Books about forbidden romance capitalise on probably the most popular trope in the literary world. Perhaps the oldest trope too, with examples (such as the doomed tale of Pyramus and Thisbe) coming down to us from the classical world too. While Romeo and Juliet are likely the most well-known pair, here are 20 lesser-known books about forbidden romances of all genres which deserve your attention. Whatever the reason – family loyalties, societal norms, marriage – the lovers in these books are not allowed to be together, barred by reasons external to themselves.
#1. To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Princess Lira, daughter of the siren queen, has a deadly habit: she kills human princes. Prince Elian, heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world, has his own habit: he kills sirens.
This is a brilliant take on The Little Mermaid, featuring a star-crossed couple who have killed each other’s people in the past.
#2. The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Kestrel is the daughter of a general in the immense Valorian Empire, a conquering people who enslave everyone they come across. When she comes across Arin at a slave-auction, she buys him. The consequences are greater than she could have imagined.
Kestrel and Arin come from warring people, the conqueror and the conquered. There’s also an element of class in this forbidden romance, with the former being of the aristocracy and the latter a peasant.
#3. Stray (Touchstone #1) by Andrea K. Höst
This is the first in a sprawling series that is quite hard to describe. It’s part sci-fi, part fantasy, and immensely well written to boot. Cassandra Devlin, a normal high school girl, abruptly finds herself transported into the futuristic space world of the Setari people. Though she’s treated kindly as an interplanetary refugee, her crush on a Setari cadet is definitely against the rules.
#4. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
I actually read this book when I was 10 and I have never been able to forget it. It’s heartbreaking, but so incredibly emotional and sensitively handled that I really recommend it. Sixteen-year-old Maya and 17-year-old Lochan have been acting as the de facto parents in their household due to their parents’ neglect. The experiences draw them closer together – closer than your average siblings.
#5. Taunt (End of the World #1) by Eve Dangerfield
A truly incredible book. Daniel Schwarz is a hyperactive, hilarious, irreverent Jewish Australian hacktivist whose ‘extra-legal’ activities get her placed under house arrest. Colt, Sebastian, and John are tasked with guarding her. Of course, that means keeping their hands off her – something all three men are finding it impossible to do.
#6. Priest (Priest #1) by Sierra Simone
Father Tyler Bell is a Catholic priest, resigned to a life of celibacy. But then Poppy Danforth enters his life to confess her sinful past as a stripper, fragmenting his resolve. Unusually, the story is related entirely from Tyler’s POV.
Contemporary Forbidden Romance Books
#7. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Alex Claremon-Diaz is the modern-day equivalent of JFK Junior. Son of the first female U.S. President, he’s American royalty – young, handsome, and intelligent. Unfortunately he doesn’t get on with actual royalty, Prince Henry of England. Thus begins a ‘friendship’, forced onto them by their respective publicity people, which quickly transitions into more.
Okay, so full disclosure. I didn’t actually like this book too much. It’s well-written, but as a British person, I personally felt it stereotyped British people A LOT. It’s also massively unrealistic in many ways which would take too long to detail here. But a lot of people seem to have enjoyed this, so check it out if it sounds like your bag.
#8. Mark of Cain by Kate Sherwood
Anglican priest Mark Webber is a good man. He spends his days counselling others and helping them lead better lives. Ex-criminal Lucas Cain is not a good man. Three years ago, he killed Mark’s brother, which means their developing attraction can’t be allowed to go anywhere.
#9. The Unrequited by Saffron A. Kent
Layla Robinson has issues. She falls into obsessions with people – such as her stepbrother – and starts stalking them. Now she’s just gone away to university, but this isn’t a fresh slate: her new poetry professor, Thomas Abrams, is the newest target of her affections. He returns her obsession. Yes, the ten-year age gap and fact he’s her teacher are minor stumbling blocks in their relationship, but the biggest one…is that he’s married.
#10. Lessons in Corruption (The Fallen Men #1) by Giana Darling
Not your usual teacher/student romance. Here, Cressida is a high school English teacher, who’s horrified to discover that the motorcycle man she almost had a one-night-stand with is her new 18-year-old student. Highly unrealistic but deeply entertaining.
#11. By Any Other Name (Forbidden #1) by J.M. Darhower
The Romeo and Juliet quotation in the title is a dead giveaway that this forbidden romance book is going to centre on warring families. Genevieve Galante and Matteo Barsanti are from rival mafia families. But when they meet in a lift, they find themselves defying their powerful families to stay together.
#12. Hate to Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1) by Alisha Rai
The Kane and Chandler families used to run a business together, until a tragedy shattered their relationship. Now, the heirs Livvy and Nicholas meet only once a year: on Livvy’s birthday to spend a single night together before parting in the morning. But then Livvy reappears permanently in Nicholas’s life, and they’re forced to come to terms with the baggage of their past.
#13. Wheels Up (Out of Uniform #4) by Annabeth Albert
Lieutenant Dustin Strauss, the newest member in his SEAL team, is a man with many secrets. One of them is his growing online relationship with Petty Officer Wes Lowe. If anyone finds out, it’s the end of their careers – but the fact that Dustin has just been transferred to Wes’s team makes it difficult to stay away from each other.
#14. 53 Letters For My Lover (53 Letters For My Lover #1) by Leylah Attar
Shadya Hijazi and Troy Heathgate met at the age of 20, when she was a newlywed bride and he was a college student. Their love story will span the next three decades, though she’s married and has children with another man.
#15. Lead (Stage Dive #3) by Kylie Scott
Jimmy is kind of a mess. The lead singer for his band Stage Dive, he’s screwed himself up with drugs and alcohol. Enter Lena, who’s been catapulted from her life as a lowly waitress to Jimmy’s personal assistant. It’s her job to make sure he stays away from forbidden substances…and that includes her.
#16. Die by the Drop (Shivers and Sins #1) by Kaia Bennett
I have never read a book quite like this one. Evie is your average college student, but one night she’s kidnapped by three vampire ‘brothers’ – Jesse, Liam, and Vaughn – who plan to have sex with her, torture her, and then kill her. But when they find out she’s a witch, they decide to keep her alive instead. She’s taken on a wild trans-American road trip featuring plenty of death and sex. Warning: this book is very dark, but there is a believable romance which develops towards the end of this book and in the sequel.
#17. Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh
The first book in Singh’s brilliantly sketched out, immense fantasy world introduces us to two new races. We have the Psy, emotionless intellectuals, and changelings, rawly sensual beings who can turn into animals. Love between them is utterly verboten, but Sascha (daughter of a powerful Psy woman) can’t help herself when it comes to leopard changeling Lucas.
#18. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
This autobiographical novel relates the account of Jeanette, an aspiring preacher adopted into a deeply devout household, who must reconcile her religious leanings with her love for another woman.
#19. The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Istanbul, 1975. Kemal is young, wealthy, and on the verge of marriage to the similarly rich and well-connected Sibel. But then he falls head over heels into obsession with his distant cousin, the shopgirl Fusun. Though they have a passionate affair, she gets married to someone else, and he spends the next decade constructing a shrine to his lost love.
#20. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
The eponymous Lady Chatterley, married to a man whose war injury has rendered him impotent, begins a torrid affair with her gamekeeper. I personally loathed this novel because I think it’s horrifically written. But there’s no doubt it’s one of the most famous forbidden romance books in the world, and one which has been enjoyed by a lot of people.
For more books about forbidden romances, try this list of eleven forbidden love books!