I have no idea why it took so long for me to discover that I love slow-burn romances. It's always bothered me when characters meet and are immediately attracted to each other because I think it's unrealistic. But watching two people meet, get to know each other, and slowly realize they have feelings? I could read that all day.
To kick off my month of romance/love themed posts, I figured I'd talk about my favorite slow-burns from books. There might be some spoilers ahead, so be warned now.
My favorite thing about slow-burns is getting to analyze all the little details about the relationship between two people. Noticing all the moments they look at each other when the other person isn't looking, freaking out about the small brushes of contact, holding tightly to the tiny moments when they begin to reveal their feelings - it's all incredibly satisfying to me.
It comes with the territory that one of the best things about slow-burn romances is the will-they-won't-they element of relationship. Watching the relationship develop as the characters get to know each other better gives me more reason to root for them. I'd rather know that their feelings for each other are grounded in something real that have it be based off initial attraction that is far less likely to last. Sometimes, the characters don't even end up together and we're just left with all the moments that could have made them a really good couple.
The good reasons for delaying a romance make it worth the wait, but the dumb reasons can make it really frustrating, I will admit that. For me, it comes down to how well the writer pulls off the reasoning behind why two people can't or won't be together. And when they do get together, it's so much more satisfying.
percy Jackson & annabeth chase - percy jackson & the olympians
You can't talk about slow-burns and not have this. It's basically the law of books and fandoms. Granted, the main reason Percy and Annabeth stay friends for so long is because they're kids when they meet, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying and adorable when they do start admitting their feelings for each other.
What I love about this is the friendship they build. It starts with some rivalry because no daughter of Athena can resist a good competition with...anyone. And slowly, Annabeth comes to realize that there's more to Percy than him being the "Chosen One" or the sarcastic dork he usually is. On his part, Percy respects Annabeth's brains and bravery, admitting that there's a lot he could never do without her. They see each other on equal ground (though we all know Annabeth is 97% of the reason Percy has managed to stay alive this long) and that helps their friendship start developing into something more.
I've always appreciated being able to watch them grow up together. We start with them being 12-years old and the series ends with them being 16. Four years of getting to know someone is a lot, and that allows for plenty of summers where they run off on adventures that shows their best and worst sides. These extreme quests challenge their ability to communicate and trust each other, building the grounds for a very compatible romantic relationship - Annabeth is the hero and Percy is the comic relief.
Okay, I'll stop making fun of Percy for a second. One of the best things about the slow development of their relationship is watching Percy's affections and perception of Annabeth grow and change. He does respect her a lot and cares deeply about her, even when she doesn't seem to return those feelings. Even though he thinks she's beautiful, it's her bravery, brilliance, and passion that Percy is drawn to the most.
On her part, Annabeth is easily balanced out by the easy-going nature Percy always has around him. The fact that he never takes things totally seriously means that she learns to relax a little. His sense of humor, whether accidental or intentional, keeps her spirits up and makes her realize that there's more than one way to go about things. She also respects his resilience and adaptability, having seen him thrown into chaos more than once and somehow come out of it with positivity. For someone who has all the characteristics of a natural hero, Annabeth admires the traits in Percy that make him one too.
Getting to the moment when they finally act of their feelings is both sweet and satisfying. Years of building up to that scene gives a sense of resolution, and at the same time, we know as readers that there's no way their journey together is over yet. They've grown incredibly as friends who push each other, and being able to see them take the next step in their relationship is undeniable proof that they'll continue to challenge each other to be the best possible person.
anne shirley & gilbert blythe - anne of green gables
This is the first slow burn romance I can remember reading. To this day, it's one of the most fun ones I've read because of the tumultuous relationship Anne and Gilbert have for years. Calling someone "carrots" and tugging on their hair isn't the best way to get noticed, but neither is cracking a writing slate on someone's head. Yet, the two keep circling back to each other and develop a mutual respect out of their initial academic rivalry.
The fact that they come from very different backgrounds means they get off to a rocky start, and the natural competitive spirit they share turns Gilbert's embarrassment into a rivalry that Anne is all too happy to take part in. You wouldn't think that competing for the top spot in class could cause this much romantic tension, but it does. Adding in the trope of all the other girls in school pining over Gilbert while Anne insists on being the outlier, it's basically a recipe for love.
Much like Percy and Annabeth, Anne and Gilbert grow up together. They're stuck in the same classes, the same friend groups, and the same wider social circle. The inciting moment of Gilbert picking on Anne becomes such a grievance to her that she declares they can never be friends. To his credit, Gilbert views this with amusement and pretty much carries on with his life as usual, save for a few snide remarks and high test scores to keep Anne on her toes.
Though we never get to see from Gilbert's perspective, it's clear that one of the things he's drawn to the most is Anne's passion for life. The way she views the world and how comfortable she is with being different from the other girls makes her stand out. Her red hair definitely made her notice him, but it never comes down to how she looks. For Gilbert, it's always about the person Anne is and how she's so determined to take on the world during a time when women were still expected to stay home and become mothers. He recognizes her work ethic and respects the drive she has. And during a time when it was basically unheard of, Gilbert thinks of Anne as his equal.
It's hard to deny that Gilbert's charm is the reason why a lot of the girls in Avonlea like him. Anne appears resistant to this fact after he made fun of her hair, and manages to turn a good part of her teenaged life into a quest to demolish him in school. Though we see Gilbert mature over time through Anne's eyes, much of their early interactions are colored by her resentment for how he treated her when they first met. By the time she's older enough to know better, we as the readers already see the growth in Gilbert that Anne is only beginning to recognize. From that point onward, we begin noticing the attention and care he directs at her. Though she only views him in a friendly capacity, it's no secret that he cares a lot about her, going so far as to give up a job so that she can stay closer to home.
The thing that makes their relationship so satisfying is watching them grow up and change as people. They're young, immature, competitive, and stubborn when they meet, allowing for a ton of hilarious interactions. As they grow up and realize how compatible they are as friends, things slowly begin to change. Most of the reason why it takes so long for them to get together is because Anne doesn't realize how much she's come to care about and love Gilbert. Despite his repeated attempts to make her notice him through gentlemanly and thoughtful gestures, she never sees him as more than a friend. Not until she nearly loses his friendship, at least. And even then, she's too stubborn to admit that there might be more feelings on her part.
Their final confession of feelings might be one of my favorites among all my reading. In part, it's because we've seen them grow from rivals to friends to partners over the course of several years. They've been through their share of rough spots and still, always find each other's friendship in the end. Ultimately, the fact that it takes them so long to get together is the reason why they become such a strong couple.
yumeko & kage tatsumi - shadow of the fox
Okay, before I start talking about how great they are, I acknowledge that before meeting each other, they've basically met very few if any people of the opposite gender who are their age. Yumeko being raised by monks doesn't leave any chance for her to meet teenaged boys, and Tatsumi being an assassin doesn't exactly spell out the most romantic encounters.
What makes this a fun slow-burn romance is how much they annoy each other in the beginning. Tatsumi begrudgingly accompanies Yumeko on her journey because he kind of has to. And she is far too sheltered to have been let out into the world. Their conversations make for some of the most amusing moments throughout the trilogy and I loved getting to see them unknowingly respect each other.
The thing that keeps them coming back to each other is their unwavering loyalty to their friends. Well, Yumeko's unwavering loyalty is what keeps them together. Tatsumi kind of gets his own chaotic mess to deal with. As they spend time traveling together, they take turns with the role of protector. Tatsumi naturally does all the physical fighting since he's the great warrior, but Yumeko holds her own by being an empathetic person who can diffuse tension by talking people out of it. She respects the training he went through and he slowly respects her ability to see the good in everyone.
What keeps them apart is a literal distance for a good portion of their romance. Although neither of them has figured out that it's a romance yet. It's always tricky to keep love interests apart due to physical distance, but this trilogy does an amazing job of setting up the circumstances that force their separation. It kind of sucks that they don't get to learn more about each other because they're not together, but a lot of the foundational moments from their time together before the separation becomes the basis for why they hold on to each other.
My favorite part of their relationship is how much they change each other. Because of his training, Tatsumi is your typical stoic male hero with little to no emotions and a tragic backstory that keeps him from getting close to other people. He maintains that it's the best thing for him, but Yumeko slowly breaks that down by asking him questions about himself, showing her empathy and compassion toward toward other people, and choosing to believe that there's more to him that just the person he's always told himself to be. She changes him far more than he changes her, and it's nice to see him slowly become a better person just because she came into his life. In turn, he opens her eyes to what the world is like and teaches her what it means to fight for something you believe in. When he's not answering her questions about the world, he's making sure nothing bad happens to her. And that gives Yumeko a glimpse into how caring Tatsumi actually is.
Their relationship is a recent favorite of mine because of how well-written and well-developed it is. They're both equally great as characters and their relationship grows from such an amusing place, it's hard not to love watching them get closer and discover that they like each other. Or maybe it's just indigestion (if you know, you know).
marco & celia - the night circus
I'm sensing a minor pattern with slow-burn romances centered around some kind of rivalry or competition, and I hope you're picking up on it too. This book sets one of the most interesting premises for a slow burn romance since it only happens because two men are trying to have a pissing contest about who the better teacher is.
I believe that the beauty of this story and the romance is actually in how little we know about it. What you need to know is that Marco and Celia are both students of different teachers, tasked with outdoing each other to prove that one of them is more skilled. Surprise, surprise, they're equally skilled in different areas and that makes it hard to determine who is actually better at what they do.
The thing that attracts them to each other is the fact that they understand how they've been brought up in ways no one else can. They relate to each other's isolated childhoods and strange upbringing, and that's sometimes more powerful that any other connection. Throw in their skills and how they never cease to impress each other and you've got everything you need for a slow-burn romance that keeps you on your toes.
Unlike the other ones I've mentioned, Marco and Celia do little to change each other as people. They're already quite set in who they are, but getting to know each other brings out the best in them and forces them to come to terms with things they've denied themselves or refused to admit. Much of their relationship is grounded in a powerful mutual respect for each other's skills and work, allowing them to stand on equal footing despite the competition they're supposed to be in.
In the end, I think what I love most about their love for each other is how slowly it develops and how it's based on knowing that they're both great at what they do without needing to compete for first place. The rivalry is what brings them together, but their love becomes stronger than anything their teachers can try to force upon them. And that makes for one of the most compelling love stories I've read in recent years.
daniel & natasha - the sun is also a star
I'm cheating a little with this one because it technically counts as insta-love and only takes place over the course of one day. BUT, the circumstances around that one day are enough for me to count this as a slow-burn.
As someone who has never believed in love at first sight (unless we're talking about dogs), I found it really interesting how this book balanced insta-love with a slow burn just by having two polar opposite characters. Daniel believes in love at first sight and that the universe can bring people together for the Love of Ages, but Natasha thinks love is silly and trivial and unfounded by solid science. So watching them actually start falling in love is part of the slow-burn that takes place over 24-hours.
With only a day to get to know each other and spend together, they manage to change and challenger the other person a lot. Natasha is fearless in her love of science and her passion to change the world because she knows she has it in her. Daniel is a hopeless romantic who desperately wants to live a life that isn't dictated by his parents so that he feels a sense of freedom. She challenges him to fight for what he wants and he challenges her to let loose a little. Together, they prove that even spending a little bit of time with the right person has the power to make a huge difference.
The question in their whirlwind slow-burn is whether or not you can be attracted to someone immediately and grow to fall in love within a short span of time. Truly fall in love. Daniel puts this to the test by appealing to Natasha's scientific side with the infamous "36 Questions To Fall in Love." Natasha tries to disprove this as a scientific possibility, but the more time she spends with him, the less she can deny that there might be something real between them. The slow burn is primarily on her end as she realizes that there's more to love than what she thinks of as hormones and brain chemicals.
You might not think that any of this actually counts as a slow-burn romance, but read the book and it'll all make sense. Something about the way Yoon manages to stretch one day into what feels like months of Daniel and Natasha getting to know each other constitutes it as a slow-burn. Knowing that they have a limited time together makes you cherish the moments they spend getting to know each other and somehow draws each little thing into a relationship monument. And the closer you get to the end of the book, the more it becomes apparent that despite the short time span, they've managed to awaken and change something in each other that will last for years to come.
What I love about their relationship is that more than the others, it's realistic. It captures how quickly and slowly you can fall in love with someone and how easily that small thing can change who you are and how you live your life. The way the book concludes solidifies my opinion that this one of the best slow-burn romances out that and a game changer in the way we approach or perceive the trope.
Well, that's a lot of talk about love and romance from me. I feel like I need to mention a little bit of death and murder for a second.
Like I said earlier, the slow-burn appeals to me because it really gives me the chance to get to know the characters and why I'm supposed to believe that they'll make a good couple. Seeing how they interact with each other over long periods of time and react to different situations thrown at them gives me the satisfaction of watching them finally come together in the end and admit that they couldn't have done it without the other person and therefore strengthening the basis of a romantic relationship. In the end, I love how slow-burns force the characters to continually challenge each other in ways that should happen in a real romantic relationship.