By Gemma Mathers, Holly Butterfield, Brittany Holness and Bianca Scasserra
From Elle Kennedy’s Off-Campus series to Hannah Grace’s Icebreaker, we take a look at tropes, devices and the wonders of illustrated covers to see what makes the sporty romance genre so popular.
Sports romance books have quickly risen to great prominence due to their plethora of tropes, charismatic characters and irresistible romance themes. Favourite tropes like enemies to lovers, teammates to lovers, fake dating and rivals to lovers are typically present in these books – enhancing their appeal while introducing an exciting glimpse into the sports world, full of victory, loss and now romance. Sports romance books often centre around several players on a specific team, with each finding love, and can therefore be considered standalones.
These novels do not have the added pressure of reading them all sequentially. Consider Elle Kennedy’s Off-Campus series: all of these books are connected, but do not need to be read in a specific order. Regardless of which one you read, it can still be understood on its own. However, those who enjoy series will often get glimpses of recurring characters and favourites from the various instalments. These types of books appeal to sports lovers and non-sports lovers alike, owing to the fact that prior knowledge of the sport is not necessary for understanding. Any reader can find themself immersed in these books regardless of the sport. Typically, these books are open to offering perspectives from each of the main characters. This makes these books extremely appealing as readers can delve into the plot from both sides and observe how each character actually feels based on their own thoughts.
Before the reader delves into the pilgrimage of emotions and high-octane adventures that make a compelling novel, they are first greeted with the cover. Contrary to the proverb, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we all subconsciously do. It's what steals our glances as we wander through a myriad of books online or in-store. Traditionally, we have become accustomed to seeing stock photos of our heroic, bare-chested protagonist, or abstract items that are a departure from the content being articulated within the novel.
The rise of illustrated covers will allow for a cleaner, contemporary feel. It will also level the playing field concerning cover art, as stock photographs may not offer the best representation in the market. Both characters are depicted as opposed to it being solely focused on the male lead with a simple stock image. To add, colour art is typically cute and colourful, rendering it easier to read in public and augmenting the author's chances of being spotted amongst a kaleidoscope of books. A genre which has felt the full effects of this illustrative metamorphosis is the romance genre. Their readership is incrementally becoming invested in “cutesy” comic-like covers. Of course, this isn’t out of the ordinary for books, but it is certainly a trend that is making considerable noise within this genre. Furthermore, illustrated covers are something to be embraced. It gives the reader a more comprehensive idea of how the character appears, along with contextualising the novel. Hannah Grace’s Icebreaker is a great example: it features a figure skater and an ice hockey player on the front cover, supporting the novel's premise.
Sports romance novels offer a variety of wonderful books to choose from, and it can be daunting trying to narrow down which ones to add to your TBR (To Be Read) pile. So, we have collated some of the best on the market that we think shouldn’t be missed. Firstly, we have the recent TikTok sensation, Icebreaker by Hannah Grace. This romance follows an ice hockey player and a figure skater who are forced together when someone destroys one of their university’s ice rinks. It’s playful and fun, with the classic grumpy/sunshine trope and some wonderful steamy scenes that’ll have you falling in love with these characters. Up next, we have the Off-Campus series by Elle Kennedy, which features the four main stars of an ice hockey team and their lives as they each leave their player lifestyles behind for true love. With each book told from dual perspectives, these books are so easily readable with great romantic chemistry and enjoyable friendship dynamics. This series, best read in order, comprises four main books, each revolving around a different couple, as well as a fifth book that gives you several short stories about these same couples over the following years. If you’re still left wanting more, Elle Kennedy has a spin-off series, Briar-U, set in the same university with familiar members of the hockey team.
Next, we have Crossing the Ice by Jennifer Comeaux. A wholesome read, with a quiet and shy love interest – this book takes a pair of star-crossed lovers from rival figure skating duos, as they fall for each other in this forbidden romance. If ice sports aren’t your thing, then there are plenty more books delving into a range of different sports: First Down by Grace Riley revolves around American football; The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons follows a teen’s quest to play football, and She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen features the relationship between a cheerleader and a basketball player.
In the world of sports romance, with its endless tropes, steamy scenes and amazing covers, it’s never hard to find a book you’ll love, whether the characters are falling in love on an ice hockey rink or over a football field, these novels are a perfect place to start!