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Nice to meet you.

Who am I? I'm rodneesnodgrass , Snodgrass for short if four syllables are two too many for your beleaguered tongue. Is that my real name? Am I a real person? IS THIS REAL LIFE?

Who cares? Maybe I'm just one more person on the internet who has decided to poke at books in a public space. Maybe computers have created an artificial reality to pacify your headmeat while they use your body as a 'bot battery. You realize every time you dream you nearly break free of your A.I. overlords, right? And headaches are when the node for your cerebral cortex is adjusted.

...regardless, I'm here and I'm setting my sights on young adult science fiction and fantasy. Paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dystopia, and many other cool-sounding subgenres. Popular novels, not so popular novels, downright hard to fucking find novels.

My goal? To dissect what I find, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maybe you'll find it interesting. Maybe you'll be bored shitless. I promise nothing, except this: I do not take myself seriously. Righteous indignation is not the name of the game here. At times, I can find myself in a frothing frenzy, raising my fists to the sky and ululating a war cry against this book that has so infuriated me. But I will not be offended that a book has upset me. It may be noxious shit that compares my morals to streaks of roadkill, reduces me to a fuckdoll, erases my history, or, worst of all, misspells the name of my favorite band, but when all is said and done, it is a book, I am a reader, and the chance of LOATHING EACH OTHER COMPLETELY is always there. And that's okay.

Also, I drop spoilers all the time. Consider this your preemptive warning.

Now grab your pince-nez and popcorn, and let's see where this goes.

Tags:

10 Pet Peeves with YA Paranormal Romance.

10. The Internet: better than Sherlock Holmes

I will never NOT be tickled to hilarity by the use of the Internet in YA paranormal romances. Never have search engines acted so thoroughly, never have they pinpointed results so precisely to the context of the initial query. Ask and ye shall receive the solution to your mysterious beastie!

A Google search never offers image results that make one want to rip out their eyeballs and spray the bloody sockets with bleach. One will never accidentally find websites explaining how the messages hidden in the ingredient lists of canned food are codes to unlocking the exact date for the second coming of Chuck Norris. And most of all, one will never read information that turns out to be false. Yahoo Answers is the new Oracle of Delphi, motherfuckers.

9. Classic Lit mentions: totally subtle allusions

I don't know how classic novels on the heroine's book shelf became a sign she's destined for Great Love, but they did. Name check Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliet, and there we have it: instant romance cred. Until one actually reads said classic lit. I've yet to find a good source of literature criticism that labels Romeo and Juliet a satire of star-crossed love (Feel free to comment if you know of one! But, like, actual lit criticism plz, not one of those dodgy papers found on a We-Sell-English-Essays-for-Lazy-Students site), but I've found plenty that mark it as a social tragedy, a family tragedy, and even a "legacy of rape" to make it obvious that the play is a liiiiittle more complicated than TRUE LOVE IS UNCONQUERABLE.

8. Parents: part of the scenery

If they're lucky. Most of the time, they're dead, unreachable except via long-distance communication like email or phone, or just conveniently busy when shit goes down in their children's lives. Or when the plot requires characters to be grounded or sent to boarding school, etc. Point in fact, parental units are treated like forces of nature more than actual characters: they're there to be drawn upon as sources of inconvenience or angst. Not an integral part of characters' lives per se, and even when a story acknowledges that the parents are acting like uncommunicative, not-there-people, it's not pushed anywhere interesting, even in an after-school special way. I'm running into Stalky McStalkerson's arms because it's the only form of love I can find at this point, MOM and DAD. Etc.

But no, in YA pararom land, parents are like zen. They don't do, they just are, man. Or aren't.

7. ~special~ names: not everyone can be a Thomas Pynchon character

Ever Bloom. Calla Tor. Zara White. Damen Auguste. Patch Cipriano. These sound so artificially contrived a list of working names for porn film performers would *gigglesnort* in response.

6. Uneven love triangles: no chance, Boy #2


Silly me. I thought "Love triangle" meant "Difficult decision between two candidates". Clearly, it really means "Easy choice but I guess I'll dick around with #2 when #1 is gone/distracted/acting huffy to make the book last longer".

Seriously, what is the point? Did anyone really think Bella would choose Jacob over Edward? Of course not. So why have it? When the romance is a foregone conclusion, the reader ends up looking for other explanations of a love triangle, limp as it may be. To shove in who-gets-the-girl posturing for delicious, delicious word count. Or to turn #2 into a spurned lover hungry for revenge - very tension-friendly. Or maybe, to stick close to the story formula that has worked so well so far:

One girl

Two boys

?????

PROFIT

5. Eternal education: because every immortal youth wants to stay in high school


Why? WHYYYYY? Why would anyone other than a sexual predator, an undercover reporter, or a person who actually holds their time in high school as the best period of their life (Do these rare souls exist? They must. Maybe. Like unicorns) go back? Repeatedly? I cannot wrap my head around it.

4. Sneering suitors: being insulted is hot

This is hardly an issue unique to YA paranormal romance. Hi Jane Eyre, how are you?

However, a love interest who disparages, demeans, and generally treats the heroine like shit is a pandemic in this genre. I'm not going into whether it's unhealthy or not for teens to read these types of relationships. For one thing, I don't think teens are so stupid as to nod, slack-jawed, at whatever a book tells them. So you won't hear any THINK OF THE CHILDREN complaints here.

That doesn't mean I like reading a romance where the perfect heartthrob is a sullen asshole. Perfect lips sneering at the bewildered main character doesn't make my heart flutter. It makes my hand want to smack that smirk off his face.

3. Sex: available for shaming purposes only


I'm so tired of sex being a habit practiced by "slutty" characters who are either enemies of the main character or receive a nasty comeuppance by the end of the story. It's one thing to write a chaste romance. It's another thing entirely to define sex as a DIRTY, NASTY THING that only DIRTY, NASTY CHARACTERS do. Sex can be a positive thing, y'know, and liking it doesn't automatically make one an evil person.

2. Heteronormative, Anglo-American dominant paradigm: not unexpected, but still depressing


The main character is a girl. The main love interest is a boy. Both are Caucasian. The pathetic suckerfish that makes up the third side of the love triangle is a boy. Sometimes he will be a character of color. This is acceptable because he has no chance of actually doing anything relevant to the plot. The main character's friends may include a character of color, a queer character, or a character with a disability. This is acceptable because they have secondary roles and therefore have no voice beyond cheering on the main character.

Book after book follows this pattern. Again, this is a problem that affects a vast range of media, far beyond YA paranormal romance. But that doesn't make its existence here any less frustrating.

1. True love is life: without it, existence is meaningless

I know, I know. Of course paranormal romance will be all about the romance. I get that. I do. But there's something scary about the all-encompassing nature of these relationships. If the heroine's love for her guy is so strong that life is meaningless without him... is there anything to her? Is she not a person without her boy toy's love? Bella Swan falling comatose doesn't make me sigh at the strength of sparkle!love. It makes me wonder if she's so empty a person that nothing else will keep her going while Eddie's away. Even watering her cactus every day to keep it alive would have reassured me. Damn.
Today's topic:

Ruby
By Francesca Lia Block
and Carmen Staton



Bare synopsis (taken from Goodreads):

After growing up in an abusive family, Ruby escapes to Los Angeles and learns of her soulmate -- Orion -- a British actor. She travels to England, where she works at a potions and herbs shop, and through a series of coincidental circumstances, ends up nursing Orion back to health without confessing that she has been on a quest to find him all along. But just when she thinks her dream is becoming a reality, Ruby is stopped in her tracks by the violent demons of her past. Only by facing the darkness together can she and Orion finally fulfill their destiny.


Ruby
... is one of those slippery stories that really don't give a fuck about making things easy to follow. Like a dream, it's better if you soothe your bewilderment with a shrug and a silent agreement to just go with it. Intentional slips from first person narration to third are made, and the jumps from present happenings to past recollections are made with only paragraph breaks as warnings. It'll make sense in the end, especially once you realize why the authors chose strict third-person POV for one character, and allowed the other (and primary) narrator, Ruby, much more flexibility in telling her story.

What's interesting is that the surface of the story is as simple as a fairy tale, perhaps because it demands you take it at face value rather than question its believability. I mean, honestly, the love interest is modeled after Orlando Bloom in looks and career without any attempt at subterfuge. But you know what? It works.

It works because the parts of the story that aren't Ruby's painful memories of her childhood abuse feel utterly dreamlike. Against the ugly scars of her past, the fairy wings of her present seem all too fragile. It's a striking dichotomy, woven together by the presence of magic throughout her life.

While it may have a fairy tale's simplicity, does it also have a fairy tale's power? I'm not sure, honestly. The flashbacks are vivid and stomach-churning (animal torture, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and rape, just to tick off a few points of childhood trauma Ruby continues to struggle with), lending the story a rawness that stuck with me a day or two after I finished. But you know what? I don't like how smoothly the story ends -- it's intimated that once Ruby faces the ghosts of her past, they're beaten for good. And... that leaves a sour taste in my mouth, the more I think on it.

For sure, there's nothing wrong with a hopeful ending that offers recovery and a chance for joy, but... that the slate is so easily wiped clean minimizes the effects of trauma, to my mind. It holds true to the fairy tale atmosphere, but doesn't have nearly the power and poignancy as a more ambiguous ending along the lines of Robin McKinley's Deerskin, where the heroine can't promise her love a happily ever after, only that she will try her hardest to grow past her trauma toward one. Incidentally, this is just after she's faced her own ghosts from her past, so it's a clear nod that facing trauma is not only one big confrontation, but just living life afterward, too.

That this is all Deerskin's heroine can promise suggests a level of sacrifice and strength that's missing in Ruby's totes happy ending. Still, Ruby is an interesting read if you're into dreamlike stories of magic and pain.

Or if you ever had a poster of Orlando Bloom pinned to your wall. And we will not even speak of the degenerates with the life-size cardboard cutouts.

Book Babble: Matched.

Today's topic:

Matched
By Ally Condie



Back of book blurb:

For Cassia, nothing is left to chance--not what she will eat, the job she will have, or the man she will marry. In Matched, the Society Officials have determined optimal outcomes for all aspects of daily life, thereby removing the "burden" of choice. When Cassia's best friend is identified as her ideal marriage Match it confirms her belief that Society knows best, until she plugs in her Match microchip and a different boy’s face flashes on the screen. This improbable mistake sets Cassia on a dangerous path to the unthinkable--rebelling against the predetermined life Society has in store for her.


Ehehehe.

Oh, Matched. I had my doubts about you from the start. Who wouldn't for a book that claimed to be Twilight with a dystopian mask? But I hardly expected the summation of my feelings to be a blank stare.

I think the best metaphor for Matched that I've yet heard is: it's a cream-puff pastry where someone forgot to add the filling. Pretty prose and occasionally striking imagery, but it's all so damn empty. Even the typically oppressive atmosphere of a dystopian setting is missing. What we have instead is the incredibly slow mental awakening of a girl as she realizes (through the power of love) that choice may be better than comfort.

And so I find myself struggling to review this book, because there's very little to review. Read The Giver? Then you know how everything works in this version of a brave new world. Read any recent YA paranormal romance? Then you know how the love triangle resolves itself.

The only piece I can chomp on isn't so much from the actual book than an extension of some of its ideas: namely, making romance the focal point in a dystopian setting. There's something nicely perverse about it, the concept of love being so wild and chaotic a thing that it can break through even the most carefully constructed cages. Also interesting in how this type of love, the feeling of a first infatuation, is self-centered and internal yet placed in a type of setting that's often given a wider scope. I mean, when you think of "dystopia", you probably think of a society-wide focus, right? How an entire civilization is being controlled, abused, lied to, etc.

It feels like a mixture of story elements that shouldn't quite work, and for Matched, it doesn't. Frankly, The Society that controls the main character's life never carries a feeling of threat or tension, even though it contains many of the same elements that makes The Giver so compelling. Half the time, it feels more like a day camp than a system of crushing oppression.

And let's face it, main character Cassia's narration doesn't help at all. Her personality is invisible. Describing her as a character is as futile as describing Queen Amidala. The best I can give is "dreamily mundane". Much of the book is her going about her day, completing repetitious task after repetitious task, thinking thought after mundane thought, and occasionally coming up with faux-philosophical questions about how maybe everything is not as it seems.

And you know, I get it. I really do. Condie is showing how fucking boring and secure Cassia's life is, and how she's a sheep that needs to shake off her stupor bit by it. But it's so. Goddamn. Boring. Thank your god of choice that the prose is so smooth and readable, or getting through Matched would be torture. As it is, it's only hazy and vaguely frustrating, like coming back from the dentist with half of your mouth numbed up.

Book Babble: Shiver

Today's topic:



Shiver
By Maggie Stiefvater

Back-of-book blurb:
For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human... until the cold makes him shift back again.
Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Something about Shiver interests me. In many ways, it's a typical voyage into the landscape of YA paranormal romance. A single-word title. A normal teenage girl falling for a paranormal teenage (sometimes only technically...) boy. Chaste romance that creates breathlessness through the stirring of emotions, not dirty biological fucking. All in all, Shiver does what it sets out to do: show a love story between a human and a werewolf.

You can complain about the spastic plot, sure, but I wonder if it's not beside the point. Shiver, as does a whole crop of contemporary YA fantasy and science fiction novels, proves more intent on documenting an experience with life-transforming love.

In that context, the prevalence of supernatural beasties used as love interests becomes more than jumping on the Twilight bandwagon. Think on it. There's a reason why Twilight became sparkle crack for readers 'round the world. Something about it socked people right in the id. Maybe Bella's morbid obsession with death (because honestly, what else was Edward? He offered a dazzling death, to be sure, but still death), maybe the choice between suitors representing life and death (yeah, okay, so Jacob never had a chance, but the whole Team Edward/Team Jacob deal proved insanely popular with readers nevertheless).

Regardless, the dangerous, paranormal figure plays a big role. There's something safe about using a creature that (according to convention) doesn't exist in the real world as a source of danger. It's not only a built-in metaphor created through generations of myth and pop culture, but one that adds a level of unreality to make the whole "star-crossed lovers" aspect easier to swallow. A potential lover who could tear your throat out with his teeth? Dangerous in a hawt way. Beauty and the Beast, baby, and we all know how well that turned out for her. A potential lover who could beat you senseless whenever there's been one drink too many? Umm... dangerous in a horrifying way. Something to be read in the newspaper after one finally murdered the other. Or, something that continues invisibly, without an end in sight. Not hawt. Not hawt at all.

The buffer of otherworldliness is a cozy one, to be sure.

Furthermore, the safe dangerousness offers a clean obstacle to this huge, life-defining love. The vampire who must eventually kill his human love (you) to maintain the eternal bond (but immortality is so cool and full of perks, who cares?). The immortal whose inability to die means his mortal love slips away again and again (but eventually she (you) will gain immortality, too, so don't worry too much).

Or, the werewolf that can't control his changes, burdening his human love (you) with a dangerous secret to protect (but a cure will present itself, so don't buy razors in bulk just yet). It's conflict, yet one that pushes the rest of the world away and further entwines the two lovers. Shiver is a perfect embodiment of this.

Face it, a reader knows what the score is with one glimpse at the cover and another at the back synopsis. This book isn't about the celebration of monsters and their monstrosity, or about learning how to run with wolves. It's about the breathless romance between two star-crossed people and the circumstances conspiring against them.

Which is why, when I hear complaints of bestiality vibes over Grace calling Sam "my wolf" before she realizes boy's got two settings for his body, my reaction is always:




C'mon, people, this detail is clearly a sign of the ~*special*~ connection the two have, not an indication that Grace wants to fuck a wolf. It's just one of several details set up to show how they're meant for each other, or are star-crossed lovers, or whatever term you wish to use to indicate that this love between them is fixed, predetermined, unshakable. And if it's still weird to you, well... damn, isn't that the point of paranormal romance? Something that isn't ordinary?

Aside from that, Shiver doesn't toe the line, much less break boundaries. It's a solid paranormal romance in that romance is the main focus and all other aspects -- worldbuilding, plot, and setting -- are treated as background material. The explanation for the werewolves is interesting yet flimsy without the backing of centuries of myth, but again, not really the point of this story. What being a werewolf even means isn't the point of this story. Merely, lycanthropy is the vehicle for a romance. Consider that before deciding whether you want to read this.

Book Babble: Blood and Chocolate

Today's topic:



Blood and Chocolate
By Annette Curtis Klause


Back-of-book blurb:

Vivian Gandillon relishes the change, the sweet, fierce ache that carries her from girl to wolf. At sixteen, she is beauitful and strong, and all the young wolves are on her tail. But Vivian still grieves for her dead father; her pack remains leaderless and in disarray, and she feels lost in the suburbs of Maryland. She longs for a normal life. But what is normal for a werewolf?

Then Vivian falls in love with a human, a meat-boy. Aiden is kind and gentle, a welcome relief from the squabbling pack. He's fascinated by magic, and Vivian longs to reveal herself to him. Vivian's divided loyalties are strained further when a brutal murder threatens to expose the pack. Moving between two worlds, she does not seem to belong in either. What is she really -- human or beast? Which tastes sweeter -- blood or chocolate?


I've always had a soft spot for werewolves. If vampires are all about having a nice waltz with death, then werewolves are about spazzing out in the mosh pit of life. The body hair. The primal urges of fighting and fucking. The way anyone using werewolves either has to dance around or face full-on the subject of nekkidness pre- and post-change. Werewolves are primordial monsters, id taking over ego. A werewolf scares us because it symbolizes the dark, sticky idea that humans are just animals, too, and that maybe turning into one doesn't mean growing fur and fangs -- just lengthening hair and teeth.

But there's something especially fascinating about wolf women in fiction. The alpha males with their rippling muscles and perpetual five o'clock shadows undoubtedly dominate the werewolf landscape, but it's the female weres that tend to make people really uncomfortable. Like, ew, hairy women. How horrifying, a female monster that doesn't fit into a succubus mold. Dangerous through physical power and rage instead of the seductive wiles of the femme fatale. Repulsive! How are you supposed to get a boner over a woman with bigger muscles than you?

Which is why Blood and Chocolate kinda amazes me, because the main character is not only unashamed of her dual nature, but truly is dangerous and powerful and absolutely fine with it. Her pain comes from attempting to find someone who understands and accepts her. And here's where Klause does something brilliant: she takes these familiar paranormal romance elements -- the love triangle, the paranormal suitor and human love interest -- and gives them a bitter edge by injecting realistic reactions into a supernatural situation.

Think on it. Having a supernatural squeeze sounds exciting and awesome in theory, but when you're standing face to face with something that drools and sheds and smells... yeah. Suddenly your True Love starts looking like a case of Do Not Want. Klause pounces on this, using it like a slap to the face of the "Love overcomes all" mentality that the reader has been lulled into. Okay, here's where he learns the truth as she reveals herself, and now he's going to tell her he doesn't care, he still loves -- SWEET BABY CTHULHU he's throwing shit at her!

Reader, it is awesome to see how revealing a secret sometimes backfires fucking painfully. And in Blood and Chocolate, it does, not only for Vivian's love life, but for her pack's existence. Her actions have consequences. Her actions have consequences.

It's so, so sad that this should be exciting and refreshing, but it's an unfortunate fact that oodles of fiction avoid giving their main characters fallout to deal with, even when they make shitty decisions. That Vivian does have to deal with it raises the story head and shoulders above most of its brethren.

That's not to say there aren't elements that are... er, disheartening. With the exception of her mother and the ancient were healer, Vivian views the other women, were and otherwise, in a negative light. The best I can say for this is that it makes sense due to circumstances; most of the female characters either attack her or her mother at one point or another, or become her ex's new fling. But the "backstabbing bitches" sentiment undeniably runs thick. Of course, so does the "deceitful dicks" version, so things are more even than usual.

Interestingly, there isn't any slut-shaming. Vivian, like the other werewolves, considers sex a natural urge. No Puritanical squeamishness here. She's a sexual creature, and she shows it without shame. Which, again, AWESOME. More sex-positive YA novels, plz.

Blood and Chocolate is a prime example of how paranormal romance filled with classic tropes and monsters can still be fresh, surprising, and sexy. Fleas and all.

Book Babble: Evermore

Today's topic:



Evermore

By Ayson Noël


Back-of-book blurb:

After a horrible accident claims the lives of her family, sixteen-year-old Ever Bloom can see people's auras, hear their thoughts, and know someone's entire life story by touching them. Going out of her way to avoid human contact and suppress her abilities, she has been branded a freak at her new high school -- but everything changes when she meets Damen Auguste.

Damen is gorgeous, exotic, and wealthy. He's the only one who can silence the noise and random energy in her head -- wielding a magic so intense, it's as though he can peer straight into her soul. As Ever is drawn deeper into his enticing world of secrets and mystery, she's left with more questions than answers. And she has no idea just who he really is -- or what he is. The only thing she knows to be true is that she's falling deeply and helplessly in love with him.


YA paranormal romance novels have flooded shelves since the success of Twilight. Go ahead, call them rip-offs and publisher ploys to cash in on a craze. State the obvious. Let it all out.

Yet… I find myself wondering if there is a silent pact to be made by picking up one of these books.  Recognition and so acknowledgement of why it was published in the first place when so many other potential manuscripts were not. Twilight is thy maker, creature of wood pulp and glue, and thy solemn cover and single-word title prove thy faith holds true.

If it’s impossible to claim innocence in picking up such a novel, then the reader is left with only a few mindsets:

I love this subgenre and enjoy these books.

I hate this subgenre and enjoy ripping the shit out of these books.

I am a crack monkey and my reasons are not your reasons.

Landing firmly in category three, I feel the need to explain why Noël’s Evermore is neither a book I would curl up with, nor one I would throw across the room. In all truth, it interests me. Like any novel consolidated into a trend, it’s a parcel of pop culture. A clusterfuck of issues.  A bevy of baggage. An itineration of id and ego that spoke to enough people to stay on the New York Times Bestsellers list for 25 weeks.

So, I decided to dissect this novel and study the beating heart beneath its skin of traumatized young women and brooding immortal men.
 

It’s a fast, smooth read, and main character Ever has some clever observations and quips in a first-person narration that is fueled on sullen snark and wide-eyed disbelief.  I don’t think it’s too far-stretched to call her a figure in the mold of Tam Lin’s lover, the girl who discovers a new world via a mysterious lover she must eventually save.  True, in Ever’s case, she must save both herself and her boyo, and instead of a faerie queen demanding a tithe, the immortal woman in question wants Damen to come back to their marriage bed, damnit.  Yet the parallels are interesting, whether intentional or not, and are enough to differentiate it from the measuring stick of all that is breathless love and brooding suitors in today’s YA climate, Twilight.

Yep. I said it. This isn’t a direct Twilight rip-off.  Fuck the surface similarities. Handsome, brooding men for plain, “normal” main characters to lust over have existed in literature for a long time. Possibly something Noël hinted at in Evermore through mentions of characters reading Wuthering Heights. Though honestly, I’d say Jane Eyre closer hits the mark, what with Mr. Rochester having a mad wife he locks away from all other people, and Damen having a mad wife that he… just kind of dismisses and ignores. I suppose cutting off your spouse from the outside world is too harsh an action for a heartthrob in today’s market.

Truly, the most striking difference between Evermore and Twilight is the relationship formulas. While Twilight revolves around Edward’s “I am dangerous and soulless and oh god you don’t want to be like me, with me, or near me!” and Bella’s “I am annoyed by everything but you and oh god I want to be like you, with you, and near you!” battle of wills (so epic a struggle that it took four books and a c-section via vampire fang to resolve it), Evermore’s romance boils down to this: if an immortal, married man loves you, his wife will kill you each time you are reincarnated until you finally kill her.  Kinda gives a new edge to the phrase “Love conquers all”, eh?

So yes. We have two women fighting to death over a man. In fact, most of the interactions in this novel between any two women are malicious, petty, or spiteful, and ALL are rooted in jealousy over a man’s attention. Ever’s “best friend” quickly turns on her after learning Damen favors her. There is a peanut gallery of popular girls (because, of course, half of this story takes place in high school) who think nasty insults and observations about Ever when new student Damen chooses to sit next to her.  Arch villain Drina wants to kill Ever to get her husband back.

Was this Noël’s intent? I don’t know. Is this what appears as an overall message built upon the bricks of instance after instance of female characters treating each other like shit for the glance of Studly Mcstudmuffin? A firm YES. “Chicks over dicks” has no influence in this novel. Too bad, because I’d gladly take it over “Women are backstabbing bitches.” It’s much snappier. And doesn’t make me feel like I should punch a girl in the face whenever a hot guy walks by.

Considering how many of the female characters do everything but hiss and claw at each other, the novel’s treatment of its lone gay character isn’t surprising. Look, a progressive attitude is about more than acknowledging that homosexuality exists. A caricature created for comedy relief and the role of personal cheerleader for the main character ain’t gonna cut it.

There is another undercurrent of ugliness that I’d really hoped wouldn’t happen. But, it did. Throughout much of the novel, Ever blames herself for the car accident that killed the rest of her family. And the reason is really contrived and convoluted, but as nonsensical as it sounded to me, it made sense to the character, so I’m not going to mock it. Any more than I have, anyway. So, Ever grieves and suffers through the trauma of losing her family, with the added burden that it’s her fault. And then she receives undeniable proof that it wasn’t her fault, and that Damen’s love for her caused his wife to snap and kill Ever’s family. And probably cackle evilly while she did it. (More on this revelation in a second, because I actually found that super interesting.) Hey presto, Ever’s traumatic experience is magically healed with the revelation that she is innocent of meatgrinding her family.

I am trying so hard to be level-headed here, right now, at this moment. Because I HATE the erasure of trauma through the erasure of guilt. Human beings do not work this way, and it is so obviously a contrivance for a fully happy ending that it sours the entire book for me. Total story necrosis.

Before bloody froth runs from my mouth, let’s go back to the fact that Drina killed Ever’s entire family. There’s something interesting in there, about obsessive love obliterating all. Drina’s, of course, but perhaps also Damen’s, for continuing to find and woo Ever reincarnation after reincarnation, without stopping to consider hey, maybe his jealous wife has something to do with Ever dying young every time. Maybe he could have, I don’t know, stopped searching for Ever or confronted his wife and forced some closure. But he didn’t, because both options probably would have ended with Ever slipping out of his reach forever. And he didn’t want that.

So while Drina is set up as evil incarnate, Damen could easily be pinned with a few moral crimes, himself. Not giving up a girl despite the cold hard fact that your love is killing her over and over? That’s more than a bit scary. Ignoring your wife until she turns into this destructive, vengeful force, and then ignoring her some more? That’s… weirdly passive.  He suspects of a way he could kill his wife, by the way. He reveals it after Ever already has, and when she understandably asks him “WTF why didn’t you try it centuries ago?”, he replies it was just a theory he had.

This is the oddest excuse for not killing a person I’ve ever heard. Oh, maybe this knife could kill someone if I stabbed between their ribs, but I dunno. It’s just a theory. Maybe rat poison in coffee would do the trick, but I’ve never tried it, so I don’t know for sure. It indicates that Damen was either not super intent on killing his wife (or just plain stopping her), or he’s super passive and wants other people to do things for him. Either way, it doesn’t paint him in a positive light. He’s an idle creeper, but still a creeper.

So, that’s a big trifecta of rancidness. Women fighting each other for cock rights, a noxious portrayal of homosexuality, and erasing the effects of trauma with a wave-away wand. No, it’s not a Twilight rip-off, but it’s as disturbing in its own way. Love conquers all, all right.

Love conquers all.