We Need To Redefine Slow Burn Romance In YA Fantasy
Who doesn't love a good slow burn romance? Think of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Adam Parrish and Ronan Lynch, or Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa. There's just something so engrossing about watching two people fall in love so slowly that you're 'shipping it long before the characters do. However, when it comes to many slow burn romances in YA fantasy, that isn't always how they play out. And that's really disappointing when, for me, the conclusion of a romance arc is so much more satisfying when I feel like it's really been earned.
The typical set up for a YA fantasy is as follows: a boy and a girl meet, or meet again, or have been friends for years. There is an immediate attraction between them, whether it's him thinking her attractive, she thinking him attractive, a spark that expands into an argument burying deeper feelings, or the revelation that one or both have had feelings for the other for years that have yet to be reciprocated. Then, the plot happens, and the boy and the girl's relationship slowly progresses from there — occasionally complicated by a love triangle — until they finally, finally kiss after making eyes at one another for nearly the entire book.
I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that approach to a slow burn romance. I can think of several couples I love that fall somewhere in the above summary. I just think there's another, underused version of the slow burn romance that I'd love to see more of in upcoming books.
I want a slow burn romance that's heavy on the burn and slow on the romance. I want the two sides of the 'ship to meet and bond before the possibility of an attraction or a romance is ever on the table. I want to be pairing them together romantically long before the narrative leads me there with those longing looks and poetic appearance descriptions. I want the realization of affection to take as long to happen as that inevitable kiss. By the time the narrative acknowledges that, yeah, there's something here, I want to be saying, "I knew it," not just, "Finally." That satisfying validation that the signs you saw were romantic not platonic is something you just don't get when all the signs of an approaching romance are outlined from that first meeting.
Take Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, for example. (Full disclosure: I don't 'ship it. It just illustrates my point.) They were combative best friends for four books before the first signs that they were attracted to each other came into play. That was partially because of their respective ages when they met, sure, but it allowed the reader plenty of time to see them build a relationship before it ever became a relationship.
Along that same vein, it took Ronan Lynch two of The Raven Cycle's four books to admit to himself that he was attracted to Adam Parrish, and Adam Parrish the other two books to acknowledge or return it. Anyone who says they didn't scream louder during that bedroom kiss than they did the first time Blue Sargent climbed in Gansey's car is probably lying to you; we've known Gansey was her true love since page one, but Adam and Ronan were a beautiful surprise.
And, finally, Six of Crows' Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa had multiple scenes across multiple chapters before Kaz threw a man overboard for hurting her. Getting to know these characters and watching that friendship develop made the moment that I realized that Kaz was in love with her so much more satisfying than if he'd been introduced as someone she was mutually attracted to in their first couple of scenes.
Now, I'm not saying that I want YA authors to make me wait multiple books for my 'ship to acknowledge they have feelings for one another. I don't think my poor romance-loving heart could take it. I just want more books that aren't afraid to let readers get to know a bond before it turns into a 'ship. I want more books that acknowledge that sometimes the person that you love isn't immediately obvious, or someone to whom you're immediately attracted. I want more true friendships that later develop into attraction and romance.
Basically, I want more slow in my slow burning romances. It's too often underappreciated form of 'ship satisfaction.