricia Briggs – Second in the Alpha & Omega series, a spin off of her very popular Mercy Thompson series. A novella introduced Charles Cornick and Anna Latham to the readers and to each other and it was mating at first sight. Fair Game is the second full length novel in the series and the couple are still finding their footing with each other. Anna was severely abused by her first pack and the scars linger. Charles was never meant to be a killer, but that’s what his pack needs him to be. Add in the fey, magic, bigotry, and a mystery involving children, the one thing werewolves in this world can’t have, and it makes for a very tense story. I adore this series more than the Mercy Thompson ones, and this is my favorite of them all.
Wolves of Sorrow: Shoba by Elaina Roberts – Hey, if I can’t plug my own book on my own site, where can I plug it? Yes, Shoba and Vaistu are fated mates. Yes, they’ll have their issues before they reach their happy ending. Her pack, his crew, her past, and his position all try to keep them apart. But Rifaniir are ambush predators, and Vaistu vows to claim the dangerous wolf as his own.
Dislike: Accidental Pregnancy/Secret Baby/Suddenly Parents
I know I’m in the minority, but I’m just not a fan of children in romance novels (or movies or in reality if I’m completely honest). I’ve read toddlers and children of around 4-5 years old written as so super-sweet it gave me cavities. I’ve read books with kids who were 7 going on Life Without Parole because they were absolute brats that made me ragey. Teens are hit or miss. Far too many suffer from Fatally Stupid Contrariness. Newsflash folks! Not all teens are jerks who go into dangerous situations just because an adult told them not to. I realize parents stop knowing anything once a teen reaches puberty, but (anecdote ahead!) my teen was pretty chill. If I told her not to go into the dark woods because there were monsters, the same monster that ate her best friend, I can pretty much guarantee she’d be all “You don\’t have to tell me twice, mom.” She would not have stomped off into the woods with little more than a stick and her cell phone battery at 5%.
But at the top of the list of this huge pile of Nope Kids is secret/accidental pregnancies and babies. Birth Control is a thing, y’all, unless the book is a historical romance. Yes, I know things fail – the pill is rarely taken correctly, condoms tear, medicinal interactions, etc – and Plan B, the so-called ‘morning after’ pill, is controversial, but pregnancy (to me) isn’t a romantic state and babies shouldn’t be a plot device to hook a man. If he stealthed her, he ain’t a hero worth fighting to have. If she lied about her birth control, she ain’t a heroine worth keeping. If it was really an oops, how many non-married people are really and truly happy about that sort of thing? Not a whole lot. And beyond the Oops! moment is the actual affects of being pregnant. The last thing I want in my steamy romance book is the hero taking his lover into his arms, carrying her to the bed, gently laying her down…. and bringing her a bucket because she’s got an onset of morning sickness.
I’ve been pregnant. I waddled, y’all. I ached all the damn time when I wasn’t puking up my guts. I looked like I’d swallowed a blimp to the point my husband made whale noises any time I got near a body of water, and Greenpeace tried to return me to the sea. My back hurt, my hormones were all over the place, and then I spat out a seven pound screaming demon who gripped my collar in her fist, looked me in the eye, and informed me that sleep was for the weak. I felt a whole lot of things, but sexy was not in the top 1000 list for a long, looonnngggg time.
So, no. Not a fan of secret pregnancy/baby for these and a whole host of other reasons. If that’s your jam, more power to you. May the infants always be cute, sweet, and never colicy, and may the parents have good health insurance.
I’ll be back next month (I hope…I keep forgetting about this site) to tackle another pair of tropes. See ya then!