Now it’s safe to say that a large number of people (myself included) love a good trope or archetype. The more the merrier, especially in romance. Stuff like “one bed at an inn” remains a classic, regardless of how many times it’s been used.
However, subverted tropes are also great to see, especially if the subversion heightens a story’s tension. If you’re looking to switch things up, here’s a list of sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal romance books that play with tropes, archetypes, or genderbent scenarios.
Note: We tried to pull a mix of YA and adult books, with a variety of publication dates.
1. Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson
Subverted Trope: Genderbent Phantom of the Opera
Subgenre: YA Fantasy
Long-time readers may know that I’m a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera retellings. So when I was offered the chance to read a copy of Sing Me Forgotten, I honestly couldn’t resist.
Set in a fantasy version of the gothic tale, Isda is “gravior”—a terrifying creature who consumes people’s memories through the power of her voice. For many years, Isda has lived in hiding beneath the city’s opera house, controlling the audience’s mood with her powers. When a young man with beautiful vocals arrives at the theatre, Isda becomes enchanted with his skill.
After the theatre manager denies him a starring role, however, she turns to rage instead.
Determined to make the vocalist a star, Isda takes him under her wing for voice training. Meanwhile, the opera manager hatches a sinister plan.
This book was so good, from start to finish: a true reimagining of the Phantom of the Opera that takes the best parts of the original story, while reinventing it for a modern audience. However, there is one major caveat for the ending.
Without Spoilers: Sing Me Forgotten has a bittersweet ending, not a HEA or HFN. That said, the book comes very close to a HFN and it’s based off of the Phantom of the Opera, so I personally think it gets a pass.
2. The Queen’s Gambit by Jessie Mihalik
Subverted Trope: Damsel in Distress
Subgenre: Sci-Fi Romance
I love Jessie Mihalik’s books, and for good reason. With multiple titles to her name, Mihalik has built up a reputation for feel-good, action-packed romps in space. One of my favorite books is TThe Queen’s Gambit, the first installment in the Rogue Queen trilogy.
In The Queen’s Gambit, Mihalik twists the “damsel in distress” trope on its head.
The Setup: Samara Rani is the leader of a mercenary coalition that survives by taking on rough-and-tumble jobs from two warring space factions. When she is contracted by the Kos Empire to rescue their kidnapped Emperor, Samara unwittingly becomes the Emperor’s knight in shining armor to his proverbial damsel in distress.
Read this book if you’re looking for a romantic read with lots of firefights, chase scenes, and sexual tension.
3. Acts of Mercy by Ciara Graves
Subverted Trope: Demon Good Guy VS Human (?) Bad Guy
Subgenre: Paranormal Romance
The first book in a series, Acts of Mercy follows Mercy Temple: a supernatural bounty hunter living in a near-future version of Tennessee. There, humans and otherworldly creatures live alongside each other, a la True Blood style.
Deeply scarred by childhood events, Mercy hides her insecurities behind a tough, no-nonsense facade. When she picks up a contract to hunt down an ex-mage, however—and a disastrous dinner party has her leaning on a straight-laced demonic agent named for support—Mercy discovers that hiding behind her emotional facade is no longer an option.
Quick-paced, action-packed, and angsty—with wild romantic chemistry between the leads—Acts of Mercy is a must-read.
4. The Shatter Me Series (Books 1-3), by Tahereh Mafi
Subverted Trope: Bad Guy Gets The Girl
Subgenre: YA Dystopian
The Shatter Me series is one of the oldest titles on this list, but to this day it contains one of my favorite subverted tropes.
Juliette is a traumatized young woman living in a world where people with supernatural powers are locked up, hunted down, or killed. She herself is incarcerated in solitary confinement due to these gifts. When Juliette escapes from her prison, however—and she joins a resistance movement—she ends up in the sights of Warner, the son of a war criminal and her ideological opposite.
A villain in his own right, Warner immediately tries to recapture her. As Juliette tries to circumvent his grasp and undo the damage his faction has caused, the two of them grow closer than any enemies ever should.
This book is great for how it commits to subverting the readers’ expectations around a villainous character, and what will happen to that character by the end of the book.
5. Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim
Subverted Trope: Genderbent Count of Monte Cristo
Subgenre: YA Fantasy
Looking for tropical islands, coral reefs, and sparkling blue waters mixed in with a bit of murder? Then the Scavenge the Stars series is your best bet.
A genderbent remake of The Count of Monte Cristo, Scavenge the Stars follows Amaya Chandra—AKA Silverfish—a teenage girl on the cusp of independence who is determined to seek her revenge. Sold into servitude after her father was executed, Amaya has spent years onboard a debtor ship. After she escapes the ship, she teams up with a group of outcasts who have had their lives ruined by the same person who destroyed her own family—a wealthy merchant who controls their city-state’s port.
Slipping into a role of subterfuge, Amaya sets her eyes on Cayo, the son of her enemy. The goal: to destroy this merchant, his son, and their family from within. Cayo is nothing like she expects, however, and as the two of them grow close she realizes that she will need to make a painful decision.
Fast-paced and complex with a bisexual main character (Cayo), Scavenge the Stars is a wild ride full of twists, double-crosses, and startling reveals. The book is not quite a HFN, but remains surprisingly hopeful.
Content Warnings: Child abuse, child imprisonment, child death, indentured labor, pandemics, gambling addictions.
Twist That Romantic Trope
Subverted tropes and remakes of old classics can be thrilling, especially if that subversion is pulled off with style. If you’re looking for more exciting books to check out, especially retellings, then here are four fairytale romances available on Kindle Unlimited.