I recently read Spin the Dawn, which had some interesting elements but also used some YA romance tropes that I hate. Today I will rail against those tropes. Spoilers for Spin the Dawn to follow.
- Creepy Power Imbalances
Maia, the protagonist for Spin the Dawn, is 18, and she gets with an incredibly powerful enchanter who is literally about 500 years old. This is a problem because his combined life experience and power lead to him ordering her around. Which is creepy and weird when the guy is her lover and not her teacher or mentor.
We don’t run into any other enchanters in this book, so I don’t see why Edan couldn’t have been younger and less confident about what to do in a crisis. Or, if he has to be that old and powerful, then this book could have developed their friendship while a book later in the series had them become an item. At that point, Maia could plausibly have been in enough dramatic, magic situations to be Edan’s equal.
In any case, I don’t know why we keep pushing this Twilight-esque “old guy with special powers in a young man’s body is into teenage girl” trope. We don’t need to keep telling teenage girls that it’s hot to be involved with older men who order them around because they think they know best.
- “Romantic” Power Struggles
To Maia’s credit, she does sometimes do things other than what Edan tells her to do. But her choices are sometimes rash and uninformed because she’s still so new to this whole adventure with magic thing.
And regardless of whether her choices, say, destabilize her entire country and cause a second civil war, power struggles don’t indicate healthy relationships. Edan makes choices for Maia without consulting her, and then Maia shows what a strong female character she is by making choices for him too.
Reading the book, I wanted them to break up or at least have a major fight about how controlling they both are so that we don’t act like red flags are romantic.
- Fan-Service Protection Complexes
All this decision-making for each other is presented as romantic because they’re both controlling the other in an attempt to be protective. Again, Maia does this too, but she at least cares about her reputation and her family. Edan’s overprotectiveness crowds out his personality.
Like wolf-guy and soldier-man from the Lunar Chronicles, Edan’s concern for Maia’s safety takes over his every thought. He has no object in life but to keep her safe as he sees fit. He doesn’t care about his oath, the people who could die if he becomes a demon, or even people other than Maia, whose opinions he also doesn’t care about.
For much of the book, Edan is the overprotective boyfriend a lot of teen girls want so that they’ll feel like they matter and are safe. Edan the enchanter-dude joins the ranks vampire-husband, wolf-guy, and soldier-man, proof that women writing for women can make men just as unrealistic as men writing for men can make women.
- Undefinably Unique Women
Maia, much like Bella Swan before her, is the only woman to “tempt” her ancient lover for a century or five. However, we don’t know why Edan finds her so attractive. Admittedly, love and attraction aren’t a matter of reason. But still, the guy’s been around for 500 years and has never been involved with a woman. So why now? Why her?
We don’t know. We just need to know that Maia is ordinary-looking and insecure yet beautiful, mostly ordinary except for her sewing but still “not like other girls.” The idea of this trope is for the female readers to see themselves in her and be swept away by the validation of Edan’s love for Maia/Bella/[insert female YA protagonist’s name here].
But maybe Maia could be normal and still worthy of Edan’s interest. Maybe she doesn’t need to be different from other women, because actually other women are great too. She doesn’t need to be the only woman Edan’s ever been seriously interested in for their romance to make her feel special. We could get away from this idea that true love is for only the fairest in the land.
Just some thoughts.