- There will be no recap tomorrow, as it is opening night for the show I’m singing in, and I plan on relaxing all day.
- Please remember that any typos or spelling errors in the quoted text in any recaps are probably my mistake, from my eyes crossing, unless otherwise noted.
- England isn’t an island.
Moss runs into Demelssia’s room, where she’s still screaming.
Her words rush out in a torrent: “Ndihë. Errësirë. Shumë errësirë. Shumë errësirë!”
She basically jumps into his lap, repeating herself, because god forbid we use a phrase just once.
“Errësirë. Shumë errësirë. Shumë errësirë,” she whispers over and over as she clings to me, trembling like a newborn foal.
And speaking like a toddler. She’s just repeating, “Dark, very dark,” over and over again. We’ve talked about her “broken English” but we need to really examine her “broken” Albanian. She doesn’t generally think in complete sentences in Albanian. Just random words over and over again. Meaning that even in her native language, her speech is stilted and simplistic. The infantilized heroine strikes again.
Moss is relieved once Demelssia tells him in English that she’s afraid of the dark because he was worried that she was raped while being sex trafficked. He doesn’t say so in so many words, but it’s implied:
Oh, thank fuck.
I’d imagined all manner of horrors and was prepared to fight any number of monsters, but I relax at her words.
I’m so glad you’re not going to have to actually face any of those monsters, Moss. I was really concerned about you.
“It’s okay. I’s okay. I’ve got you,” I repeat several times.
Twenty times overall. We know, we already discussed this.
Eventually, she recovers. We know that she’s recovered because she gets horny at him real quick:
She glances down at my chest, and a slow flush pinks her cheeks.
We’ve got a flush! Don’t worry, we’re going to play all the hits.
Moss tells Demelssia that he usually sleeps naked, so she’s lucky he put pants on. Okay, moving on, then. She tells him that she knows he sleeps naked because she’s seen him, and he takes that news pretty well. She apologizes for inconveniencing him with her psychological trauma, and he mansplains the darkness to her.
“[…] It’s not like London here. There’s no light pollution in Trevethick. The dark here is…dark.”
Moss asks Demelssia to tell him about the dark or the nightmare or whatever. Probably so he can explain it back to her, but whatever. She doesn’t know the word “truck.” She tells him that a truck brought them to England, so just to clear up the “whether or not Demelssia has seen the sea” issue, it’s entirely possible she never did. They probably drove up to France and took the train over, with them in the back of the truck the whole time. Also, in fairness, I can buy that maybe she’d never been to the beach. If there are people who live in New York City and never set foot off Manhattan, then I can buy someone not making a ninety mile trip to the beach.
The good news is that she clears up that the truck was made out of metal. Also, she knows “metal” and not “truck.” But here I was, thinking she was brought to England in a cardboard boat.
She seems a little more reluctant to hug me this time, probably because I’m shirtlss but I’m not going to leave her to face these gruesome nightmares on her own. In one swift movement, I stand, cradling her against my chest.
She gasps in surprise.
“I think you should sleep with me.” And without waiting for a response, I carry her to my room, flick on the lights, and deposit her on the floor beside the walk-in wardrobe.
Moss isn’t going to leave her to deal with her trauma on her own. Oh, no, no. Moss is going to acknowledge her trauma, then utterly ignore the fact that he makes her uncomfortable and force contact she doesn’t want. It’s imperative that he do what feels right for him, not what is actually right for her, the traumatized person.
Remember when E.L. James mentioned in that article that she doesn’t view Moss as a narcissist? Centering one’s self in someone else’s experiences and insisting you know what’s right for them is something a narcissist would do.
In his room, he gives her one of his pajama shirts and instructs her to go change out of her clothing and into that.
She blinks rapidly.
Shit. Perhaps I’ve really overstepped the mark.
He asks her if she’d rather sleep alone, which he could have totally asked her before he physically moved her to his room.
“I’ve never slept with a man,” she whispers.
“I won’t touch you. This is just sleep–so the next time you scream, I’ll be right there.”
That probably does not sound as comforting as you think it sounds.
Of course, I’d like to make her scream in a different way.
Are you kidding me? You found out she’s a human trafficking victim, you’re like, oh, she’s afraid of me, oh, she must have been through so much, maybe she was raped, but wow, I’d like to throw my dick at her?
Of course, Demelssia wants to sleep in the bed with him. She goes off to change while he marvels that she’s twenty-three and a virgin.
Look. I don’t mind virgin heroines. I’ve written virgin heroines. I’m about to release a book with a virgin heroine right now. What I do mind, though, is the infantilization of virgin heroines. The ones that are pure, untouched, and constantly bewildered. As with Anastasia Steel, Demelssia’s entire characterization is formed around her purity. Virginity in lieu of a personality. Then the hero comes along and unlocks her sexuality, inspiring these feelings in her with nary a consideration of demisexuality. She’s always just straight up hetero once Dick Charming figures out that he fits perfectly. Her sexuality is allowed to arrive only once a man is there to take part in it. Those are the virgin heroines I can’t stand, and I really can’t stand the authors who are obsessed with every heroine being sexually pure and every other woman in the world being the sluttiest sluts this side of Sluttsville.
In the bathroom, we get a cut-and-paste PTSD moment:
She was alone.
In the dark.
In the cold.
With that smell.
Yes. We got it when you did this a few chapters ago.
She is, of course, grateful that he’s protecting her.
Her own Skënderbeu…Albania’s hero.
You know I had to look this dude up. He was apparently instrumental in stopping the Ottomans from conquering Europe. He was also so beloved by Albanians that in World War II, the Nazis named an infantry division out of Kosovo after him.
Don’t ever say you don’t learn shit here.
My favorite part about this is that the following lines, with nothing between, are:
He’s making a habit of this.
And she’s going to sleep with him.
He’ll keep her nightmares at bay.
The last antecedent with male pronouns is Skënderbau. So, she’s going to sleep with a dead guy to keep her nightmares at bay.
If her father found out, he would kill her. And her mother…she visualizes her mother fainting at the news that Alessia is sleeping with a man. A man who is not her husband.
Would her mom faint at the news that her dad murdered her?
Her dear, dear mother had sent Alessia to England thinking she was saving her.
She was wrong. So wrong.
So, I’m actually not ahead of the recaps anymore and I’m dying to know if her half-English mom had to send her to England to get her away from her violent Eastern-European foreigner of a father or what.
So, she puts on the pajama shirt (he didn’t give her the pants, obviously, because then she wouldn’t be half-naked) and goes back out to the bedroom.
Her gaze drifts from his startling green eyes to the tattoo on his arm. She has only glimpsed parts of it before, but even from across the room she can see the design.
A two-headed eagle.
Moss tells her it’s a dumb thing he did in his youth.
Inscribed across his biceps is a black shield bearing the image of an ivory two-headed eagle hovering over five yellow circles that are in the shape of an inverted V. Alessia places her clothes on the footstool at the end of the bed and raises her hand to touch his arm, glancing at Maxim for permission.
Then we hop into his POV. Because how he reacts to her touching him is more important than her reaction to willingly touching a man despite her trauma.
I hold my breath as she traces the outline of my tattoo, her finger skating across my skin, her light touch echoing through my body, toward my groin, and I suppress a groan.
Remember how just a few pages ago she was screaming in terror and junk?
She tells him about how the two-headed eagle is a symbol of Albania, but not the yellow circles, leading to this perplexing exchange.
“They’re called bezants.” I sound really hoarse.
“Yes. It represents a coin.”
“In Albanian, we have the same word. […]”
Then…why did she repeat it like she was just learning it for the first time? And how does she know “bezant,” a medieval form of currency, but not a simple English word like, “truck?” Like, how often does “bezant” come up in conversation for her?
She asks him what the tattoo means, and he doesn’t want to tell her that it’s his family coat of arms and he got it because his mother hates tattoos, so she would be torn on whether or not she hated it. He tells Alessia that it was just a youthful folly and that it’s time to sleep.
I toss back the quilt on the bed and step aside so that she can climb in. She obliges, revealing long, slender legs beneath the pajama shirt that is way too big for her.
This is torture.
It certainly is for me.
She’s propped herself up on her elbow, and her glorious dark hair falls in a riot of loose waves over her shoulders,
I’m gonna stop you mid-sentence a second here. This isn’t overall important to criticism of the book itself, but I think it’ll be a handy writing tip for the people who come here for that type of thing. “Riot” and “loose waves” don’t really go together. We hear “riot of curls” a lot, because we view curly hair as a chaotic force of nature (as someone with naturally curly hair, I can confirm this), untamed and out of control (again, can confirm). But “loose waves” implies a relaxed grace, like water gently lapping at the shore. Honestly, “riot” and “loose” don’t work together in a lot of contexts. Unless it was like, “A tiger got loose at the zoo due to unsafe conditions, sparking a zookeeper riot,” or something. And even then, I feel like zookeepers are too chill to actually riot.
Wait, what was my point, again?
Not important. Anyway, when describing your heroine’s soft, romantic appearance, “riot” is seldom the correct word to use. The sentence goes on:
past the contour of her breasts, and onto the bedding.
HOW THE FUCK MUCH HAIR DOES THIS BITCH HAVE?!
She looks gorgeous and I’m going to have to keep my hands off her.
Yes. Yes, you do. For all the reasons I have outlined here and in the last recap.
She asks him what “folly” means, and he tells her it’s a foolish action, and I say out loud, “Much like paying money to read this book.”
He gets into bed with her and leaves the light on, so she won’t be freaked out by the dark, thinking again:
This is going to be torture.
Thanks. I didn’t get that from the twenty-six thousand other times you’ve mentioned it. There’s a section break and we’re in
Ross Poldark’s Moss’s dream:
A girlish laugh catches my attention.
I turn my head, drawn to the sound, but I’m blinded by the sun and can see her only in outline. Her long, raven hair flows in the breeze, and she’s swathed in a translucent blue housecoat.
Okay, take off the housecoat part, and this is pretty much a spot-on description of the cinematography from, yes, Poldark, when Ross is lying wounded on the battlefield remembering Elizabeth. But whatever, it’s a common dream-sequence conceit. The thing that’s truly annoying about this passage is that the entire thing is written with that weird, reverse-tab thing where the first line of the paragraph isn’t indented, but the subsequent lines are.
I wake with a start.
Again, you can’t wake up in an E.L. James book without being momentarily shocked that you didn’t die overnight. And of course, what has happened with Demelssia in the night? I bet you can guess!
Alessia has trespassed onto my side of the bed, and she’s nestled under my arm, her hand balled in a fist on my abdomen, her head on my chest. Her leg intertwined with mine.
She is all over me.
I was certain. And I mean certain. That this description was used almost word-for-word in one of the Fifty Shades books. I was astounded that it was not. So, this feels repetitive and overused on its own.
And my cock is wide awake and rock hard.
Oh no, I have this erection and nobody to bless with it.
My heart rate flips into overdriive as I make a mental list of all the possibilities this scenario presents: Alessia in my arms. Ready. Waiting. She is so tantilizing, so close…too close. If I roll over, she’ll be on her back, and I can finally bury myself in her. I stare up at the ceiling, praying for self-control.
If you have to use rigorous mental discipline to avoid raping a sleeping woman, you probably shouldn’t be alone with a woman in your house, Moss.
I’m so hard and want nothing more than to grab her hand and it wrap it around my erection. I’ll probably explode if I do.
I can’t believe I’m sitting here weighing whether or not it would be worth it in the grander scheme of things for him to actually do it, on the off chance that “explode” meant he would burst apart in a wet, red spray of chunks and viscera all over the god damn walls.
But before he gets a chance to molest her, Demelssia wakes up and skitters away.
She gasps and scrambles to put some space between us.
“I was enjoying your visit to my side of the bed,” I tease.
“This woman is fleeing from me in terror,” Moss Troldark thought, sexily. “I should flirt with her.”
Okay. I’m gonna quote a line here. And you’re going to either roll your eyes, laugh with bitter nostalgia, or insist that I’m making it up, that it can’t possibly be in the book.
But it is in the book.
It’s so in the book.
“Hungry?” I know I am. And not for food.
Look. Every single writer has a pet phrase they use too much. Laurell K. Hamilton has “I rarely wear base,” and “I glowed like I swallowed the moon.” Stephen King’s characters always have cracking knees. George R.R. Martin has characters eating “capons” like you can buy them at 7/11 and Jacqueline Carrey’s Phaedra doesn’t fall, she’s “measures her length on the ground.” Every writer does it.
But none of those are as annoying and cliché and just outright stupid as “And not for food.”
She nods that she’s hungry and he’s like, wait, is that “yes” or “no” and she’s all pleased that he remembered that detail about her country. And then we go through the whole Christian Grey rigmarole where Demelssia’s nightmares are magically cured by sleeping beside (and all over) Moss. He uses that moment to tell her that he dreamed about her, and then says:
“You look very desireable.”
At least he held off until she was awake? I guess? Is the best we’re gonna get here?
Then he remembers that she’s a virgin. Not a damn thought about the fact that she was kidnapped by sex traffickers. Just that she’s a virgin, and this complicates his plan.
Her simple affirmation is like an ice bath to my libido. I’ve only slept with one virgin, and that was Caroline. It ws my first time, too, and it was a disaster that nearly got us expelled from school.
Wow, now here’s some backstory I’m interested in. How do you have sex go so wrong that you get kicked out of school? And the way the rest of his thought goes makes it sound like he was literally just so bad at sex that his school expelled him:
After that my father took me to a high-class brothel in Bloomsbury.
If you’re going to start fucking girls, Maxim, you’d better learn how to fuck.
Like, does that not sound like his dad is saying, “You better learn how to fuck because you’re so awful at sex, you’re never going to get into college?”
Anyway, Moss tells Demelssia that he doesn’t want to sleep with her until he gets to know her. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t seem to consider that she might not want to get to know him or sleep with him. He’s just like, this is what I want, I want you to also want it, so we’re going to get to know each other so you’ll give me what I want.
We’re still in Moss’s POV when he goes off to take a shower and jack off while he thinks about her.
I frown. Why am I making such a big deal of this?
I don’t know, because you haven’t been given any assurances that you’re actually going to get to have sex with her.
At least she hasn’t been brutalized by those fuckers.
Yes, at least you don’t have to have sex with someone who has been raped. Also, I’m stuck in this place where I’m thinking, you know, on the one hand, virginity is an archaic construct, but on the other hand, how dare someone think that rape constitutes losing one’s virginity. Virginity means you’ve never had sex, and rape is an act of non-consensual violence that happens to involve sexual contact. The whole thing about “well, she wasn’t raped, so she’s a virgin,” buys into the purity culture myth that helps keep rape victims, especially young, female rape victims, in a state of constant shame over the fact that they’re “soiled.” Can we keep the evangelical nonsense out of this book, please?
Obviously, at some point, he’s going to have to think about the fact that maybe she isn’t going to want to have sex with him because of what she’s been through, right? Well, first, we have to think about what’s wrong with her that she’s still a virgin at twenty-three. He wonders if it’s because she’s religious, or if it’s because premarital sex is taboo in Albania. Now, I’m not saying premarital sex doesn’t happen in Albania, but according to my husband’s Albanian friend, sexuality is kind of taboo. Maybe that’s just her family or upbringing, but she made it sound like attitudes toward sex lean toward the conservative.
His second line of thought is that she just plain doesn’t fit his preference:
I like sexually adventurous women who know what they’re doing, know what they want, and know their limits. Breaking in a virgin is a big responsibility. I towel dry my hair.
“I towel dry my hair.” That is a fucking masterpiece. I want to frame this and hang it on the wall. He goes from, “This sex trafficking victim that I’m supposed to be protecting isn’t what I want, sexually. Also, you break in virgins like new shoes. And oh, here’s what’s happening with my hair.” It’s just so comically bad.
Honestly, this book did not start out like this! I really feel like maybe she sent them five chapters or something, they showered her with money, and nobody ever read the rest of the manuscript.
So, now he’s going to think about her trauma, right? Nope! Third on our list is whether or not she wants a long-term relationship! He’s not good at relationships! His two longest relationships were with a grasping social climber and a drug addict! Who’s in rehab! Because she did too much coke–wait a second.
Surely now he’s going to consider that maybe she might not want anything to do with him and that they’re in a situation where maybe she might not realize that refusing him is an option. Haha, nope. Nope, that never comes up, so we jump into her POV.
Demelssia is in the shower, too, thinking about how her bathroom at home was “rudimentary” and the floor had to be mopped every time anyone bathed. And this is apparently actually how it is in a lot of Albanian homes, so there’s like, one other thing that E.L. James actually got right. Note, it’s not something she’s writing in a positive light at all. All we ever hear is how much better England is than Albania.
Anyway, Demelssia gets off in the shower, too, because of course, she’s into him, despite all the other stuff I’ve been saying Moss should consider. She thinks about how safe she feels with him, how she’s never met any man like him but also she’s never met hardly any men at all.
Not having brothers and kept separate from her male cousins in social situations, her experience was limited to the few male students she met at university–
Oh yes, that’s right. Magic credit card girl who has a childlike grasp of her own god damn language? She went to college.
Downstairs, Moss is blasting super loud music, because he knows how to behave when he has a guest. She gets dressed and goes downstairs…
To find him dancing while making her breakfast.
Remember how that exact same thing happened in Fifty Shades of Grey when Christian found Ana dancing and making breakfast? IDK, it just seems like a lot of Fifty happening in this chapter, what with the clinging to another person to chase away bad dreams, and the angst over the heroine’s virginity, and the hungry…but not for food, and now this?
But breakfast isn’t important. Demelssia finally looks out the window and turns into Dora the Explorer:
“Deti! Deti! The Sea!”
Wanna guess what “Deti” is, from context?
She wants to go down to the sea, so they do.
The sun is shining, but it’s bitterly cold in the howling wind. The sea is a chilly blue, flecked with white surf, and we hear the boom of the waves as they crash against the cliffs on each side of the cove.
You know who else spends a lot of time on the beach in a cove surrounded by cliffs on the Cornish coast?
Wow, that was great alliteration, Jenny. A+, you deserve a Mentos.
They go back into the house and turn down the music and have a half-page discussion about the number of eggs each of them is going to eat.
This chapter is super long and this is the point where it basically repeats everything that just happened with the breakfast and going to the sea, so pardon me for skimming a bunch. They eat breakfast and Moss asks his concierge or whatever to get him a pair of boots for Demelssia then argues with her over who will do the dishes. She doesn’t want him to do them, saying it’s her job.
“Today it isn’t. You’re my guest. Go.” His tone is clipped. Stern. A frisson of apprehension runs up her spine. Please,” he adds.
Okay,” she whispers, and hurries out of the kitchen, confused and wondering if he’s angry with her.
Please don’t be angry.
Why does James think it’s so fucking romantic for her heroines to actually fear the hero? It’s the most disturbing thing.
Demelssia goes upstairs and we spend a couple of paragraphs in Moss’s POV so he can wonder what he did wrong and so he can answer the door for Danny the estate person to arrive with the boots. Then it’s back into Demelssia’s POV where she thinks about how he sounded like her abusive father.
I’m sorry, why is this sexy, again? Also, why do we need yet another E.L. James character who has an abusive parent who is compared to the love interest? What is even happening here?!
She goes downstairs and plays Bach angrily, she and Moss make up, and he asks if she…wants to go down to the beach again.
What happens when they do?
“The sea! The sea!” she cries, and twirls around, her arms in the air. Her earlier pique is forgotten, her smile is wide and her face bright, lit from within by her joy. I stride across the coarse sand and rescue her discarded woolly hat. “The sea!” she shouts again above the roar of the water.
Well, I’m glad she’s got that out of her sys–
She runs toward me with childish abandon and grabs my hand. “The sea!”
On a scale of one to “I can’t go within five-hundred feet of an elementary school,” how uncomfortable do you feel reading this?
My impression so far: I don’t mind a romantic suspense, woman-in-danger plot. I don’t mind isolating characters together in a dramatic circumstances. But this is all done so badly. There are so many opportunities for Maxim to grow and James charges past them like, “Out of the way! My horny readers need me!” in a desperate attempt to get to the sexy parts as soon as possible. For example, how would this chapter have looked if Maxim responded to Alessia’s nightmare by forsaking his own comfort and sleeping on the floor of her bedroom, or just outside the door? How would it have looked for him to have a romantic dream about her in those circumstances, then wake to fantasize not about sticking it to her while she’s unconscious but ashamed that he would have a sexual response, even one he couldn’t control, because he knows she’s been through something horrible and that shouldn’t be his first concern?
There is no reason this story couldn’t have worked as a compelling romance. It just doesn’t work as a compelling romance here because James writes trauma as if it’s something one must get over as quickly as possible in order to avoid inconveniencing the people who want to interact with you. She pays far more attention to detail when describing Maxim’s horniness than she does to Alessia’s tragedy; there are pages upon pages devoted to how much Maxim wants to bone Alessia, and then the odd paragraph or so where Alessia will think, “Zot, the smell!” or “very dark!”
Like, we don’t even know what “the smell” is. Unwashed bodies? Urine? Excrement? We haven’t found out in twelve chapters, but I can name three flower scents from this chapter alone that remind Maxim of Alessia in his sexy dream. The things Alessia remembers are unpalatable, so James glosses over them. That should have been a huge red flag to the people who edited this book that it was neither particularly well developed in terms of characterization, but also that it attempts to sanitize the horror of human trafficking. This book should never have been released in the state it’s in, especially when the changes needed are fairly small and easy to incorporate.
If you remember from the Fifty Shades of Grey recaps, that was why I wrote The Boss (and if you’re new here, you can find links to it for free in the sidebar). I wanted to prove that it was possible to write a book with similar themes without the abuse and stalking and pathologizing kink. I’m damn sure not going to try to write a sexy human trafficking book, but I know for a fact that the underlying concept here could have worked if the person writing it had a shred of human empathy. Because the opportunities are present right there in the text, just like they were with Fifty.
She just chose not to do the work.