Trope Review: Enemies to Lovers
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
The enemies to lovers trope has been growing in recent years in literature, and it’s a very powerful tool and an interesting way of looking at romance. One of the reasons why it is so powerful and dynamic is because it shines a light on a very different view of relationships. So often in books have we seen a character take one look at another and say to themselves, "that's the one. There’s no-one else." Yeah... sure. Except in books that's often the way it turns out—unless your sadistic author kills them all off.
But that's something we never hear in today's times. It may have been sweet and all back in the age of our grandparents, but a modern reader would take one look at that and throw up in their mouth. It comes off as a fixated and stalkerish type of infatuation that we don't want to be around.
Enter the enemies to lovers trope. What is it, you ask? Essentially, there are two forms; enemies to lovers, and the longer one, enemies to friends to lovers. It describes how two characters upon first meeting have a mutual dislike of each other, but near the end of the relationship arc have a strong and well-founded romantic relationship.
The only difference between E/L and E/F/L is the time taken. Obviously in the latter we see the characters existing in a comfortable friendship... then being more comfortable. Before we begin, I must clarify that enemies doesn't mean antagonists. They don’t vehemently hate each other. That is a whole different trope that I’m not touching with a pole.
When we start reading/watching characters meet and dislike each other, we see verbal barbs, snark, disagreement but the clash of personalities is, when done well, made entertaining. It is a humour which we always appreciate, and find very engaging. A strong example of this is Celaena Sardothien and Rowan Whitethorn in Sarah J. Maas’ Heir of Fire. When they meet, there is immediate tension, and we see constant anger and disagreement, but the snark continues. And though they do more Enemies/Friends/Lovers than Enemies/Lovers, that banter becomes a staple of their relationship.
Secondly, it builds frustration, as the reader can immediately see these two are perfect for each other. But they don’t, they just keep clashing, and even if there is a growing respect, even if these characters are realising they need each other, they won’t admit it. Something is blocking them from making that adjustment. And that is perhaps one of my favourite parts of the trope. It forces the characters to grow. The fatal flaw of the character, while normally part of the main change arc, is linked not just to the main plot, but also the romantic subplot. I just finished wrecking my soul with Six of Crows and I am hoping against hope that the sequel is in stock when the shops reopen tomorrow. Six of Crows has at least two different relationships here to discuss (and bear in mind I haven’t read Crooked Kingdom yet).
The frustration builds with, in particular, the Kaz/Inej dynamic. Kaz’s relationship with Inej is so deeply connected with his two fatal flaws: greed and his trauma. It is both which prevents him from getting close to her, even though he clearly would do anything to protect her and relies on her. Likewise, Inej seems so wary of making a move, so paralysed with that fear that came out of her past, that she doesn’t move either. Likewise, Nina’s and Matthias’s wildly unstable “Ideological Enemies—>Friends—>Personal Enemies—>Lovers” arc is deeply connected to their personal Grisha and Fjerdan identities that it challenges them to recognise each other’s humanity.
Thirdly, it allows for a nice, stable character arc and a drawn-out relationship. They see each other as rivals, or people who just don't get along, but eventually fall in love. This causes internal growth and change within the characters, something appreciated by every reader, (and a necessity for a decent story. It also stops the creation of instant-romances, which I will politely tell to jump off a cliff. Since this trope isn’t “I hate you, let's bang,” there isn't a great deal of immediate action. Instead, they let the tension build. This engages the reader even more and elevates the need to keep turning the page. Speaking of tension, there is so much between these characters. And I love it. As do many, I'm sure. As I have said, but really I can't say enough, instant-romances are not cool. The tension is even better when another character just notices and chooses either to wink or make a passing comment, and at least one blushes. Because yeah, they don't like each other, but damn, they're still hot.
But once the relationships reach an established point, there is no guarantee it gets all mushy. It might, but it also often retains the kind of snark that was obvious when they first met. After all, that is what made the character’s dynamic enjoyable.
This trope keeps the relationship and characters fresh and enjoyable. We can see the characters at their worst and at their best. And that is perhaps one of the best ways to get a full rounded view of a character.
That's it for today! Feel free to nose around my blog and website, hope you enjoy your stay. If you have a trope you’d like me to break down, a book recommendation, or just want to chat, you can contact me on Facebook at steventhielewriter, or tweet me at @sr_thiele.
See you next week!