Petruchio and Katherina, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, Buffy and Spike: the enemies-to-lovers trope has endured for centuries. PW asked authors and editors, What explains its continued appeal?
“The tension is unbeatable, emotionally and physically,” says Rachel Lynn Solomon, author of The Ex Talk (Berkley, Feb. 2021). Her debut adult rom-com is a multiracial workplace affair, featuring at-odds public radio coworkers who have to pretend to be ex-lovers as hosts of a new podcast. She is also the author of several YA novels, most recently Today Tonight Tomorrow, which PW’s starred review called a “fresh and wholly satisfying” enemies-to-lovers rom-com.
“I love writing and reading banter,” Solomon says, “and I live for the ‘he’s not that bad’ moment, when the protagonist realizes that the antagonist has some redeeming qualities or is kind of cute.”
Meghan Quinn has deployed the trope several times in her books, including The Wedding Game (Montlake, Mar. 2021), in which a craft-obsessed DIYer and a jaded divorce lawyer match wits on a wedding reality show. “When you’re writing a trope in which you create tension right at the beginning, it makes the story more intense, especially when the characters have that moment when they give in to the attraction,” she says. “When you create that tension, you’re able to develop amazing banter and throw little jabs here and there, which adds comedic relief.”
Highly charged, rapid-fire flirting is just one aspect of the enemies-to-lovers trope that draws in readers, says Deb Werksman, editorial director at Sourcebooks Casablanca. Werksman appreciates that despite the predetermined outcome, the books retain the joy of discovery. “One of the greatest pleasures of a well-done romance is that the reader knows it’s going to end happily but has no idea how these two people are ever going to work it out,” she says.
One example is Kate McMurray’s May 2021 series launch, Like Cats and Dogs, which features a dog-loving veterinarian and a cat café manager. The pair tussle over kitten-rescue protocol and, Werksman says, “It’s fascinating to watch the author create the affinity or incident or revelation that turns it around.”
In Careless Whispers (HQN, Mar. 2021), third in Synithia Williams’s Jackson Falls series, Elaina Robidoux leaves the family tobacco business to strike out on her own, only to be thwarted by a former flame. “To see characters go from ‘I really cannot stand you’ to ‘I can’t keep my hands off of you’—I just love reading this trope,” Williams says. “As a writer, it’s challenging, but it’s so rewarding to give a character a happily ever after.”
Forever editor Junessa Viloria says that even within the trope’s confines, “there are so many different ways to do enemies-to-lovers”—former lovers to lovers, rivals to lovers, and more. The small-town rom-com Sandcastle Beach (Mar. 2021), third in Jenny Holiday’s Matchmaker Bay series, throws a love triangle into the mix: Maya, owner of the town’s community theater, goes up against Law, a local bar owner vying for the same small business grant. Meanwhile, the pop-star-turned-actor Maya hired ends up competing with Law for her attention.
The trope isn’t bound by geography either: forthcoming plotlines include the hijinks on the high seas of Angie Hockman’s debut, Shipped (Gallery, Jan. 2021), in which two cruise-line coworkers spar on a journey to the Galapágos Islands, and the frisson between seatmates on a long-haul flight in Amanda Radley’s Detour to Love (Bold Strokes, Feb. 2021).
Tropes play an important role for the reader, says Sandhya Menon, a YA romance author who uses the pen name Lily Menon for her adult debut, Make Up Break Up (Griffin, Feb. 2021). The plot pits Annika, who developed the app Make Up (“Google Translate for failing relationships”), against Hudson, whose app is known as “the Uber for breakups.” For much of the book, which PW’s review praised for its “witty banter and electric sexual tension,” the pair are competing for the same investment dollars.
“Tropes get a bad rap,” Menon says. “But they signal to the reader exactly what kind of book they are getting into and what they can expect. Going along for the ride with two characters and seeing how the author is going to make it so that they end up falling in love—that’s the best thing ever.”