Deny thy father and refuse thy name. When I wrote my debut novel These Violent Delights, I wanted to hold onto that fundamental theme of tension and conflict. Some of the most captivating romances are those that are star-crossed, developing between two characters despite contrary circumstances. These are the stories about lovers choosing each other even when they have inherited a conflict that devastates both sides, even when they have sworn to be enemies, even when they must kill each other. After all, when it comes to love, what grander adversity is there to overcome than hate? Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite stories simply because it is the very touchstone tale that interrogates what it means to choose love when it would have been easier to choose hate.
These Violent Delights is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, about the heirs of two rival gangs forced to work together when a monster wreaks havoc across the city. And truly, what is more entertaining than two characters who should hate each other finding themselves yearning to love instead? The setting changes, the time period changes, but the star-crossed lovers who have inherited a generational hatred remain.
Allow me to present five books that perfectly capture the angst of star-crossed lovers.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
Roseanne A. Brown’s debut is a deftly-created fantasy world inspired by West African folklore, pitched as “What would happen if Aladdin and Jasmine had to kill each other?” Karina is a princess seeking a king’s heart to revive her dead mother. Malik is a refugee trying to save his sister by killing Karina. As the two collide through the Solstasia festival, their ultimate goals end with the other dead, but that doesn’t stop a romance from developing. Are you swooning yet? Because I’m swooning.
The Nemesis by S. J. Kincaid
This book is the final instalment in the trilogy that began with The Diabolic, and hands down, features my absolute favorite cutthroat couple in YA. Nemesis, a weapon engineered to kill, had fallen in love with Tyrus, heir to the galactic throne. In The Empress, Nemesis and Tyrus climbed to power despite the odds, only the ruling class plotted against their teenaged emperor, leading Tyrus to turn evil and kill Nemesis. But Nemesis has survived, and now, in true star-crossed fashion, sets out to kill the love of her life for the good of the empire. Romance! Death! What more could you want?
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow
In the near future of Alechia Dow’s debut, aliens have invaded Earth, banning books, music, and art to keep humanity in line and obedient. When Morris, a lab-engineered Ilori alien, solicits help from Ellie, a human, the two of them bond over creative expressions that could put the both of them at risk. But as they venture out on a cross-country road trip to save the world, they might just defy the conflict between the Ilori and humans to fall in love. And yes, it’s exactly as wholesome and wonderful as you would imagine, so get ready to feel feelings.
The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Flora is an orphan trying to survive aboard a pirate ship, having run away from a harsh life on the Known World colonies. Evelyn is an aristocrat passenger and an Imperial, en route to an arranged marriage. As they sail across the ever-watchful Sea, Flora and Evelyn are drawn to each other, despite being on opposite sides of a world devastated by colonialism and imperialism. Maggie Tokuda-Hall draws up such a complex world of magic and myths and I loved how lyrical and immersive it was.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
It wouldn’t be a list about star-crossed lovers without this book. There’s something strange and otherworldly about blue-haired Karou. She doesn’t know who she really is, until she meets Akiva, and unlocks their entire forgotten past together. Star-crossed lovers are all about the two sides of a conflict tearing two people apart, and the struggle is so good here. If you haven’t met Karou and Akiva yet, what are you waiting for?! Teen Chloe was so obsessed with this tale that she dyed her hair blue. (And yes, I did that only two years ago but my point still stands…)
Chloe Gong is a student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and international relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear when “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” is chanted into a mirror three times. You can find her on Twitter @TheChloeGong or check out her website.