The line between love and hate does not exist in enemies-to-lovers fantasy books. Searing rage and burning love shift in and out of narratives concerning foreign lands, distant magic, and unimaginable stakes. Typically, the enemies-to-lovers trope is defined as the process of opposing people falling in love. In Fantasy, enemies may hate each other due to a longstanding miscommunication, an existing dislike for a particular group or country, a kidnapping that leads to a mutual animosity, or other extreme, magic-fueled situations. It also helps that there are some inciting incidents and meet-cutes that can only occur in a fantasy world. Essentially, if the two outwardly dislike each other at the start and come to love each other by the end, it falls into enemies to lovers.
Potential Origins: History of Enemies-to-Lovers Fantasy Books
Discussions of the origins of the enemies-to-lovers trope rightly point to both fanfic and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur written in 1485 with Gareth and Lynette. I would also point to the relationship between the old wife and the knight in Geffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales written in the 1300s.
I would consider the tale a reference for enemies-to-lovers fantasy books, as the old wife is a shape changer and magic user who some scholars point to as being a representation of Morgana le Fey. The knight certainly does not want to marry and resents his marriage rights, but after she saves him from the Arthurian court and shares her perspective on women’s right to sovereignty, he grows to love her over time. I am sure her turning into a hot young woman helped things along.
Although I am certain books outside the western canon contain enemies-to-lovers tropes somewhere before the 1300s, I do not have the specialty to point it out. Nevertheless, the trope serves an important function in literature as it allows for character growth over time for both parties involved.
Modern Enemies to Lovers Fantasy Books
Jumping back to the present, there are many enemies-to-lovers fantasy books in young adult and adult literature to enjoy. I worked diligently to narrow this list down to only 20 of the best enemies to lovers fantasy books arranged in some fun categories.
“I Will Love You but I Have to Kill You” is for all those books where someone goes in with a plan to love and murder their new partner. Next, “Kidnapping My Heart” will settle you in with some romances that began with kidnapping and general betrayal. “Mortal Enemies to Lovers” has some creatures who naturally hate one another but grow past their innate distaste. Finally, the “Nemeses Are Forever” section includes some people who have a personal background of hating each other, perhaps due to early miscommunication. Admittedly, some books can straddle the line between two groups. I hope you hate to love these books.
I Will Love You But I Have to Kill You
The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen
Content warnings: death of a loved one, child abuse, torture
Twelve princesses were sent to an assassination boot camp, but only one will become the enemy king’s blushing bride. Of her sisters, Lara maneuvered her way to the altar, and she will be the trojan horse who will murder her future husband and destroy the Bridge Kingdom. Success means she saves her homeland from starvation, and she will be free. But her new husband, Aren, sacrifices everything for his people’s safety and happiness and is nothing like the man she was supposed to destroy. Now, Lara has to decide if she can still betray her husband and her new people or leave her espionage behind and allow her homeland to crumble.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Content warning: death of a loved one
A Thousand and One Nights retelling set in a land where a teen Caliph kills his new wife every dawn. But when he kills Shahrzad’s best friend, she determines to marry the Caliph and kill him, putting a stop to future bride deaths. Each night she weaves a story and makes it to the next dawn, but in the process of staying alive, she catches feelings for the monster she married. She is scared that her love is unjustifiable, so she unwraps her husband’s story and the dark secrets that lurk behind his past actions. Maybe she won’t have to kill him after all.
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
Content warnings: substance abuse, discussion of misgendering
Voya can save her familial magic if she kills her first love. When she failed her trial, her ancestor gave her a second chance with an objectively harder task: to murder someone she has not met yet. She has to fall in love, fast, and she knows the genetic matchmaker for the job. Just one problem — Luc, her perfect match, is arrogant, infuriating, and near impossible to fall in love with. Voya has met her match alright, and she will do anything to fall in love with him so she can kill him and save her family’s magic.
Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau
Content warnings: torture, enslavement
An assassin doesn’t often fall for his charge, but exiled beast charmer Leena is an exception to the rule. Someone hired Noc, a legendary assassin, to kill her once and for all, but Leena is not the wicked beast charmer others report her to be. Leena’s exile was unearned, and she must sell her beasts to good homes if she wants to survive. Now Noc has made a new deal: Leena’s life in exchange for beasts, with the understanding that he will find a way to break his contract to kill her. But Noc may have to choose between his own life or Leena’s.
Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh
An archangel has gone extremely murderous, and there is only one gal for the job. Elena can sniff out vampires just as well as the next Hunter-Born, but she has never faced a job like this before. She will have to work with the Archangel who brought her the job, Raphael, to get enough information on the notoriously secret and powerful beings. Elena doesn’t know Raphael plans to kill her once the mission is done to avoid leaking ancient archangel secrets. Hopefully, she can be canny, intriguing, and steadfast enough to hunt an all-powerful serial killer and go home with her life at the end of the job.
Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf
Content warnings: child abuse, death of a loved one, torture, animal death
Would you be willing to steal a prince’s heart in exchange for your own? Zera, a currently Heartless immortal, is bound to a witch willing to return her heart, her human life, and the ability to taste cake again if she can. But taking a heart from the prince’s chest requires access, and the only way in is through courtship. Zera must learn etiquette to get in the door, but when the prince turns out to be more interested in noble thievery, her skills with a blade truly get his attention. As their flirting continues, Zara questions if she can still kill the prince who is beginning to steal her heart.
Kidnapping My Heart
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
Content warnings: abuse, sexual assault, misogyny
When a witch and a witch hunter get caught in a compromising position in full view of an audience, Louise must choose between marriage and burning at the stake. As a result, Louise consents to be dragged to the altar and Reid unwittingly marries a witch. Lou is raucous, lewd, and everything the good witch hunter is not. Reid is chaste, austere, and out of his depth when it comes to his wife. Their mutual attraction leads to growing trust and something approaching love. If Lou’s mother doesn’t try to kill her again, they should have a happy life. If she does, both Lou and Reid will have a much bigger problem on their hands.
From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Content warnings: emotional abuse, physical abuse, death of a loved one, torture, animal death
As a paragon of virtue, the Maiden is apart from the world and the sensory pleasures it offers. Poppy is perhaps not the best maiden, with her love of combat, healing, and salacious reading. Normally, she doesn’t get caught, but when she ducks into a den of vice, she encounters an utterly enticing man. Hawke, unfortunately, is her new guard, one she cannot have a non-platonic relationship with. But when she is captured by an enemy kingdom, she may have to reevaluate her understanding of the world and her place in it.
A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
Content warnings: child abuse, animal abuse
The gods gave Cat magic beyond mortal imagination and nowhere to hide from people like Griffin who want to use her. Hiding in a circus worked for Cat for a while, but when Griffin comes across her act, he recognizes her for the Kingmaker she is. To secure his newly conquered realm, he is willing to drag her back to his castle, even if it makes her hate him. But verbal sparring soon turns into flirting and attraction. What’s more dangerous?
The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy
Content warning: enslavement
Lia, the Queen of a verdant island kingdom, was going to marry an old tyrant until a former prince raided her island. Before, all Lia had to do was ward off her fiancée’s advances with a series of letters and political maneuvers. Now, her plan to keep her kingdom safe is ruined. The former prince Conrí rose from the prison mines to mobilize a rebellion against the tyrant that destroyed his homeland, and he needs Lia to do so. Conrí must control her ring, the source of the island’s magic. Can Lia, a Queen of soft power, ever fall for Conrí, a King who rules through military force? Or will they be strong-armed into a romantic alliance neither party is ready for?
The Fate of Stars by SD Simper
Content warnings: torture, sexual harassment, slavery, homophobia
When Princess Daurel kidnapped a mermaid for her mother, she never expected to fall in love. The calculating, cold-hearted princess thought Empress Vahla’s approval was right around the corner, but as she watches their new prisoner, her convictions begin to crumble. Talloria’s only hope of escape lies with her princess captor. Now, Dauriel’s kingdom is on the brink of war, and Talloria might just be the key to defeating their common enemy. A sapphic mermaid-princess love story full of ancient magic, wicked tyrants, and messy emotions is perfect for any occasion.
Mortal Enemies to Lovers
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
Content warning: death of a loved one
In the beginning, alchemists created Automaes for their human masters, but then they rebelled against their creators. Now the tables have turned, and the surviving humans must serve the Automaes who killed their friends and family. Ayla is one human servant determined to get revenge. Planning to kill the daughter and heir of the Sovereign, Lady Crier, is a task made easier after Alya becomes her handmaiden. A slow-burn romance starts to sizzle as Crier and Alya realize they might just have common opinions and goals. Maybe they can take down the Sovereign together if they can manage to trust each other.
Ruined by Amy Tintera
Content warning: torture
A modern revenger’s tragedy embraces the rage, loss, and determination involved in taking back a kingdom lost to war. The kingdom of Lera destroyed her kingdom, killed her parents, and took her sister in their quest to destroy magic. Now Emelina, a princess with no powers, must disguise herself as the prince’s fiancée to infiltrate the kingdom, retrieve her sister, and kill her new husband. It’s a brilliant, brutal plan her mother would have been proud of, but Em’s searing rage tempers in the face of Prince Cas’s sunny personality. He starts to look less stab-worthy by the minute, and it’s becoming a real problem.
From the Dark we Came by J. Emery
Belar may have mastered both music teaching and monster hunting, but even he is not immune from performance lags. He just happens to be a vampire who is not as dead as he should be. When Cassian, the one that got away, shows up at his home, Belar is shocked to discover he is not there for revenge: he has a job offer. Cassian wants to know who is trying to kill him, and why, so he can get back to his cozy non-evil life. Now Belar is questioning his employer and the motivation behind his past work. A paranormal romance with a demisexual protagonist, this is for everyone who questions authority on a budget.
Dime Store Magic By Kelley Armstrong
Content warning: attempted sexual assult
Paige Winterbourne has a lot on her plate as a freelance software engineer, the new leader of the American Coven of Witches, and a foster parent to a teen witch. It doesn’t help that her foster child, Savannah, catches the eye of an evil cabal of supernaturals excited to get legal custody of the teen. Paige is about to get into a load of supernatural legal trouble, and unfortunately, the first lawyer to help is a sorcerer. You see, witches and sorcerers hate each other. It’s just a biological fact. So, when Lucas Cortez offers a numerated guide to her legal woes, Page kicks him out the door. But Lucas is persistent, and as they begin to work together against a greater foe, they fall for each other.
Human Enough by E.S. Yu
Content warnings: ableism, past emotional abuse
A vampire finds companionship and protection when a vampire hunter frees both of them from an abusive home. Jordan is just learning to deal with his life as a vampire decades after he was turned, but as his new vampire support group friends begin to disappear, he turns to the only person who can help: Noah, his vampire hunter. Being autistic in an office environment always takes some level of extra work, but when Noah finds himself reassigned to a team involved in a conspiracy, his job becomes infinitely harder. Now, Noah must uncover the plot harming innocent vampires without revealing his relationship with Jordan to his colleagues. Sometimes, being employed really bites.
Nemeses are Forever
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon’s life is straightforward. He is the chosen one going to a magic school with a reliable nemesis, a brilliant best friend, and a likable girlfriend. Sure, killing monsters and stopping plots can be exhausting and interferes with his schoolwork, but someone’s gotta do it. But when his magic starts to go wrong and dead zones of magic begin to appear across the continent, Simon begins to question what he should be doing to fix it. The only one who is of any help, oddly, is his nemesis, Baz, who may be a vampire and a potential friend.
Capture the Crown by Jennifer Estep
Content warning: torture
Everyone knows the brightest thing about Princess Gemma is her dazzling wardrobe. No one suspects it is all a performance concealing her powers as a mind magier and role as a spy. Undercover at the royal mines, Gemma unearths a plot to destroy her kingdom and runs into her nemesis, Prince Leonidas, looking into the same mystery. When a mine accident mortally wounds Gemma, Leo knows he can only heal her at the palace. Now, Gemma is in her enemy’s castle: the best place for a spy and the worst place for a princess. With Leo’s help, she might just be able to save her people, but she will have to trust him first.
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Content warning: abusive relationship
If you were wealthy enough to attend Medio School for Girls, you too would receive training in household management as Primeras or child-rearing as Segundas. Daniela is more than happy to avoid rebellions, starvation, and other low-class struggles as the top student of her class, but it would disappear if her forged background was ever discovered. Her wedding cannot come soon enough, but when a resistance spy threatens to reveal her secret if she doesn’t join up, everything changes. It doesn’t help that she is starting to fall for the Segunda in her house, her school nemesis, Carmen. Now she must choose between fighting for justice and love or pursuing the life her parents sacrificed for.
Spell Bound by Jacob Z. Flores
Black magic is a family trait Mason does not have mastery over yet, but when he comes across a dead body on the high school football field he senses his time on the sidelines is over — that is, if the new kid Drake doesn’t get in the way with his biting wit and generally annoying personality. Sure, Mason’s magic sometimes goes awry and he hasn’t found his dark specialty yet, but he can still contemplate cursing his new adversary. Mason suspects the murder involves Drake, but if they don’t stop enchanting each other, they may never discover the real evil lurking in the dark.
Thoughts On Enemies-To-Lovers Fantasy Books
It is easy to see why a trope about overcoming first impressions, working with people who have opposing views, or maneuvering negative relationships into positive partnerships is popular. We all like to see when passionate hate turns to feelings of protection, caring, and love. Absolutely adorable. I hate it.