Hello dearies, and happy 2021! It’s been a strange year, to say the least, but I wish you all health and happiness in this new year! I spent my holiday vacation binging (bingeing?) season 2 of The Mandalorian with hubby (SO AMAZINGLY GOOD) and starting season 3 of my current guilty pleasure, Hannibal. (Very Christmas-y, I know.)
But, anyway, this post isn’t about any of that (even though this blog will be converting to a Mads Mikkelsen stan account very shortly…). The last book I read for 2020 has got me thinking about love triangles.
Now, some people really hate love triangles. I’m not in that camp – occasionally, I love a good, ol’ fashioned love triangle, especially if it’s done well, or if there’s a twist on it. There was one in the first two books of my Reborn series (Siobhan/Jasper/Jimmy), although I think my novella Rectify put a nail in that coffin. I realized there was a rather accidental one after I finished writing the third book, but I also put a twist on this in the next installment, Retribution. 😉 Sorry for the book plug, but I couldn’t resist…
The reason I’m thinking love triangles today, though, is because the book I just read did one…poorly. And I’ve been pondering why it didn’t work for me.
The book is Finale, the third book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series. Now, I’m definitely not here to bash this series. I enjoyed the first two books, and I generally liked the magical, whimsical world of games and deception Ms. Garber created. But in the second and third books, there was a love triangle between one of the main heroines, Donatella (Tella) Dragna, Legend (the gamemaster of Caraval), and Jacks/the Prince of Hearts (one of the Fates, the major supernatural/god-like race in the series).
Now, Legend and Jacks are both villainous types in these books. And it’s potentially interesting for the heroine to be caught between two villains (as long as she’s not merely their pawn). But it fell really flat for me, to the point where I was wondering…what is the point? Jacks is kind of a vivid, intriguing character, but why is he here? Why does this love triangle even exist? Even as a villain (or antihero), it would work if he serves as a foil to Legend, or gives Tella something Legend can’t. But most of the time, he’s just kind of there, being cruel and capricious, and Tella seems attracted to him for no reason. Legend goes through more of a character change than Jacks, but even that didn’t have as hard of a punch as it should have.
So, what does make a good love triangle? This example might show my, ahem, age, but I always liked the way L.J. Smith approached them in her novels back in the day. I still think and talk about her books…a lot (Exhibit A). Lol. They’re like thirty years old. It’s fine. But in her books, there was always a light-darkness theme going on with the love triangles her heroines found themselves in. In The Forbidden Game trilogy, Jenny was in love with Tom, her high school sweetheart, who represented light and safety to her. But the part of her that’s growing up, and possibly growing out of Tom, is intrigued by the danger and mystery trickster god Julian offers, despite his darkness. The books aren’t even that long, but Ms. Smith manages to show how Tom isn’t always the safety net Jenny has come to depend on, and how Julian isn’t all that he seems, either. They both offer her something she wants, even if those sides of her are in conflict.
For this next section, if you don’t want spoilers for The Infernal Devices, Splintered, or A Court of Thorns and Roses series, I would stop reading…right about…now.
The other twist on YA love triangles that seems to have become popular in recent years is that…it’s quite possible…to love more than one person during your life? I know it seems crazy, but it’s true! All kidding aside, I think this is an important message for teen audiences. And it makes for a better story! In Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, Tessa marries Will, and they have a very happy life together. But as he’s a shadowhunter and she has demon blood, she outlives him. Long after he’s gone, she reunites with Jem, the other love of her life. There’s a similar theme in A.G. Howard’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired trilogy, Splintered.
I’ve just decided I don’t want to spoil Sarah J. Maas’s ACOTAR series, but if you want to read a trilogy where all of your expectations after reading the first book are completely upended, in the best way possible, READ THESE BOOKS. IMMEDIATELY. Books don’t have to have a message, but I think this series does. It’s an important one and not incorporated in a “preach-y” way or anything like that.
I guess if this post has any sort of conclusion or advice, and isn’t simply me rambling, it’s this. Love triangles can be fun! They don’t have to be super complex or convey some sort of message, but each love interest should offer the central character something he or she wants – or fulfill them in some way – the other person can’t, emotionally or otherwise. It will be more interesting if each of the three characters has very clear internal and external motivations, especially if they come into conflict (and beyond just the fact you have two people fighting over the same person). Or, you know, they should at least be different in some way, and not basically the same person, lol.
Any thoughts about love triangles? I would love to hear them below!