For many years I’ve held the belief that romance is an integral part of a story. Not because I’m a romance novel junkie (because I’m not), or because I look for any excuse to fangirl over the latest ship (because I don’t…most of the time). I just find that watching relationships develop between characters makes them feel more real. Interpersonal connections are one of the key drivers of the human condition, after all.
Don’t get me wrong, not every book has to have romantic themes in order for me to enjoy them. It just so happens that most of my favourites do…and so I’ve decided to do the clichéd thing and write about my favourite literary couples on Valentine’s Day. Please don’t judge me!
Each of the couples on the following list has had some kind of profound influence on me, whether it be how I view myself, relationships, the world, or the art of fiction writing. I briefly entertained the idea of sorting them into order of favourite to absolute favourite, but…no. Just no. It felt like choosing between children.
Instead, I’ve organised them into the approximate order in which I read them so we can all see how I, and my taste in books, have developed over time. Note there may be a few inadvertent SPOILERS, so read at own risk.
Here they are: the 20 book couples that have changed my life…
Oooooooh the first one on the list…and one of my early forays into YA dystopian fiction! In a world where physical appearance means everything, David teaches Tally how to look beneath the surface to uncover what it really means to be “pretty”. He sees the real her, and though her journey towards self-acceptance is somewhat more turbulent, it is a pleasure to watch them grow–both together and apart.
Also, Scott Westerfeld recently announced the release of four new Uglies novels and I’m so looking forward to revisiting this series (wow, was it seriously a decade ago I read it?)!
She gazed at him. “What do you think, David?”
He peered into her eyes for a long moment, then sighed and shook his head. “You just look like Tally to me.”
She looked down, her vision blurring.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, David.” She shook her head. “You just took on five million years of evolution again.”
“I what? Did I say something wrong?”
“No.” She smiled. “You said something right.”
|GENRE: science fiction (dystopia) | YA||READ: aged 13|
No jokes, I adore Tamora Pierce’s books, and I still can’t believe that this series was written in the 1980s! The relationship between George, the King of the Thieves (a.k.a. the Rogue) and noble-born aspiring knight Alanna is the definition of slow-burn. Starting as friends when Alanna is only 10 years old, their connection grows and deepens over the course of a decade.
When I look back, I realise that Song of the Lioness introduced me to a lot of the tropes I enjoy in my novel romances: opposites-attract, and friends-to-lovers. I love how splendidly Alanna and George get along despite their differences (her temper and prickliness, his charismatic charm), and how they are friends for a (long) time before the romance develops.
“Goddess, George–don’t die on me.”
His eyes flickered open and he smiled. “I didn’t know you cared,” he whispered. “And why insult me? I won’t die for a wee nick like this; I’ve had worse in my day.”
Alanna wiped her wet cheeks. “Of course I care, you unprincipled pickpocket!” she whispered. “Of course I care.”
|GENRE: high fantasy | YA||READ: aged 14|
Let me begin by saying this was one of the first book series to make me cry. I’m actually not kidding. I know His Dark Materials copped a bit of flak for its portrayal of religion and a romantic relationship between two 12-year-olds, but I wasn’t that much older than the MCs when I read it and, well, it really resonated with me.
Neither Lyra nor Will have had an easy life, so the animosity between them in days following their first encounter is not entirely unexpected. But over time, through suffering and hardship, they come to depend on each other in a way they’ve never been able to depend on anyone before. This trust then blossoms into such an innocent and heart-breaking first love that quite literally transcends worlds.
“I will love you forever; whatever happens. Till I die and after I die, and when I find my way out of the land of the dead, I’ll drift about forever, all my atoms, till I find you again…”
“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart.”
|GENRE: SFF | YA||READ: aged 14-15|
Love at first sight? Probably not. Scratch that–definitely not. Yelena has been languishing in prison for the better part of the year, awaiting execution for the murder of her former master, when she is offered a reprieve by Valek, the Commander’s cold-hearted assassin/spymaster. And boy is it a thrill to watch that cold heart melt!
When I first read the Study series, both MCs were quite a bit older than the MCs I was used to reading about…and quite a bit older than me! I really enjoyed watching the way Valek supported Yelena in her emotional recovery from the trauma in her past, and how Yelena challenged Valek’s loyalties and beliefs. There was no “big misunderstanding” like there is in so many YA books; the MCs dealt with adversity in a respectful and mature way that I found very refreshing.
Their story continues in the Soulfinders trilogy, but I haven’t read that yet.
“Yelena, you’ve driven me crazy. You’ve caused me considerable trouble and I’ve contemplated ending your life twice since I’ve known you.” Valek’s warm breath in my ear sent a shiver down my spine. “But you’ve slipped under my skin, invaded my blood and seized my heart.”
“That sounds more like a poison than a person,” was all I could say. His confession had both shocked and thrilled me.
“Exactly,” Valek replied. “You have poisoned me.”
|GENRE: high fantasy | YA||READ: aged 15|
If Sam and Grace aren’t enough to change your life, then Maggie Stiefvater’s writing should be. She is an expert at depicting emotion through words, and given the loneliness these two are drowning in when they “meet”, the effects are absolutely heart-rending.
Sam–human by summer, wolf by winter–is a sensitive soul, and independent Grace is ignored by both her parents and all but left to raise herself. Together, theirs is one of the sweetest love stories I’ve read, full of music, desperation, and hunger for more from life.
And then I opened my eyes and it was just Grace and me–nothing anywhere but Grace and me–she pressing her lips together as though she were keeping my kiss inside her, and me, holding this moment that was as fragile as a bird in my hands.
|GENRE: low fantasy (paranormal) | YA||READ: aged 15-16|
Firstly, I just want to say, I loved the whole Wicked Lovely series in general, but Aislinn and Seth were definitely my favourite part, featuring mainly in books 1, 3 and 5 (depicted above). Seth has always been Aislinn’s “safe place”…even before the faeries started stalking her. And despite his misgivings, Seth is always there for Aislinn…even when she starts becoming something more than human.
Obviously, this is series is an urban fantasy, but more than that, through this particular couple, I found it to be a glimpse into how far we would go for someone we love. What would we give up for them? Our life? Our humanity? Our freedom? These are questions Aislinn and Seth must ask of themselves throughout the series, and it had me on the edge of my seat until the bitter end!
“…I want to be near you always,” he reminded her.
“But you’ll lose everyone else, and…”
“I want forever with you.” Seth lifted her chin so he was able to look directly into her eyes. “The rest will fall into place if I can be with you.”
|GENRE: low fantasy (paranormal)| YA||READ: aged 16-17|
Yes, okay, I had a bit of a thing for stories involving faeries while I was in high school. Who didn’t? So what makes this one–and this couple–stand out, you may ask. Well, I found The Iron Fey to be one of the more tastefully written “forbidden” romances I encountered in this genre.
Ash is the youngest son of the Winter Queen. Meghan is the half-human daughter of the Summer King…who develops a mysterious connection to the iron fey, a new breed of faery that prove to be lethal to all others. Teenage me learned a lot from Meghan and Ash about the price of being true to your heart, and when a leader must put duty before their own desires.
“What do you want of me, Meghan?” he asked, a low thread of anguish flickering below the surface. Tears blurred my vision, all the fear and heartache of the past few days rising to the surface.
“Just you” I whispered. “I just want you”.
|GENRE: fantasy (portal) | YA||READ: aged 16-17|
This is probably the only “love triangle” you will ever hear me confess to have liked, and the way it played out had me rocking in the foetal position for weeks afterwards. In Victorian London, shapeshifting Tessa is torn between two Shadowhunter boys: the self-destructive, passionate Will; and the contemplative, loyal Jem.
But Will and Jem are not enemies. Oh no. They are parabatai–a bond that transcends friendship, transcends brotherhood, and is rooted in mutual respect and devotion. I was as stymied as Tessa as to who–or if–she should choose, which made me realise was a gem (pun intended) The Infernal Devices is when it comes to exploring the complexities of love and relationships.
“They say you cannot love two people equally at once,” she said. “And perhaps for others that is so. But you and Will—you are not like two ordinary people, two people who might have been jealous of each other, or who would have imagined my love for one of them diminished by my love of the other. You merged your souls when you were both children. I could not have loved Will so much if I had not loved you as well. And I could not love you as I do if I had not loved Will as I did.”
|GENRE: low fantasy (urban) | YA||READ: aged 16-19|
In the beginning, he called her “girl” and she called him “Backwoods Boy”…so it’s safe to say they didn’t get off to a great start. But when tragedy befalls Riley’s father at the hands of a demon, she and Beck, her father’s demon-trapping journeyman, find they are all each other has left in the world.
It takes them both a long time to acknowledge that, though. They are both hurting, both lost, and between Riley’s risk-taking behaviour and Beck’s poor self-esteem, they are constantly at each other’s throats. But, I admit, I squeeeeeeed like the fangirl I said I wasn’t as they slowly came to realise how much they’d come to depend on each other.
(You may have noticed I have a bit of a soft spot for this frenemies-to-lovers trope.)
“I can’t face losin’ ya, Riley. Yer all I got left in this world.”
That brutal honesty again. He’d peeled away more armor, and this time he’d exposed his heart.”
|GENRE: low fantasy (paranormal) | YA||READ: aged 16-18|
This was one of the early books I read involving LGBT MCs, and I…er…started with a bit of a tear-jerker. The latter half of it had me sobbing shamelessly into my pillow. The Curtis Reincarnation is the unexpected but exquisitely tender love story between slightly-uptight web expert Jordan and infamous rock star Tyler Curtis. But wait!
It turns out that Tyler Curtis is just a front…a front for a vulnerable young man named Alec Tyler who is not only trapped in an exploitative arrangement with his manager, but is also an epileptic. The themes in this book were somewhat eye-opening for me to read about, hence its place on this list, and what I loved most was the portrayal of how accepting and understanding Jordan was of Alec’s sometimes debilitating disability.
“I love you. I honestly do. I was so scared today, thinking you’d see what happened and not want to be with me anymore.”
Jordan’s hand cradled the back of Alec’s head. “I’ll always want to be with you. Always. To me you’re perfect. Absolutely perfect and I honestly love you, too.”
|GENRE: contemporary | LGBT||READ: aged 18|
Alex is a “shifter”, someone who can shift between genders at will. But now, thanks to a non-consensual procedure, Alex is stuck in his male body…and is forced to come out to his heterosexual boyfriend. Damon loves Alex to the moon and back, but it’s safe to say he’s stunned when he discovers his girlfriend is now, well, a man.
I was fascinated by the premise of this story from the beginning. My heart went out to Damon and Alex as they struggled to deal with the sudden changes they were forced to confront, but more than that I was intrigued by their exploration of the complex relationship between gender, sexuality, love and, ultimately, acceptance.
I’d been looking for her in everything he said or did, but there she was. There he was. That was the Alex I’d fallen in love with, and the Alex I still loved. I loved him the same as I loved her because they were one and the same. Watching him now, I wondered how the hell I’d missed that all along.
I don’t care if you’re male, female, or a little of both. I don’t care if you can’t carry a tune. You’re beautiful, Alex.
|GENRE: contemporary | LGBT||READ: aged 19|
No, your eyes don’t fool you. There are nine books in this series, and I shamelessly adored every single one of them. Ty and Zane are FBI agents who meet at the beginning of Cut & Run (book 1) when they are newly partnered together…and it’s hate at first sight. What could the cocky, rough-and-tumble Ty possibly have in common with the stuff, focused Zane?
Quite a bit actually. And over the course of the nine books spanning a handful of years, they go from partners, to lovers, to confidants, to two men who have each other’s backs through thick and thin, turmoil and doubt. I loved them apart, I loved them together, and I loved bearing witness to their journey.
(In case you were wondering, Cut & Run is also one of those mystery/action/thriller series where each book focuses on a different crime but there is also a recurring underlying plot that builds towards the last book.)
The look in Zane’s eyes was something Ty had never seen. It was intense and heated, possessive, filled with emotion that made Ty’s chest hurt all over again, like the first time he’d ever looked into that fire in Zane’s eyes and known that there would be no one else in the world for him.
|GENRE: contemporary (mystery) | LGBT||READ: aged 19-20|
In Eressë’s Chronicles of Ylandre there is no “male” and “female”. Not as we know them. The race of people in the stories, the Deira, are “dual-gendered” (even though they use male pronouns) and it fascinating to read how this influences their relationships. And this particular relationship holds a special place in my soul.
Rohyr is the sovereign ruler of the land, powerful and beloved by his people, but even he is subject to the whims of tradition. Now he must choose between doing his duty and continuing the royal line, and following his heart–which lies firmly in the hands of his lowborn paramour, Lassen. I love a good prince-and-pauper type storyline, and this one was made all the more fascinating by the unique setting of Eressë’s world.
“Hang them all! I love you!”
“You–Oh!” Lassen looked at him, stunned.
|GENRE: high fantasy | LGBT||READ: aged 20|
It’s literal enemies-to-lovers this time, folks. After suffering a terrible betrayal at the hands of his half-brother, Damen, the rightful heir to the throne, is enslaved, stripped of his identity and gifted to the prince of his kingdom’s greatest foe. Laurent is cruel, cold, and utterly alone in the face of a brewing civil war.
I’m…not sure how to describe the feels I have for these two. If you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to understand. Damen and Laurent have so many reasons to hate each other, but they also need each other, and it’s incredible to watch their journey from master and slave to allies battling for the future of both their kingdoms.
Also, C.S. Pacat’s writing is exquisite, and I feel I’ve learned more about writing from this series than I have from almost any other. No jokes. READ THESE BOOKS!
Never had he wanted something this badly, and held it in his hands knowing that tomorrow it would be gone, traded for the high cliffs of Ios, and the uncertain future across the border, the chance to stand before his brother, to ask him for all the answers that no longer seemed important. A kingdom, or this.
|GENRE: high fantasy | LGBT||READ: aged 20-21|
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered more complex characters than Fen and Malick. Like, ever. Fen Jacin-Rei is Untouchable, a host to the mad voices of dead magicians, and none may interfere with his fate. Malick is…well…Malick, and he must uphold his god’s laws or lose his soul. And he’s willing to risk his soul to help Fen.
Once again, I find myself at a loss for words to describe what this pair does to me. And to be honest, I actually haven’t read the 3rd and 4th books yet because I don’t know if my poor heart can take it. Similar to the Captive Prince series, I think a large part of this can be attributed to the emotive nature of the writing, which just twisted me up inside.
“Alone is the only thing that’ll truly break you, Fen. I know love’s not a safe thing for you, but he loves you. He risked his soul for you because he loves you, and you couldn’t let him do it, because…” She paused, tilted her head. “Why’d you think that is?”
|GENRE: high fantasy | LGBT||READ: aged 21-23|
THIS BOOK IS MY LIFE. If I had read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda last year, it would have been #1 on My top 10 reads of 2017 but, since I didn’t, I’ve snuck it onto this list instead. The relationship that unfolds throughout these glorious pages is that between the titular character, Simon, and his internet friend Blue.
Yes, their relationship is only online for I think about 85% of the book. Kind of. Simon knows that Blue goes to his school, and that’s about all he knows insofar as his identity is concerned. But it is beautiful–and also hilarious–to witness these two boys spill their hearts out to each other, confiding all their secrets and hopes and dreams, while they work up the courage and willpower to come out to the rest of the world.
Love, Simon is the movie adaptation of this book which is coming out in March/April depending where in the world you live. YOU MUST ALL GO AND SEE IT!!!!!
I’m not going to pretend I know how this ends, and I don’t have a freaking clue if it’s possible to fall in love over email. But I would really like to meet you, Blue. I want to try this. And I can’t imagine a scenario where I don’t want to kiss your face off as soon as I see you.
|GENRE: contemporary | YA | LGBT||READ: aged 21|
And now we get to it. The first actual romance book on my list…though Freda and Nicholas are certainly not your typical romance novel couple. Freda has a bad case of foot-in-mouth syndrome (okay, so maybe a few romance heroines have that trait) and Nicholas, by night, takes to the stage in drag.
Now, there is attraction between these two from the beginning, but its more about personality–about them sensing a kindred spirit–than about physical appearance. Freda and Nicholas stand out to me because their witty banter had me grinning through the entire book, and I loved the dynamic between them–namely Freda’s easy acceptance of how Nicholas likes to dress up as a woman when he performs.
I love him because he makes me laugh when I don’t feel like laughing. I love him because he challenges my view of what a man is. I love him because I know I shouldn’t love him and that he’ll break my heart. I love him because he’s a complete and total anomaly. I love him because I want to kill the sadness inside him more than I want anything else in the world.
|GENRE: contemporary (romance)||READ: aged 22|
And here is the second of two romance books I will be discussing in this post, but Trinity and Callahan are a very different couple to the one described above. She is the life of the party, the one everyone wants to be friends with. He is an ex-Army sniper, and just wants to be left alone. (Psst, I have a soft spot for stories involving current and former military personnel…)
What I particularly liked in Inseverable was the way Trinity slowly coaxed Callahan out of his shell. Despite his gruff demeanour, she kept at him with her sunny personality, making sure he knew he wasn’t alone, until he let himself feel something good again. It was really touching to read about, and I think is something we should make more of an effort to do with vets in real life.
“…what I feel when I’m with you, I’ve never felt with anyone else.” Her voice is so quiet it seems to drift away. “I just wanted you to know that.”
…I don’t respond, keeping my jaw closed tight. Mostly because I feel exactly the same way, and because it scares the hell out of me too.
|GENRE: contemporary (romance)||READ: aged 22|
Oh, where do I begin with this one? Anyone? I’ll have to try not to just wax lyrical about Rhysand, because this is about him and Feyre as a couple…isn’t it? Right. So, their story truly starts in A Court of Mist and Fury, the second book of the series. They are both in a pretty dark place after the trauma they endured in book 1, and what really spoke to me was the way they helped each other heal.
Rhysand gave Feyre her freedom, gave her purpose, and armed her with the knowledge of how to protect herself rather than trying to smother her. In return, she helped him see himself as something other than a monster after the things he was forced to do to survive. Aside from Sarah J. Maas’ brilliant writing, what I really liked here was how healthy Feyre’s and Rhysand’s relationship turned out to be.
I was his and he was mine, and we were the beginning and middle and end. We were a song that had been sung from the very first ember of light in the world.
|GENRE: high fantasy | YA/NA||READ: aged 22|
And lucky last…another Sarah J. Maas book, surprise, surprise! While I’m at it, I’ll try not to go on a rant about how Rowan didn’t show up until the THIRD book! Rowan and Aelin actually spend most of the third book trying to hurt each other as a way to cope with their own demons, before they realise they are actually two sides of the same coin.
One of the recurring themes throughout the Throne of Glass series is how everyone fears Aelin/Celaena, her abilities and her magical prowess. Therefore, what spoke to me about hers and Rowan’s relationship was how utterly unafraid of her he is. Rowan accepts her, warts and all, and does not try to force her to change, while she does the same for him.
She smiled at last. And damn if it didn’t kill him, the quiet joy in her face.
They had walked out of darkness and pain and despair together. They were still walking out of it. So that smile … It struck him stupid every time he saw it and realized it was for him…
She said softly, “You make me want to live, Rowan. Not survive; not exist. Live.”
|GENRE: high fantasy | YA/NA||READ: aged 22|
Who are your favourite book couples? Which romances literally changed your life? Do you share any on my list?