A few reasons, but mostly because I’m having a hard time balancing my thoughts on the reaction to the story, and the story itself.
Jeez. Whiny bitch, much?
Well, yes. And also, bite me.
If I had to line up my first reactions to this book, which has been discussed much everywhere and by many (and by some who haven’t read the book in the first place and what is UP with that?)
I agree. Cranial-rectal impaction is just heartbreaking to see, isn’t it?
Truly, it is.
Anyway, my primary reaction is as follows:
If you are sensitive as a reader to scenes of sexual coercion, forced seduction, or rape, as well as emotional abuse and feelings of terror and helplessness, I don’t recommend this book.
This is not your standard spun sugar Avon release. It doesn’t allow you to remain complacently amused and merrily entertained. It’s more than a little angsty, and it attempts to do many things in its approach to the genre.
If I were to judge the book purely on Campbell’s ability to make me uncomfortable, this book would score highly.
(Caution: continuing review is all kinds of spoilerish, so be ye warned.)
Uncomfortable? Does romance do that?
Good question. Generally I personally don’t look for romance to give me a major case of the squicks, particularly since this book is trying to do so deliberately, I think. I have to be in a specific mood to read, for example, an author I know to be emotionally demanding of the reader. I was not expecting that from this book, even given the cover summary.
That said, some of my favorite romances are those that made me think deliberately and with some difficulty on larger themes, particularly issues of sexuality. This book could have been one of those, but wasn’t.
Plot details please?
Verity Ashton, known in London as infamous courtesan Soraya, is currently under the protection of Justin, aka the Duke of Kylemore. Soraya is Kylemore’s idea of a perfect woman and wants to throw societal expectations into the Thames and marry her. But he is horrified to return to her townhome to find that she’s disappeared.
Verity had chosen a life as a courtesan out of necessity, and longed to save up enough money to escape into anonymity into the English countryside. When she gets her chance, she doesn’t expect to see Kylemore again, much less that he’d come looking for her.
Kylemore not only finds her, but kidnaps her, dragging her to his most remote estate in Scotland, where he attempts to forcibly recreate the relationship they had in London.
Yes, it’s an anagram for “Or by Carefree clit.”
Also, an allusion to a scene and section of the book where in “forcibly” comes damn close to, if not becomes, rape.
Rape in romance? How do you define that?
That’s part of the controversy, I think. In the larger history of the genre, there’s a lot of subtle variations of sexual dominance: for example, there’s forced seduction of a not-always-very-resistent heroine, tied-her-down rape by a villain (especially prevalent in old bodice rippers), and rape by the hero, usually redeemed by a great deal of groveling.
Where this scene fits into the varying types of sexually dominant scenes is part of the problem, I think, that leads to the wildly varying reactions to the book.
One reader I discussed the novel with posits that it’s not rape so much as forced seduction along the lines of BDSM, though I don’t know that I agree with that since I don’t think Verity agreed to any of it.
Personally, I think it was rape. But my discomfited reaction to the book is not based on that fact.
So what are the flaws that bothered you?
One reviewer on Amazon said the following:
I think most people who dislike this book will do so based on the plot, and not on the writing skills of the author.
My problems are with the writing skills of the author in finishing what she started in terms of writing a believable ending for these characters, both in terms of development, and in terms of finale. Part of necessary writing skills IS plot, and this plot left a lot to be desired. The alleged rape scene aside, my problems are all with the story arc itself.
First, I think the rape scene was meant to be read as rape. Justin forces himself on Verity, and in one respect the book is about exploring the balance of sexual power between a protagonist pair whose relationship is based largely on sexual and commercial transaction. She was his courtesan; he was paying for her lifestyle in return for sexual favors. Removing the commerce of that relationship and attempting to replace it with traditional emotional connection and romance was more difficult than Kylemore anticipated (to say the least!) and he didn’t take into account that the person he was with in Soraya wasn’t the real, whole, or even complete woman.
Campbell’s attempt at the exploration of sexual dynamics in a romance is a huge undertaking, and I can respect her ballsy decision (no pun intended) in taking on such a potentially prickly (again, no pun intended) plotline.
Dude. Flaws? Hello? Quit skirting the question.
Ok, my three major problems with this book:
1. The heroine: Stockholm Syndrome much? She kept repeatedly seeking to excuse or explain or even come to sympathetic terms with his actions against her body, even as he treated her heartlessly – complete turnaround from his behavior prior to her removal from London. And what was the underlying message of the consequences of that removal – that you cannot Run from True Love or it will find you and force you to have sex whether you want to or not?
Furthermore, in the end, the character that could have developed the most, from a sexually provocative courtesan to a staid “widow” to a blending of the two into a much more vibrant and real character, developed the least.
2. The Hero: “Rebalancing” was a major element to this plot, and really, the sexual exchange of power was like being on a ship that had absolutely no port-to-starboard stability. Kylemore’s actions were so dastardly, so cruel, and so callous, that by the time the backstory of his motivation and his apology rolled into the reader’s view, it was too little, too late, and he was much, much too awful to ever be redeemed in my eyes. Campbell created a hero who was already somewhat pathetic, and made him completely unredeemable.
As I wrote in an email discussing the book:
“The imbalance in positions of power shifted back and forth but then toppled to one side. First, Soraya was in possession of slightly more power due to her emotional detachment and position as a courtesan – an ironic possession of power because as the ho, she should have been in his control and possession. She knew she planned to leave and had no intentions of permanence, while he was clearly mad for her – literally.
Then she escaped him for a time, living in deeply treasured autonomy while he socially ruined himself looking for her. Then he kidnaps her, forces her in all manner of situations trying to regain some of his pride and what he thought was his control over their relationship, and in doing so, creates an untenable situation: he is in possession of more physical power because (a) he can get her to respond against her will, (b) she can’t really successfully fight him off because, well, he’s bigger than she is, and (c) he’s got the penis what’s doing the raping.
By the time he has seized the sexual and emotional power from Verity, and then realizes his error and attempts to return to morality, so to speak, it’s impossible for sexual and emotional balance to be restored between them, in my opinion. It’s not so much complementary strengths developing on each side as it is the power struggle inherent in dominating sex – the idea that rape is about power, not sex, specifically. He repeatedly uses sexual force and manipulation to achieve power over her in such a way that there’s no restoring him in my eyes to any possibility of honor by the end of the book.”
3. The Ending: How in the name of potpourri was I was supposed to buy a happily ever after for disgraced lord and his now-noble courtesan? For one thing, I could see them twenty years in the future with her carrying this deep emotional scar from when her beloved husband scared the shit out of her and emotionally abused her for awhile. Can you imagine that ammo in an argument? “Oh yeah? I didn’t shine your shoes properly? Well at least I didn’t KIDNAP AND RAPE YOU, huh, dude?!”
And for another, what about their future? Were they going to embark on the Child-Free movement of their age? Because Lord knows no one would ever socialize with their children, what with the ass-backwards-but-still-happening-even-now judgment of an individual’s Quality based on who their parents are/were. The son or daughter of a humiliated Lord who married his ho? Forget it. The daughter’s season will be miserable if she’s even let in the door of the Duchess’ cousin’s maid’s little sister’s chimney sweep’s house. I can’t see a happy ending, and there’s really no way to achieve one unless they leave the country and pursue anonymity in every regard. Otherwise, the both of them are too infamous and too likely to be subjected to total ostracization for there to be a hint of permanent happiness for them, let alone their offspring.
And what about The Scene in Question?
The scene in question isn’t as memorable for me now that I’ve read the book as the disappointment that more could have been done to make this an extraordinary novel. I’m not surprised it’s created the rancor and brouhaha that it has, as Campbell attempted to challenge head-on some very large issues in romance, including rape, sexual power, virginity, prostitution, and social status. I didn’t read the scene in question and chuck the book at the wall; I thought, “Now that hero is in a deep moral hole (no pun intended) and this author will have to work hard to redeem him.” I don’t think the work was done: I think Justin made too quick a turnaround in his regret, and too fast a realization that oops, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to use force on Verity. That coupled with the other flaws I mentioned made this book far less satisfying than it could have been. I’ve got no beef (N.P.I.) with angsty romance, even if I didn’t expect it when I picked up the book. But for all the angst, there has to be adequate emotional redemption and satisfaction for the development of the protagonists, and I didn’t get that in the ending of this novel.
So what’s your grade, Beeyotch?
A C-. Interesting characters who each rebelled against standard romance stereotypes plus a tremendously interesting and challenging plot made me hopeful for the potential of a better ending, but at the final page I was left disappointed that the hero didn’t sufficiently offer expiation and restoration of balance to the heroine in their relationship. I could not believe in the tranquility of their happy ending.
*note: Thanks to Candy for letting me bogart her Q&A style review technique. Made it a lot easier to organize and decipher what I wanted to say.