The lovers-to-enemies trope occurs when love turns to animosity, and in science fiction and fantasy, things can go from animosity to apocalyptic fast. Your former partner wants to take over the world, destroy a city, or do anything to get you back. Sometimes when your breakup goes apocalyptically bad, it has implications outside yourself.
The lovers-to-enemies plot line becomes pervasive, dangerous, and gut-wrenching as a trusted character becomes completely untrustworthy. Worse still, they become the one person who hates you most. The trope can be a thrilling, unexpected addition to the plot when great loves turned epic enemies. That being said, these relationships often contain moments of emotional or physical abuse between former partners. Please take care and enjoy what you can.
A Closer Look at Lovers-to-Enemies
Naturally, the lovers-to-enemies trope is an inversion of enemies-to-lovers. I imagine the lovers-to-enemies trope in science fiction and fantasy follows the rise of the sympathetic villain. As we look more closely at the villain’s backstory, it is only natural we would watch as past loves turned to current hate. Interestingly, there has been a recent rise in the popularity of the lovers-to-enemies tag. However, it is clear the concept was popular before.
Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent follows a London-based agent attempting to out-maneuver his overseer, killing his brother-in-law in the process. Meanwhile, his wife’s burning rage over his actions leads to his eventual demise (surprise, she murders him). Although this 1907 spy thriller is not the first lovers-to-enemies book out there, it does stand out as having a clear progression of love and admiration to hate in the midst of political turmoil and epic tragedy. Presently, it appears the lovers-to-enemies trope is still going strong and here to stay.
Now, while creating the list I came to realize the lovers-to-enemies books in science fiction and fantasy often occur in later books in the series. Be prepared for a litany of second and third books. Oftentimes book one will establish a relationship between partners and the later books will dismantle it entirely.
As we move onto the selection of titles we have a few major categories of apocalyptically bad lovers-to-enemies books in science fiction and fantasy from young adult to adult literature. We have the “Future & Space & Sci-Fi” books, the books involving “The Gods”, the “Wicked Witches” and finally, the “Miscellaneous Magic” books. I believe it is time to watch these love stories turn into tales of animosity. Let us begin.
Lovers-To-Enemies: Future & Space & Sci-Fi, oh my!
Wildcard by Marie Lu
Content Warnings: Ableism, Child Abuse, Suicide, Death of a Loved One
At this point, when a billionaire tech genius goes bad you almost see it coming. But Emika looked up to Hideo, he was on her side, and she loved him. She never expected to discover his NeuroLink algorithm would threaten modern society. Oh, and did I mention there is a bounty on her head? Now, she will have to band together with her professional gaming team, the Phoenix Riders, and Zero and his group of legendary hackers if she wants to protect the free will of humanity. The second Warcross book brings betrayal and heartbreak all to the table.
Honor Lost by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre
Content Warning: Addiction
An intergalactic romance between humans Zara and Bea and their alien ship Nadim is ready to take on any threat now that they have deserted their mission. They just have to stop the Lifekiller from eating more planets and generally spreading terror. One problem: Zara’s partner in petty crime and ex-boyfriend was sent from Earth to stop them. Wounded, chased, and running out of time, Zara, Bea, and Nadim might not be able to save it all. You must read the entire Honors Trilogy; however, book three deploys the lovers-to-enemies plot line. It’s both a blast and emotionally devastating.
All These Warriors by Amy Tintera
Content Warnings: Emotional Abuse, Parental Abuse
Clara is out here killing monsters left and right to keep people safe, but the public only sees her as Julian’s lying ex-girlfriend. The world just does not believe a boy from such a nice family would be an abusive murderer plotting to take over the world. With the help of good friends and therapists, Clara can uncover the origins of the Scarabs and the private security company weaponizing them. But if she wants to spread the truth, she will have to survive Scarabs, Julian, and an evil security company. Monsters book 2 is where the lovers-to-enemies plot in All These Monsters spreads its roots.
Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik
Content Warnings: Past Trauma, Domestic Abuse
Saving her older brother from space danger lands Bianca on her father’s no fly list. Literally. Before, Bianca quietly balanced her roles as happy widow, tech genius, and daughter of High House von Hasenberg. Now, her father has sent her former love, now enemy and director of security, Ian Bishop, to return her home. With Bianca’s nausea-educing bio enhancements, she can hack into any network, but Ian is loathe to let her do so. He wants her safe, but Bianca must risk everything to free the eldest von Hasenberg before it’s too late.
The Gods are Mixed up In Your Lovers-To-Enemies Trope
The Undoing by Shelly Laurenston
Content Warnings: Past Emotional and Physical Abuse
The Viking gods gave Jace a second life to avenge the innocent as a rage-powered Berserker when her husband murdered her. She is now happy to read, sit in closets, and destroy and/or terrify her enemies. When a vengeful goddess decides to end the world, her clan, the Crows, must team up with an enemy clan to translate an ancient text and save the world. It doesn’t help that her ex-husband and his cult still want her dead. Book 2 in The Call of Crows series does not require you to read The Unleashing, but it is also a fun time if you want to pick it up.
The Ascent to Godhood by Neon Yang
Content Warnings: Child Trafficking, Death of a Loved One
Hekate is villainously adept. Lady Han is brilliantly cunning. When the villain and the courtesan met, their relationship burned as magnificently as it died. Before Hekate ruled 50 years as the Protector of the country, she fell in love with Lady Han, the woman who raised the revolution that killed her. The sapphic lovers-to-enemies love story is the fourth novella in the Tensorate series, so it occurs after you know the story’s ending. The journey is still exciting nonetheless.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Content Warnings: Emotional Abuse, Attempted Suicide
Addie made a Faustian bargain with an old god: eternal life but in exchange, no one will ever remember her. In the 1700s the only way out of a marriage in a small French town was a bargain with an eternal being. Throughout the ages, she has had a lovers-to-enemies relationship with the dark god she bargained with. Connection with a god is always fleeting, but he is the only one who remembers. That is, until Addie meets a bookseller who calls out for her…After she left the room. Fate, bargains, and time will slowly destroy your soul and you will love it.
The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
Content Warnings: Ableism, Addiction, Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Animal Death, Racism, Sexual Assult, Suicide
The second The Poppy War book jumps back in with Rin escaping the war, her empire, and her vengeful god. She must avenge Nikan and destroy the Empress so she decides to work for a new Warlord and create a new Republic. Once again, the more Rin learns about her boss, the less everything adds up. Her goals might just alienate her from everyone she once called a friend, but chasing vengeance and justice is worth any sacrifice.
Wicked Witches: Lovers-to-Enemies
Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper
Content Warning: Sexual Harassment
Nine years ago, Emmy Harlow left her magic behind in Thistle Grove after a difficult breakup. A spellcasting tournament brings her back for one month to arbiter the show per Harlow family tradition. Two other witches in town were unceremoniously dumped by one Gareth Blackmoore. It is the perfect storm for vengeance when Talia Avramov walks into a bar Emmy’s first night back. They agree this is the year the Blackthorns will finally lose the tournament. In this sapphic witchy romance, witches’ will bend the rules to destroy Gareth and get payback once and for all.
Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica
Content Warning: Animal Death
A tumultuous trio descends on a magic house in a small town, and life is never the same again. When Astrid’s father passes away, she moves into his home with her stepbrother Jacks and her friend Sierra. Then, magic begins to pour out of the earth. A power that can enchant ordinary items to perform extraordinary tasks. Easy enough. But as the three use the magic in the house, their relationships twist and sour. When the shift to enemies is seamless, it is hard to remember where it all began.
Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells
Content Warnings: Addiction, Child Abuse, Abuse
When Kate left her family’s dirty magic empire behind, she also broke off contact with her childhood sweetheart. Turning her life around for her younger brother and becoming a patrol cop was not easy. Especially without magic to help her. Unfortunately, her old life keeps coming into her new investigation and her wizard ex-boyfriend is there too. Kate wants to keep herself and her younger brother out of the latest dirty magic turf war and has to drudge up her past if she wants to do so.
Lovers-to-Enemies and Miscellaneous Magic
The Unbroken by C.L. Clark
Content Warnings: Abelism, Abuse, Torture
Welcome to a queernorm high fantasy world where a princess seeks out a turncoat to overthrow her inept uncle. Luca is the princess in question who knows she needs an ex-soldier to placate the growing rebellion while she usurps the throne. Touraine is the soldier for the job, a woman loyal to her conscripts first and the empire who took her second. Impressively, the competing political, colonial, and romantic plot lines make for a compelling story that unravels slowly.
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Content Warnings: Animal Death, Torture
Cast adrift from life in the little palace, Alina must hide her powers to live with Mal peacefully in a new home. But, emerging from the Fold, the Darkling will do anything to achieve his goals and Alina cannot turn away from the destruction. Now, with the help of a privateer, she must travel back to Ravka to save her country and destroy the man she once cared for. Please, read Shadow and Bone first, but the second book in The Shadow and Bone Trilogy locks into the lovers-to-enemies dynamic and must be savored.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Content Warnings: Death of a Loved One, Abuse, Torture
In 1926 Shanghai, everyone knows Julliette and Roma’s lovers-to-enemies story. The Scarlets and the White Flowers have always fought for control over the city. But recently, the streets have flooded with outsiders and a dark, mysterious monster. A monster that compels a viral spread of self-mutilation to everyone who encounters it. Personal and professional grudges will have to take a backseat to the threat if they want to protect Shanghai from unregulated havoc.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Content Warnings: Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse
Dyeing to save the love of her life should have been the hardest thing Feyre had to face in her new eternal life. But returning to the Spring Court with Tamlin began a barrage of uncontrollable High Fae power and tumultuous emotions. Tamlin believes he is protecting her by locking her inside, but when protection becomes suffocating, her only way out is living with the one person she thought she couldn’t trust. Although you have to read A Court of Thorns and Roses first, book 2 in the series is an iconic lovers-to-enemies book.
Carrying on With Lovers-to-Enemies
Lovers-to-enemies is an important trope because, more often than not, the people who can destroy your life are people who know you best. Perhaps the trope might be too tragic to fully enjoy. I completely understand if it is a hard limit for anyone. However, something is comforting about knowing you can get past a relationship with someone who turned out different than what you expected. In science fiction and fantasy, lovers-to-enemies books show you are valid, the person you broke up with was the worst, and you can move past it.