The (Dreaded?) Love Triangle

Okay, I can hear your facepalms already. There are few things more prevalent in modern lit (or lit in general, I guess) than the Love Triangle, regardless of what genre the book happens to be in, and it seems like readers usually split into two general camps on this–they either love them, or hate them with the force of a thousand supernovas. I have to admit, however, that for me, it just depends. I’ve read Love Triangles that make me cringe, and I’ve also read Love Triangles that make me SWOON. So today, I thought it would be interesting to list out some of my absolute favorite Love Triangles, along with why I like each of them:

1. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens): Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette, and Sydney Carton

Okay, easily my favorite type. I gotta say, I am a TOTAL SUCKER for this kind of Love Triangle, where it’s VERY obvious that two of the characters are in love with each other and the third person is the endearingly sympathetic third wheel who really has no chance in hell of getting together with the girl/guy. When that Third Wheel character is actually a really great person (ahem, SYDNEY CARTON), I bawl my eyes out over the unrequited love. What makes this one even more painful? The Third Wheel KNOWS that he has no chance, and as a result he strives to keep the other two together because he wants Lucie to be happy. Oh God, Sydney my darling, my heart hurts for you! <3

2. The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson): Elisa, Alejandro, and Humberto

A very different type of Love Triangle than the one mentioned above, this one threw me for a complete loop. I loved every bit of it because it was unexpected—and because it was unexpected, that’s about all I can say without giving anything away. But it was great. The characters were each human and flawed, and they reacted to each other’s love in realistic, painful, and beautiful ways. I’m totally jealous of how well Rae did this!

3. The Infernal Devices series (Cassandra Clare): Will, Jem, and Tessa

I’m drawn to this Love Triangle for one ginormous reason: Will and Jem’s relationship with each other. The fact that the two boys are so fiercely protective and loving of one another makes this stand out from the classic Love Triangle, and in many ways, their beyond-brothers bond is more fascinating to read about than their romances with our leading lady. I’ve always had a soft spot for complicated sibling, familial, and friend relationships, and this one hits that spot right on the dot. (For the record, I’m all for Jem. Like, 108%.)

4. Kushiel’s Dart (Jacqueline Carey): Alcuin, Anafiel Delauney, and Phèdre

This is an adult book.

So, there are like a million romantic relationships in this high fantasy, all beautifully crafted, but I fell hard for the Love Triangle that happened between Anafiel Delauney, an elegant and politically shrewd nobleman, and his two students, the seductive and complex girl, Phèdre, and the achingly beautiful, innocent, and sweet boy, Alcuin. (Alcuin in particular was my favorite, and not just because I seem to have a thing for pretty boys with long pale hair. Yes, I heard your facepalm!) I loved this Triangle because there were two levels of relationships going on at the same time: both Alcuin and Phèdre loved Delauney as their tutor, and wanted his approval on a student/teacher level; at the same time, though, both Alcuin and Phèdre also loved Delauney on a romantic level. The two relationships layered together made for some delicious tension and tender moments. Ooh, I get shivers just thinking back on this one!

So there you have it, four Love Triangles that totally work for me. As a writer, there’s always the danger of falling into creating relationships that feel safe or familiar, but when I recall the above, I remind myself that making complicated relationships which surprise and dig deep will stay with the reader far past the initial thrill.

How about you guys? What works for you? Any favorite relationships, polygonal or otherwise?


21 Responses to The (Dreaded?) Love Triangle

  1. JJ Jul 10 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I still mostly hate love triangles, although having re-read the Alanna books at the gym, I found I didn’t mind the Alanna/George/Jonathan love triangle too much (even though I am TEAM GEORGE and have been ever since I was wee–good to know my instincts are right), mostly because it felt REAL. Alanna and Jonathan love each other, but it doesn’t work out but it’s not anyone’s fault, while George has loved Alanna all along. (I really love how emotionally realistic all of Alanna’s romantic relationships are in these books.)

    My problem with most love triangles is the element of competition–it’s often one side “winning” over the other. In love triangles I mind less, it’s not a competition between romantic rivals–it just happens to be a messy, but understandable situation in which people’s feelings may or may not be unrequited. George always waited patiently for Alanna to choose, and seemed to be perfectly fine with her choosing other people. Jonathan, once he realises he and Alanna are not compatible, lets her go without a fuss.

    Okay, I’ll admit I love this one: Christine/Raoul/The Phantom.


    I am a Phan.

    • Marie Lu Jul 11 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Yeah, I think my affinity for the Love Triangle #1 with Sydney Carton is perhaps the Absence of Competition, and how it becomes more about coping with/reacting to unrequited love, which I always find super heartbreaking. *sniffles*

      (I really need to read the Alanna books!)

  2. Caitlin Jul 10 2012 at 10:51 am #

    Haha, I actually blogged last week about why I hate love triangles. I mean, there are some that I find all right, I suppose, but mostly I feel like the element of competition between would-be lovers just detracts from the actual plot of the story.

    I also think I’m just kind of tired of them, because gosh they are EVERYWHERE.

    I will admit, I’m fond of them in my Depressing French Musicals. Like Lucie/Charles/Sydney in A Tale of Two Cities, as you mentioned. Also Cosette/Marius/Eponine in Les Miserables. And of course, The Phantom/Christine/Raoul in Phantom of the Opera. Especially that one. *hums Music of the Night*

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2012 at 9:45 pm #

      It’s true, there’s something very lovely about most Depressing French Musicals’ triangles. Les Mis! <333

  3. Meagan Spooner Jul 10 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Totally agree. It’s not the trope itself, it’s how it’s executed. It’s always bemusing to me when people make blanket statements like “I hate books about X” or “I hate it when authors use Y.” Because it’s not really about the subject, it’s about the author’s treatment of it, you know? If you want to say you hate all books about vampires, that’s your right, but I’m gonna secretly believe you’ve just never found the -right- vampire book amidst all the trend-hopping ones.

    Like you, I’ve read love triangles that slay me a thousand times over with how beautiful they are. But I’ve also read love triangles where they’ve clearly just been inserted for the sake of Having A Love Triangle. And that is super annoying! 😛 Great post!!

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2012 at 9:48 pm #

      Thx Meagan! And I totally agree; it’s sort of like exploring food, I suppose, because you never know–carrots are disgusting (bleagh!), but carrot cake? Kind of awesome. 😉

  4. Sashi Kaufman Jul 10 2012 at 11:27 am #

    This is a great post and totally made me want to pick up Tale of Two Cities again. I agree with Meagan that much depends on how the relationships are handled. Also decision making. I got really bored with the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle because I didn’t think it developed, grew emotionally, or was ever truly resolved. I felt like this aspect was really dropped in books 2 and 3.
    What makes a good love triangle in my mind is how the author handles what the reader knows versus what the characters know. This creates the angst and the devotion to one character or another and engages the reader in the struggle.

  5. Megan Duff Jul 10 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Like you Marie I am very back and forth over love triangles. If they in anyway resemble the Twilight love triangle I will throw the book across the room and forget I ever picked it up!

    I love that you mentioned the Tessa/Jem/Will love triangle, it is definitely one of my favorites. It’s so heartbreaking because of the dynamic between the guys. And the revelations at the end of book 2??? I was gasping and on the verge of tears! Oh, Jem. Oh, Will. How can Tessa possibly make that horrible, horrible decision?

    One of the reasons why love triangles bother me is this: being in love, truly forever in love, with two different people. Unless this is polygamy/polygyny that just isn’t going to work. Too often these days characters fall in love about 5 minutes after meeting which is so unrealistic and boring which seems to go hand in hand with love triangles. It’s more interesting to have a realistic romance, one that only has one love interest. This is more reflective of real life because that is usually how people end up: in love with one person. So as a reader that is what I’m attracted to (ha! attracted!).

  6. Alexa @ Alexa Loves Jul 10 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    The subject of love triangles is pretty difficult for me to discuss, because I’m also of the same opinion – that it depends on how well the love triangles are done in any given story.

    A current favorite is the love triangle in Throne of Glass between Dorian, Chaol and Celaena. I thought it was well-done, and had me rooting for both boys! Another good one is the one in Legacy/Allegiance by Cayla Kluver between Steldor, Narian and Alera – it’s also well-done for me.

    I think what makes love triangles work for me is if all the parties involved are fully fleshed out and real characters. It also works if the relationships between the parties develops naturally and doesn’t seem forced. Giving them personalities and making sure an actual relationship develops organically definitely helps me to feel like the love triangle is more authentic and not just pushed into place.

  7. Erin Bowman Jul 10 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    This is a fantastic post, Marie!! I too have read triangles that have made me roll my eyes, and others that have made me swoon. (One of which is the Clara-Tucker-Christian triangle from Cynthia Hand’s UNEARTHLY series. Truly convincing, in my book!)

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      Third time this week I’ve been rec’d UNEARTHLY! Clearly I must read this now. 🙂 Thanks Erin!

  8. Kirsty in London Jul 10 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    My problem with most of the ones I’ve encountered is the notion that guys (especially ZOMG-swoonworthy guys) would patiently let FMC string them along indefinitely without showdowns, fights and ultimatums. Totally unrealistic to me. It gets to a point where I just want LI#1 or LI#2 to grow a backbone, take a dose of self-respect and tell FMC that he deserves better than this, goddammit, and he’s not putting up with her indecisive shit any longer. Then he can come look me up. But chances are that this is the point where FMC swoons at confident alpha-ness and realises that it’s him she wanted all along. So why don’t the LIs ever do it? Because stringing out a series is more important to the author than realistic character development, I suspect, alas.

  9. April Tucholke Jul 10 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Dickens AND Kushiel’s Dart in the same post? Marie Lu, I think I just fell a little bit in love with you.

    • Marie Lu Jul 16 2012 at 9:51 pm #

      And I think I just fell a little bit in love with YOU. <3

  10. Liza Jul 10 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    I tend to think love triangles are only as good as they are written. (The Jem/Will/Tessa one for instance intrigues me because no one is stringing anyone along, which is what I hate about poorly written love triangles.)

    As far as favorite love triangle, don’t laugh, but I actually thought of Daria/Jane/Tom. True, Daria is a cartoon, a very old cartoon, but the sneaking around and confusion Daria faced and Tom’s nonchalance about the whole situation made me think this was a perfect love triangle, as Daria hated being caught in the middle of this situation. She likes a guy, but by loving him/liking him, she’s essentially screwing over the only friend she ever had. True, there were no winners in that particular scenario, but then again, how many times in real life do love triangles end well?

  11. Susan Jul 11 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Awesome post! I have to agree, it definitely depends on the love triangle and how it’s done for if I like it or not. One of my favorites is actually one I’m not sure most people would qualify as a love triangle – the relationship between Sir Walter/Lady Pole/the gentleman with the thistle-down-hair and also Jonathan/Arabella/the gentleman with the thistle-down-hair. I love how in both situations neither woman has any interest in being connected to the fairy, but he, in essence, enslaves them for his own entertainment because he’s lonely and feels it’s his right. Also, looking at the differences between the two triangles, since in both the fairy steals away the women for his own without their consent, but Jonathan and Arabella love each other in a much different way than the more dutiful love between Sir Walter and Lady Pole.

    • Susan Jul 11 2012 at 11:22 am #

      aaand those would be coming from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, since apparently I never noted that.

  12. Lori T. Jul 11 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    I completely agree with you on love triangles-some I don’t care for, others make me swoon. As long as a love triangle is there for a reason, and not merely for the sake of tension, then it can be executed quite well. I’m so glad you mentioned the Will/Tessa/Jem from the Infernal Devices series. That’s a great example of a well done love triangle (I’m also all for Jem!) So, yeah, some love triangles can be so fantastic for a story, and others can just bring a story down. You just have to work it in there well so it doesn’t take away from the key parts of the story.

  13. Randi M Jul 26 2012 at 12:17 am #

    I love *well-written* love triangles. You mentioned the perfect example: Jem, Tessa, and Will from The Infernal Devices. I LOVE that darn triangle! And yay, Team Jem! I honestly can’t recall any other triangles right now that I feel strongly about one way or the other. Great post!

  14. Kat Jul 5 2013 at 12:53 am #

    WOW!!! I’d like to start off saying that this post helped me a lot. And second, I totally agree with you on the Jem/Tessa relationship. (And here I thought I was the only one out there… thank you!). The Kushiel’s Dart love triangle also had me thinking for a loooooooong time, and feeling happy and sad at the same time.
    Another one that I like is Jared/Wanderer/Ian in the Host, even though there’s a bit more to that love triangle. And, yes, I know it’s by Stephine Meyer, but it must have been written on one of her better days… maybe one where she actually thought about giving her characters some likeableness.

  15. Fatima Zahra Jul 25 2017 at 12:58 am #

    I LOVE Will Herondale, and I love Jem just as much. I also love the way both of them end up having their time with Tessa.

    What kind of love triangles DON’T you like, out of curiosity? What would you recommend NOT to include in one?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.