All Hail the Self-Rescuing Princess; or, a book review of Afterlight, by Elle Jasper

Well, folks, I finally read a romance novel. Warning: contains spoilers and righteous feminist rage.

So this book… totally happened. It was, you know, fine. I thought I’d give it a run, and it’s technically my first romance (even though I’ve read a heaping crapton of LKH, apparently bookstores don’t think she counts). The writing itself, in the middle and at the end, was technically better than at the beginning; that being said, there were still a lot of adverb phrases that could have been verbed better, not to mention just a lot of sentences that wouldn’t have suffered from a different construction. It started kind of slow, the first 70 or 80 pages just sort of a lot of exposition in which the protagonist REALLY needs us to know that she got into some shit when she was a teenager. I get it. I read it the first forty-three times, and comprehended it. Let’s move on.

There is a prologue wherein the protagonist confesses that she’s in love with a vampire, and you still make me read almost a hundred pages before she stumbles upon the fact that this exists? Honestly, I think a lot of the book’s problems could have been solved by turning it into a novella, if not a slightly long short story. Stick with me, here:

Plot: Riley’s brother Seth gets taken by vampires. She needs to kill the vamps to rescue him. Also, there’s a hot dude, because this is, after all, a romance.

And that’s it. There’s no subplot (besides sex), no additional complications (besides Big Tough Girl Needs To Cry), just here, solve this vampire problem. And I’m pretty sure that can be taken care of in 20-30,000 words. 80,000 seems a little excessive.

The middle is the best part. She finds out there are spooky guys, has the sex, and starts getting into trouble. Authors: don’t coddle your protagonists, not for one second. Beat the hell out of them, and make them come back for more. That’s the point, isn’t it? They see the problem; they rumble with it and fail; they dust themselves off and patch up; they make a plan; they rumble again and kick its ass. This is a good formula. There are stakes, and you know that your protagonist is up to the challenge.

That was the big problem here. Riley Poe is Jane Normal. She’s got no supernatural abilities, except for the supernatural ability to be not quite as wiseass as the narrative would lead you to believe (maybe Harry Dresden has spoiled me), and the supernatural ability to really think she’s way more of a badass than she actually is (because everyone knows, if a man attacks you, you go for the KNEES, not the balls; nutshots just piss attackers off. Broken/dislocated knees put them down.). Plus, she has tattoos! She dyes her hair! She wears leather and ripped skinny jeans and Converse All-Stars! Oh noes! She listens to Thirty Seconds To Mars! Oh n- wait, what?

And the final confrontation? (Warning: spoileriffic.) Betty Badass has a brilliant plan of luring the bad guys out. It works. They attack her. AND SHE HAS TO BE RESCUED. By Eli, the dude whose maleness is all up in her business. And not just rescued, but her unconscious body has to be dragged away from the fight because she’s lost too much blood and passes out. So we don’t even get a full freaking fight scene! Look, this isn’t the takeaway. I’m thinking, about halfway through the book, all right. This chick is going to take care of herself – the vampires are giving her combat lessons (regardless of the fact that the situation is COMPLETELY unrealistic), the Gullah are giving her special bloodblocker tea, and she’s really willing to do anything to save her brother. Then, somewhere in the last fifty pages, I thought, oh ye gods, if the author is going to do what I think she is going to do…

And she did. I was crushed. Because I don’t want a wilting flower protagonist – especially one who thinks she can just punch a vampire in the balls until he falls over and dies – I want someone who’s smart, quick on her feet, and can think her way out of problems when she gets outgunned. Because she will. That’s what you do to your protagonist. (I mean, I complain about Anita Blake and Merry Gentry, but at least they’re self-rescuing princesses.)

This is why you can’t have a non-supernat as your protagonist if she’s surrounded by supernat backup. And if you DO do this, you’ve got to be insanely careful how to craft your story. Because at the end of the day, you’ve got to figure out whose story it is that you’re telling. I don’t want to read about a damsel in distress, and I sure as hell don’t want the book’s takeaway to be “Badass chick thinks she’s badass; actual badass dudes prove her wrong.” I don’t want to read about some delicate little damsel who just needs to be shown that she needs the protection of a big, strong man. And we know he’s big and strong because the phrase “ripped abs” happened so frequently I was concerned he needed patching up.

Now, for the important part: the sex. Their first encounter was hot; I mean, I-felt-my-face-flushing hot. Even the very obvious end of it, where he gets all vampiric and runs away, didn’t bother me. The sex afterwards… I don’t know, it just falls flat. Like the author is trying too hard to convey that it’s something beyond -just sex-. It’s the Mercy Thompson problem. I get it; you’re mates, or whatever. That doesn’t mean that every encounter afterwards has to be tender and exploratory (because they were). Also, again, contrary to what you might believe, you did not just have the best orgasm of your life (or maybe you did; how do you remember?!), you did not come at the same time the first time you have sex because that shit just does not happen, and I do not care how old this vampire man is, every woman’s body is different and there’s no way he already knows just how to touch and please you to make you come forty-seven times before you’ve even taken your shirt off. (Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but not by much, in many cases; the erotica genre – and what I’ve seen from the romance genre – suffers heavily from this “he/she/it already knew exactly what I wanted” affliction.)

More specific, nitpicky things:
1) Savannah folks don’t say “wicked” anything, unless they mean it’s actually wicked, in the very traditional, Merriam-Webster sort of way. “Wicked cool,” “wicked hot,” etc., are very specifically Boston, and generically Massachusetts/greater New England.
2) Also “kitty-corner” is not southern; “catty-corner” is. (I’m from South Carolina. I can say this.)
3) There are synonyms for “erotic.” Look them up.

I hope Everdark will be better, though I can’t promise you I’ll read it.

2.5/5 stars. You can visit Elle Jasper’s website here.

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