4:15 pm EST, February 28, 2019

YA fantasy pairings: Breaking down character dynamics and tropes

One of the best things about YA fantasy are the romantic pairings and the different dynamics encountered. We take a closer look at our favorite YA fantasy pairings and what makes them so easy to fall in love with.

Whether you like over the top, “fall in love at first sight trope” to “unresolved sexual tension” or “slow burn,” YA fantasy pairings will not disappoint. There is something about YA that hits the spot when it comes to characters falling for each other, and when an author gets it right there is no denying the force behind the adoration from fans.

Shipping is a major part of fandom, and has been for a long time, though now it is more mainstream than it used to be. Fanfiction can be found for almost any pairing, if you look hard enough. But it’s the character dynamics themselves that are the jumping off point for any fan that help them become attached to characters and wish to take off with them and run, finding fan art, or making it, along with fanfiction.

Within YA fantasy pairings there is diversity in the attributes found between couples, unique qualities that, if given choices, fans are divisive in choosing who they like best. Love triangles are a very real thing in YA fantasy pairings, used as plot devices and that brings about “sides” of fandom, splitting the fans and pitting characters against each other. (Spoilers for who heroines end up with in major YA fantasy titles incoming!)

For instance, Peeta vs Gale in The Hunger Games. Someone who shares emotional trauma vs a long time friend. For those (like me) who like the “friends before lovers” trope, YA fantasy pairings haven’t been kind (one of the only ones I can think of is Percy/Annabeth). More often than not, the friend is left behind for a newer love interest who doesn’t know the main heroine as much. See also: Mal vs the Darkling in Grishaverse.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that Peeta and the Darkling have anything in common with each other characteristically besides capturing the attention of the heroine. When I think of the Darkling I think of the more sinister attributes, the forbidden-ness that he exudes that catches the attention of fans. The way I feel about the Darkling is much like how I feel about Jack in Legendary and Mephistopheles in Escaping from Houdini.

The mysterious character who falls into the grey area of alignment, or is down right shady. Now, I’m a fan of characters who have a wall up and are emotionally distant (hello Kaz Brekker, Thomas Cresswell, and Dante), but when it comes to the more “bad” characters I tend to lose interest quickly. I have friends whose favorites are the love interests who are on the cusp of being manipulative, and to that I say: to each their own!

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Sometimes who we end up shipping makes no sense to us whatsoever. For instance, in The Dream Thieves, I found myself drawn to Ronan Lynch and Joseph Kavinsky. Now, rationally I know that Kavinsky is a terrible person and is a villain, but irrationally I found his obsession with Ronan and wanting it to be the two of them vs the world captivating. It makes no sense to me, as someone who usually isn’t into reading about that dynamic but full disclosure: I was here for it.

The good thing about fantasy is that it is that: a step outside of the reality that we live in and our psyches sometimes attach to characters who we would absolutely despise in real life. If I had to deal with Kaz Brekker in reality, I’d probably cower not want to go near him with a ten foot pole. But in the context of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, to me Kaz is the end all be all of characters to me. Add in Inej and how he feels and what he would do for her and you have me hook, line, and sinker.

Their slow burn, which doesn’t even end with a kiss, is the epitome of YA fantasy pairings and end game. It isn’t necessary to go all out and have them make-out or confess undying love when the emotions built steadily throughout the series come pouring out in the actions of the characters.

The more subtle, the better. The slower the burn, the better the pay off. My favorite series, Queen’s Thief, has the most subtle plotline when it comes to the relationships within it. Somehow it heightens the emotions of the couples, allowing the reader to fill in gaps to be read between the lines. Give me an inch, and I’ll take a mile. That can be said for non-book related couples as well.

Who fans find attachment to, or latch onto, differs from person to person. “Unresolved sexual tension” plays a major part in YA fantasy pairings. Thomas Cresswell and Audrey Rose Wadsworth come to mind, as well as Gansey and Blue (The Raven Cycle), when it comes to the characters holding back. Most of the time, the better the reason to hold back, the more I love when it happens.

For Thomas and Audrey Rose it is for propriety’s sake. Stalking Jack the Ripper takes place in Victorian London, so they are limited to what is socially acceptable. The UST between Audrey Rose and Thomas is palpable and so well done that when they let there inhibitions fall away and gave into their wants for mere moments it felt very real.

Like Thomas and Audrey Rose, Gansey and Blue Sargent come to mind when thinking about YA fantasy pairings that had good reasons for not getting together. For Blue and Gansey there are multiple layers to their distance. For one, Blue grew up knowing that she would kill her true love by kissing him, so she spent most of her life avoiding kissing anyone at all.

Secondly, besides the death by kiss thing, Gansey and Blue circle around each other because they don’t want to hurt Adam’s feelings. Their relationship, calling late at night and going on rides through the mountains together, is palpable and their caring about Adam’s feelings adds to that. Adam and Blue went out for a short time, but they don’t want to make it awkward for him. That mixed with the fact that Blue doesn’t tell Gansey that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and that she knows he’s going to die within a year complicates things.

It’s the perfect mixture of UST and “will they, won’t they” that adds complexity to their dynamic. Who knew that sharing a spoon and eating the rest of Blue’s yogurt could have such an effect on readers? I’m practically fanning myself thinking about the yogurt, the barely there hand touch in the car, and Gansey’s overall hesitation.

Legendary cover art

There are so many tropes (which isn’t a bad thing!) in YA fantasy pairings that there is something for everyone. From “love at first sight” to “enemies to lovers”, YA doesn’t disappoint. There are steady and stalwart pairings (Percy/Annabeth in Percy Jackson), fast burning and carnal (Tella/Dante in Caraval and Legendary), dangerous and addicting (Alina/Darkling from Grishaverse), or “friends with benefits” (Percy/Monty from A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue). Knowing what tropes you like opens up a pool of recommended reading in the vast, eclectic world of YA fantasy.

What are your favorite ships and tropes, and what makes them stand out to you versus ones you don’t care for or look over? A closer inspection of our own likes and dislikes highlights how we get attached to some YA fantasy pairings more than others, which is something I like to think about. Why do I love Kaz and Inej so much? Because physical intimacy isn’t as important to me as loyalty and doing anything for those I love. For someone else that might not be the same reason.

Our likes and dislikes are a lot like Love Languages, we all have differing degrees of each language, and when it comes to shipping we are as much alike as we are different. By seeking out relationships in YA we find comfort and inclusion based on our personal tastes.

Related:
Stalking Jack the Ripper is a slow burn worth the wait
5 fan fave tropes found in The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell
Richard Gansey from The Raven Cycle is more than his foretold fate

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