By Becky Yeager
Of all of the many romantic tropes in existence, is there any that generates as much suffering and absolute bliss as the slow burn? Many readers will shake their fists at characters who could be so perfect together if only they would realize their burgeoning feelings. Below is a list of six recent books or series that feature slow burn relationships (all of which are queer—sorry, not sorry), some of which are still inching their way to resolution.
Ocean’s Echo opens in a new window by Everina Maxwell
This book takes fake dating to the next level. Tennal is a flirtatious socialite and an absolute disaster in his family’s eyes. He also happens to be a neuromodified “reader,” which means a) he can read minds, b) he’s a security threat, and c) an immensely valuable asset for navigating chaotic space.
Lieutenant Surit Yeni is the lawful good son of a notorious traitor, who has dedicated himself to making up for his mother’s past mistakes. He is also a neuromodified “architects,” which means a) he can impose his will onto others and b) if he forms a sync with a reader, they’ll be locked into a permanent bond.
Tennal is forcibly conscripted by the military, and Surit is given orders to merge their minds. Neither is thrilled by the situation. So, logically, their solution is to fake it and desperately try to secretly figure out a way to help Tennal escape. But in the meanwhile, they are roommates. The tension between these two is palpable!
opens in a new windowThe Locked Tomb Series by Tamsyn Muir
Some may question whether this series constitutes a slow burn. In our optimistic hearts, it does! We have one more book to go and who knows what could happen. Now, to avoid any spoilers, we’ll stick with how the bond between a necromancer and a cavalier is very special. And if you go around saying things like “One flesh, one end, bitch,” and “I cannot conceive of a universe without you in it,” then we’re going to have strong feelings. Be still our beating heart! (Any necromancers who happen to be reading, please don’t take that literally.) Add in the element of how they’re childhood friends (enemies), and hello, we’re sold.
opens in a new windowA Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland
There is nothing like the longing between a prince and his bodyguard. Where is the line between loyal devotion and love? What happens when you’re tempted to cross it? Twist that Yearning Dial up to 100 and sit back to watch the drama.
A Taste of Gold and Iron is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire. Prince Kadou is more capable than he realizes and gifted with the ability to touch-taste metal, but he struggles with anxiety. Evemer is his newly appointed bodyguard whose stoicism makes him nearly impossible to read. The pair of them find themselves drawn into court drama and life-threatening conspiracies that threaten to ruin the kingdom. So, yes, there’s danger and misunderstandings and longing. But just wait until the hair washing scene.
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
Imagine if Scrooge was a middle-aged lawyer who died, and his ghost was sent to a tea shop run by a man who helps the dead cross over. And now…imagine if the two of them fell in love. Wallace was The Worst in life. He should know. He attended his own funeral. Hugo, meanwhile, spends his days brewing tea and making pastries on top of working with a reaper and a mysterious manager to assist ghosts with moving on.
Under the Whispering Door manages to be both hilarious and heart-wrenching. It’s so hard when your OTP can’t physically touch each other, but one can’t help being touched as Wallace and Hugo are gradually drawn to each other despite their circumstances.
The Cemeteries of Amalo Series opens in a new window by Katherine Addison
Thara Celehar is a Witness for the Dead. It is his job to help speak with the recently dead. Sometimes this is to assist with resolving disputes. Other times it is to track down murderers. He is a quiet and solemn individual and far kinder than anyone realizes. Tragedy has befallen him in the past, and his current life is rather lacking in romance. And yet one cannot help hoping there could be a cherished companion waiting in the wings for him.
“I put the honey spoon in the second cup (which the staff of the River-Cat could not be trained out of bringing—unlike at the Hanevo Tree, where you had to specify if you wanted more than one) and briefly tormented myself by imagining a companion who would smile across at me and happily lick the spoon clean. Neither of my lovers had had such a sweet tooth—that was the only thing that made my imaginings even remotely safe. A purely made-up lover was foolish; conjuring the dead was something else entirely.”
And then, y’all, in the course of an investigation he meets someone who uses honey liberally. This is among the slowest of slow burns, but it’s sweet and heartwarming.
opens in a new windowWinter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
Now, here’s a case where the two main characters end up married right at the start of the book and then spend the rest of the story playing will they or won’t they about whether they’ll actually fall in love. Prince Kiem isn’t very important in his family. In fact, he’s the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild. Now he’s under orders to marry Count Jainan, a widower (and murder suspect), who is vital for maintaining a planetary alliance. The two tie the knot, pose for the paparazzi, and prepare for a marital relationship lacking in anything resembling affection.
But their hearts have other plans as they are gradually drawn together to deal with court intrigue, the machinations of war, and the ghosts of Jainan’s past. As The New York Times Book Review put it so aptly, you’ll be yelling “Now kiss!” before you realize it.