Weekly

T5W: Books You Liked with Tropes You Usually Hate

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is Books You Liked with Tropes You Usually Hate.

Pick some of your most hated tropes and discuss books (or other media) that actually handled that trope well

This is a great topic! Five discussion posts in one, and I love being proven wrong about boring tropes. It seems that most things can work if you do them well*, after all?

*more difficult than it seems. I still would like less lost princesses in YA, thank you.


Lost Princess

Why I don’t like this trope: This is probably my least favorite trope. I don’t like it because it’s the most predictable plot twist ever (the book mentions a lost princess? That’s the main character) and because it’s… just not a good idea? Like, “I’m a good ruler because blood/birthright” is a trope I dislike, especially if the character has no experience with being in charge of things.

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A book that gets it right: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna, a multicultural, genre-bending space retelling of the Mahabharata that will be out in September 2018. It’s probably the best YA space opera I’ve ever read and if you like stories set in space you don’t want to miss it.

Why this trope worked for me here: first of all, it’s not a plot twist. The main character knows she’s a lost princess and has been training for years. At the beginning of the book she feels like she or her brother have the right to rule because of the line of succession, but Esmae’s priorities change with the progression of the story: instead of trying to reclaim the throne, she tries to prevent a civil war (a lost princess that actually has her priorities straight when political intrigue is involved! I loved this book).


Love Triangle

Why I didn’t  like this trope: note the past tense. I didn’t like this trope because it was very repetitive. Love triangles were everywhere in YA, especially between 2010 and 2015, and they were always the same: a girl is torn between two boys, a new boy (often, not always, the bad boy) and a boy she knew before (often, but not always, the best friend). I still hate this kind of set up 90% of the time.
I don’t hate love triangles anymore because you can do so many things with them. Queer love triangles, especially f/f/f love triangles, are the best. I also love triangles that do not end in a romance and triangles that end in polyamory. There’s so much potential and I want all these stories.

Books that get it right, for me:

  • The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley: biopunk horror in space with an all-lesbian cast. Includes a lot of body horror and weirdness and it’s one of my favorite adult sci-fi books.
  • Three Side of a Heart, edited by Natalie C. Parker: an anthology about love triangles and one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read.

Why this trope worked for me in these books:

  • The Stars Are Legion features a f/f/f love triangle, in which one side is a antiheroine/villain ship, and it was everything I didn’t know I wanted. Characters who are attracted to each other and are still ready to betray and kill each other because politics are the best (I’m not a romantic person, and that’s why I loved this)
  • Three Sides of a Heart is yet another proof that authors are a lot more willing to experiment, take risks and make things more diverse in short fiction. It has stories featuring polyamory (f/f/m and m/m/f), a f/f/non-binary triangle, and even a story about a love triangle made up of a girl, a boy and a city. It’s the anthology that made me realize how much potential this trope has.

Villain With No Redeeming Qualities

(Acqua Has A Lot of Opinions About Villains)

Why I didn’t/don’t like this trope [I don’t know about the tense because my favorite villain falls into it but I still don’t like it most of the time]: I love villains, when they’re well-written. I have always loved them, and some are characters I consider favorites. All my favorite villains were, without no exceptions, the “did some things right/many things right but also so many wrong things that you can’t root for him” type or “has a goal that I could even agree with but the end doesn’t justify those means” type.
For example: the Darkling has prevented Ravka’s Grishas to end up like Fjerda’s and Shu Han’s for a long time, but the means he uses to ensure loyalty and fight Grisha genocide are… awful, and living this long has made him obsessed with power. He may not be redeemable as a person but he does have redeeming qualities.
Dolores Umbridge, on the other hand, is basically a hate sink with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and while she is a well-written villain, she is a trope I don’t enjoy. I want to care about my villains, and villains with no redeeming qualities are ones I usually don’t care about, I just want them to disappear/die (there’s a time and a place for them! They’re just not fun and I want most of my fiction to be fun.)

NinefoxGambit

A book that uses this trope in a way I actually liked: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. If you’re new here, this is my favorite book, and is a military space opera with an all-queer cast featuring mass murder, magical math, political intrigue, and manipulative bastards trying to outsmart each other and win the “which one of us is the most manipulative or just The Worst” competition. If you like villains, space, and want to read about queer characters who are not good people and still aren’t stereotypes or homophobic caricatures, read this series.

Why this trope worked for me here: the main villain of this series, [name], has no redeeming qualities, and he is my favorite villain: he is unapologetically terrible, has a sense of humor that is as terrible but works, and is entertaining – he’s the kind of character that steals the scene. In one scene [name] made me laugh and in the scene after that he made me want brain bleach. [name] is so many layers of not ok that he makes me wonder why do I even like him after Revenant Gun, and I usually have no problems with loving villains.
Revenant Gun was also the book that convinced me that villains do not need to have redeeming qualities to be characters I genuinely want to read and know more about.


Evil Queen

Why I don’t like this trope: the short version is misogyny targeting women in power, the longest version is that adult queens in fantasy books are either meek and irrelevant or fairytale-like stock characters (even if they are not actually in a fairytale) that remind me of Snow White’s Evil Queen. They have no depth, they’re often evil because a man slighted them, and hate the main character because she’s young and more powerful and prettier. As someone who loves villains, this trope is an example of wasted potential and also bad writing (why not put some effort in developing a villain that has some depth?). I just want some evil ladies to love that are as developed and as evil as male villains get to be!

Books that got this trope right, or not too wrong:

  • Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao: this is a Snow White retelling inspired by East Asian cultures told from the PoV of the Evil Queen. It’s a villain backstory book and it’s the best one I’ve found so far.
  • Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust: another Snow White retelling, a slow-paced wintry story that was surprisingly subversive.

Why this trope worked for me in these books: the reason they’re both Snow White retellings is that it makes sense for this trope to be there. In books that have nothing to do with fairytales, there’s no excuse: if you want to write evil women in power (and maybe think twice about why you want to do that), you should give them depth and motivations that make sense and aren’t “I lost my one true love, A Man, and now I’m evil” or “My one true love, A Man, betrayed me”.

  • While I do think that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns had some problems with misogyny and powerful women (what, the only girl in YA that is clever, ambitious and prioritizes her “career” over her boyfriend ends up evil? Groundbreaking, really), I can say that I love Xifeng. She’s a character who has depth, a character I want to read about, and she had agency in this story – even if I would have liked her to have even more of it. She doesn’t end up being evil against her will, and that’s something that makes this book stand out from other villain origin stories about women.
  • Girls Made of Snow and Glass features an “evil queen” who isn’t actually evil, just self-loathing – Mina is a woman who has been hurt, who had an abusive childhood and is still struggling with that. I loved how this book portrayed her as human, even if she think she’s not. She does fit in some ways the “evil queen” trope but this book subverts all the aspects I hate of that trope.

Soulmates/Fated Love

Why I don’t like this trope: Most versions of it make me wonder why, ever, a person would want that. [I’m aromantic, so that probably doesn’t help].
The idea of having a person, and only one, who is perfect for you and often not chosen by you, is something I find either creepy, sad or unintentionally funny. What if that person dies? Why only one? Why do soulmate tropes exist only for romantic love? Why does this kind of worldbuilding assume everyone wants romance? Why are so many versions of this trope overwhelmingly heteronormative? Did you really need to repeat the word “mate” that many times?
Also, the codependency. So much codependency.

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A book that got this trope right: The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera. I really liked this f/f epic fantasy (mostly because of the romance), but it’s far from perfect – its pacing could definitely have been better and ownvoices reviewers had problems with the way this book portrayed the Japanese- and Mongolian-inspired cultures.

Why this book got this trope right: First of all, it’s f/f – as I said, this trope often has a heteronormativity problem – and the worldbuilding doesn’t assume that everyone has or wants a soulmate. It’s about two warrior princesses who are fated lovers, and the soulmate trope isn’t a part of the worldbuilding. Their relationship isn’t exactly healthy, but I love them so much.


Disappointment Corner

Here are some tropes I find boring that haven’t proven me wrong yet:

  • The Sibling Device: when the plot exists because the main character is trying to rescue their sibling. It doesn’t work for me because the sibling character is usually so underdeveloped that I, unlike the main character, don’t care if they die. Some examples: The Hunger Games, An Ember in the Ashes, Caraval, Wintersong.
  • The Big Secret: when the main character has a secret they can’t tell anyone but won’t stop reminding the reader that they have a secret. I don’t like it because the revelation is always underwhelming. Some examples: Spellbook of the Lost and Found, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet.
  • Superheroes: I don’t know why I don’t like them – maybe they’re too over-the-top without being weird enough and my suspension of disbelief just can’t take that. Some examples: Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Heroine Complex.

Are there any books in which these tropes [especially the ones in the disappointment corner] worked for you?
Do you have a favorite villain?
What do you think of love triangles and lost princesses?
What are your least favorite tropes?

 

6 thoughts on “T5W: Books You Liked with Tropes You Usually Hate

  1. Great Post, you put a lot of effort into it!! I definitely agree that vilains need to have some redeeming qualities to make us root for them despite all the terrible things they are doing, which is why the Darkling worked for me as a villain so well! I also never liked the Evil Queen Trope and you made me realize why!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Most villains with no redeeming qualities end up feeling like plot devices and I don’t want that. I want to be sad when/if the villain dies even if I thought they had to. And the evil queen trope is the reason we never get female villains as developed as the Darkling, which is sad.

      Liked by 1 person

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