Welcome to Trope Tuesdays, a meme/series created by yours truly. Every Tuesday, the goal is to discuss, define, and explain one trope that you feel any range of emotion for, and then give your verdict on the trope. The trope can be one you dislike, love, feel indifference or annoyance towards, ones you think are problematic, or those tropes that just make you want to throw them out the moon door à la Petyr Baelish. You can learn more about Trope Tuesday here.
Hierarchy of Love is a trope I’ve been thinking about for a while now. As an avid reader of Romance, I’ve come across it quite often but have never had a name for it until recently. I personally have seen it discussed or named before so I am really excited to talk about this common theme I’ve seen frequently used in the genre.
Why is it that the Laird always get his romance first in Highland romances? Why do the commanders of Bands of Supernatural Hotties always find love first? and Why do Dukes in dynastic historical romances get married first? Well, I can tell you right now it isn’t because they are particularly remarkable characters (because they aren’t). It is because the Hierarchy of Love.
The Hierarchy of Love is part trope, part marketing tool. Sure, to an extent all tropes in romance are marketing tools, but this one plays a different role than most. The Hierarchy of Love happens, only in romance series, when the first book’s hero is the highest ranking, oldest person in their bubble. This trope is mostly found in Historical Romances because the nature of this hierarchy tends to be rarer in other genres like Contemporary or Paranormal Romance.
Going back to the duke example, the first book would be about the duke, then it could be about the duke’s younger sister who ends up marrying an earl. In the case of highland romances, the first book’s hero would be the Laird and after that it is typically one of his brothers or soldiers. In every book after the first, the hero’s ranking/position of power/age gets downgraded. Heroes can get an in series promotion (ex. the once title-less gentleman becomes an earl), but they always start off in a lower rank.
I refer to the Hierarchy of Love as part trope part marketing tool for a couple reasons. All of the authors who buy into the Hierarchy of Love have options in their series. The reasons for selecting the highest hero on the block is purely superficial. A lot of the time, the series would’ve been better served or more realistic by having one of the younger brothers fall in love first. Of course, the “eldest falls in love first” trope exists, which is why I call it part trope. It’s part marketing tool because of how often the names of the series emphasize the descending “power level” as the series progresses.
Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons series is a great example of this. The first book in the series is The Duke and I. The Duke and I starts out with a romance between the highest ranking person in the setting and the eldest Bridgerton sister. The next book is The Viscount Who Loved Me which follows Viscount Anthony Bridgerton. You see the pattern?
The Hierarchy of Love is vital to long romance series. Drawing the reader in and then getting them to follow the rest of the story is the single most important thing. And what better way to drawn the reader into your large series than by giving them the most attractive option first?
Other examples of the Hierarchy of Love can be found in the House of Trent, Tricks Of The Ton, and One Scandalous Season. You can check out even more examples here on my Goodreads shelf for the Hierarchy of Love.
My Verdict: I find the Hierarchy of Love interesting more than anything else. Sure, it can be a little grating and see through, but I understand why it exists and persists.
What do you think of the Hierarchy of Love? Have you come across it before?