So, I went on a Jennifer L. Armentrout kick over the holidays. I read White Hot Kiss, Opposition, and this little beauty.
First: the cover. Meh. That’s the thing about covers for her books — they are never very good, unfortunately. This one is better than most of them; I like the background and the font, but the picture? Not feeling it.
On to other things…
This book takes place in New Orleans, with a 21-year-old woman, Ivy, who is a member of “the Order,” a secret organization who fight the Fae — otherworldly human-appearing nemeses roaming the cities unbeknownst to most humans. After Ivy encounters a Fae with strange powers who is not harmed by her trusty iron stake, she realizes that there is a bigger threat out there. The only person who is willing to be honest with her about that threat is Ren, an elite Order member who just transferred to the New Orleans branch — and who takes a special interest in Ivy.
This was probably my favorite JLA read of the month, mainly because the other two are YA. I like YA, don’t get me wrong, but she writes these steamy romances and honestly, I just get kinda skeeved out by them if they’re so young, y’know? I liked the Lux series, but after book two the romance became too much. In this book the characters were still pretty young, but at least they weren’t still legally kids. When Daemon and Katy had sex, I had to pretend in my mind they were older to not feel like a total creeper. I’m not saying YA books should be chaste, but I am saying that when it comes to steamy romance — I, personally, prefer to go to the adult section.
The story was actually pretty good. The romance I was lukewarm on. I liked both of the characters, Ivy and Ren, but I wasn’t sure how much I was feeling them together. I expected more from JLA in terms of creating romantic and sexual tension between the two of them. I feel like it was consummated far too quickly, and it followed all the predictable lines of a paranormal romance without any deviation from the norm.
That’s the thing about this book: Nothing really stood out until the end. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it: I actually really enjoyed this book. It was good. Just good. The thing is, I enjoy paranormal romance, so if a story follows the rules, so to speak, it’s a safe four stars from me.
So, now, we get to the ending.
Warning: Here be spoilers
The thing I wanted to talk most about in this review — and the entire reason I felt compelled to write a review for this book — is the ending.
More specifically, who ended up being the traitor.
I was pleasantly surprised when this book introduced a queer woman of color as the protagonist’s best friend. Yes, Val exemplified many bisexual stereotypes that I, personally, find annoying at constantly having to explain and defend. But I was just thankful for a character who broke the mold, at least as far as the mainstream picks of paranormal romance go (straight, white, and cis). Because of that, I found Val to be my favorite character.
However, I never felt her character was very well-developed beyond a bisexual woman who really likes sex. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to write in stereotypes, at least create a well-rounded character.
To top it all off, she becomes a villain.
I don’t mind when queer characters or characters of color are the villain, especially when they aren’t the only non-white or non-cishet characters in the story. But there’s a way to do it right, and many ways to get it wrong. I can forgive the tokenism and the stereotypes embedded in this character, but making her, this one-dimensional character whose most rounded out traits are that she is bisexual and likes sex, the bad guy? Not feeling it. At all.
My least favorite part of the book, is when Meryl calls Val a “hussy.” Ivy defends her friend, saying that there’s nothing wrong with liking sex. Meryl replies: “That’s not what makes her a hussy.”
Of course, that was the moment that gave away Val as the traitor (it was supposed to be a big reveal at the end, but please, everyone saw that coming). Val being the bad guy and aligning her loyalty with the Fae makes her a “hussy.” JLA, as an author, should know: words and context and meanings. To make “hussy” synonymous with “villain” instead of “slut” is not some progressive statement; just as saying something is “gay” as an insult is not justifiable because you don’t mean homosexual.
We see women who have a lot of sex as “bad.” We call them bad girls. It doesn’t matter what other character traits they might have; having many sexual partners equals moral darkness. So, yes, it grates to have Val, the carefree queer woman of color who enjoyed sex, as an actual bad girl, fulfill that false narrative.
I didn’t deduct stars for this development because, in all honesty, I don’t really expect much more from most mainstream romance. Or most mainstream genres, period. I don’t deduct stars for lack of representation (because it’s the norm), so I was torn about deducting for bad representation. In the end, I chose not to. In the future, I’m not sure I will be as kind.
I am planning to continue this series. I am holding out hope that Val won’t actually turn out to be so bad, and her character will be fleshed out fully. I’m not betting on it, though.
In the end, I haven’t read anything from JLA that hit me quite as well as the first two installments of the Lux series — the very first JLA books I read. I’ll continue to search for something else of hers to “Wow” me in the meantime. This, though adequate, was not quite it.