Ah, enemies to lovers. Only the most natural romantic arc in the history of romantic arcs. There’s nothing quite like wanting to kill—I mean kiss—the person you absolutely, remarkably, enthusiastically, vehemently, most ardently hate—I mean love—now, is there?
It’s no secret that we’re drawn to this age-old trope, which is, strangely enough, excruciatingly more delicious in a fantasy setting. Is it the angst? The slow burn? The conflict that forces our lovers to break down barriers and stubborn mentalities? The way it creates tantalizing, heedless pining that could sometimes be mistaken as rage and vice versa? Or is it, like many things in fantasy, the way it exaggerates, in this case, yearning and desire?
In my ancient Arabia inspired debut, We Hunt the Flame, Zafira and Nasir are two legends in the kingdom of Arawiya from two very different socioeconomic backgrounds. One is bound to honor, the other to death, their paths deemed never to cross until the Prince of Death is sent to kill the Huntress and fate intervenes. Or should I say, love intervenes. Throughout the story, which continues in the sequel, We Free the Stars, the two grapple between attraction and hatred—yes, there is a knife to the throat—while saving the world.
That’s one fantasy where you’ll find one of my favorite tropes. Let me help you build a stack with a few more…
Once you’ve read We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars and realized you’re not quite ready to leave the deserts of Arabia, you’ll be happy to learn about The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh, a more romance-focused fantasy debut. It’s a twist on the classic tale of the Arabian Nights, in which a headstrong heroine marries herself to the monstrous boy-king known to wed and kill his wives at sunrise. Only this girl keeps herself alive by telling him a story and ending it on an excruciating cliffhanger for nights on end, as she plots his demise.
No enemies-to-lovers list can be complete without Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy, which, if memory serves, was the first time I’d encountered the trope and began hungering for more. In this dark story, our protagonist escapes a forced marriage to join a convent. But all is not as it seems, for this convent serves Death, and Ismae must accept a violent destiny as an assassin. She thrives in her life of blood and destruction, until she meets her latest target, who has the audacity to steal her heart.
You might have already read this one, and if you haven’t, where have you been? Six of Crows from Leigh Bardugo features a few romantic narratives, and there’s no better way to establish an enemies-to-lovers trope than having our couple on two opposing sides. Nina Zenik is a Grisha, deemed a witch by the Drüskelle, a cult of witch hunters that Matthias Helvar is a part of. When a shipwreck leaves the two of them to fend for themselves in the icy wilderness, well, that’s when things get exciting. Much of their story is told through flashbacks, and I found that refreshing, given their… current circumstances when the story begins.
This one isn’t young adult, but I can’t make a list such as this without including Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It’s magical, rooted in mythology, and the romance, while not too heavy and sometimes subtle, is perfection. The Dragon is an enigma, a cold wizard who keeps the malevolent Wood at bay, but at a price: every ten years, a young woman must serve him, a fate as terrible as the corrupted forest itself. Our story begins when our protagonist, Agnieszka, is surprised by being chosen for the task. Bonus: it’s a standalone!
Here’s another standalone fantasy with a fairytale feel and an enemies-to-lovers romance to boot: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. There are books that speak and gnash their teeth, and librarians who carry swords—like our strong-willed heroine—and their nemeses: evil sorcerers. And yep, you guessed it, the other half of our romance is one of the latter. He’s also snarky and mysterious, and though there was less angst in this romance, it was certainly fun!
Hafsah Faizal is the New York Times bestselling author of We Hunt the Flame, and the founder of IceyDesigns, where she creates websites for authors and beauteous goodies for everyone else. When she’s not writing, she can be found designing, deciding between Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim, or traversing the world. Born in Florida and raised in California, she now resides in Texas with her family and a library of books waiting to be devoured. Visit her at her website.