Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CBR IV Review #10 - Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

“This is a man in need. His fear is naked and obvious, but he's lost. . . Somewhere in his darkness.
His eyes wide and bleak and tortured. I can soothe him. Join him briefly in the darkness and bring him into the light.”

A DISCLAIMER: This review is of a piece of erotic fiction.  As such, discussion of the sex is relevant and necessary to the review.  If this makes you uncomfortable, skip this one.

Fifty Shades of Grey is, technically, a fan fiction inspired erotic novel.  It horrified me to find out, halfway through this book (which is when the rest of the popular book scene caught up with me) that this book was started as Twilight fanfiction.  I hate Twilight.  A lot.  However, the resemblance to those books is practically non-existent.  I know many people compared the two lead characters to Bella and Edward, but I think that is so far beyond a stretch that it borders on the absurd.  Regardless.

This book is the story of virginal, innocent, recent college grad (she graduates in the course of the book) Anastasia Steele, and multi-billionaire Christian Grey.  The two cross paths when Ana interviews Christian on behalf of her sick roommate, Kate, and their sexual chemistry is evident from the start.  Christian makes a point of putting himself into Ana's life, and eventually the two start an incredibly complicated relationship.  The reason for this complication is Christian's sexual appetite.  He's a Dom, in the most classic sense of the term, and he likes to contract his submissives.  Ana, however, is not exactly great at being submissive, and sex is new to her in the first place.  The two develop something much more significant than a sexual relationship, even though the progression terrifies Ana.

A lot of people objected to this book because of the nature of their sexual relationship.  It's so very easy to cry "abusive asshole" about a Dom if you don't understand the lifestyle (and this book does a very good job of explaining things well, so I don't know how you come away with that impression, but whatever).  The submissive is the one with the real power in a BDSM relationship - they have the power to set parameters, to call a safeword and stop things at any given moment.  The Dom has all the apparent power in the moment, but there has to be a real trust and understanding between both participants for this kind of relationship to function.  Christian works very hard to make sure that Ana has this, even when she gets in her own way and doesn't tell him things.

The sex itself is reasonably well written.  The author seems to have an issue with using genital terminology, which got old fast, but the activities were well enough described.  I find it interesting that Ana never had any marks on her wrist from the times she was bound - or at least not ones that lasted long enough for anyone to notice.  Maybe she has stronger skin.  I HATED every damned reference to her inner goddess, as well as the incredible overuse of the phrase "Oh my."  They are lazy writing tools, employed every time the author couldn't think of something more compelling to say.  I don't need an "inner goddess" in Ana's head to understand her confusion in being turned on by things that a lot of society thinks are "wrong" or "dirty."  Discovering you are kinky is sometimes hard to come to terms with, and I like that it was a struggle for her.

Two other big complaints before I get to another compliment.  First, there is NO FUCKING WAY anyone is as clueless in the world as Ana.  Not having a computer (since she can use her roommate's) I can maybe accept.  Not having an EMAIL ADDRESS?  As a college student?  Impossible.  Every single student of every single college is given one of those these days.  I HATE when books do well on some details and totally blow it on the simple things like this.  I also have some trouble believing, at 22, that she's never been drunk or been kissed (mostly the combination of the two, for someone who doesn't have religious or cultural reasons to avoid it).  But that email address thing killed me.

Other complaint - that ending is THE WORST.  I hate hate hate when the first volume of a trilogy cannot stand on its own, and this has an ending where nothing actually resolves.  You're left with miserable main characters and no resolution - it feels like you go back to square one and then it just ends.  I don't know if I want to read the next book, and making it so I HAVE to makes me want to even less.  End volume 2 on a cliff-hanger - by then you usually have a committed audience.  But let volume one stand on its own two feet.  That ending was a cheap shot.

My last comment will be a compliment because I like to end on a high note if I can.  Christian and Ana, and even Kate, are characters I got attached to, and that surprised me.  A lot of erotic fiction barely fleshes out the characters, so you are reading strictly for the enjoyment of the sexual content.  This had a relationship I was invested in.  I wanted Ana to be honest with Christian, and vice versa.  I wanted them to explore their emotional needs as well as the carnal, and really get somewhere.  I kept picking the book back up to see how they developed, and that is always a good thing.

Like I said, I don't know if I'll pick up the next two volumes of this trilogy, but this is a pretty good read if you're into erotica, or want a little voyeuristic view into a BDSM relationship.

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