This week on the spotlight we look at two of my favorite pairs of lovers. And while I talked in length about how popular this trope is in young adult fiction, I should mention that its hard to get me invested in this sort of plot. I like my romance as a spice in my fiction rather than the main course. Something along the lines of Harry Potter or Mistborn (Yes, I can work this series into literally anything). What’s more I often find that stories with romance as the core have a hard time stretching themselves out and giving themselves an engaging plot. One of my main problems with Twilight was just how meandering it was. I felt like the book could have been cut down to a much shorter, succinct story and have been better for it.
However, with that said, these are two books where the romance is the core, and they still manage to keep my attention.
First, Ceilia and Marco in Erin Morgenstern's, The Night Circus. This book is like dark chocolate to me. The beautiful prose paint the world of the mysterious Night Circus, the arena for a fight to the death between the pupils of two renown magicians. But of course, these pupils end up falling for each other, and striving to find a way around their fate.
Setting and atmosphere aside, the reason why these characters work is they stand well on their own. Ceilia and Marco both have a ton of personality to the side. Ceilia is gutsy, passionate and very powerful. She’s the natural magician, exhibiting potential from a young age. Marco however is more controlled and studious. He’s the hard worker. They both have different means to achieve their feats but they’re both powerful in their own right. However, instead of fighting to break the other, they turn the competition into a way to create different wonders throughout the circus for each other. Like extravagant love letters.
I also appreciate how Ceilia and Marco don’t have a weird misunderstanding in the third act that causes them to turn on one another. The conflict surrounding them is enough, and they don’t need any more conflict between each other. Ultimately, the way they handle their resolution is smart and beautiful. I fall head over heels for this book.
The second book we’re talking about in this spotlight is a dystopian. Its really difficult to pull of the lover heroes in a dystopian because often, the stakes are so much higher. Take this tweet from this perfect account:
"This System seems to care a lot about whether two 16-year-olds fuck or not," I say.— Dystopian YA Novel (@DystopianYA) May 31, 2015
Anthem nods solemnly.
However this particular dystopian makes the smart choice by starting small. I’m talking about Ally Condie's Matched and the star crossed lovers Cassia and Ky. The plot of the first book is almost entirely revolved around a romance hinged plot. Cassia is matched with her best friend Xander but due to a mix up, she may actually be matched with a boy named Ky. And that is the crux of the conflict. It’s nothing society breaking yet (like in the later books). So it makes sense why this is the largest conflict at hand.
I love Cassia because she was a relatively reasonable heroine put in a genuine dilemma and this is one of the few occasions when a love triangle actually seemed to make sense (and I don’t say that easily). Cassia has hobbies and feels like a fully fleshed out person. And I absolutely adore Ky, who I found to be an amazingly interesting and reasonable guy as well. I love it when the lovers are actually reasonable human beings and don’t get in pointless fights to drag out the plot.
Better than that, these two worked well together, and it was one of the rare times the love triangle went in the direction I wanted it to. The romance becomes more of a sub plot in later books when bigger conflicts come to the surface, and while it still plays an important role, the characters had their priorities in order.
And maybe these spotlights give you an idea of how to pull off the Lover characters: Characters that stand well on their own, chemistry based on interests, reasonable handling of conflicts, and priorities in order. Because with the Star crossed lover plot, the outside world is often plenty of conflict to keep your book interesting. And these are two couples who had me on the edge of my seat whispering ‘kiss’ the whole way through.