It’s December and time for another look at two of the tropes found in romance and/or urban fantasy. I’ll give one I love, one I don’t, and this month I added one which I feel is tricky or problematic. Links are provided for my favorites in case they appeal to anyone else.
Standard disclaimer! I’m not saying these tropes are bad or the books which contain them are bad. Very few tropes fall on either side of an absolute like that. Some are hard lines for me as a reader and writer, but that line moves for every person. 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.
Like: Enemies to Lovers
Ah, the classic romance trope. “Meet – loathe – fight – kiss.” I think every single Harlequin romance I devoured as a teen followed this pattern. The passion! The suspense! The ‘Just fucking kiss already!’ Yup, I do appreciate a good enemies to lovers tale.
I’ve seen a lot of these books force the couple to look past their antagonism by way of the “Forced Proximity” trope—snowed-in cabin, broken-down vehicle, anything which makes the pair realize they’re not fighting because they don’t like each other, they’re fighting because they do. Then the fun begins!
Here are a few of my favorites. What would you recommend?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have to start with the classic enemies to lovers. Mr. Darcy and his pride. Elizabeth Bennet with her prejudices. They dance! They snark! They kiss! The book is lovely, the 1995 BBC production is amazing, and the couple is just *chef’s kiss.*
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost. The beginning of Cat and Bones, half-vampire vampire killer and her potential vampire victim turns vampire lover. I wasn’t fully enamored with this series like most, but this first book was lovely. Arguments and reluctant cooperation, sparks flying, and an awesome audiobook narrator roped me in and set me up for a fun series. Unfortunately, the series fell flat later on, but I highly recommend the first few!
Master of Crows by Grace Draven. Silhara of Neith is such a glorious bastard. A powerful sorcerer, the god Corruption is trying to seduce him with promises of power if he’d just do one teensy favor: give the god access to his mind. The local mage-priests’ organization, the Conclave, thinks he’s not adverse to such a thing and sends an apprentice, Martise of Asher, to help, and spy on, him. Of course they fall in love, and of course they defeat Corruption, and of course everything Grace Draven touches is amazing. So get this one!
Dislike: Surprise Baby
Unpopular opinion here. I don’t like kids in most media. Yeah, I know kids exist, I have one, but kids in media are often caricatures of living breathing children. There’s the insanely cute, completely well-behaved, and utterly twee toddlers complete with lisp and babyish words for everything. These kids never disobey, never sulk, never throw tantrums. They’re animatronic dolls that talk. On the flipside are the teens. Most teens in books/movies are rebels just because, lash out for… reasons, and would argue with a signpost. Yes, teens are finding their way and asserting their own personalities, but they aren’t all assholes who’d walk to their friend’s house after dark during a zombie apocalypse just because their mom said not to.
That being said, kids shouldn’t be plot devices or the glue which holds a relationship together. It doesn’t work in the real world, and it shouldn’t work in romance novels. The one-night-stand baby whom the hero finds out about later doesn’t bother me. FMC did the best she could with the situation she was in but didn’t push where she wasn’t wanted. Hoping the kid will tie your love interest to you is just setting the FMC up for a Happy For Now with marital issues in her future.
Then there’s Urban Fantasy and all its baby-related issues. When the heroine knowingly does dangerous stuff, often driving the hero to distraction for putting themselves in bad situations over and over again, I begin to question if she’s fit to be a mother or the hero’s special someone. I had a series I loved… until the main character got pregnant and didn’t stop doing really stupid, really dangerous stuff to the point she was sneaking out/lying to her lover to do it. Needless to say, I didn’t finish that series.
So… surprise baby. Love it? Hate it? Let me know!
Problematic: Master/Slave Romance
There are very, very few ways that a master/slave romance can work. The best option is in the BDSM connotation where it’s a fully consensual, mutually beneficial arrangement between both parties. No one is getting taken advantage of, no one is being dehumanized. It’s a kinky itch they’ve found someone to scratch. Hurrah, you do you, boo.
The second option is trickier. That’s when there is actual slavery, but the master is reluctant/forced into the arrangement. In a fantasy setting, slaves given as gifts from one ruler to another might be a common practice, and a refusal could cause diplomatic tensions. Full disclosure, I have this trope in use in an upcoming novel, so maybe I’m justifying the situation to myself a little here. I did have the ‘master’ in this example immediately work to free the slave (there are complications because of course there are!), because he has an abhorrence of practice.
The last is one of my hard lines: historical slavery settings in the United States. If you want me to yeet a book straight into the sun, set it in the antebellum south with a white master/black slave and call it a romance. Oh. Hell. No. There’s no redeeming that power dynamic.
And that wraps up the Tropes for me! I hope you all enjoyed my take on Romance/Urban Fantasy tropes and the recommendations of some of my favorites. I’ll kick off another series next month. Happy New Year! Let’s hope this one doesn’t suck as bad as the last two.