Guest Post: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

Hi! I’m pleased to welcome Alex Harrow on Queer Books Unbound today. They’re here to talk about their favorite tropes and how they subverted them in their debut Empire of Light.


Favorite Tropes and How to Subvert Them

I admit I used to scoff at tropes. Authors should be more creative than just relying on tried and true tropes to move their characters and plot forward, right? Well, yes and no.

As with all kinds of different writing advice, your mileage may vary, obviously, but here’s the thing about tropes: many of them are absolutely foundational in story-telling and like with so many things, it’s all about how you use—and subvert—them.

So here are five of my favorite tropes and how I subverted them in my debut queer science fiction, Empire of Light.


This is probably my favorite trope ever, not just because of the old adage that opposites attract, but because using this trope usually allows authors explore deeper nuances and different facets of characters than many other romance tropes allow for. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge fan of morally gray characters, but as an author and a reader, I love to get to know all that makes characters, good, bad, and messy. This is definitely one of those tropes that needs to be built up in order to work out properly. One does not simply walk into a love relationship with one’s enemy after all. There need to be many small, nuanced steps that get characters there—and yes, building in undeniable attraction, no matter how much characters may pretend it doesn’t exist, is definitely a lot of fun.

Found Families 

Found families are almost essential in queer stories and for me, they are probably my favorite part to write, because they are such an important part in character’s (and people’s!) lives. In Empire of Light, I definitely enjoyed writing the messier, and often dysfunctional side of different types of found families, and explored both what ties them together and tears them apart. Found families, like all characters, exist on a spectrum, and as an author it’s probably my favorite part to explore different spectrums, whether it be identity, orientation, ability, or political allegiances in different characters that make up my characters’ found families. Also, since basically everyone in my work is queer, found families, and the characters within them, are fantastic ways to do away with tokenism and create complex characters readers love just as much as the main characters of any given story.

Love Triangles

Some may argue that love triangles are absolutely overdone, but here’s the thing: love triangles don’t necessarily need to be set up in form of a choice a character has to make. What if instead, they develop just as a character’s relationship with different people around them develops? What about characters who fall out of love with one person and in love with another? What about potentially polyamorous relationships? I joke that #TeamAris and #TeamRaeyn (after the two love interests) are definitely a thing in Empire of Light, but, spoilers aside, let’s keep in mind that there are so many ways love triangles could go. Depending on how they mesh with other tropes, characters, and plot elements, they can definitely be made shiny and new in ways that can be a ton of fun and outside of any already over-ticked boxes.


I personally love the moments in which characters are the most vulnerable and this is certainly true when characters get hurt and/or are in need of comfort and healing. Now, I’ll absolutely admit that in Empire of Light I am putting my characters through the physical and emotional ringer, but in many ways the scenes that happen after or as a result of characters getting hurt tend to be my favorites. There’s a lot of potential for hurt/comfort, both physical and emotional. But it’s where the two overlap, that truly memorable and relatable scenes happen. As both an author and a reader, I absolutely live for these scenes since they show characters at their most raw and real.

Badasses who are Secretly Soft

If I could pick a Signature Trope for myself, Secretly Soft Badasses would probably be it. Whether it’s showing how a tough-as-nails main character really loves nothing more than lazy cuddles or making pancakes for those they love or whether it is showing how much characters who are seemingly awful villains are concerned for the wellbeing of those they care for, Secretly Soft Badasses absolutely have the key to my heart. Similar to the rest of the tropes listed here, nuance is what makes this trope shine, and helps add more layers to characters who might otherwise feel much less multidimensional.

Anyway, those are my top five tropes and some definitely make multiple appearances in Empire of Light.

What are your favorite tropes and how do you twist and subvert them? Tell me in the comments!


EOL CoverSynopsis

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

NineStar PressAmazonGoodreads
Release Date: February 25th


Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex Harrow HeadshotAlex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.

A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.

Alex currently lives in Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHarrowSFF

Also, find them on Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads or visit their Website.

Genre: Fantasy Genre: Sci-Fi Orientation: Gay Orientation: Pansexual Pairing: Poly Publisher: Nine Star Press Tag: d/s Tag: Enemies to Lovers Tag: Guest Post Tag: Hurt/Comfort Tag: Part of a series

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