Book Review

War by Laura Thalassa

Before you guys read this review I want to flag that the review includes discussion of:

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genocide, both real and fictional, specifically including mass beheadings and murder of children; rape; and both Islamophobia AND Antisemitism.

I honestly found this book very hard to read and hard to write about, especially with what’s in the news these days. I’m sorry if this is upsetting for you guys to read. I thought about not reviewing it but I think there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about what it means that a book like this not only exists, but is laden with positive reviews on GoodReads. I’m struggling with all of that and I’m not sure I get to answers, but anyway – read with caution, please.

I started trying to write my review of War by Laura Thalassa on the day after the Turkish air force started bombing Kurdish-controlled portions of Syria.

I’m not sure there is ever an easy day to try to review a book in which the love interest is the architect of a genocide that results in thousands of on-page deaths. As I write this now, I’m looking at a photo of a screaming Kurdish woman running with a baby in her arms. I know that I have never felt anything like the fear and anguish she was feeling when that photo was taken. I hope that she’s alive. I hope her child is alive. I know that many others are not.

This is war. It’s not sexy. It’s not hot. And it’s definitely not a meet-cute.

The premise of Laura Thalassa’s Four Horsemen series is that the Four Horsemen of the Christian Book of Revelation (Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death) are sequentially released on the world. War is the second book in the series, following Pestilence (reviewed by Elyse here). The heroine in War is Miriam, who is described as half-Jewish, half-Muslim and lives in Jerusalem. Miriam has heard rumors about the Horseman, specifically War and the destruction he brings. Within just a few pages, he appears with an army, destroys Jerusalem, and declares Miriam to be his fated wife. For the rest of the book, Miriam travels with War’s army south through Egypt and into Sudan as they attack cities and kill thousands.

Miriam and War become sexually and emotionally involved fairly quickly. However, Miriam continues to try to thwart War through various means, including trying to kill him, attempting to protect a few citizens during battle, and offering him sex in exchange for not destroying the aviaries of carrier pigeons that the cities use (in this post-technology future) to warn one another of his approach. She repeatedly asks him to stop killing, and he repeatedly refuses although it’s clear that he could do so. When Miriam becomes pregnant, however, War has a crisis of conscience, realizes that everyone is somebody’s child, and calls the whole thing off. That is, essentially, the end.

Collaboration during a military occupation is morally complex. Throughout human history, women have made all manner of compromises to protect themselves and their families in wartime. Women have acquiesced to sex (it’s difficult, given the circumstances, to call it consent) to obtain safe passage out of war zones, to keep their children from being killed, to put food on the table during blockades. Collaborators may be envied during an occupation. They have historically been subject to terrible abuse – often fairly misogynistic in tone – when an occupation ends. It’s easy to decry collaboration, but much harder to know what any of us would do when faced with the choice to collaborate or face starvation, abuse, or murder.

Other characters in the book frequently assume that Miriam is making that kind of compromise – trading sex for safety, whether her own safety or that of others. When Miriam arrives in War’s camp, she’s told that it is a dangerous place for women and that it’s safer to consent to sex with one man in order to be safe from rape by others. However, other than the bargain over the aviaries, there’s no suggestion that Miriam’s sexual relationship with War is a ploy to protect herself or others. Rather, we are repeatedly told (the book is first-person, from Miriam’s POV), how hot War is, in an interior monologue that is a fairly jarring departure from the repeated descriptions of bloody, violent death.

In certain respects, this book fails due to its own honesty. The sheer, unmitigated brutality of War’s march south is extensively described. When we first see War, he is drenched in blood. His army kills everyone: soldiers, children, the elderly. Anyone who survives the initial assault by his human army is butchered by an army of zombies. Captured people are given the choice to swear allegiance to War or die by beheading. War has the ability to read the hearts of humans and know if they are good or bad, but he doesn’t use this to decide who dies. Everyone dies, and they die on-page.

A few times during the book, Miriam wonders why God (and God is expressly stated to exist) has sent the Horsemen to earth. The question is never answered. The book frequently references how much evil humans have done, and initially I thought that perhaps the resolution would be that if people pulled together to save themselves and War saw sufficient demonstration of the goodness of humanity, he would stop. But the book is full of humans who resist evil – from the captives who refuse to follow War to women who defend their children – and they are killed anyway. Their defiance and self-sacrifice doesn’t make an impression on War. The only thing that really changes him is Miriam’s pregnancy. It isn’t humanity that needs to learn a lesson, apparently: it’s just War.

As Elyse noted when she reviewed Pestilence, a particularly troubling aspect of this world is that there are no consequences if a Horseman stops killing. War states that God sent him to kill, but God does not punish him when he stops killing. There are no repercussions. And War does not suggest that there will be. He wants to kill, until he doesn’t anymore, and then he stops. There’s an intense cognitive dissonance between his love for Miriam and their baby and his complete lack of empathy for any other human creature, a dissonance the book never resolves. We’re told that loving Miriam and the baby means that he’s no longer willing to kill (although he shows no remorse for his past murders), but I couldn’t understand why that changed him when nothing else had.

Ultimately, the ending left me feeling as if the murder and rape of countless thousands had all simply been a device for the moral awakening of a single brutal man. But the people who die in a genocide are not tools for someone else’s personal development. They are real individuals, each of them someone’s son or daughter, someone’s sister or mother. Each death is the death of an entire world, a future that will never be. Yes, this is fiction – but real war, real genocide, the real slaughter of innocent people is happening right now. A book that portrays a perpetrator of genocide as a dreamy hero and centers his redemption over the stories of his victims is not a book that I can recommend.

In many respects, Thalassa makes the situation worse by setting this book in present-day Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex, far too complex to serve as a scribbled-in backdrop for a romance. There are references to a civil war that was won by Muslim forces that established a state called New Palestine and the book feels fairly Islamophobic in several respects – the closest thing the book has to villains (other than the ostensible love interest) are several of War’s commandos (who try to rape and murder Miriam), all of whom have Arabic names. (I suppose they could be Christian Arabs but the fact that Christians live in the Middle East is not recognized at any point in this book.) Women don’t have equal rights in Muslim-ruled New Palestine, and Miriam only knows how to fight due to illicit lessons from former Israeli soldiers. At the same time, the book isn’t pro-Israel. Miriam lumps the Jewish side of the civil war together with the Muslim side and describes them all as sectarian fanatics. Dismissing the complicated mix of history, religion, political ideology and geopolitics which drives that conflict as simply ‘sectarian fanaticism’ felt uncomfortably simplistic and stereotypical to both Israelis and Palestinians. To me, it underscored the inappropriateness of choosing that location, which is home to a very real daily struggle, as the setting for the book.

A romance fails if the love story does not convince the reader, and while I was told that Miriam and War were in love, I was unconvinced (although I was sold on their sexual attraction). A romance also fails if the reader is not invested in the couple’s HEA. I wasn’t just uninvested, I was actively disgusted by being asked to root for a happily ever after for this couple. I read the final chapter – a fairly sappy happy-families moment in which Miriam introduces her toddler to her mother and sister – and all I could think about was dead children. I did not want a happy ending for War. I wanted some kind of justice.

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War by Laura Thalassa

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  1. 1
    Pre-Successful Indie says:
    44+

    With both this and the Pestilence review, I find myself in this weird kind of awe / “alien studying humanity” headspace. Like, I am not yucking anyone’s yum, but I really wish I could sit some of these books’ many fans down, buy them a beverage of their choice, and ask them why *this* is their Thing, what buttons it’s pushing, why of all the books in all the world, they gravitate to this. And they can! I’m not shaming them! I just don’t understand it.

    You get to have your Things, and my curiosity is not taking that away from you, but sometimes I’m disappointed that “don’t yuck anyone’s yum” also means “nobody ever explains why they like a thing.” I am so curious to know why, because it’s so far from what I’m into.

    I know it’s not considered acceptable to ask people why they like what they like, and so I don’t do it. But that’s where it leaves me: These books are not for me, but I am SO curious about who they are for, and what people see in them. Because there’s gotta be something, plenty of things. (Elyse touched on some in the Pestilence review, like the “ordinary woman tames magical superbeing” trope.)

    tldr: OKAY, BUT WHY THOUGH.

  2. 2
    DiscoDollyDeb says:
    30+

    @Pre-Successful Indie: while this book sounds like a thousand kinds of NOPE for me, I sometimes enjoy reading dark (non-paranormal)/ mafia/crime/abduction/captivity romances—including where consent is dubious, forced, or basically non-existent, and I’ve occasionally been asked to explain or justify my reading choices, to which I can only say:

    How can we explain what appeals to us versus what doesn’t? It’s part of the tapestry that makes us each of us an individual. Sometimes “dark” works for me because of the angsty melodrama, but I can’t give you a more detailed explanation for what rings my bell and what elicits a “meh.” I know the difference between fiction and real life, between fantasy and reality, and between what I enjoy reading and would never want to actually happen to me or any other woman—and I have to trust that other people can also discern those differences. Obviously someone is buying/reading these books or they wouldn’t continue to be written and published.

    TL;DR: It’s not always possible to explain why we like something.

  3. 3
    Kit says:
    12+

    Might have been better if the series had been written as a paranormal thriller and leaving the romance out of it? Still wouldn’t read it but writing it as a romance and expecting us to root for War?

    I’ll stick to vampires…

  4. 4
    Dr. Opossum says:
    16+

    A lot of romance books have “heroes” who are big-time criminals/killers who get redeemed via love but don’t face any real consequences for their actions: gangsters, motorcycle crime gang folks, vampires, demon lords, etc. I wouldn’t say it is a recent trend – this has been around since Daphne du Maurier at least.

    But this series has to take the cake in terms of the most hardcore killing done by a nominal hero. I kind of get why it appeals to some women – this guy definitely represents a challenge for the heroine – but it is rather grotesque.

  5. 5
    JAM says:
    32+

    One cannot be “half Muslim” as if “Muslim” is an ethnicity. It is not. It is a religion. Please see The Autobiography of Malcolm X where he describes his experience on the hajj (pilgrimage) where he witnessed masses of Muslim pilgrims wearing varied national dress, displaying a full spectrum of so-called racial characteristics and speaking a multitude of languages. However, one might certainly have one parent who subscribes to the religion of Islam. I am not sure if this usage is the author’s or the reviewer’s but it illustrates the distressing tendency of westerners to view situations through a racial lens. Merci a toi, Le Comte de Gobineau!

  6. 6
    cbackson says:
    22+

    @JAM: It’s the author’s – I was actually bothered by it for exactly the reason that you note, but I was already bothered by SO MANY THINGS that I didn’t call it out in the review. Yes, she treats “Muslim” as an ethnicity throughout the sections where she discusses the history of “New Palestine.” The actual national/ethnic background of the heroine’s father is never discussed. Jewish and Israeli are also treated as synonymous, although obviously, there are Jews all over the Middle East. And the existence of religious communities other than Islam and Judaism is not mentioned at all.

    It’s an important issue, thank you for bringing it up!

  7. 7
    Lara says:
    5+

    Holy crap. Why. How. WHY.

  8. 8
    Tina says:
    21+

    I think to enjoy a dark romance or an anti-hero, there has to some element of distance between you and the material. For instance I can like an assassin hero or a mafia hero etc. because for me those things are about as alien to my life as well… and actual alien. And one of the ways you can enjoy something dark is if you justify that it is fiction and doesn’t seem quite “real.” OTOH, I could never enjoy a hero who is, say, a domestic abuser or a child abuser because even though two things are not part of my life any more than mafia bosses or assassin are, they seem too “real” to even justify as fiction on the page. Also there is a line that everyone has where something is just not acceptable even in fiction. That line, of course, varies from person to person.

    While I don’t think this book definitely falls on the bad side of my personal line, I would pause on wanting to read it because of the inclusions of the explicit references the three major world religions, and the real life Israeli-Pakistan conflict. It sounds as if the author makes both real world religion and race — volatile, third rail topics — a part of her story. I always get wary when real life racial conflict and real life religion are part of the story. if you are going to make race and/or religion conflict elements in your story you really need to be able to wrangle them with a lot of knowledge, sophistication and nuance. And I have found that just doesn’t happen a lot. It makes for a veruy frustrating read.

    Also, even taking away to race/religion real world conflict element the storyline just doesn’t seem to my taste. Making War an actual warrior with an actual army who rampages and kills sounds too simplistic and literal. I prefer world building for a paranormal/fantasy to evoke more of a sense of discovery or introduces something I couldn’t have imagined on my own. This just doesn’t sound like it does that. It would have been more interesting if War acted as more of a catalyst than a literal warmonger, whose very presence causes people to make war on each other or causes otherwise peaceful or diplomatic solutions to fail.

  9. 9
    quizzabella says:
    11+

    Yeah a hard no when it comes to what I like to read. I don’t mind messed up heroes(or heroines for that matter). I like MC romances and some of them are really messed up – I’m looking at you Tillie Cole, but if there is a reason for why they do horrible things and then realize why it’s wrong and it isn’t just a magic vagina, I can still get behind the story. “Oh yeah I killed millions of people because I wanted to, and could have stopped anytime but didn’t, but hey I’m hot and now have a kid so I’ll stop with the slaughter”. Umm that’s not a redemption story it’s someone irredeemable who doesn’t deserve a happy ending.

  10. 10
    Nan De Plume says:
    11+

    @DiscoDollyDeb- “It’s not always possible to explain why we like something.” Bingo! But “War” is definitely not something I want to read either.

    Not to sound inappropriate here, but “War” was on the Cover Snark a few weeks ago. Just FYI for those who missed it.

  11. 11
    Kit says:
    10+

    Sometimes we do want to read a darker side than normal and that’s ok as long as it’s marked as a dark romance/mafia/MC with a CW. But a lot of books are just marked as romances and have awful heroes in.

    I’m partial to an alien romance which often features kidnapping, but they’re so far removed from reality you couldn’t really apply it to real life. I tend to read new ones when a free KU subscription is available so can ditch a book I don’t like.

  12. 12
    Eliza says:
    20+

    My take, FWIW: romance books with biblical links go over very well with a certain segment of the population. I remember a few years ago Kate Breslin’s “For Such a Time” came out, a very problematic story about a “Jewess” falling in love with the head of a Nazi concentration camp during WW2. My mom read it and *loved* it. “It’s a retelling of the book of Esther!” she told me, so excited. So I’m not surprised that a series about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is taking off. Some of those readers wouldn’t even notice the Islamophobia (or if they did, it might be a feature, not a bug).

  13. 13
    Nan De Plume says:
    13+

    @Eliza- “romance books with biblical links go over very well with a certain segment of the population.” You are definitely right about this, and not just in romance. Earlier this year, I read a collection of compiled essays entitled “Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball” by the late Joe Bageant, who grew up in a highly conservative small town. He describes apocalyptic and other Biblically inspired literature, and how it is a highly lucrative market in certain demographics. Fascinating stuff.

    Going back to conservative/Biblical romance, Harlequin has several category romance lines that have changed over the years due to market interest. But they still have the “Love Inspired” line for clean, Christian contemporary romances. So there must be a large enough market to maintain it.

    For the record, I have no problem with clean, conservative, Christian romances. People should read what they want to read, and write what they want to write. I’m just not personally interested in reading or writing them.

  14. 14
    hapax says:
    14+

    Holy cow, after this review and PESTILENCE earlier, I just can’t *wait* to see what this author has in store for us with FAMINE and DEATH. Smexxy cannibalism? Necrophilia?

    (as others have said, nobody has to justify their personal squicks or squees; I love all sorts of problematic tropes, so I’m not throwing stones here. I’m just surprised this series hits the sweet spot for so many)

    I have HUGE issues with Piers Anthony, and I’m not going to *recommend* his books; but he did manage to make Death and War (and even Lucifer) interesting and complex paranormal heroes in his “Incarnations of Immortality” series, and gave them believable romances (Lucifer’s left me even a little swoony), so it can be done.

  15. 15
    cbackson says:
    11+

    @Eliza @Nan De Plume: Yeah, I grew up in the south in the 80s/90s, and although my own faith community was not evangelical, everyone I knew at school was reading Left Behind and similar books. There were definitely a lot of people for whom the end of the world was a thing profoundly to be hoped for (they were sure, of course, that they’d be among the saved).

    FWIW, I’m not sure how much this book would appeal to that demographic. It does rely heavily on the Christian Book of Revelation, and God expressly exists in this world, but the heroine is not a person of any religious faith and the only people who do have religious faith are generally portrayed negatively.

  16. 16
    Nan De Plume says:
    7+

    @cbackson- Oh! I think “Left Behind” is one of the books Mr. Bageant mentioned by name. It was a best-seller. Thank you for mentioning this because I couldn’t think of the title when I posted my comment.

    “There were definitely a lot of people for whom the end of the world was a thing profoundly to be hoped for (they were sure, of course, that they’d be among the saved).” You might enjoy reading “Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball.” Everything you said in your comment sounds like the cultural phenomenon Joe Bageant was describing. (Or maybe it would be too close to home?)

  17. 17
    Laura says:
    13+

    I read it because.. well it was on KindleUnlimited and I’m getting my money’s worth! I also read Pestilence… I don’t know how but somehow War was worse. It was more graphic and more senseless (if possible). There were so many eye-rolling skimm-able moments that set right next to horrible battle scenes (and by battle I mean no holds barred slaughter of unprepared cities). He got her archery stuff for her, she fell in love. He ordered her a bath (because love), he had his zombies move away 15 feet so she could breathe through the stench, she ooh and awed him. Gimme a break! There was NO REASON for her to love him. We never got that explanation. Also how did she not know she was going to get pregnant?? They were going at it for weeks at a time! Also, apologies for this spoiler (but really, are you going to read it?) When she throws herself in the out with him.. what?? WHAT? Please do yourself a favor and just move past this one and go back to Mafia/MC/dark Twisties because at least they make you FEEL something other than “wtf?”

  18. 18
    Laura Brown says:
    6+

    *pit, not out!

  19. 19
    Liza says:
    8+

    I might’ve referenced this in Elyse’s review of Pestilence, but I looooved Veronica Rossi’s YA books that feature the Four Horsemen. There are two–Riders, and Seeker. So if anyone is looking for something with the Four Horsemen that isn’t dark, that might be a duology to explore. The heroes are truly heroes.

  20. 20
    Chris k says:
    13+

    I still remember nursing my baby amd SOBBING in distress over the scene in the first book where the author slowly kills off two children who cry for their mother. It served no goddamn purpose. That book made me so freaking angry and upset. Ell definitely not read the second one.

  21. 21
    PamG says:
    21+

    Nope to the power of nope. Reading these reviews, I keep thinking about Terry Pratchett’s take on the Four Horsemen with yearning.

  22. 22
    Nicole says:
    16+

    I am firmly in the camp of not everyone deserves a HEA, and this series just baffles me. I don’t care how well they are written, these are not themes and romantic characters I want to read about in romance novels.

  23. 23
    Starling says:
    18+

    I recently read City of Brass, which seems to endorse the idea that war crimes really are an insurmountable barrier to romance. I don’t think that should be controversial, but here we are.

    I’mma go read Pratchett’s Thief of Time again, because that’s how you do a fictional Apocalypse.

  24. 24
    Pre-Successful Indie says:
    6+

    I can see what folks are saying about not being able to explain their buttons/catnip. I hadn’t really thought of that, since I overanalyze everything, haha.

    @hapax,re: Famine and Death:

    The way this is going, for Famine, my money’s on gigantic content warnings for anyone with eating disorders in their past. :/

    For Death I’m gonna plead the Fifth, just having finished a non-romance book full of variously sexy necromancers. *ahem*

  25. 25
    Jacki says:
    17+

    On the “no consequences for quitting the Horseman gig” topic: I have not read War, but I did read Pestilence. My takeaway feeling on Pestilence deciding to just quit being a murdering d-bag was that he was actually SUPPOSED to stop, that God put the heroine in his way because she was essentially his fated mate and the only woman who could teach him to love and blah blah, and that God was trying to redeem the Horsemen through the love of good women. It was one of the many, many, MANY issues I had with the book. It felt like the God in the story was setting mass murderers loose and prioritizing teaching them to love with thousands of innocent lives as collateral damage, not to mention making their emotional growth the responsibility of the heroines. Again, I’m just describing my interpretation, and the story does not explicitly state any of it. However, reading that War is murdering the world and then stops because the heroine gets pregnant sounds the same to me–God sent War intending for him to fall in love and voluntarily stop killing, and it’s all about War and not about the rest of the planet.

    Seriously, Death better bring everyone back to life in the end of this series. It doesn’t fix the series at all, but no one deserved to die so these ass-pickles could learn to love or whatever the hell we’re calling it.

    On why people like/read the series: I can’t speak to the liking it, but I read the first one because I wanted to see how the author would put a spin on the hero that made him worth cheering on. She, uh, didn’t.

  26. 26
    aicha says:
    7+

    This is a fantastic review. I am sorry you had to read this book (it seems like a traumatic experience) but you distilled the many issues with this book so well.

  27. 27
    Star says:
    10+

    For various reasons, people over the course of my life have always thought they were entitled to tell me what I liked and what I didn’t, and even contradict me when I expressed what my actual preferences were. I learned that I couldn’t just state my preferences; I had to be prepared to explain them and defend them and make a case for them. This didn’t usually affect the other person at all, but it did help me be firm in my own mind that yes, these really were my preferences and the other person was just writing fanfiction about me, which is harder than you’d think.

    So, as a result, I spend a lot of time trying to work out why I like what I like. It’s a difficult thing to do, and I have to assume that my answers will always be incomplete, but it’s also an interesting thing to do, especially since the answers sometimes evolve over time. By this point, I wouldn’t claim to have definitive answers to anything, but I do have hypotheses for most things, and I think I understand myself better, too.

  28. 28
    cbackson says:
    7+

    @Jacki – I feel like that’s the strong implication in both books, and frankly, it seems sort of nihilistic and awful, doesn’t it?

  29. 29
    Varian says:
    5+

    I’ll admit that I really like the cover, but everything is is a glaring neon sign made of nope.

  30. 30
    Jessica Ferguson says:
    9+

    I can read a book with an awful hero or heroine. But I can’t read a romance with a protagonist who crosses certain lines, because part of how I read romance involves identifying with them and their actions enough to want them to have a HEA. It’s really interesting to see where other people draw lines about unacceptable behavior from heroes, because while this one is pretty straightforward (even if you enjoyed this book, I think people generally understand that “hero commits genocide” is a dealbreaker for a lot of people), a lot of my personal lines aren’t dealbreakers for people.

    For example, I pushed on through reading Alyssa Cole’s ‘A Hope Divided’, and I really wish I hadn’t. This is barely a spoiler, as you find it out within the first chapter, I think, but the hero in that book has worked as an interrogator of Confederate prisoners, and he tortures them for information. As someone who believes that torture is unequivocally morally wrong, and as someone who thinks that any time you talk about torture, even in fiction, you need to talk about the truth that torture does not work, the book failed for me. I pushed through reading it because I know people loved that book, and it was a really bad choice for me. ‘War’ is an exception maybe in that genocide is a dealbreaker for most people, but I think it’s easy to assume that our own personal dealbreakers are not as personal as they think (see also, me and ‘Rulebreaker’ by Cathy Pegau, where one of the heroines is responsible for experimentation on prisoners that leads to their deaths, and which I swear nobody else on Goodreads seemed to care about at all.)

  31. 31
    JudyW says:
    4+

    So Everyone seems to pile onto the “yuck, you must really be weird to like this book” theme. Even people who have not read it. So let me just say I LIKED it! And I’m not into any weird masochistic reading binges either. We get plenty side eye for reading romance in the first place and it felt awkward and aggravating reading that there *might* be a little shame in liking this book. I make No apologies for liking this one and that’s why there are SO many choices in this genre. I’m also in for the sequels! It also has a 4.25 rating on Goodreads so there must be others like me out there. Hope your next book is one you like.

  32. 32
    Jacki says:
    4+

    @cbackson: YES! So much yes! I do not like to think about how Famine’s story is going to go. I’m guessing the gratuitous descriptions of starving people will boggle the mind. Is anyone even going to be left on the planet after all four of these buttholes are done having their romances, or is it just going to be the Four Horsemen and their four ladies staring at each other and wondering how they’re going to repopulate with such a small gene pool?

    @Jessica Ferguson: Oh, crap, I already bought A Hope Divided based on all the positive reviews. I didn’t know about the torture. Siiiiiiiiiiigh.

  33. 33
    Nan De Plume says:
    4+

    @Jessica Ferguson- It’s strange what we can block out of our minds. I read “A Hope Divided” and really enjoyed it but don’t remember *anything* about the hero torturing prisoners. Weird, huh? Even with you bringing it up, it still isn’t ringing a bell for me. So strange…

    “I can read a book with an awful hero or heroine. But I can’t read a romance with a protagonist who crosses certain lines, because part of how I read romance involves identifying with them and their actions enough to want them to have a HEA.” I can totally relate to this. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I don’t want to read mafia romances and the like, but have no trouble with gangster protagonists in other genres, including erotica (who says the bad guys can’t have hot sex on the page?). But in romance, it just doesn’t work for me. I know other people are fans, and more power to them. Although I will say, protagonists in romance don’t have to be squeaky clean for me to enjoy them.

    JudyW- “Everyone seems to pile onto the ‘yuck, you must really be weird to like this book’ theme.” I’m sure that could be said of anybody’s reading tastes. But I say, read what you want to read and write what you want to write. The more books there are in the world, the better. And like you said, a lot of people liked “War.” Good for them. And good for the people who didn’t. It’s really awesome we live in an era with so *many* reading choices.

  34. 34
    catswithbats says:
    3+

    Wow. This book/series sounds atrocious. I was kind of curious about how the author might make this Four Horsemen thing “work” but, at least for me, it seems she hasn’t.

  35. 35
    Leigh Kramer says:
    7+

    Great review, Charlotte. I’m sorry you had to take one for the team to wade through it, however. I had heard the critique of Islamaphobia so I already knew I wouldn’t be reading it. But what you’ve laid out means I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. I can almost barely see an argument for how this might work in a dark romance, except this isn’t dark romance. It’s fantasy. I really don’t get how anyone can justify enjoying a book that contains Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, and racism, other than it saying a whole lot about said reader’s privilege. And that’s before we examine genocide in the context of a fantasy romance. This plot sounds like it’s morality chain to the extreme but without a hero recognizing on his own how to grapple with his horrific actions, I can’t see how he could ever possibly be redeemed.

  36. 36
    JudyW says:
    5+

    @Leigh. The great thing about reading is you DON’T have to justify your taste to anyone. Especially since people on this site are (usually) not judgey about other peoples tastes. We get enough of that with just reading the romance genre in general.

  37. 37
    Librarydancer says:
    2+

    I read Pestilence. The beginning of the book was extremely hard to read, and very uncomfortable for me. I tried it longer on the good reviews and the strong heroine (fire fighter, etc).

    I thought at the time it was extremely interesting that I mentally converted the pestilence affecting the world to the Black Plague of the Middle Ages. In a way, it humanized the deaths for me, wondering how different villages and individuals would handle having the disease in their area.

    As for Pestilence, it was almost as if the character needed to ‘mature’ or grow up, which he wouldn’t have done without her, from a disease to a person.

    That said, I thought War would be a much harder sell, and I certainly won’t be reading War after your well-thought out review.

  38. 38
    K says:
    3+

    Thank you for this review! You laid out all the problems you had with the book very clearly and thoughtfully. This does not sound like the book for me.

    The reason why I love reading “F” reviews is the same reason I’m a loyal reader of SBTB: the smart analysis. I feel my love of the genre is deepened when I examine how romance fits in the wider context of the society I live in and the various privileges that society does and does not afford me. I think it makes my reading experience richer to ask the questions “Why do I like this so much?” and “Why isn’t this working for me?”. The answers to those questions are highly personal and specific to me and my baggage, but are also informed by how society has shaped me. I’m still learning all the ways society sets my unconscious assumptions. Reading the perspectives of the thoughtful reviewers on this site has helped me find my blind spots and given me words to articulate why certain things bother me. Even/especially when another reader’s experience with a book is different from my own, I feel like I learned something valuable from hearing their perspective.

  39. 39
    SuchiRiya says:
    0

    I agree with this review. the author could have done more research or not write at all in the theme that she chose. also the fact that theres no consequence to the MC after what hes done. Everything seems a okay to him at the end is disturbing. I am kinda botherd though that the reviewer here had to say that shes upset that the commandos of War had arab names and that perhaps they could have been christian. I wonder why that has to be it. Christians make up like less than two percent in Isreal. 90% of Egypt follows Islam. it isn’t far fetched that the author didnt mention Christians although she should have at some point say that they exist. If it was the USA and the author had the bad guys have Muslim names then yes that would be a problem. I’m from India and the majority of the population is Hindu and Muslim. And many authors don’t bother mentioning christian name most of the time ’cause they are a minority population. Bad guys exists everywhere and don’t come from one religion.

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