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REVIEW: Against Reason by Scarlet Blackwell

AgainstReason72sm

He lost his heart once. Is it too damaged for love to find it again?

In the five years since the love of his life abandoned him at the altar, Jake Morgan hasn’t left his house. The locals in this small, English town have dubbed him “Mr. Havisham”, but he’s too preoccupied wrestling his demons to care about Dickensian comparisons.

Forced to admit he’s losing the battle to keep up his large estate alone, he reluctantly places an advert for help. The striking young man who answers his call shakes him to the core.

When Darius answers the ad for the position at the mysterious mansion, the bitter, lonely master of the house tugs at his heartstrings. Setting aside his own run of bad luck, Darius batters at Jake’s emotional walls with kindness and determination that defy all attempts to drive him away.

Just as tendrils of new love begin to intertwine, though, a terrible voice from the past intrudes. And threatens to drive Jake back into the shadows where Darius can never reach him.
Warning: “Great expectations” of steamy man-on-man action, mouldering wedding cake, and heartwarming romance.

Dear Scarlet Blackwell,

When I read this novella for the first time I had many issues with the characterization and plot, but I thought that the writing tugged at my emotions enough for me to enjoy it to some degree. But then I reread the story and paid more attention to writing and character details, and I unfortunately realized that I had to lower the rating to D.

The language is over the top: there is a “cock spurting fire” and a “bottom like peach”. Plus there is an instantaneous attraction when the characters meet and TSTL main character.

As the blurb tells us, Jake had basically not left his house since his partner abandoned him on his wedding day – so it is easy to figure out that Jake is not in a good mental state. Jake also thought that it would be a good idea to keep his wedding cake in his dining room during the five years after his partner left him at the altar. I think that is a pretty strong indication that Jake will need lots and lots of therapy. Jake has a health condition (OCD), but while I am aware that it can affect people differently to a degree, I felt very uncomfortable that it was mentioned initially, but then pretty much forgotten. I think his condition was another indication that he needed therapy. But rather than taking his condition seriously I thought that the story was an example of the “love heals everything” trope and I really did not like that. I did not think that Jake was ready for the relationship at all when the story ended. Here is the example of why I felt that the story treated Jake’s OCD as a plot device rather than a part of who Jake was:

“I should go.” Darius turned the key and pulled open the door. He bounded down the steps to his car and got in. As he started the engine, Jake moved slowly. He closed the door and turned the key once, forgetting his counting. Dazed, he walked to the kitchen like an automaton and checked the soup in the pan, stirring it a couple of times. Then he walked across to the living room and sat down heavily, senses scattered.”

That happens after they kissed for the first time. I mean, it is great if it made Jake forget about his counting, but I just did not buy that. There was nothing in the scene to make such a sudden change believable to me.
Jake’s attraction to Darius starts the second they meet. And I mean “the second they meet” literally.

“The wind nearly buffeted him back. The stranger lifted his face eagerly in relief. Their eyes locked, and that troublesome heart of Jake’s, battered and broken and way beyond salvation, gave a curious little leap as he gazed upon man’s face. His stomach lurched too. Warmth spread down toward his groin. He stepped back, blushing, confused as to what had just happened”.

Jake goes through angsting about whether he should hire Darius or not, then when he hires Darius, he goes through angsting about whether to have sex with him or not – all of those emotional things just felt so fake to me, especially because everything was happening within just a few days.

Considering that I usually do not care for “love heals everything” stories at all, it is telling that my main problem with this novella was not even this trope. No, my main issue with this book was Darius. I could not shake off the impression that the author wanted me to believe that Darius was a good guy, and I instead had a mental picture of him as an ass of the highest order. When Jake is accusing Darius of using him because he needs a place to stay, Darius denies it, gets upset, etc. And I kept thinking – wait a second, did you or did you not say just a several pages ago that you would not mind using your employer because you needed a place to stay and basically if flirting would do it, that would be fine with you? Apparently trading sexual favors would be too much for Darius, but making sure Jake was interested and wanted to keep him close was totally okay.

Was I expected to forget Darius’ thoughts about that?

And then we have Darius’ doing his thing closer to the end of the story. The word “cruel” does not even begin to describe what he did in my opinion – it really goes into a very spoilerish territory so here it is under the cut:

Spoiler (Spoiler): Show

Jake’s ex shows up and wants Jake to take him back and Jake seems undecided, so Darius shows Mark Jake’s dining room with the wedding cake and wedding presents from five years ago. Mark starts laughing but still wants to get back together. Jake throws both of them out.
And Jake forgives Darius after month of agonizing when Darius catches him (before Jake decides to go to Nova Scotia and be a recluse there), which would have been fine, if I had seen the slightest sign that the man changed and but I really never saw that.

I wanted to reiterate that I did not feel that Jake himself was ready for any sort of relationship especially because he hesitated so much over whom he should choose to have a lasting relationship with, not deciding till the book was almost over. I thought that Jake taking Darius back was a sign of massive stupidity, instead of the everlasting love the story was trying to sell to me.
I cannot recommend this one.

Grade: D.

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Sirius

Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

10 Comments

  1. Karenna Colcroft
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 08:31:06

    Magic healing love… Mental illness portrayed inaccurately at best, used as a convenient plot device at worst… Those are two of my hugest pet peeves in romance. And I can sometimes swallow insta-love/insta-lust (I’ve been guilty of that in some of my own books), but when someone is as deeply damaged as this hero seems to be, insta-anything seems completely unreasonable. Thanks for reviewing this.

  2. Isobel Carr
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 09:02:25

    I find the omniscient voice in the outtakes very off-putting. Don’t tell me he’s an automaton with a battered, broken heart, SHOW ME! Or at least have the observations in someone else’s POV scene.

  3. Sirius
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 09:54:17

    @Karenna Colcroft: There are instances when I can swallow Insta!Love too – not because I particularly like it, but there are different degrees of it and story can be very good otherwise. But in this one as you said – he did not seem ready (to me) for any kind of relationship, let alone love which stroke him in a second. Yes, the way so many romances (m/m romances because that’s what I mostly review) deal with mental health issues (and some other health issues) drives me crazy sometimes, it really really does.

    I get the need for happy ending – I love happy ending, but maybe dealing with such serious issues requires longer book at least? And why not mention that he at least started going to the therapist? That would signal to me that at least the awareness that he is very ill and love alone cannot cure it is there, I do not need the step by step therapy description. But he needs it, he really really does. Sorry, rant is over.

  4. Sirius
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 10:13:41

    @Isobel Carr: That was one of many things I found off putting :). I was about to write something like – probably another example of trying to squeeze too much in the novella and then stopped myself. I have read novellas where the writers showed me everything I needed to see about character’s mental state, instead of telling me that, not many, but I did, so I guess I should not be defending this story with “not enough page space” argument. Although as you could see from my review, defending this story is the last thing I am interested in.

  5. Isobel Carr
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 11:40:38

    Sad, because the premise of a modern gothic sounds really good.

  6. Mary
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 12:53:54

    Okay I had a very long post but it doesn’t seem to have posted? So basically, my big sister had OCD ( coupled with depression, as it often happens) when I was in middle school and she was in high school, and I can attest to the fact that all of my sister love (which Disney has shown is just as valid a form of true love [Frozen]) couldn’t cure her. Maybe it kept her going on days when she was very low, or suicidal. But she needed the therapy, and the Xanax, and more therapy. And even now, she checks herself to make sure she’s not sliding back into OCD habits. OCD isn’t something that you just forget about your compulsions-you can be obsessive compulsive and not have the disorder. It’s a disorder if it affects how you live your life (just like anxiety. Many people are anxious but it’s not a disorder unless it prevents you from doing things you want to do). Granted, the hero here seems like it’s affecting his life. So…it wouldn’t be cured by love. Especially from someone who didn’t respect the fact that OCD is an illness/disorder and that it is something that requires therapy and sometimes medication. My sister is now off her medication, but as I said, will occasionally find that she needs therapy, or at least to call our parents and tell them that she’s feeling down again.
    Authors…please RESEARCH *any* illness you use in a book-whether it be mental or physical or both. I would hope that you wouldn’t have a cancer patient be cured by love, but instead have them have treatment/chemo and have their true love be supporting and keep them going. Do the same with depression, OCD, anxiety, addiction…therapy is important. If people, especially teenagers, read books where people have these problems and recognize it in themselves, it is crucial that they realize that therapy helps, and not that they just need to find the perfect soulmate. Having someone you love support you and give you a reason to live is wonderful (that is the role I played with my sister), but therapy is also very important.
    Okay. Rant over.

  7. Sirius
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 13:53:12

    @Mary: Thank you so much for posting this, just thank you! And if that’s ok to say – all the best to your sister. Have you read “Disasterology 101″ by Taylor v. Donovan? This was one romance where I was impressed how hero with OCD was handled, very impressed I should say. Off the top of my head – nothing else comes to mind. However even this book – I loved it, but I do not have a loved one with OCD, so I was impressed based on what I know from the reading and knowing a few people who told me they have some degrees of OCD. I am wondering what your opinion would be if you ever to pick this one up.

    It just feels to me that so many authors choose some illnesses to make their heroes more interesting as the story progresses, but then the need for happily ever after comes along and BOOM, illness is forgotten (is it somehow easier to make mental illness not ever heard of again?). I get the need to balance because it is a romance, but it is just so insulting in some stories as if it were so easy.

  8. Sirius
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 14:00:51

    @Isobel Carr: Yes, I mean it is also an attempt to pay homage to “Great expectations” of course – as blurb implies, but because contemporary setting is used and hero who has mental illness, it was just such a fail for me.

  9. Sirius
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 15:02:23

    Sorry guys. I went on Amazon to repost my review and realized that the book is actually out on February 18, not today as I thought for some reason. So for those of you who want to buy it, six more days :(. Sorry.

  10. Karenna Colcroft
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 07:23:27

    @Sirius: I agree completely. I write M/M romance (and hetero) and have characters who have mental illnesses. I do my best to present them accurately because it’s my reality, both personally and with my older daughter. There is no magical love that can cure all, and to me, a book that presents mental illness of any type as just a plot device, or as something the character can “get over” if they have enough love or just try hard enough, is disrespectful to those of us who struggle with those illnesses on a daily basis. Believe me, if “trying hard enough to get over it” was that easy, or if twu wuv could conquer mental illnesses, I’d be all over it. No one chooses to feel this way. They’re called mental *illnesses* for a reason.

    Sorry for getting ranty… I think I mentioned this is one of my pet peeves in fiction. I’m glad to know there are authors who present accurate and realistic portrayals of characters with these conditions. (I do my best to be one of those authors.)

    As Mary said, if you’re going to include any type of mental or physical illness or disability in your writing, please, please, PLEASE make sure you know what you’re talking about.

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