Spoiler: They Make Babies

Spoiler: They Make Cubs!

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on February 6, 2010

Sometimes I go to the bookstore and buy a romance novel, not because I really want to own a particular romance novel, but because I really need to buy a romance novel.  I imagine this is fairly common, at least in a capitalist society; the act of buying a romance novel is kind of like telling myself, “you deserve a break! your mental well-being is totally worth $7.99 plus tax!”

When I went to the bookstore about a week ago, I browsed through my usual raft of authors, and read the backs of a bunch of regencies.  I couldn’t find anything that really grabbed me, though.  After about a half-hour of searching, I finally decided to check out the supernatural romances.  It would be broadening my horizons!  I quickly ruled out any and all vampire novels — I’m easily annoyed by vampires in literature — and mostly focused on shapeshifters and other spookery.*

The book I picked up was Pride Mates, the first in the “Shifters Unbound” series by Jennifer Ashley.  What followed was a confusing reading experience; it was simultaneously a compelling book and COMPLETELY wackadoodles.

The plot:

Kim, a high-powered lawyer who’s still cutting her teeth in the courtroom, has been assigned the high-profile but low-hope case of Brian, a Shifter who’s accused of murdering his girlfriend.  Shifters are fae-beasts, who are full of animal instincts.  They were on the verge of extinction ages ago, due to in-fighting between types of Shifters and a low birth rate.  Humans told Shifters they had to take a Collar, which through FAE MAGIC controls the feral instincts and violence of the Shifters.  The Shifters accepted, to saaave their raaace.

Kim, although she faces great odds, of course is determined to win the case. She goes to Shiftertown, the Shifter ghetto, and meets up with Liam, who is the contact for Brian’s clan.  Kim and Liam lock eyes.  Then Sean comes in, and starts nuzzling all up on Liam’s business.  Oh, he’s gay, Kim thinks dispiritedly.  No sooner than she thinks it, though, than she is corrected.  This is just how Shifters are, due to the influence of “pheromones.”  Liam and Sean go on to nuzzle Sandra, Brian’s mother, when the three go to visit her.  Liam also gives Kim an extensive foot rub on this, their first meeting.  It’s ANIMAL INSTINCT, see.

Liam scent-marks Kim before she leaves Shiftertown, in order to protect her from being hassled.  It’s lucky that he took this entirely unnecessary step, since a feral (that is, un-Collared) Shifter comes after her.  (Apparently to hurt Liam? Whatever, ANIMAL INSTINCT.)  Liam kicks the everloving hellcrap out of the dude, kills him, and Sean sends the dude’s soul to the afterlife with his magic broadsword of justice.  (Yes, for real.)

No one calls the cops, for whatever reason, so Kim and Liam and Sean are free to traipse back to Shiftertown while the Shifter crew clean up.  The Shifter clean-up crew are thoughtful enough to send back clothes for Kim, which are all inexplicably thongs and garter belts and tiny short skirts.  I was worried she’d be all up in those High-Powered Lawyer clothes all book, of course.  Thank Christ for meddling Shifter clean-up crews, that’s what I always say.

At some point around the middle of the book, Liam is forced – FORCED, I say! – to take Kim as his Mate, because Fergus says that he’s going to take Kim unless he’s Challenged.  Everyone comments admiringly about how outspoken Kim is.  The plot trundles onward, no matter how much Kim wants to talk.

“It was necessary,” he explained. “If I hadn’t made the Challenge, Fergus would have taken you as mate whether you liked it or not.”

“How could he?” Kim asked. “I’m not bound by Shifter law.”

“He could because we’re animals. We look like humans and you put Collars on us, but we’re born animals and only learn to become human later.  The leader of the clan can claim whatever unmated female he wants, and we have to step back and let him unless we want to Challenge.  It’s his right. But Fergus is hellaciously strong, and most in the clan don’t want to fight him, so he takes the mates he wants.”

“But I’m not Shifter…”

“Do you think Fergus gives a damn about that?”

I had to Mate you, baby!  It was either that or let you get raped by the leader of my clan!  Oh, by the way, it’s a lifetime bond and we never get out of it.  Kim responds to this, sensibly enough, by screwing Liam’s brains out.  Liam closes their sex scene with what is perhaps the best line in the history of lines:

“Feel my seed, Kim,” he whispered. “Take it, love.”

Liquid scalded into her, the semen of a Shifter.

I love a load of scalding seed in my ladybits, let me tell you.

Back to the non-sexy plot!  The Collars restrain Shifters by delivering a sharp shock to the Shifter when they intend to commit violence.  Shifters can delay the effects, somehow, by remaining full of adrenaline, but they eventually pay the price.  (It’s FAE MAGIC, remember?  Stop asking questions.)  The basic mystery of the book is how come Shifters keep going feral, and how come there have been murders by seemingly Collared Shifters.  It turns out that Fergus, the clan leader, has been un-Collaring Shifters, which releases all of their pent-up animal instincts and makes them crazypants.  He does this to free them from the yoke of human oppression.  Silly clan leader! Freedom causes death!

Liam discovers Fergus’s plan after Michael, a cub, is kidnapped by a kid named Justin.  Justin is one of the bunch that is doing these experiments with Collars.  He decides, in his wisdom, to un-Collar Liam, which handily enough allows Liam to rip Justin into tiny bits.  Fergus shows up just in time to explain the dastardly plan to Sean and Kim, since Liam is in a bloodlust and can’t really talk coherently.  After the handy explanation, Liam and Fergus fight, and Liam rips another person into bits.  It’s Shifter confetti!  This festive atmosphere arouses Liam beyond control.  He and Kim have sex against a wall, which then collapses.

The end!

Not really, of course.  Brian has to be exonerated — it was the girl’s ex-boyfriend, who was violently anti-Shifter, prejudice is wrong, etc. — and Liam has to try to send Kim away from Shiftertown for no good goddamn reason.  It all ends in glorious happiness and Kim moving into Shiftertown, apparently uncaring about the effect it will have on her high-powered lawyer career.  Fuck careers!  She’s having a faebaby!

I sound like I’m mocking — and oh, I definitely am — but it’s also a really fun read, surprisingly hot, and difficult to put down.  I’ve read a lot of romance novels that are relatively unmockable, but equally boring; I vastly prefer the ridiculous-yet-enjoyable.

You knew there was a ‘but’ coming, right?  Oh, there is:

BUT.

There are some serious race problems in this book.  To illustrate, a conversation.  I was telling my Significant Other about the book, and listed off some of the attributes of the Shifters:

FMJ: They’re known for having big dicks, they have wild and crazy parties, they live in the ghetto, they’re denied service at restaurants because of prejudice, they’re collared by humans, and they’re full of animal instincts

SO: Wait, do they really like watermelon and fried chicken? ‘Cause I’m sensing a trend.

Indeed you are, S.O.!

I think Ashley intended the segregation and prejudice against Shifters to be a kind of social commentary about race in America.  It’s admirable, if that was her intention, but the commentary goes awry.  The Shifters are an entirely different species from humans.  They are animals, which in this book means that they are driven by mating and territorial instincts.  Thus certain stereotypes are — by the logic of the book — absolutely true of Shifters.  By this logical leap, Ashley’s Shifters embody white American cultural stereotypes about black Americans when it serves the purpose of the romance.  It’s all the tropes of interracial sex that drives so much of the video porn industry, without any need to grapple with racial issues.

For example, Shifters are known for having big dicks, and at least in Liam’s case, it’s true:

“I’m right here, baby.”

He was, all eleven inches of him.  Not that she’d measured, but she could guess.

a) Wow, you have a uterus like a WELL, lady.
b) Oh, really?  Really? I guess once you go black Shifter, you’ll never go back.  (Because your ladybits will NEVER BE THE SAME.)

I’m sure there are other books about shapeshifters that won’t make me reach for the Angela Davis, right?   If so, give me a heads up in the comments.

Anyway, by the numbers:

  • The sexiness of the sexy bits: 8/10, in spite of major turn-off terms for semen and my general worry that he was going to go into his Fae-Cat form in flagrante delicto.
  • Likelihood that I will borrow another book by Ashley: 40%.  If she’s written a book about Connor, this side character, I will. I got weirdly attached to the guy.
  • Likelihood that I will buy another book of hers: 10%.
  • Overall a 3/10. It was a compelling read, and I was really grabbed by the mystery; all things being equal, I would have given it a seven.  All things are, however, not equal, as the author reminds us.

* – A post for another time: telling romance novels by their covers.

Thanks for reading!

— First Mate Jess

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4 Responses

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  1. Arovd said, on February 8, 2010 at 12:12 am

    I love paranormal stuff and the newly-named ‘urban fantasy’ genre, but I’m not sure I’ve read much that would cross over into romance. Katie MacAlister (sp?) is light, fluffy, and fun. I love love loved Patricia
    Brigg’s Mercy Thompson novels, but I didn’t really care for the Alpha and Omega novels, which were more romance-ish. (is that a word? If not it should be.)
    The ‘lover’ series by J.R. Ward is hot, but… it’s vampires.

    I do prefer shifters myself, but most of the paranormals that have any heat are vampire based. Why do they get all the good stuff?
    Let us know if you find any more good shifter or other stuff, and I’ll keep my eye out too!
    -arovd

    • spoilerbaby said, on February 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      I looked at the J.R. Ward series, and almost picked one up, because it *looked* hot. (I really do tell romance novels by their covers.) But… vampires. I was really into them as a teenager, but that actually means I’m more opinionated about them now, especially with their recent surge in popularity. I might check out the Ward books, still. And I will definitely take a look at those other authors– I really like the idea of shapeshifters in general, actually, even aside from romance stuff. I’ve read some Katie MacAllister before, enjoyed the whole tongue-in-cheek thing, and have planned to buy some of her other stuff. I might check out Brigg’s novels first, though. I will definitely keep my eye out, but I hope you find something for me first. 😀

  2. Andrew Farrell said, on February 11, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Scalding is how you know it’s good!

    • spoilerbaby said, on February 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

      And here I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. Boiling or bust, from now on!


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