Book Review

Guest Review: Spider-Touched by Jory Strong


Title: Spider-Touched
Author: Jory Strong
Publication Info: Berkley 2009
ISBN: 9780425227930
Genre: Paranormal

Guest Reviewer Dora emailed me at length about this book, so I asked her to write it up as a review. Not only does it talk about her responses to this particular book, but she hits on something that often bothers me about erotica: unrealistic sexxoring locations and motivations.

Book CoverThe book is Spider-Touched, by Jory Strong, and the back of the book promises you will be in a constant state of arousal. So, you know, no unrealistic or hilarious expectations or anything. This is the second in a series, apparently, but the only thing consistent is the setting. It’s a post-apocalyptic world where said apocalypse was the result of supernatural beings suddenly coming out of hiding, and depending on who you ask, humanity won the war… barely. Things are bad; dirty, dangerous, and very dark. There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff going on we only get to peep at, such as a passing remark about the remains of a certain popular city belonging to the vampires now, or the way people have woven protection against the supernatural into their everyday grim lives.

The story follows Araña, a woman with a mark on her body in the shape of a spider with a mind of its own. Anyone it touches dies instantly, which has not only lead Araña to be branded a demon and driven out of her home, but to be understandably leery about human contact. Since the spider tends to show up anywhere on her person at any time, she can’t even hold hands with her two (and only) close friends. She doesn’t even know what the spider means; is it an entity of its own, or is it, as people seem to think, proof that she herself is a demon? The other half of the coin is Tir, a being who has been imprisoned so long under heavy spell and chain he doesn’t even know what he is… but he knows he’s not human. Which is good, because after centuries of abuse and being sold off to the highest bidder for various purposes, he kind of hates humans a lot. Like, a LOT a lot. 

The story starts off interesting enough, as Araña and her friends arrive in a city looking for a healer, and Araña finds herself captured and sent to run in a deadly maze as a spectacle for the wealthy degenerates. The night before, she has a vision of Tir, which doesn’t surprise her; she’s been having visions about people and seeing the threads of their lives for a long time. What does surprise her is when she comes across him shortly after escaping with the help of a new ally, chained and bound along with other supernaturals to their new owner.

Naturally, they must bone.

See, there’s this whole thing where Araña is being aided by this young woman who seems to be on the run herself, and is working with a wereman stuck in human form who is trying to rescue his brother from the very same baddies Araña recently escaped. The other woman, Rebekah, works as a healer in the local brothel, because the prostitutes have nowhere else to turn, and HER bits never get soggy or weep at all when Tir’s around, so I liked her much better. In fact, I liked her better because when Rebekah’s around, the story GETS SHIT DONE; people have conversations about things other than how turned on they are, you meet fascinating and creepy characters, and nobody drips with anything, ANYWHERE. Suddenly, it turns out that Tir’s new would-be owner might have been the church, and since they spend so much time condemning the supernaturals, it’s more than a little shady they were trying to buy one for unknown purposes. It’s like she’s the world’s biggest wet blanket for Araña and Tir, and when she shows up the plot gets back to business. When Jory’s not focusing on trying to play up the nonexistent chemistry between her two cardboard main characters, there’s actually a whole interesting world out there.

The writing itself actually isn’t that bad, despite a frustrating tendency to mistake having every female character get weak-kneed and emotional about anything and everything as an admirable quality in lieu of more character development. Author Jory Strong does a great job of painting a fascinating world you want to learn more about; this world of tomorrow is full of dark alleyways you wouldn’t want to walk yourself, witches who are shunned even by other supernaturals, and special zones where the “gifted” are quarantined… for their own safety, of course. There’s so much given towards great world building and other interesting characters that it can get frustrating when things grind to a halt. Every few pages, the author would go, “OH SHITS THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE ALL EROTIC AND JUNK” and before you know it Tir would look at Araña and his breeches would become laden with whatever, because nothing is sexier than a woman tearfully explaining all the hideous abuse she went through as a child, and then before you know it UNF UNF UNF and then abruptly back to the plot for a chapter or two before the whole squicky cycle begins anew. It’s like the Circle of Life, only dirtier and less tear-jerking.

Despite trying to be an erotic romance, there’s actually very little, y’know, SEX in it. Oh, when Jory gets down to it, there are pages devoted to each scene, but they’re surprisingly few and far between. The rest of the time the “erotic-tude” is limited to discribing how Araña’s ____ (pick your word; Jory Strong runs through them all) begins weeping whenever Tir looks at her or his manhood grows heavy when she’s submissive or touching his nipples. Which she does a lot. Or it’s queerly sandwiched into scenes it shouldn’t be; like, for instance, when Araña begins tearfully telling Tir about the death of those close to her and her near-rape, his response is to question her about it while manhandling her in a very creepy way. The relationship between Araña and Tir is also extremely skewed towards “poor, innocent woman needs big primal man to possess her, feed her bits of dead animal, and juggle her bits whenever she tries to wrap her little head around big concepts.” But, you know, whatever, right? Some people dig the super submissive/super dominant stuff, and if this gets your bits in a bunch, more power to you.

But most insufferable of all, and the thing that knocks this story down from a solid B to a C+ is Araña herself. She can’t go two pages without tears springing to her eyes, or her heart clenching at something, or letting out an uneven breath or GRAR! I think the intent was to portray her as a reluctant heroine, someone who doesn’t necessarily enjoy the things she needs to do, but she actually comes across as rather spectacularly wishy-washy and incompetent. This is who I’m supposed to be rooting for? Someone who only seems to succeed by accident and spends all her time either tearing up or getting fondled? Bitch, put down those knives, I am a grouchy video game reviewer and I still know what to do with them BETTER THAN YOU. There is SO little chemistry between herself and Tir apart from what seems entirely superficial; Tir likes her because she’s hot and submissive, and she likes him because he’s hot and can touch her without all that pesky painful death business. There’s no romance and genuine feeling between the two, no common ground or interests, so scenes that are meant to be intense and passionate come off feeling cheap and tacky, like a drunken grope on the dance floor.

This was pretty close to working, and had a lot of good ideas, but just fell short. It feels a lot like someone tried to write a pornographic version of a fantasy novel (like Harriet Porkher and the Sorcerer’s Bone or something) and the plot bits and the sexy bits are just sitting awkwardly in the same room together unable to make anything but smalltalk. With a bit more time and willingness to let the characters and story speak for themselves, Jory Strong would have had a real hit. As it stands, this is an almost-clever book that never gets the chance to roar along with all cylinders firing because it keeps tripping up on all the untidy boners sprouting everywhere. Ew. Might want to get that looked at.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    tea says:

    :inappropriate sniggering:

    This book came with a bunch of others loaned from a friend. I read with flat out disbelief. This review hits all the high points. And the weeping bits. And the general feeling of “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!” one gets when dealing with the main character.

    And I never really did figure out the whole spider thing. But, couldn’t be arsed to read Book 1 or Book 3… just… couldn’t.

  2. 2
    Kati says:

    I actually put down the first in this series because I was completely frustrated by the hero having a CONSTANT boner. In public, when the wind changed directions, whenever.

    Having a constant boner does NOT make a book erotic. It makes the hero creepy. I mean, if you can’t write *actual* sexual tension, best to not try to convey it with constant boners in public at any given time.

  3. 3
    Jeannie says:

    Good review, Dora! I admire anyone who can get past the first few chapters of books like this, let alone finish the whole thing.
    I’m getting to old to read shit that requires a note pad just so I can keep all the characters straight. And erotica that uses the term “weeping” to describe what happens to the woman’s lady bits when she gets turned on makes me want to hurl.

    Maybe Arana should touch her own spider thingy and just get it over with already ‘cause she sounds too miserable to live.

    Oh and the line “(like Harriet Porkher and the Sorcerer’s Bone or something)” … freakin’ genius!

  4. 4
    Jennifer Armintrout says:

    All of that aside, I’m still going to read this book.  Because I like spiders.  I’m a little depressed that it’s not about were-spiders, actually.

  5. 5
    lizw65 says:

    It sounded pretty damn good up until this:
    Naturally, they must bone.
    This almost sounds to me as though the author started out writing a straight-up apocalyptic fantasy and was advised by some well-meaning friend to sex it up because “sex sells”, and unfortunately failed to incorporate the sexual elements into the story in an organic (hah!) way.

  6. 6
    KimberlyD says:

    I’m not a fan of sex at an inappropriate time. I hate when something needs to be done like NOW or the hero and heroine are in mortal danger and ooh lets stop for a quickie or at least a description of how much I want you sexay hot lurvin’ while we’re both about to DIE! I’m not often in dangerous situations but I’m pretty sure the last thing I’ll be thinking about is my husband’s crotchal area (even if he is hot.)

  7. 7
    Miranda says:

    I cant’ get past the title. I want to call it “Touched by a Spider”

  8. 8
    JoAnnarama says:

    Books that build interesting and believable worlds and create characters through dialogue and emotional growth are far more interesting (IMHO) than wet/hard throbbing creepy weepy lets get it on action. And when these meant for each other fated lovers have to stop for a bone break in the middle of an attack of werevampirezombie baddies, that book is top of the reject pile.

    It’s always possible, in these days of writing for a publisher that has defined a market with very specific demands, that a wonderful fantasy was viagra enhanced to get it on in that market…

  9. 9
    bounababe says:

    I have read both books in the series and plan on getting the third when it comes out next month. That being said, I completely agree with this review. She came up with an interesting world and story but it did feel like someone told her to sex it up. What I found most frustrating is that her heroines in many of her other books on Elloras Cave were not this spineless.  I’m really hoping that the third one, which is about Rebekah, has much less weeping from any orifices, and alot more evil-human/supernatural ass-kicking, or at least a conversation that doesn’t involve creepy gropage. Otherwise the interesting world she created would be wasted.

  10. 10
    Honeywell says:

    I love the books Jory Strong wrote for Ellora’s Cave.  So much I’ve bought every single title she has out, enjoyed most of them, and even still re-read some.  I’m a fan.  So I was thrilled to see she had a new series with Berkley but sadly I don’t really like it so far.  The sex (in the first book too) often seems out of place but most of the reason for that I think is because the world is so grim there’s NEVER a good time for it. 

    The third book, Healer’s Choice, is due out Sept. 7th and I’m hoping this one will work for me.  She’s written so many books I’ve enjoyed so I’m hoping she’s lightened up just a tad so I can actually appreciate the complex world she’s built for this series.  There’s a 5 star review for it up on Amazon already from a Vine reviewer so who knows?  Maybe the third time is the charm. 

    My reaction to Spider Touched from last year when I read it:
    Jory Strong
    [+] Ghostland 02 – Spider Touched 3 STARS
    Great world, interesting characters and well written so it probably deserves a better rating but it’s just too bleak for me to really enjoy.  The post apocalyptic world the author sets up is unrelenting.  Even at the end of the book I feel like these powerful characters have no security and could easily starve to death or be killed in the next chapter if the book continued.

  11. 11
    Betty Fokker says:

    I found myself interested in the book, mainly because the review was so very, very funny! Now I want to read the book just so I can snark too, and say to myself, “Oh shit, here comes the UNF UNF UNF”.

  12. 12

    OMG, hilarious! I hope Dora reviews more books here.

  13. 13
    ocelott says:

    I read the first book in the series last year, and this review pretty well applies there, too.

  14. 14
    Dora says:

    Thanks for the kind words, ladies. :) Glad I could share a laugh. It sounds like some of Ms Strong’s other books might be up my alley. It’s disappointing to hear that her other heroines have fared better than Arana; she had such an interesting premise and could have been someone we really rooted for and admired.

    Instead we get some puss whose sole redeeming quality is that she leaves us alone for pages at a time. You can be a strong heroine, and sensitive/vulnerable at the same time, but this just wasn’t the way to do it. Are the heroes in her other books any better? I can’t see how you could possibly do worse than Tir, he of neanderthal personality and the sodden breeches and nipples that could cut glass.

  15. 15
    orangehands says:

    *laughing* Yeah, world building sounds interesting, creepy stuff sounds really, really creepy. I’ll pass.

    KimberlyD: Oh hell yes! Look, I get death and danger make people want to be all life-affirming with some hot sex, but you probably shouldn’t be enjoying the life part until your sure you’re keeping it past the two minutes after the sex. I mean, seriously, do you not have even that much control? As great as sex is, I will always give up a boner for breathing.

  16. 16
    redcrow says:

    I actually put down the first in this series because I was completely frustrated by the hero having a CONSTANT boner. In public, when the wind changed directions, whenever.

    Having a constant boner does NOT make a book erotic. It makes the hero creepy. I mean, if you can’t write *actual* sexual tension, best to not try to convey it with constant boners in public at any given time.

    …Sorry, can’t help myself. (And, of course, my sincerest apologies to the person least likely to sing about boners for butchering her song.)

    Maybe there’s worldbuilding here,
    And maybe there’s a plot…
    Sadly, while I read, I see
    Things I’d rather not -
    ‘Cause constant boner
    Is not so hot.
    Boner… Ewwwww, constant boner -
    It isn’t hot…

  17. 17
    Honeywell says:

    Dora said on…
    08.25.10 at 10:53 AM

    Are the heroes in her other books any better? I can’t see how you could possibly do worse than Tir, he of neanderthal personality and the sodden breeches and nipples that could cut glass.

    Meh.  I like the “neanderthal” heroes so probably not.  But if you wanted to give her books another shot her Angelini series has a UF vibe to it too and the series taken as a whole is my favorite.  The first book is Skye’s Trail and it’s a pretty good representation of her erotic romance ebooks, I’d say.

    Re-reading the blurb for the book actually made me cringe a little bit but it’s an accurate description of the sexy bits—you’d probably hate it.  lol But I don’t think the actual story is as corny as the blurb makes it sound. 

    Book 1 in The Angelini series.

    For Skye Delano, the hunt and the kill are sometimes inexorably tied together.

    Her origins shrouded behind an impenetrable wall of mental pain, Skye has survived and evolved into a tracker, a hunter who metes out justice to those who prey on the helpless. Alone but not lonely, she’s been content with her life. But now her body is changing and there’s an underlying craving that’s left her restless. She needs to take a mate—or rather, two mates…

    Detective Rico Santana wants and needs Skye—for himself, and to track a couple of kids who have gone missing.

    In all the centuries that Giovanni Banderali has been alive, he’s never desired any woman enough to bind her to him as a companion. That changed the moment he saw Skye. She’s a threat to the fledgling vampires he’s searching for, but nothing will stop him from claiming her—not even the Angelini blood that flows through her veins.

    Adversaries, natural enemies—dangerous allies—the bond that links them is stronger than lust, more powerful than love. When an Angelini chooses a mate, no man can resist. 

    Although the Angelini is my favorite I like her other series too and they all have a different vibe to them.  For example, her Crime Tells series reads more like contemporary romance to me and her Supernatural Bonds has a paranormal romance feel.  All of her books are unmistakeably erotic romances though.

  18. 18
    JF says:

    Show of hands for those who now want to read Harriet Porkher and the Sorcerer’s Bone. . .

  19. 19
    Wendy says:

    @JF: *raises hand*

  20. 20
    Kathy says:

    @JF:  Ummm, me too.

  21. 21
    Ben P says:

    ROFLMAO+ !!!

    A review featuring the incomparably descriptive “UNF UNF UNF” and the hysterically funny Harry Porkher and the Sorceror’s Bone.

    Thank you so much for giving me this chance to laugh my ass off and make snotty gurgling noises of amusement after such a long and unbelievably crappy day!

  22. 22
    Kilian Metcalf, LIterary Slut says:

    Show of hands for those who now want to read Harriet Porkher and the Sorcerer’s Bone. . .

    Me, me, me!

    Also thanks to Dora for increasing my vocabulary.  Previously unfamiliar with UNF.  Loved the picture illustration in Urban Dictionary:

  23. 23
    Lora/Litdiva says:

    Oh, Dora, you made my day. What a biting and hilarious review! Please give us more reviews like this :)

    I’ve had that feeling myself, often in books written by men, when the plot is winding up toward something major and the author hits the pause button and adds some unrealistically timed sex between the lantern-jawed hero with the troubled past and the girl.

    Anyone remember Starship Troopers in the 90’s—dumb sci fi flick in which two characters are about to hook up when a scout enters the tent and says something to the effect of The bugs are coming! They’ll be here in 10 min. Break camp! and the hero looks at the girl and goes “We’ve got time.” and they disrobe. Um….huh????

    now THAT’S romantic

  24. 24
    Lolly says:

    Great review Dora!!

    I’ve also been disappointed with Jory’s recent books – her Crime Tells series (Ellora’s Cave) are my personal faves.  They have a really great mystery / ‘whodunnit’ storyline balanced really well with the ‘UNF’…lol

    Am hoping she’ll get back to these eventually :O)

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