This could probably be a Top Ten Tuesday post or something, but Kate Elliott has a giveaway running at the moment which asks about your favourite reading kink/trope, and it made me want to expand a little on my initial thoughts and post about it. The description is perhaps best borrowed from Elliott’s own post:
[A reading kink is] a trope or type of character or a plot thing or whatever that if it shows up in a book kind of hits all your buttons (in a good way). So for example I might write: “Arrogant dudes who fall in love and have to get humble to get the love interest, a la Mr. Darcy” or “the outsider who is kind of bullied or ignored and who ends up finding she has special powers and a super destiny,” because those are both tried and true (and often cliched) tropes that are reading kinks for me.
As someone who has been involved in fandom and fanfiction (mostly years ago; somehow I seem to have fallen out of the habit now), tropes are something I’m fairly aware of. Favourites of mine include:
- The childhood friend. The kind of love story that grows from friendship and familiarity; often seen in Mary Stewart’s romances, for example. That trust and support, especially when it’s an easy transition — it just sounds lovely.
- Flint and tinder. I’ve definitely talked about this before — characters who argue, snark and snipe at each other, and yet turn out to be in love all along. That kind of relationship that makes me think that Mal was better suited for Simon than Kaylee, in Firefly. People who get under one another’s skin. Lord Peter and Harriet Vane.
- The political marriage. Or other forced marriage tropes, but mostly when it involves coming to an understanding. “I don’t love you, but we can be good to each other and achieve our aims this way.” And I wouldn’t mind if it grew into the kind of steady, familiar trusting love of the childhood friend type, over time, or if the two partners found love elsewhere but supported each other in it. I keep thinking about the example in Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone — the three characters agreeing on a workaround which suits propriety but gets each what they want/need. Man, I need to reread that. Also features in Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage.
- The second son. Not a romance trope! It doesn’t have to be the second son exactly, but that is a trope I’ve noticed: the quiet, sterner, dedicated younger son, like Raymond E. Feist’s Arutha, or Tad Williams’ Josua. Robin Hobb’s Verity, drawn into heroic sacrifice because he can’t be his brother. Faramir. The type of character who knows and relishes their place in support, not the spoilt and grasping ones (like Robin Hobb’s Regal).
- The Protector. Joscelin from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books. He goes with Phèdre into any danger, for love of her. Loyalty, that’s the key.
- Sacrifice. That would be the reason that Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree and The Wandering Fire get to me so much.
- Friendship. That unshakeable, unbreakable bond — without romance. Mal and Zoe. Simon and River, though that’s family. Paul and Kevin, in The Summer Tree.
- Turns out you’re the hero. I’m just reading Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen for the first time, and confess that I’m enjoying Talia slowly realising she’s been chosen. The kitchen boy who makes good; the kitchen girl who overturns the social order. The frail kid from Brooklyn who saves the world again and again.
- The Paladin. That frail kid from Brooklyn. Mass Effect’s Shepard, if played as total Paragon. Someone with this complete goodness of heart, who enables others to be better, who is willing to strive and to sacrifice. Done wrong, they can be sanctimonious assholes. Done right, you get moments like in Captain America: Winter Soldier, when the SHIELD employee listens to Steve’s speech and refuses to “press the buzzer” (so to speak).
- The shrouded past. The mysterious ruins, the old stories, the misunderstood relics. The “Prothean” technology which uplifts a species beyond their actual understanding. Old magic.
- The heart of gold. The assassin or thief or space cowboy who actually cares about the good of others, sometimes against their will.
- “You’re on my crew.” Found families, suddenly belonging… is anyone beginning to notice how many of these tropes Firefly can fill? I think I might need to rewatch it.
- The bookworm. Immediately earmarks a character as a kindred spirit, from Anne of Green Gables to my meeting just now with Mercedes Lackey’s Talia.
- The supporter. The character in the background who supports and enables, without putting themselves forward and without resentment. Leigh Bardugo’s Mal fails on this, for example, which was really disappointing to me. Mack and the other Santitos in Santa Olivia do it. This can, I realise, be part of the second son trope — Feist’s Arutha supporting Lyam, for example.
I could probably go on. And on. And on.
What about you guys? Have you got any reading kinks? Or how about anti-kinks? I’m trying to think, and right now I can’t think of anything that’s an automatic deal-breaker for me, if it’s done right. (E.g. Twilight’s Bella and Edward and their obsessive relationship, the “stalking is love” trope; contrast with Freda Warrington’s A Taste of Blood Wine — Karl and Charlotte are just as obsessed, but the book acknowledges that that is not really a good thing again and again and again.)
Go on, your turn!