Bottom Line: Do you like the Fated Mates trope?
Erin: This is one of those tropes that I don’t like in my head – probably primarily because I can cite a number of books in which the use of the trope annoyed me – but when I read it in a story that’s well-planned and well-executed, it usually tickles me pink
Ingrid: I freaking love this trope. Let’s just take the whole will they/won’t they issue off the table and jump right in, shall we?
Holly: Look, when they are fated to be together because her blood smells so delicious, I just cannot deal. But sometimes, an author takes the basic idea of two people who are connected in some kind of cosmic way and does something really interesting with it.
Can a non-paranormal romance be a fated mates story, or does it really only work with vampires / werewolves / alien parasites?
Erin: I think it’s totally possible that an author could reasonably create a characterization that includes at least one protagonist feeling like love was fated, but that’s extremely uncommon. It tends more to be represented as insta-love or love at first sight, which I don’t read the same way. When it’s used in paranormal romance, it’s leaning into the idea that the love/relationship is important/meaningful, but it happens to the protagonists rather than that the protagonists build it. This creates an interesting dynamic when the protagonists have to deal with a romance that maybe they don’t want to or that only applies to one of the two.
Ingrid: Um, totally. Besides the obvious answer (romance authors can and will do whatever they want in pursuit of a HEA), I would argue that the point of a fated mates trope is that there’s some kind of mysterious and deeply compelling reason why these two individuals are meant to be together. Frankly, I don’t even care if there’s a clear explanation of that reason. One example that comes to mind is a betrothal from birth, or two leaders whose union is “meant to be” for them and their people. I think that, thankfully, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this trope.
Holly: Absolutely! I do think that for it to really be fated mates there has to be some kind of supernatural element to it. Think prophecies or reincarnation. Being magically on the same page without the ability to communicate totally counts.
(Hat tip to Ben Dreyfuss at Mother Jones who wrote this article and reminded me of the perfect fated mates couple.)
What do you think is fun about fated mates stories?
Erin: They’re just so ridiculous. Even when they’re intense, they often get all bodice rippery. It’s fun to explore some of these fantasies and ideas in a place that’s so removed from real life.
Ingrid: They’re not just going to be together, their union will create and solidify something much bigger than themselves and be the catalyst for something transformative. It’s meant to be! There’s something bigger here calling the shots!! Isn’t this why people like myths and lore? So as my fellow reviewers will hear me say with great conviction, when we’re reading these we’re being asked to willingly suspend our disbelief and watch them rebel and negotiate and slowly knit together their fates. It’s not the will they/won’t they–it’s the HOW. It’s just gosh-darn fun.
Holly: What Ingrid said, with the caveat that I think this dynamic can be really hard to pull off.
What do you find problematic about the fated mates trope?
Erin: I often feel like it’s lazy if the romance isn’t well-planned and well-executed. This primarily (though not always) happens when both protagonists are bound by being fated mates, and the author uses this to skip relationship building in favor of other plotlines.
Ingrid: I will agree that for this genre, the relationship building cannot be skipped. There has to be growth for the resolution to be satisfying, and I’ve read more than a handful from this trope where I’d argue the end result was almost romance-adjacent and not a true romance, because the relationship becomes secondary to the rest of the plot.
Holly: Counterpoint to Erin and Ingrid: sometimes it’s fine to get the relationship established early so you can have some ridiculous adventures and face your foes as a team! You could even be mates and then have to work on your relationship, seducing your spouse style! That could be fun! But I agree that if you’re looking for a romance and what you want is courtship and the gradual building of a relationship, then this trope is probably not the right one for you.
What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?
Erin: Umm, one book? Are you for real right now? I like that Elva Birch played with ideas about consent in The Dragon Prince of Alaska. I like that Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark is this big, intense world and no one kind of immortal has exactly the same programming, but they get mixed up anyway. And I will never forget the heroine going into heat when she becomes a shifter after a lab accident in Sharp Change by Milly Taiden.
Ingrid: Look, let’s just say it–Ruby Dixon and all those little alien parasites did it right. This series takes this trope and puts together so many different ways two people (I mean, I guess two anatomically compatible organisms, but you get my point) can find their way to a fated happily-ever-after. And honestly, if you don’t find yourself reading this series and identifying with those feelings of helpless rebellion and time marching forward whether you’re ready for it or not, I will eat my hat.
Holly: You mean besides Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz in Love Actually? Bear With Me by Lucy Eden is a pretty classic fated mates bear shifter book – except for the bit where they make it clear that just because it’s fate doesn’t mean that the other details will necessarily work out.