Scars, any external evidence of pain, attracted Myst. Pain forced strength. Strength begat electricity. (The Warlord Wants Forever, 6)
Disclaimer: This review is about two romance novels, so there may be some explicit NSFW content.
I just finished reading the Arcana Chronicles for May's Vaginal Fantasy Book Club. (See review here.) This series, Immortals After Dark, is by the same author and has been mentioned by the Vaginal Fantasy ladies multiple times. Plus they seemed like they'd be quick reads, which is what I'm aiming for. (Thus far in May, I've read at least one book a day. I'm trying to stick with that, while also taking my time reading other, more dense books.) So I thought I'd give them a go. These are the first two in the series.
The Warlord Wants Forever is shy of 200 pages, and is actually considered a novella. It is kind of an introduction to the series, and characters and themes within the series, while also introducing a romance. Of course. The series is urban fantasy and focuses on supernatural characters; in these first two books, we meet vampires, werewolves, and Valkyries.
Usually I would wait to present this, but my biggest problem is the same with both of these books: there's a HUGE lack of consent and I would consider them "rapey." (For those unfamiliar, we actually have come to use this term quite a lot in the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club to refer to the overwhelming and overbearing threat of rape that is present in basically every romance book ever.) I've talked about how I feel about using rape as a character-building plot point before—the tl;dr version of it is that I'm against it. This vibe is particularly present in books where there are supernatural characters, because the lore of supernatural characters seems to inevitably include the concept of "the One," however that manifests; in The Warlord Wants Forever, she is his vampire Bride, and in A Hunger Like No Other, she is his Mate. Notice the capitals there. One and only. Because she is his one and only, and he is convinced of this even when she is not, he basically treats her like crap, sometimes to the point of just barely not raping her. After all, she is his, right? Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:
"Join me, Bride."
She was compelled to, though she had an expression of disgust on her face. "You keep calling me that, but you don't have that right. I've given no consent, so I think the term you're looking for is slave."
His eyes narrowed as he took her tiny waist and pulled her into the water with him. "Semantics. The end's the same. You forget that I'm from a time when men needed no consent to take what they wanted." (The Warlord Wants Forever, 47)
He took her by the wrist and forced her hand to his naked shaft. "You feel me hard. Know that the only reason I'm no' inside you right now is because I'm weak. No' because of any concern for you."
Briefly closing her eyes with embarrassment, she tugged at her hand until he finally let go. "You would hurt me that way?"
"Without a second thought." His lips curled. (A Hunger Like No Other, 33)
"Emma, let me help you."
Her head whipped up. "You should buy stock in a lock company! I said alone!"
He nodded in agreement. "Aye, you usually say that, and I still stay. It's our way." (A Hunger Like No Other, 185)
Honestly, I could go on and on. The instances were multitudinous.
The plot is basically the same for both of these. Here's the gist: creature male encounters creature female, becomes convinced she is his "One," treats her poorly as a result of his innate ownership of her, realizes he's been an asshole, she forgives him because after all he was right she is his "One." Happily ever after.
The notion of "the One" is one of my least favourite tropes of all time. This may be because, while I consider myself a romantic, I don't believe in the idea of the One. I think that, much like some's disbelief in other intelligent life in the universe, it's incredibly closed-minded to think that, of the 8 billion people on the planet, there is only One that is your partner. While a romantic notion, it's also an enormously overwhelming one. I think that there are any number of people that someone could happily make a life with, and it's more romantic to work at a partnership than to just assume that everything will work out because you are destined to be together. But maybe that's just me. It certainly follows, though, that I wouldn't appreciate this particular device.
Okay, summary of each of these:
The Warlord Wants Forever—In which we meet Myst and Nikolai Wroth. (Just go with it.) She's Valkyrie, he's vampire. When he's raiding a castle, he finds her in the dungeon and she sort of seduces him in order to get him revved up enough so she can escape instead of having him re-capturing her. During this encounter, he realizes that she's his Bride, and he only gets one of those in life, so he's feeling very frustrated. In all the ways a man can be frustrated. Five years later, he tracks her down and basically kidnaps her, holding her hostage and commanding her utilizing the weird belt that basically has all the power over her. Of course, despite his terrible treatment of her, she's just so lusty for him that eventually she realizes that she loves him. (Because lust and love are the same thing, obvs.) And scene.
A Hunger Like No Other—In which we meet Emma and Lachlain. She's half vampire, half Valkyrie, he's all beast. She's in Paris trying to discover more about her mystery father—stereotypical daddy issues—and he escapes from a dungeon he's been confined to for 15 decades because he senses her in the city above him. He's been waiting centuries, possibly even a millenia, to find her, because she's his Mate. He's 1200, she's 70. Perfect match! He almost rapes her upon their first encounter, and then several times after that, but she gradually comes to forgive him for his brutish treatment because he lets her drink from him and saves her from a couple of vampires. Turns out, her dad is the one who kept Lachlain hostage for decades. Awkward! But Emma kills daddio, so everything is kosher between her and Lachlain.
I actually really like the intricate tie-ins with The Warlord Wants Forever; basically the two are happening simultaneously. I also think that Cole set herself up well for them to go forever, because every tertiary character can become part of their own romance down the road. Because why have fully fleshed out secondaries if they're not going to be useful later.
There's little supernatural lore that is new. It would be so refreshing to read a supernatural book without a single vampire or werewolf. That said, I don't often see Valkyries, so it was nice to get to learn a bit more about them in the world.
The sex scenes are pretty steamy, but I can't seem to get over the getting there and how incredibly emotionally, and often physically, abusive is the journey.
I might try to read a few more—it does only take a couple of hours to read one—to see if they get any less rapey and more romantic-y. But my hopes are not high.