I try to update these with news about The Mister or E.L. James…but this book has all but dropped off the face of the zeitgeist. The initial, desperate clamoring for hype has trickled out. A month after release, the book has fallen out of the Amazon top one hundred. It’s fallen off the top twenty-five releases on BookScan. It’s being beaten by After. In other words, while The Mister sold better than most authors can expect, it did not do the work the publisher had to have been expecting on the heels of blockbuster after blockbuster. Consider: Grey moved over a million copies in its first week. The Mister moved 68,500 copies upon debut, and the numbers have fallen by tens of thousands with each subsequent week.
Hey, remember all that “a rising tide raises all boats” nonsense that romance authors touted to explain why it was okay for E.L. James to rip off someone else’s work and write hundreds of thousands of words glamorizing domestic abuse? You know, because it was bringing so many new readers into the genre and we were all going to make bank? Yeah, if those wonderful new readers had stuck around, The Mister would be doing comparable numbers. Instead, it seems that all Fifty Shades of Grey did was create a weird cottage industry of thin-skinned self-pubbers in an arms race for who can write the most disturbing books chock full of rape, stalking, abuse, and forced pregnancy, who crank out their 10k short stories every week with the help of underpaid ghostwriters so they can game the KU algorithm and make bank.
How’s that rising tide, everybody? You drowning yet? Hope your allegiance was worth it.
My chest constricts as if I’ve been kicked in the solar plexus.
Oh my god, just say he got the wind knocked out of him. That’s literally what you’re describing.
What medieval claptrap is this?
That’s what I’m wondering. Like, I’m not gonna crack on Demelssia for that word choice, but I’m sure going to crack on the author for it.
She looks up at me. Her eyes wide, exposing her distress. Adrenaline pumps through my body; I’m ready for a fight.
Oh, are you now? That’s interesting. Very interesting. Because you know that around these parts, we love hearing about how the hero wants to fight the heroine when she looks afraid. That was like, our favorite part of Fifty Shades Freed, remember?
“And you were going to tell me this…when?”
IDK, maybe when she thought it would be safe to tell you without you driving her back to London where she could get kidnapped again? Maybe she has had zero agency throughout this entire thing?
Also, my dude, when are you going to tell her that you’re an earl? Because if we’re going to start arguing about lies of omission here…
The pain is instant. Visceral. Shocking. I’m in free fall.
“There,” said the author, sitting back with satisfaction. “The main character has told the reader exactly how he feels, so I needn’t do any of the work to show how he feels through his actions.” A knock on the door alerts her to the truckload of unearned money waiting in her driveway.
My world has shifted. My ideas. My vague plans. Being with her…marrying her…
Reader, the noise I made.
“My vague plans.”
Here’s a writing tip. If you want to show how totally into another character your POV character is? They should have specific plans. Even if they’re specific plans they didn’t realize they had. If Moss had been imagining Demelssia walking down the aisle in a white dress, or holding their child, or whatever, then his anguish would make more sense because either consciously or subconsciously, he’d been seriously planning a future. Written this way, it’s like, “Oh no! My entire being is pummeled by despair because, IDK, maybe I was gonna marry her or something? I didn’t really think about it any sort of detail. But woe! Woe! Suffering and woe!” It just doesn’t make sense to have a character have such an extreme reaction to something he apparently hasn’t thought much about.
Moss asks Demelssia if she loves the other guy and she’s like, no, I left Albania specifically so I wouldn’t have to marry him. And then, I must have missed something. I’ve read this excerpt and the page before it over and over and I still am not understanding something:
“Yes. I was to be married in January. After my birthday.”
It was her birthday?
Okay, here’s what I don’t get: there’s no mention of her birthday before this. At all. January isn’t a day, it’s a whole month. She just mentions she was supposed to be married after her birthday and for some reason, Moss assumes that it means it’s now her birthday? I’m just not tracking this at all.
I stand, and in one deliberate move, raise my hand to sweep my hair aside and gather my thoughts. Alessia recoils beside me. She cowers and claps her head in her hands as if she’s waiting–
You really can’t figure out why? You literally just had a conversation about this.
“Fuck. Alessia! did you think I was going to hit you?” I exclaim, and step back, horrified at her reaction. Another piece of the puzzle that is Alessia Demachi falls into place. No wonder she always stood out of my reach. And I’m ready to kill the motherfucker. “Did he hit you? Did he?”
Now, wait a second. I get that he’s asking if her betrothed hit her. But how is flinching from a man who raises his hand while angry “another piece of the puzzle?” She already told you at lunch that she was afraid of what her father would do to her if she saw him again.
He thinks that Demelssia looks ashamed.
Or maybe she has some misplaced loyalty to the fucking arsehole from Buttfuck, Nowhere, who has a spurious claim on my girl.
That’s weird. In the last chapter, Albania was a quaint Eastern Block country with rich heritage and culture. Now, it’s “Buttfuck, Nowhere,” because Demelssia has any kind of history there.
Hey, you know what’s really going to put this abuse survivor at ease?
I clench my fists, my rage murderous.
Well, E.L. James has officially confirmed my initial suspicions that she would veer right back into disgusting, abuse-glorifying territory. After reminding himself to calm down, Moss apologizes to Demelssia.
Her head whips up. Her look direct and earnest. “You have done nothing wrong.”
Ehhhhhhhhhh didn’t he, though? He knows you’re a survivor of trafficking and abuse. He knows you’re afraid of men. And he didn’t stop for a moment to consider that your arranged marriage that caused you to flee your country might be more traumatic to you than to him? And that he needed to be supportive, not jealous and selfish?
She watches me warily as I approach, and cautiously I crouch down beside her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m just shocked that somewhere out there you have a…suitor, and I have a rival for your affections.
Yup. You read that right. He didn’t mean to scare her, but he just loves her so much that he couldn’t control his temper.
Everything old is new again.
She tells him that he has no rivals, and he’s like, oh good, there’s hope for us or whatever. Then he asks her if she chose the man she’s supposed to marry, and she’s like, no, my dad picked him. Then she says she can’t go home because she’ll be “forced” into marriage, and Moss asks her for a second time if she loves the guy. Look. She already said she doesn’t. And you should probably be able to pick up on context clues here when she’s saying shit like, you know, I can never go back home because I’m going to be forced, read: made to against my will, marry this dude.
Perhaps he’s old. Or unnattractive. Or both.
Or he hits her.
Dude, you just had this revelation that he might hit her just a page ago. You can’t suddenly realize it again with the same emotional punch. Plus, the first thing he thinks here is what if the fiancé is old and ugly, even after thinking a page ago that the guy must hit her? Are these paragraphs out of order?
I fold her against my body and hold her. And I don’t know if I’m comforting her or myself.
I feel like you should probably be comforting her.
The thought of her with someone else, someone who mistreats her, is horrifying. I bury my face in her fragrant hair, grateful that she’s here. With me.
Here’s another fundamental problem with the way Moss interacts with and views Demelssia. When he learned she was trafficked and being chased by kidnappers, his primary concern was gosh, I hope nobody voided her warranty. The idea that she might have been raped horrified him but learning that she was still a virgin was a total relief. Now, the thought of her being “with something else, someone who mistreats her” is another case where Demelssia’s trauma is reduced to how it relates to Moss and her role in his life. There’s a sense that if Moss wasn’t interested in her romantically, the forced marriage thing wouldn’t be as tragic because it wouldn’t make Moss feel a way. This is another clue that James doesn’t really care all that much for the heroine of this book; Demelssia’s trauma exists only to give Moss even more man-pain, and that man-pain deserves more serious and careful examination than the effects her trauma has on her.
“I’m sorry that you’ve had to put up with so much shit,” I murmur.
Okay, but she didn’t “put up with so much shit.” Nobody dumped a bunch of paperwork on her desk at four p.m. on a Friday. Nobody waged a cold war against her over the church bake sale. This totally minimizes what Demelssia is going through after we’ve heard for pages about how horrible the situation makes Moss feel. It’s not “so much shit.” Horrible crimes have been committed against her. Her personal agency has been stripped away entirely. This is more than putting up with shit.
Just when you thought Demelssia couldn’t be infantilized even further:
Looking up at me, she brushes her index finger over my lips. “That is a bad word.”
He tells her, “I’ve got you,” because he tells her that in every dramatic scene. Then he asks her to dance with him and we end up heading straight into a sex scene. Because there are several in this chapter.
Yes. I said “several” and “this chapter.”
Her legs hold me in place, and her hands run over my back. Her nails etching her passion on my skin.
That is not a complete sentence. You can’t just break up a run-on by throwing a period in there and calling it a day. You’ve got two options here:
“Her legs hold me in place, and her hands run over my back, her nails etching her passion on my skin.”
“Her legs hold me in place. Her hands run over my back, nail etching her passion on my skin.”
That is how you make whatever the fuck you just tried to do there work, ma’am.
Her eyes are wide and her pupils the darkest, most carnal espresso.
Carnal Espresso is the title of my first smooth jazz album. Oh, and here’s another free tip from me to you: the colored part of your eye isn’t the pupil.
They do it with her on top and I’m skimming a lot of it because it’s just so, so boring. It takes a true talent to write a sex scene that is so bad that it bores the reader to the point of actually reducing their libido, but not being bad enough to actually be funny.
“Ah,” she calls out.
Moss’s deep dicking skills don’t even merit an exclamation point there.
Head tipped back. Calling to the gods, she’s every inch a goddess.
Are these weird half-sentences supposed to make things seem more fast-paced and frantic? Because it’s not working. There are times a device like that can work, but you have to be better at writing to make it work in such a way that it doesn’t jar the reader or make them go back and reread instinctually to see if they’ve missed something. And the weird veer into paganism there is…I guess. I guess if that’s what you’re going with. It’s already printed. I can’t stop you.
It’s enough to trigger my release, and I cry out, holding her to me as I come and come and come.
It’s repeated three times, so it officially happened.
In Alessia’s POV (because again, anything happening during this very sudden sexual awakening must happen in Moss’s POV), she thinks about how her mom never told her that sex felt good, and maybe that was because her parents’ sex life is lacking, and then she’s like, ew, I’m not gonna think about my parents having sex.
So, she thinks about her grandparents having sex, instead.
[…] but her mind wanders, and she remembers her grandmother, Virginia. Now, she married for love. They were happy. Even when they were older, her grandparents would exchange looks that she hoped to emulate.
See? Way, way more normal.
Demelssia compares the way Moss treats her to the way men treat women in Albania. This is going to come as a shock to everyone, but it’s not a favorable comparison. I know, it’s hard to believe, given the fair and even-handed treatment the country and culture has received in this book thus far.
He wasn’t angry with her when she told him she was betrothed.
ARRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH forever! FOREVER! You can’t write a scene in which the hero says he’s in the grips of murderous rage and the heroine cowers from him, then jump into her POV with, oh, he wasn’t really angry. Nobody is buying it! Not a damn person is buying any of this! You can’t just tell your reader that what they read isn’t what they read.
via GIPHY Image: Old ladies arguing and saying, “That’s not how that works! That’s not the way any of this works!”
She thinks about how she shouldn’t ask him any personal questions because it’s not her business to question a man. Which is going to make his life a lot easier in terms of what he can and can’t withhold from her. It’s also going to be great when she inevitably freaks out when she finds out that he has been withholding information from her and then she blames herself for not asking. I don’t know for sure that it goes down that way but I feel like it’s a safe bet that it will. Also, that she’s going to instantly forgive him because Mister Maxim can’t do anything wrong in this book. The author is too in love with him.
So, while Demelssia’s thinking of all this, he starts to go down on her.
Chapter Eighteen Sex Scene Counter: 2 (1 implied)
We go back to Moss’s POV, where he wakes up all entwined with Demelssia because that’s the only way people wake up in an E.L. James book: with a needless description of where every body part is in relation to the other person’s body parts and then the hero gets a stiffy. He suggests they stay in bed all day having sex.
Chapter Eighteen Sex Scene Counter: 3 (1 implied)
Demelssia serves Moss breakfast in bed, where she eats toast (like Ana’s toast-in-bed scene) and Moss complains because there’s too much sugar in the coffee. So, Demelssia goes back to get him different coffee and to dance in the kitchen (like Ana’s dancing-in-the-kitchen scene). She watches the sea a little, then goes back to the bedroom and Moss’s POV, where they…have another sex scene.
Chapter Eighteen Sex Scene Counter: 4 (1 implied).
I pull her up onto my lap so she’s sitting astride me facing the wall. My dick snuggles in the line between her buttocks.
“We’re going to do this from behind,” I murmur.
Her head whips around to me, her eyebrows raised in alarm.
I laugh. “No. Not like that. Like this.”
And then they do P in the V. Come on, now. Demelssia didn’t know anything about sex when she first got with Moss, and now she knows enough to know about anal?
Ready for some nostalgia?
“Yeah…” she groans, and I start to move. Harder. Really move.
The author starts to copy/paste. Really copy/paste.
We go into Demelssia’s POV at the end of this scene, and they have another conversation about how they intend to stay in bed all day, then we jump to the next scene, in Moss’s POV, where he is once again waking up (on the same day) and he finds Demelssia playing the piano wearing just his sweater. And we are treated to yet another scene in which Moss watches Demelssia and the narrative again turns to repetitive, breathless descriptions of her incredible talent and how impressive it is that she can play without sheet music, just like every professional pianist in the world.
Her fingers fly over the keys, and the music surges through the room with so much feeling and finesse it leaves me breathless. She leaves me breathless. I can almost hear the orchestra in my imagination.
How does she do this?
Practice. There’s the secret.
She truly is a prodigy.
I watch her. Transfixed as the music soars.
Again, that’s a period where you need a comma.
Don’t bother telling us about those emotions. Just let us know that they exist. That’s good enough.
And once again, he surprises her because she didn’t know he was watching, and he effusively praises her skill. Then they have sex.
Yes. Really. They have another sex scene.
Chapter Eighteen Sex Scene Counter: 5 (1 implied)
If the sex scenes were different at all, maybe this wouldn’t be an issue. No, no. I lie. This many sex scenes in one chapter will always be an issue. This isn’t storytelling, it’s padding. The same with all the repetitive scenes of watching her play piano or someone dancing around the kitchen. The danger and kidnapping and all of that go out the window to meet minimum word count expectations by inserting pointless scenes that devote a few lines to any character development but never really advance the story. It’s like this book was outlined like
- Chapter Seventeen: big revelation about engagement
- Chapter Eighteen: aftermath of big revelation
and everything beside that one point per chapter is filler.
All of this sex wouldn’t even be a problem if it wasn’t concentrated in one chapter. If it was an erotic romance, an abundance of sex scenes would be a given. But this isn’t an erotic romance (regardless of what E.L. James asserts), it’s supposed to be romantic suspense. In erotic romance, the character development and storyline are furthered by the sexual interactions in the way musicals further their stories with songs. In this book, the sex scenes are there almost to prevent the author from having to write the plot.
After the fifth sex scene, Alessia says she wants to cook for Maxim again. And yes, I’m still skimming but it truly is boring to the point that most of it can’t even be made funny. Well, I mean…except for shit like this:
Watching him come when she’s on top of him gives her a sense of power. A power she never thought she’d have–it’s heady. Now if she could just pluck up the courage to touch all of him…
Please explain how you’ve had sex with him five times in this chapter alone without touching his dick. Is he doing it real careful, like the Operation game? If he puts it in and it touches the sides, does your nose buzz and light up?
She blushes. “I am a little sore.”
No shit. You’ve probably got a raging UTI at this point. At the very least, you’ve got to be saddle sore or have some pulled muscles. Girl, it is a disaster down there. Your pussy is broken.
They go take a shower, where Moss gives her a backrub and corrects her English again.
Alessia senses Maxim’s grin.
“Is much better than my Albanian.”
Okay, so, at least he’s acknowledging that he doesn’t have a high horse to sit on here.
“[…] It is funny–I say the wrong word, and it sounds right to me, but when you say it, it does sound wrong.”
“It must be my accent. […]”
This once again feeds into xenophobic ideas about people who speak English as a second language. An accent doesn’t make your English more or less correct.
So, he soaps her up, they get horny again, but this time there isn’t a sex scene.
“I will get dressed and cook for you.”
He cocks an eyebrow. “You don’t have to get dressed.”
YES SHE DOES SHE IS HANDLING FOOD SHE CANNOT HANDLE FOOD WITH HER COOT AND COAL CHUTE OUT THERE IN THE BREEZE.
My germ paranoia aside, that’s also a great way to get burned.
In bed later, Maxim thinks:
It’s been a perfect day.
Making love. Eating. Making love. Drinking. Making love. And listening to Alessia play the piano…and watching her cook.
via GIPHY Image: Seth Meyers saying “Yeah, yeah, we know.”
We were there. For every excruciating minute of everything you just recapped for us. Which, by the way, is my job. You’re already a model/photographer/DJ/pianist/earl okay? Leave something for the rest of us.
Moss decides that he’ll tell Demelssia all about how he’s an earl tomorrow then he goes to sleep. Because remember, it’s not a chapter unless it follows you from sun-up to unconsciousness.
My Impression So Far: It’s becoming clear that not only is some of this heavily borrowed from Fifty Shades and its descendants, it’s also stuffed to the brim with filler. I don’t know if there was a minimum word count required by the contract, or if James simply didn’t want to disappoint fans who are used to her books being longer than the fucking bible, but so much of this is extraneous and repetitive that it’s clear that whole scenes were added simply to up the page count. Which obviously makes for a gripping reading experience.