We’re not entirely sure how this month’s theme of “romance” happened… Nicholas mentioned it as a joke last month and we all laughed, but then, somehow, Emily ended up thinking about it a bit more and decided to take it all rather seriously. And so welcome to Hex Dimension’s month of romantic recommendations that are more epic than anything you’ll ever find in a copy of Mills & Boon. Enjoy.
Beware, there are spoilers.
I finished reading A Darking Plain during a train journey. I curled up in the Quiet Coach, like I always do, to really savour the last few chapters. When people started nervously glancing over, hearing my choking sobs and seeing the tears and snot streaming down my face, I realised that this probably hadn’t been the best idea.
This book is the fourth and final entry in Philip Reeve’s astounding Mortal Engines series. And while it’s a series that deals with world-shattering threats and apocalyptic wars – not to mention the giant cities that eat other cities – at their core the books were always about the struggles of just two characters.
The truth is that Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw hardly even see each other in this final book. But we’ve travelled so far with them – from childhood enemies, to teenage lovers, to struggling middle-aged parents – that we’re desperate to see them meet up again. And when they finally do, it’s even more powerful than you expect.
The book ends with a huge battle – there’s hundreds of people fighting in the ruins of a fallen city – but that’s not the part that matters. The real finale is just Tom and Hester taking an airship to a shack in the middle of nowhere. From that moment on, A Darkling Plain made me feel every possible emotion, in rapid succession and all at once. I couldn’t stop crying for two whole days. It’s totally overwhelming.
We’re choosing our favourite romances here, but this almost isn’t one. There’s no sweeping-off-feet or love-conquering-all. Tom and especially Hester are flawed and foolish and real – their relationship has been messy and jealous, and it’s often caused more problems than its solved. But they love each other so fiercely and so completely that, in the end, nothing else matters.
Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series is set against the gritty backdrop of World War One with a difference – the allied forces who use fabricated animals to help them to fight, and the Germans who use mighty machines. Thrown into the mix is Deryn Sharp, who wants to become a famous aviator like her late father. She disguises herself as a boy and finds herself on board the Leviathan, a huge fabricated whale airship, fighting for the war.
Meanwhile, Prince Aleksander Ferdinand, of Austro-Hungary, is escaping from a country turned by the Germans. They are Clankers, and use a variety of walkers to escape.
When the Leviathan crashes in the mountains near the Prince’s hide-out, Deryn and Alek meet, with their own secrets to hide. A reluctant friendship emerges in which the two realise their differences, although Deryn finds herself uncomfortably liking Alek a bit too much. The unrequited love is emotional and evocative, making for a sweet and heart-wrenching story from the off, although by no means is it the love story that drives the entire novel.
Chaos ensues and eventually, SPOILER, they fall in love, realising that they can overcome their differences – it’s a sweet love story among a fantastic world about two different people who are in love with the countries and backgrounds as well as each other.
It doesn’t take a lot to make me cry. Just ask anyone who’s ever watch Brother Bear with me, or played the ending of StarCraft II with me, or even listened to Howard Shore’s Concerning Hobbits with me. No matter the genre or the medium, I have a tendency to end up in floods. Except with books. I don’t seem to cry that much at the written word (apart from at Dobby’s death in The Deathly Hallows – that one hit me hard), unless, for some reason, I’m reading about romance. Hit me with the mushy stuff, ala His Dark Materials or The Hunger Games, and the tears start a-rolling. And such was the case with Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb.
Philip Reeve is a master of tugging on the heartstrings, and the first of his prequel novel to the incredible Mortal Engines series is no exception to this rule. Gideon Crumb and Wavey Godshawk are two social outcasts from different ends of society, drawn together by how utterly alone they feel, and what starts out as a simple night where they both need to feel loved, turns into something that lasts a lifetime. The romance between them is told mainly through flashbacks and is so brief that it only lasts a few pages at most, but it is so perfectly balanced by Reeve, so full of passion and tenderness, that you can’t help but be affected by it.
There are of course a lot of “romantic interludes” in about half of the novels. At least when the characters aren’t busy prepping for exams or trying not to die a horrible, horrible death. But I want to talk about the book where the novel’s characters finally, visibly became teenagers.
This book is the tipping point for the growth of Harry Potter as a character and The Goblet of Fire is also the first novel in the series where romantic relationships between characters are now more clearly in sight and something to be battled over. There’s nothing seriously romantic in the novel, but whenever I re-read it now, I can’t help but laugh over the mistakes of young love that are featured in the book.
The sense of jealousy between characters is amusing, but it’s great that Rowling has the female characters assert that their affections are no one’s reward. The Yule Ball is where a mixture of earned and betrayed emotions comes together and young readers are given the chance to witness that not all is fair in love, war and Triwizard Cups.
It’s not a brilliant example of love handled well in a book, but it is an amusing one.