These last few weeks, I have done a lot of re-reading. It’s familiar and comforting, and has managed to kickstart my reading mojo a bit, to the point where recently I’ve been able to try some new things, too.
Overall, though, I’m really just leaning on books I already know I love, which is why today’s featured words are my favorite lines from a recent re-read: Rachel Reid’s Heated Rivalry. It’s the perfect enemies-to-lovers story of two hockey rivals, Shane and Ilya, whose years-long hate-banging arrangement eventually leads to love.
The prose in this book is spare and incisive. It does exactly what it needs to do with few extra words, while still sneaking a lot of emotion in around the seams. As much as I like the writing, I hesitated a bit in picking this passage for the blog post. While it’s unquestionably a favorite, the reason that I love it is because it’s funny. Just really, really funny. And there’s no surer way to smother the humor out of something than to try to explain *why* it’s funny. So instead, I’m going just let you enjoy the humor of Ilya trying to sort out his feelings for Shane, and talk about a couple things this quote is doing beyond just making my face hurt with how hard I’m smiling.
Plus, Ilya hated this guy. He hated his pretty boy face and his perfect goddamned English and his perfect goddamned French and his loving parents and his polite little manners and his million-dollar smile. He hated how serious he was. How earnest. He was everything the league wanted from their stars.Rachel Reid, Heated Rivalry
Ilya kissed his dumb mouth and swallowed his stupid little sighs and felt his annoying fingers in his hair. He pulled back so he could look at his horrible face with its ridiculous freckles.
This passage is a tiny distilled microcosm of what makes enemies-to-lovers novels really sing: the things Shane and Ilya hate about each other are exactly the things they will eventually come to love. And still kind of hate, sometimes.
In the first half of the quote, that tension is held together by juxtaposing a set of clearly positive nouns and adjectives (perfect, loving, polite, smile, serious, earnest, million dollar) with the verb “hated,” three times over.
In the second half, the (negative verb)/(positive adjective) dynamic shifts. The verbs now all evoke positive physical intimacy (kissed, swallowed, felt, pulled back, look). The “hate-work” is being done by the adjectives (stupid, annoying, horrible, ridiculous). The nouns? That’s where Ilya betrays himself. Because he can’t actually hate Shane’s mouth and his sighs and his face. He can’t hate Shane. He just has to keep telling himself he does, lying about his own feelings and misinterpreting his own actions.
The way these two act towards each other and the feelings they allow themselves to feel are in constant tension. And this book manages to sustain some of that tension right through to the end. Even once they fall hopelessly for each other, Shane still things Ilya is cocky and a bit chaotic, Ilya still thinks Shane is kind of a boring rule-follower, and they’re both still fueled by their professional rivalry. I highly recommend giving their story a try.
Note: I couldn’t really find a list of CWs for this book. I’m always hesitant to make lists of my own, because I know I won’t always catch things and I worry about incomplete lists. That being said, I imagine readers may want to know that there are mentions of suicide (of a family member, in the past). Also, the fear of being publicly outed is very present for both MCs.