Content note: sexual assault
I’m recovering from surgery. My inability to concentrate has actually been overcome by being sucked into Shelly Laurenston’s Pride Series. Yes, I love a shifter romance with snappy dialogue and excellent world-building. And did I mention strong female characters. That’s important. There are VERY strong female characters.
I adore the consistency of the world that Laurenston has built in the series. Wild dogs all have certain habits. Wolves have certain ways of acting and treating one another. Bears and cats act like bears and cats. And the hybrids are amazing. Also, there are honey badgers. Yes, please.
For the most part, the human forms of the shifters represent a wide variety of races, which
makes for interesting reading. There is some white-washing of characterization. In The Mane Attraction, the female protagonist notes her irritation at how loud African wild dogs can be (as humans or dogs), even when comparing them to other wild dogs from around the world. Loudness is a way of characterizing black, African, or African-American characters by noting that they act “differently” (louder) than the “norm” (whatever level white is pitched at). That throwaway comment hit a very wrong chord with me. Additionally, all the books that I have read have been cis- heteronormative, even in the sex acts. There have been comments about homosexuality that haven’t read as LGBTQ-antagonistic, but the absence of these relationships in such a developed world is conspicuous.
Since I have read the series all kinds of out of order, I have had a chance to read about the sexual encounters of a variety of the species, whether they are inter-species couples or intra-species. The Beast in Him would typically be a book plot that I would love (slow burn, friends to lovers, childhood connection rekindled in adulthood). However, I could never get past the lack of consent in any of the sex scenes.
While there was arguably never rape, there were often times when the female protagonist might have been protesting or resisting the advances of the male protagonist. He simply carried on and then she would get “swept away”. This went on and on throughout the book. Rather than pulling back and talking or stopping because she said stop, he continued on and then she would yield to the moment.
Now that I am writing that out, I am not sure how that is not sexual assault. For many women, this is actually how they are assaulted. Their protests are ignored and they feel unable to resist physically or emotionally. They later convince themselves that they enjoyed what happened or that they consented since they did’t “put up more of a fight”. For a book published in 2014, Laurenston should have known better. Furthermore, this doesn’t appear in her other books. While the male and female protagonists in this book are both Alphas in their species, the sexual aggression never goes both ways (she doesn’t assault him), so it is not a character-development tactic (Alphas=sexually aggressive). Alphas in other stories are sexually aggressive, but there is always some consent between the partners.
I really like this series, but I was completely put off by this story and the sexual assault in it. The Beast in Him is only book two in the series and if I had been reading in order, I probably would not have continued. Many, many people come to reading romance (across genres) in their early teens. They learn about sexual actions and norms from these stories that they “borrow” from their parents, grandparents, friends’ parents, libraries, bookstores, etc. Consent needs to be part of how normal sexual relationships are portrayed in all books. Even the stories that are about aggression or rape fantasy can still have clear passages that convey how both people (or all the people) are enthusiastic to participate in the action, ahem, at hand.
I have read five books in the series now and I probably need to take a break for other worlds, though I tend to burn through a backlist when I discover someone I like. Nevertheless, the slight racist comments, the absence of other sexualities, and the lack of consent in the second book of this series make me wonder if I should be coming back at all. None of those are things that I have time for in the “real world”. Should I be allowing for them in a fictional world?