Love it or hate it, Enemies to Lovers is a popular trope, and one of my personal favorites. With Valentine’s Day coming up on February 14, I wanted to talk about why I love this trope so much. An author I love, Whitney Hill, does an excellent job with it in her series, Shadows of the Otherside. I won’t go into detail here, though, as to avoid spoilers. This is a trope I play with quite a bit. Actually, I think every ship in The Kingdoms of Blood is enemies to lovers, given they’re in a dystopic war.
Why is it so fun, though? Well, I love the tension and buildup. Chances are, you won’t see the ship get together until the very end of a book, or even later into the series. You’re left questioning whether they’ll get together or not as previous enemies are forced to work together in some way or another. This trope definitely has to be slow burn to work, and in my opinion, slow burns are the most fun type of romance.
In my opinion, for this trope to work, you have to see how the two characters work together. I’ll give an example of my characters later in this article, but first I want to give some general thoughts as a reader who enjoys this trope. First, the hatred needs to be established, and strongly. Typically I see it where the characters are on the opposite side of a conflict, and this ship will involve one of the characters switching sides. This, of course, involves my favorite trope of all times–the antihero. Anyway, we need to see one (or multiple, if this is a poly ship) character(s) being pretty antagonistic.
Here’s where the the ‘fine line’ comes in, and where this ship becomes a bit complex. Criticisms of this ship involve abuse on one party, which is a very valid thing to critique. This ship honestly doesn’t work if there’s abuse on one party. That might not make any sense given what I’ve said, but let me explain.
There is a difference between malicious torment on another person because you hate them and want them to feel suffering versus attacking someone because they are on a different side of the battlefield than you. If you have a character that goes out of their way to abuse their ship up until they get together, not only is the ship unrealistic, but you have a toxic ship on your hands. You could paint this as a negative thing in the story, but it’s not a ship people should adore or love, given it’s not good to glorify toxic ships. In this sense, it’s more of a story tool than something people will have fun with in shipping circles.
Therefore, in my opinion, the right way to go about enemies to lovers is the ‘opposite team’ thing. A bit of friendly banter isn’t abuse, same with snapping at one another or being tsundere. Both (or many) characters exchanging blows is also just fine, and in fact, sets up the tension pretty well if you’re writing an action story. Then, when the characters finally do get together, the fighting should stop (aside from training) but the friendly banter is fun and can continue.
That’s not to say ships won’t have their fights every so often, given that’s a life topic! But abuse definitely shouldn’t be glorified in an enemies to lovers ship. Also, your antihero shouldn’t have horrible crimes behind them like sexual abuse, constant torture on innocent people, or trafficking. That goes into ‘unredeemable characters’ in my personal opinion and taints the ship. Your bad-guy can be bad, but there’s a limit to how bad before they don’t qualify for ‘antihero’ status in my eyes.
Now I want to discuss one of my favorite enemies-to-lovers ships that I play with in my works. This ship comes to fruition the best in Huntsmaster City. Everything I say from here on are spoilers, so if you don’t mind spoilers for my series, feel free to continue.
Darcia Deville and Robert Smoke are my favorite example, in my works, of enemies-to-lovers. While my other ships featured in The Kingdoms of Blood also play by this trope, these folks are the definition of enemies at first who needed to work with each other. Right off the bat, Darcia Deville is a hero who becomes a main protagonist in the conflict to save Elapid City. (Honestly, Red Viper gets way better when she arrives.) In contrast, Robert Smoke is presented as a really nasty villain who’d captured Sam in the beginning of the novel due to his greed.
After a whole lot of bullshit from him, he bargains with Darcia to blood bond with her. Has he secretly fallen for her before the story even begun? Yes, of course. He goes about this crush in a really stupid way, even if he believes his twisted logic of ‘taking out the risk of the most powerful shapeshifter in the area’. That all goes to hell when the main antagonist, Ash, butchers his forces for turning against him, and he’s left with no one but the heroes.
And damn does he pay for his nonsense. He’s constantly attacked by Ash, yelled at (rightfully), and is made to be miserable in general. But not as miserable as he could be. Darcia went far easier on him than he deserved, finally fighting alongside him with patience that even I don’t have. Ever so slowly, that bond forms, especially as Smoke finds his morality again. That leads to the piece of ship art I shared above, and this image:
We can see the two of them bloodied, probably from a recent battle, and holding hands. How adorable! Don’t we all hold really bloody hands and pose with knives in our mouths? No? Just my characters? Well, alright then! But you get the point, it took them a long time to get over their pain points before actually going canon-ship in Huntsmaster City.
I love playing with enemies-to-lovers way too much, and when I see it in a piece of writing, I’m always delighted when it’s done right. I don’t have an example of badly-done enemies-to-lovers, but I’m very picky with what I read. I think this ship works really well in paranormal romance and fantasy, given there tends to be high-stakes conflict.
What type of ship is your favorite? Do you love or hate enemies-to-lovers?
Looking for some GREAT enemies-to-lovers ship? Check out my dystopic urban fantasy series! Click here.