aka a kind of review and a rambling justification for why I like Reaper's Property by Joanna Wylde.
recommended to me by DA's Jane. She said it was "hardcore" and "intense and emotional" and she clearly loved it. Her recommendation was not without caveats however - she noted: "Anyway, warning warning warning. Know that you are getting an over the top sexist parade of MC full of violence and wrongdoing when you read this book".
There has been comparison with Kristen Ashley's Motorcycle Club (MC) books - I have 1 or 2 on my TBR but haven't read any yet - I keep hearing about engaging stories but also poor grammar and sloppy/no editing and I'm kind of torn about taking the plunge in actually reading them because the latter things mean a lot to me. This book, a little shorter than a KA book and better edited, lured me because of the promise of engagement and curiosity did the rest. So I bought it.
I don't usually like my heroes to be less than heroic. Why then am I enjoying this book, where the hero is named "Horse" (yes, it's after the size of his dick) and is a violent criminal? It is this question I'm trying to answer and so my rambles begin.
I recently read a book which had as one of its main characters, a dole bludger (an unemployed person who receives government benefits and actively tries not to find a job). I said (in my as yet unpublished review) that I had a difficult time seeing him as hero material because being a dole bludger is not terribly noble, sexy or heroic to me. I grew up surrounded by many of them and, in my experience, they're lazy gits who think the world owes them a living. While the particular character wasn't anywhere near as bad as my personal experience of such people has been, it was still a barrier to me. So I questioned why that bothered me and this, apparently, does not. Am I just a hypocrite? Or, is there more to it?
I think that in the other book, the dole bludger character felt too close to not only real life, but my real life. It is something I've been around. On the other hand, while I know that MCs exist and they are in the news often here following shootouts and other acts of violence, they have never formed part of my own "real" world. The MC setting is therefore as fantastical to me as the setting of the Mercy Thompson series, where werewolves, the fae, vampires and other paranormal beings live and work alongside (mostly) clueless humans. In fact, the Mercy Thompson series helped me in this regard because it is set in East Washington and so is a lot of Reaper's Property. It seems a fantastical place to me.
mostly*) well edited and I haven't noticed any typos or grammar errors. Like what I hear of KA books however, this story is engaging the heck out of me. It sucked me in straight away and I find myself thinking about it and anticipating being able to get back and read more of it. Shouldn't it bother me that a story about (essentially) a thug is having this effect on me?
There are a couple of very clever things the author has done to assist me in coming to grips with Horse (pardon the pun). The first part of the story starts at A Very Momentous Day in Marie and Horse's relationship - the day where Marie accepts a "bargain" from the Reapers and Horse - she goes with him and is his "house mouse" (aka live in fuck buddy) and her brother lives. Then it skips back to when Marie first met Horse and back and forth until the reader has a picture of what has happened leading up to the Very Momentous Day. From a story perspective, it's clever. The action is immediate and I, as reader, wanted to know the why and the what and the who. Marie wasn't reacting to Horse the way I would have expected her to in the circumstances - there was clearly more to their story and my curiosity was piqued. There was enough in their backstory to show that clearly Horse had deep feelings (as well as ferocious lust) for Marie and their chemistry is obvious on the page. But, how could Horse make this appalling "offer" to Marie? What could justify that?
Just in time, we are treated to Horse's POV of the events immediately leading up to the Very Momentous Day. And from here, we see that, as improbable as it may sound, he went to great pains to save Marie's brother from certain death. At great cost to himself (in a number of ways), he came up with an alternative solution to the problem - one that gave Marie's gambling addicted stoner brother (Jeff) a way out and (lucky for Horse!) landed Marie in his bed. The reader sees he's not entirely comfortable with it. The reader sees, when Marie does not, that Horse has very good reasons for her being "collateral" to be widely known and for Jeff to know the stakes at play. The reader also sees just how caught by Marie he is.
Looked at that way, Horse's "solution" is creative and does offer hope - after all, we know he cares for Marie deeply. He makes it very clear to Marie that it will be her choice to come with him - he will not be raping her. She is free to go at any time (there will be consequences to Jeff of course, but Horse sees them as Jeff's issues and nothing to do with Marie so he has no difficulty with this). We also see that when Marie asks/tells/demands Horse stop, he does. Both before the events of the Very Momentous Day and after. And, finally, there is Marie's consent. Because whatever else is going on, she's loving the sex they have.
I think these things make the set up much more palatable for the reader, while still being edgy and gritty and violent and really SEXIST. Within the narrative, it makes a (slightly? twisted) kind of sense and I didn't have to bend myself into pretzels to see it. Add to that, I have read (and enjoyed) books such as Power Play (Resistance) by Rachel Haimowitz and Cat Grant and Maya Bank's Sweet Persuasion where one main character signs over total control to the other for a period of time and really, Marie's situation is only different because of the threat to her brother's life. (It's not a justification for Horse's actions, but merely an illustration that I've enjoyed books with this kind of theme before.)
The Reaper society is definitely sexist. (I hesitate to say misogynistic because I don't perceive that the Reapers HATE women, they just don't treat them equally), I read an Amish YA recently (Temptation) and I actually found that more problematic in terms of the role of women in that society. So much so that I'm not sure I could enjoy an Amish romance. (I will allow that perhaps that book got Amish society wrong and maybe it's not that bad?) In the society of the Reapers MC, women do have some agency, most especially the "old ladies". They are never involved in "club business" but their men are devoted, they study, work and/or run their own enterprises and the old ladies certainly have power at home. The power is represented as kind of subversive and manipulative rather than overt (which is another topic I guess because it makes me think of gender roles and a chicken/egg question of is subversive/manipulative "feminine" because girls do it or do girls do it because they have to, thus making it appear a "feminine" trait? But, I digress.) but the point is there is power and agency. In the Amish book I read, there was very little female agency at all and that was more distressing to me as a reader in a straight up comparison.
The other thing is that the "old lady" is essentially a wife. It may not be a legally recognised relationship but it is, internal to this world, the same as bonding is in some PNR books - although I agree the terminology of the MC world is not terribly palatable. In the Reapers, wearing the biker's patch is akin to wearing a wedding ring. When I think of it that way, I could get my head around it better. After all, the Reapers self describe as a tribe outside the rules of normal society.
The criminal activities of the Reapers are more suggested than anything else. There is mention late in the book of moving "product" which I assume to be either drugs or guns, but it is never specified. Horse lives on a fairly nice property with a farmhouse and a barn and a dog - he's not doing drugs or being violent with Marie and I haven't seen much by way of overt criminal activity - clearly there is violence - I am getting to that (I have thoughts!) and clearly there is some kind of money laundering going on that Jeff is helping them with, but it's all fairly vague and this helps me relax into a kind of blissful ignorance of who I'm really reading about.
It also helps that Horse is both self aware and funny with it:
“Saying this goes against everything I believe in, but you’d better let go of my dick.”...
“Fuck, this is gonna piss you off and then you aren’t gonna let me stick my dick in you,” he muttered....
“Do you have to be so crude?” I snapped.
“Have you met me?”
“I don’t give a damn if you never wear panties again, but I know women are weird about that. Here’s the compromise. I’m gonna buy you new shit, but only shit I like. You’re gonna wear it until I pull it off to fuck you. Everyone wins.”The other thing I'll say about Horse is that he gives excellent apology. No mansplaining or excuses. Straight up "I'm an asshole and a dick... I'm sorry." How many times do you see that in romance? In real life? (LOL).
And it helps that neither Marie nor Horse are blind to the dysfunction in their relationship. It is explicitly acknowledged in fact.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, tears building up in my eyes. “But this is beyond crazy. What’s wrong with us? Where do we go from here?”
Horse shook his head, shrugging. “Fuck if I know,” he admitted, and for once he didn’t bother putting on a front. “This is a whole new level of dysfunction for me, and that’s saying something. I don’t want to figure this out tonight. I just want to go to bed and I want you with me. Is that okay? Just for tonight? Can I hold you?”
So; to the violence. The Reapers are very violent, particularly to Jeff. They need to show Marie that they're serious so she understands the magnitude of the situation. We know from Horse's perspective that they didn't do any major damage (although it sounded pretty awful to me) but I guess they didn't get out the cattle prods or fingernail removing equipment. The other violence from Horse is directed to inanimate objects (eg a tree) - and how many of us know a man who will punch a wall or kick a tyre when something doesn't go their way... women too now I think of it (there was a family legend involving my mother and a glass) - and in defence of Marie. Most Lisa Marie Rice heroes ah "vigorously" defend their ladies at some point in the book. Witness too, what Adam did at the end of Iron Kissed for another example in the Mercy Thompson world (which I LOVED). Even my beloved Roarke is a violent man. He's jealous and fights with Webster (Judgement in Death), he got particularly nasty with Jess Barrow in Rapture in Death although he left no visible marks. And (and this is something I've never been entirely comfortable with but I still read and love the series) we know that Roarke did some pretty specific and nasty things to those who raped and murdered Summerset's daughter Marlena (Vengeance in Death). Violence from the hero isn't new to my reading.
What Reaper's Property is, I have decided is that fantasy, taken to an extreme. - Just one (or perhaps more) steps further beyond what I've already lapped up in various subgenres of romance over the past few years. It's heightened, like opera. It's not real. I don't want to live in those worlds and even though there are MCs in the real world, they are not in MY world so I can easily enough pretend they are the same kind of fantasy as Mercy Thompson or Kate Daniels.
So, having picked out the various elements which could have been problematic for me and then dissecting why they were not in this case, what is my conclusion? It is that in this book (hence the title of my post) is that all of the elements I've referred to in the other books mentioned are included in this one book. So instead of seeing them spread across 7 or 8 books, they are concentrated and thus further heightened and the fantasy of the romance has become extreme.
Jane posted something interesting about exaggeration in romance recently and I agree with the thrust of what she said there. I think that Reaper's Property provides an exaggerated (or extreme) world and the characters in it are able to act in extreme ways to tell the story of a relationship against the odds and the journey to a HEA. That is the romance fantasy isn't it? Sometimes, it is the world itself which is conspiring against the protagonists I think. I was a bit worried, starting this book that I'd have too big a problem with the MC/criminal element, but really, it's more like Magician than Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms to me^ so, it turns out, I'm fine with it. Go figure.
And finally, having now finished Reaper's Property - I give it a B.
(I found the last portion of the book not quite as engaging from a romance perspective and I was a bit thrown by the abrupt "3 months later" thing. I'd have liked to hang around at the time of the previous chapter for a little longer. The last portion of the book is more devoted to MC life and wrapping up the suspense plot and I did think Marie's misgivings about Horse were unfair given what she already knew about him. At least it didn't take her long to realise that.
I enjoyed the book and plan on reading the next in the series for sure.)
*there was one section from Horse's POV where he thought of one of his MC brothers as "the dude with the mohawk" - this was basically cut and pasted from Marie's POV of the same scene earlier in the book - Horse knows his brothers, he wouldn't think of them in such a vague way.
^I have to say the characters in Reaper's Property are MUCH better looking (at least in my mind) than the guys in Bikie Wars. MUCH.