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REVIEW: Fever by Joan Swan

Dear Ms. Swan:

I had not planned to read this book. I kind of recoil from the blend of paranormal mysticism and romantic suspense. For some reason these blends don’t appeal to me even though I have read and enjoyed them in the past (Dream Man and Now You See Her by Linda Howard, for example, are favorites of mine). However, Wicked Pixie alerted me to Mandi’s review on Goodreads and that she had DNF’ed the book because of the racial slurs that peppered the story. Mandi took some grief for this review and you came in to say that the voice behind the racial slurs died just a few chapters into the book, as if the dying of the character washed away the offensiveness of the book. I was curious enough to find out for myself what would justify the use of repeated racial slurs in a contemporary genre fiction book and thus bought this book at the indecently high price of $9.99.

Fever by Joan SwanI recognize that by writing this review, I will be propelling sales to those who are curious, just as I was curious but I want to talk about the book and the uses of the racial slurs and thus even though I find the book troublesome and offensive, I think the inadvertent promotional benefit is worthwhile.

Teague Creek was convicted of the brutal murder of his girlfriend, a DA who was investigating a series of arsons. (Pay no attention to all the legal errors such as the DA doing the investigating that a fire cop would do. I’m not sure that this book contains even one correct legal representation). It was posited that she figured out it was her paramedic/firefighter boyfriend and he killed her to silence her.  Teague breaks out of prison during a medical visit with the help of another prison, Taz, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.  The two take a hostage, a woman named Alyssa Foster. Alyssa is a mix of heritages.  She identifies with no particular race and the only reason that the reader knows she might have some non Caucasian blood is that she becomes the target of a variety of racial slurs from Taz.  He calls her a dink immediately.  The first four chapters of this book are a barrage of racial terms and racial stereotypes.  Luckily for me, the book moves beyond that once Taz is dead, but for the first 80 pages or so you don’t go three pages without something offensive being slapped in front of your face.  The following are the excerpts with corresponding page numbers (according to my Kindle copy).  I am putting everything in a spoiler code (except for you RSS readers) because the racial slurs are so numerous and so offensive that I think that they could be considered triggers.

[spoiler]
  • page 17 4.0% –  In re the half Asian heroine: “she was a beauty. A goddamned, exotic Barbie-doll, wet dream beauty”
  • page 18 4.0% – Some part of his sesame-seed-sized brain evidently still worked” says our hero.
  • page 33 7.0% – The Aryan Brotherhood sidekick: “I know just how to fill a couple hours with a dink like that”
  • page 33 7.0% – “This is a shit hole, man, everything is a dive. Nothing but niggers and spics live here.”
  • page 42 9.0% – The AB sidekick, the hero and heroine confront a bunch of slang talking black guys who spout off cliched lines like “once you go black, you never go back”. This also treats us to “porch monkeys, wiggas, cracka”
  • page 46 10.0% – AB sidekick telling the dreadlocked black guys to get lost “you heard him, monkey meat,” Taz said. “Get the fuck out of here before he shoots your ugly black faces clean off.”
  • page 49 11.0% – Taz, mad that the tires of their get away car are flat, says “yeah, like how the fuck we’re getting out of the hell hole that bitch got us into now that those niggers jacked our ride.”
  • page 49 11.0% – Apparently it is Heroine’s fault. “I’m going to fuck the living shit out of this slant-eyed cunt.”
  • page 56 13.0% – Taz is concerned hero, a fellow AB (supposedly) is taking a liking to heroine. “I think that chink is more important to you than I am.”
  • page 57 13.0% – Hero, who has controlled the entire escape and enforced certain behaviors from Taz (such as not raping Alyssa), now allows him to go off with two black prostitutes.
  • page 58 13.0% – Hero and heroine go to Walmart while I presume Taz is doing something unspeakable to the prostitutes.
  • page 60 13.0% – Hero warns heroine to stay away from Taz because he killed his sister for having sex w Mexican. Tied her to a field and ran over her with a discer machine but apparently letting those two black prostitutes get roughed up by Taz is acceptable.
  • page 85 19.0% – Taz is back. Replete and bloody from beating the prostitutes. “Those jigaboos can fuck, man. Those fat lips are the best for blow. They can fucking sick white off rice-” “Enough” Teague barked
  • page 85 19.0% – Taz is undeterred and we get one more insult before Teague kills Taz accidentally. “That rice-picker ain’t got no meat on her bones and all she uses her big mouth for is spewing shit.”
[/spoiler]

The sadly ironic part is that the next two hundred pages are incredibly boring. The two talk, drive, talk, eat, talk, kiss, drive, and end up at a cabin.  Teague isn’t supposed to be much of a talker but the two seemed to have non stop repetitive conversations and internal monologues about how angsty their situation is.

Alyssa’s initial representation is contradictory and relies heavily on the romance reader’s assumption that all heroes are intrinsically good.  In other words, Teague who has the tattoos of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood such as a swastika and other symbols of hate on his body; who hangs around with a man who uses the worst racial slurs possible; who  has threatened Alyssa at every turn to do her harm; to kill a cop, a child and a woman if she doesn’t cooperate with him; who has placed in her harm’s way repeatedly; who has essentially ruined her career by helping to plant evidence that makes her look like an accomplice, is really a good guy.  When Alyssa voices her physical desire for this racist murderer as she defines him, we are supposed to nod our heads at her good taste.  When Alyssa doesn’t trust him and treats him with doubt, we are supposed to be chagrined at her inability to see through all the superficial bad things to the truly heroic guy underneath.

This book asks the reader to buy into the idea that Alyssa should instinctively know that all these bad things are merely acts and a true heroine would recognize the decency and humanity behind the swatiska emblazoned escaped felon/convicted murderer. About 40% in, Alyssa notes “There was a lot of good in this man, more good than she’d seen in most men.” and I couldn’t help but think that Alyssa must know really horrible men if Teague is the guy she think is better than most men.

Teague and Alyssa have a dilemma. In order for the happy ever after to occur, Teague must be exonerated from his crime; solve the mystery behind who framed him; and repair past sundered relationships.  Teague wants to do none of these things and although he has no money, he is intent on doing things his way which would essentially mean life on the run for him and his child.  Alyssa wants to do things a different way.

Here’s what struck me the most after thinking about this book for a while. The Aryan Brotherhood character’s dialogue is crafted with such attention to detail. Some of the slurs were so obscure to me I had to google them. Others were all to painfully familiar. This was a throwaway character who dies in Chapter 4 and then only two passing references are made to him throughout the rest of the book. Teague supposedly hooked up with Taz because Taz had outside contacts, ones that were willing to help him, but those contacts never come looking for Teague and Taz.  Never.  There is never any repercussions for Taz dying.  He was, literally, a throwaway character one whose deletion from the book would not have affected the plot arc in any fashion. You could have replaced him with anyone and the story would have remained much the same.  Additionally, it did appear that Teague had at least one friend on the outside who may have been willing to help him.

Contrast this to the legal aspect of the book. The hero is a convicted murderer. In order for a happy ever after to occur, the conviction has to go away. There are ways for this to happen but not in the way that is described in the book. I’m not sure how much legal research was done for the story, but I wondered if there was even one legal detail in the story that was correct. The ending was almost comical in its improbability.

There were other important inconsistencies. For instance, at one point Teague points out that he is totally broke and cannot afford any more appeals. Earlier in the story, however, Teague uses a credit card to do a cash balance transfer of $5,000 to Alyssa’s account to implicate her heavily in his escape.  Where did he get the credit card?  Was it just lying dormant for 3 years?  I thought he has spent all his money in pursuing custody while in prison!  (Yes, he pursues custody of his child while in prison and is devastated when he loses). And then he, a firefighter/paramedic, asks Alyssa what PTSD is:

What the hell is PTSD”

“Post-traumatic stress disorder.”

There are almost no details given regarding the hero’s paranormal ability which consists of primarily being able to burn things with his hands and heal things (mostly cauterization but also reversing his burns). Throughout the story, this paranormal element is never explained and used in the most shallow of ways. He alternately burns and heals Alyssa and uses his high internal energy to hot wire about five cars. That’s it.

This is a Brava and I did think the story would be more spicy than it was. The story contained two full sex scenes and one was fairly tepid. It’s definitely not overly spicy. I wasn’t convinced of the chemistry between the two characters. Alyssa was constantly ruminating about Teague’s amazingly hot body but that seemed about it. Oh, and she noticed how, once he had showered all the blood off him, he looked “cleaner,more human.” Those powers of observation are keen.

These inconsistencies aren’t fatal to the book, but placed in juxtaposition with 10-12 hateful, racial slurs used to build the character of one throwaway person in the book, the inconsistencies place the use of racial slurs in sharp relief. Why?

These words are hateful and harmful. Why are they used? What do they add to the story? I wished some editor at Kensington had taken a step back and asked these questions.  This is no Huck Finn comparison. In the first place, the use of racial slurs in Huck Finn were period appropriate. Those terms, unfortunately, were used in regular commonplace vernacular. The use of these types of slurs today get people fired, even if they are used accidentally.

This language added nothing to the story other than to be shocking and offensive. Maybe people who have never been the subject of racial slurs don’t recognize how harmful these words could be but people whose business is made out of the use of words should recognize their power.

I’m not saying that racial slurs should never be used in literature or even genre fiction like romance, but I do believe that when you go down that route, there should be a good reason for their use.  There was no good reason for the barrage of hateful words used by a character that is non essential to the storyline.  I’m giving the book a D because I feel I may be overly biased due to the racial slurs.

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

53 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:37:24

    I’m not saying that racial slurs should never be used in literature or even genre fiction like romance, but I do believe that when you go down that route, there should be a good reason for their use. There was no good reason for the barrage of hateful words used by a character that is non essential to the storyline.

    I concur with this 100%. Starting to think the purpose was for shock value and to be different. It’s good to be bring something new to the table but not like this.

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  2. Amber
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:38:00

    I read the same DNF review and my curiosity was piqued. I’ve only gotten through the sample but I’ll admit there is great suspense and even a certain shock value appeal. Even though I knew it was coming, my stomach turned at the first racial slur (which doesn’t seem to be in the spoiler list. It’s on page 14). I’d honestly like to continue reading just to see, although as you mentioned, $9.99 is steep.

    The real question for me is one of redemption. Does the hero ever learn and regret the error of his racist ways? In the sample the hero is shown as going along with the evil racist, and even tells the heroine to keep quiet so as not to upset him, but he is not excused from his friend’s conduct, especially since he has those swastika tattoos (which are noticeably absent from the tats on the cover, of course). To be honest, I think the redemption story could be really powerful and I love a powerful story.

    I thought it was a little implausible that the guy pegged her as being Asian even though she is mixed. I am also, and only one person ever guessed correctly in my life, they guess white or hispanic or something, but I guess you could say that since he’s Aryan power whatever that he’s really race conscious and spends his time studying facial features or something, who knows.

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  3. Maili
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:38:19

    page 57 13.0% – Hero, who has controlled the entire escape and enforced certain behaviors from Taz (such as not raping Alyssa), now allows him to go off with two black prostitutes.”

    It’s this bit that really gets me. How could he let Taz go off with these women, knowing what he’s like? This is something I can’t let it slide. These women deserve protection as well.

    I’m not saying that racial slurs should never be used in literature or even genre fiction like romance, but I do believe that when you go down that route, there should be a good reason for their use. There was no good reason for the barrage of hateful words used by a character that is non essential to the storyline.

    Well put.

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  4. Linda Hilton
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:38:45

    This book is not anything I would ever consider reading, at any price let alone $10, but the combination of shock value, curiosity value, and high price suggest to me — just my humble but highly cynical opinion — that the author did it just for the money. And personally, as someone who has been on the receiving end of ethnic slurs, I think that’s mega sleazy.

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  5. Maili
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:39:13

    @Jane: Didn’t Alyssa say anything about the lovely Taz’s racist talk and Teague’s dodgy tattoos? Or was she that obsessed with Teague’s body? I never felt comfortable with anyone who had NF stamped all over them. So I wonder about the heroine’s reactions to the pair and after Taz left the stage.

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  6. Ren
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:39:36

    @Linda Hilton: “the author did it just for the money”

    It’s published by Kensington Brava, so more people than just the author are involved.

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  7. Linda Hilton
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:40:13

    @Ren: Good point, but I think the motive applies to Kensington, too. In fact, it always has.

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  8. Sue T
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:40:37

    “a certain shock value appeal. ”

    This is why Brava published the book and why it will do well. It’s why Fifty Shades and all those other books with the “shock value appeal” are doing so well and well-written, nice stories are relegated to obscurity. We sure don’t hear anyone raving about “nice” stories that don’t have alternative lifestyles considered illegal and morally wrong, characters behaving badly or things simply to titillate.

    To me, that these books get published and constantly become bestsellers says a sad thing about society. We live in a world that thrives on bad behavior.

    I just read the most amazing “nice” story and it will probably not find a publisher and when the author self-publishes, she may only find a small handful of readers but it won’t ever become a best-seller simply because it doesn’t have the shock factor these others do.

    And yes, others will pick this book up, pay $9.99 and the publisher/author will be justified in writing this type of book. Again.

    It seems that the further we come in romance, these types of books won’t make us any more respected. Makes me want to cry.

    Sorry for the rant. I’ve just been reading DA for weeks now and see what’s becoming best-sellers and getting published and I guess this is the straw.

    I love DA – I think I’m going to have to take a break though and only read the A reviews. :-D

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  9. Violetta Vane
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 22:41:50

    @Jane: You’re a braver woman than I am to have written this up.

    I’m just really disappointed a book like this has done so well, and that a thick layer of racial slurs is enough to give so many readers the impression of “realism”.

    @Amber: I’m a multiracial Asian, but I’ve never been taken for anything other than Asian. It really depends on the roll of the genetic dice.

    I’ve never read a single romance book with an Asian heroine. I’m too scared of encountering deeply unsexy crap like this. In terms of M/F IR, I’m going to stick to my AM/BFs, which are surprisingly plentiful and so far that I’ve read, of decent quality.

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  10. jennifer armintrout
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 10:17:56

    What disturbs me, almost more than the content that you’ve highlighted here, is the fact that nearly every review besides yours and Mandi’s seem to be a love letter to this book. Most of them never once mention the slurs or the fact that the hero is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. It’s just all, “Oh Teague is SOOOOOO DREAMY.” As romance readers, are we really such a shallow audience that we can overlook swastika tattoos and a hero who threatens to kill a kid, so long as he has a great body and we know from the back cover blurb that he’s dreamy? I’ve been a romance reader long enough, I know that some people can and will defend some really offensive content, but this seems like an entirely new level of crazy bullshit. I never thought I would see the day that, “He’s a violent racist, but OMG SO HAWT!” became an incentive to buy.

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  11. Samantha
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 11:15:32

    @Jennifer Armintrout The “Hero” is not the racist, his sidekick Taz that he escapes with is the racist with all those lovely words spewing from his lips./sarcasm
    The “Hero” gets ink from some jungle plant (in prison) and had the tattoos put on him (eyeroll)
    I had a conversation with Jane on twitter regarding this book, I always take a chance on a debut author. I went to GR to see what the reviews were saying and every one had 4 and 5 stars … This was before Mandy and Jane posted their views. Had I known the reviews were mostly by other Authors and people who won Arcs, I would have passed on this one. It was weak world building, the H/h had zero chemistry, it was b-o-r-i-n-g and most of all the disgusting language of a throw away character was used for shock value. No thanks.

    If anyone wants to read a great prison break book filled with heat and 3 dimensional characters. I would tell you to run and buy Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare.

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  12. Tina
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 11:48:08

    Here’s what I don’t get, if the hero could burn people with his hands, why did he need the protection of the Aryan Brotherhood in prison? All I’m saying is…. some big dude in prison is trying to shank you, just fry his ass. What good is having some cool, destructive paranormal power if you can’t capitalize on it and have to rely on some racist douche-nozzle for help.

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  13. Jane
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 12:28:24

    @Maili: Alyssa initially believed that Teague was a racist:

    The darkened room shadowed his features, but his looks still caused a double take. Just as striking as his body, his face was all handsome angles and perfect proportions. Too bad the good looks had gone to waste on a racist, criminal pig.

    Teague doesn’t do much to deter her thinking other than not voicing the racist comments himself. Later, before he washes off (partially) the racist tattoos (applied with some special jungle paint)

    He wore burgundy boxer briefs that clung to his muscular ass. He was tan everywhere but for a pale line mid thigh where he’d obviously worn shorts. She could swear every muscle was outlined in perfect relief. Her gaze traveled over the lines and dips and swells and curves. God, he was beautiful.

    A beautiful, racist, murdering, escaped convict.

    Alyssa grimaced. Before he took off his underwear and Alyssa lost her last shred of human decency and ogled the beautiful, racist, murdering, escaped convict, she laid her elbow on the edge of the sink and pressed her eyes to her forearm.

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  14. Rosa E.
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 13:08:22

    I was initially prepared to defend the use of at least some slurs–real people aren’t always nice, after all, and if you’re building a three-dimensional character you need to include the sometimes unpleasant flaws. But the further I read, the more incredulous I became. The Taz character seems to serve no purpose, gets killed off with no consequences, and definitely appears to have been inserted for shock value. Oy vey. No excuse.

    Thanks for taking the bullet and reading this, Jane. Definitely gonna be avoiding this one.

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  15. Maili
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 13:10:03

    I was really gutted when an online reader friend recently told me that ‘racial slurs [in Fever] are no big deal’, that DA Jane was ‘making a big deal out of nothing’ and – this still kills me – I should ‘develop a thicker skin’. What bothers me is that she kept mentioning ‘realism’ and ‘gritty’ as if those can be used to justify the (over-)usage of racial slurs.

    What, would readers be fine if 70% of heroes have affairs with other people whilst in serious relationship with their romantic interests? Would they be annoyed and upset if authors decide to show dukes and the like as what they really were back then?

    Seriously, what’s the deal with using realism as a selective blind eye?

    @Jane: Thank you.

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  16. Jane
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 13:21:21

    @Maili: It obviously did not bother a lot of people and I can see that if a person has never been subjected to racial slurs that it might not be of consequence to the reader.

    That said, I don’t know how the AB storyline, which is dropped after the first four chapters, creates a gritty and realistic setting. If the AB storyline was kept throughout the story, then maybe I can see it. I maintain that you could have removed every racist slur and still had the same story, with the same tone. I also don’t feel that the AB character was even consistent. If he would be willing to brutally kill his sister for sleeping with a Mexican, would he ever brag about the great blow job he received from African American prostitutes?

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  17. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 13:41:57

    OMG. Seriously, all I can say is Oh. My. God.

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  18. Kim
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 13:58:27

    On the author’s website, her biography says this: “I prefer real-life language, so you’ll find profanity in my work when it fits the character.” I guess the question is whether the profanity in this book fits the character or is simply sensational. From some of the feedback, it’s more sensational.

    The biography also says that her husband is a firefighter, so even though she’s not a lawyer, the author should know that an arson investigator investigates suspicious fires.

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  19. Jane
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 14:05:35

    @Kim I’m perfectly happy with being known as a pearl clutcher and too sensitive in this circumstance.

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  20. Mandi
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 14:31:28

    I’m so glad I stopped at page 50. I was interested to see how Taz was dealt with and what kind of impact he had in the story. Apparently it was pretty much no impact…blah.

    I’m kind of baffled that a beta reader or an editor didn’t nix that character -especially because this is her debut book so no one is familiar with her voice or her work. Not a great first impression.

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  21. Maili
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 14:37:59

    The thing is, while I don’t know about the others, I have never come across anyone who talks like Taz in my entire life, and I met quite a few dodgy people including a couple of white nationalists. I never met the kind that constantly riddles their dialogue with racial slurs. I only see them in books and films most time, actually.

    Usually, racists are much more subtle and/or casual, and they rarely use racial slurs in front of minorities. They mostly do it when among their “own kind”. And there are those who use racial slurs without realising those are racial slurs.

    That old saying about “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch for”? It’s mostly true with hardline racists. :D As far as I can see, they are usually careful with what they say. They tend to avoid using racial slurs while being openly racist. When they do “share” their opinions, it’s almost always about wanting us ‘foreigners’ to ‘return’ to ‘our’ countries and that we’re ‘stealing’ their right to education, jobs, homes, (white) men/women, etc. All the while, they insist they aren’t racist. They get very angry if you suggest they are.

    Those who are purposely and explosively racist tend to be drunk, defensive, angry, caught up with the mob/ mentality, or impulsive. Example: “Hey, you fucking paki! Go back to where you come from!” (the day after 9/11) or “Get out of the way, you stupid chink” (last week by a drunk business man at Holborn tube station). I’m willing to bet you that the drunk business man would never say that to me if he were sober, and that the teenager who uttered the first example wouldn’t have said it if she wasn’t so shocked by the 9/11 events.

    But yeah, the author’s reality differs from my reality.

    @Jane:

    That said, I don’t know how the AB storyline, which is dropped after the first four chapters, creates a gritty and realistic setting. If the AB storyline was kept throughout the story, then maybe I can see it.

    I agree. It would be awesome if the hero *was* a racist arsehole who had to spend time with a woman of Asian ancestry who found him repulsive. It’d be such an interesting read if they were forced to look past their walls and get know to each other while overcoming their prejudices and initial impressions, and the hero would perhaps redeem himself somehow along the way. Now, *that* is what I call a gritty dark romance. And I’d read it. Definitely.

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  22. Amy
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 14:41:08

    Fantastic review Jane and my sentiments exactly. I’m not impressed with Kensington Brava’s editors that they would release such an extremely flawed story for a debut author. It definitely left a bitter taste in my mouth for the author’s voice.

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  23. HelenMac
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 15:11:35

    Jane, thank you for this review, esp the last paragraph, which I agree with wholeheartedly.

    Maili, I am kind of fangirling you bigstyle over here, because you manage to articulate what I’m feeling too, only…more articulately than I ever I could. (Um. See what I mean?)

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  24. Lou
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 15:57:23

    I’ll repeat what I said over at Amy’s review of it over at Fiction Vixen. When I read the quotes, I literally recoiled at the racist slurs used. It’s not coming across as ‘gritty’ to me — more like cheap shock value, and that’s lazy writing. And if the author and publisher intended for this to be a dark and gritty read, what’s up with the man titty cover?

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  25. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 16:12:04

    Maili, you’re right. I’ve never heard a racist use that type language in real life either, and I’m a nearly fifty year old black woman who has lived primarily in Alabama and Georgia. AND I used to work in social services. Even people who would’t allow me in their house because I’m black never called me a racial slur to my face. Even the skinheads I dealt with when I worked with gangs never used that language in front of me, even the ones who wouldn’t be to me at all would simply say “I don’t talk to your kind.”

    I think having the guy be perfectly normal and then have the hero warn her about him killing his own sister would’ve had more impact. Like you said, it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about.

    We’ve been having a conversation in our interracial romance forum about the formerly racist hero and icky heroes in general. Whether readers would even embrace such a concept and how high the redemptive arc would have to be. Pamela Leigh Starr has a book called Ironic where the racist hero is blinded in an accident then falls in love with a woman he doesn’t know is black.

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  26. Diane
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 16:22:47

    I’ve already bought the book so will give it a chance anyways since a lot of blurbs were positive comments about it.

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  27. Emma P.
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 17:00:41

    Le sigh. My issue isn’t with the author; it’s with the readers who don’t seem to think anything is wrong with the hero’s affiliation and the use of racial epithets. Maybe because I’ve been exposed to the elements in the book in real life, it’s harder for me to suspend disbelief? I know more about skinheads & supremacist gangs than I probably should and while I believe every person has a right to love who they want to love and hate who they want to hate, there’s nothing I’ve encountered that makes racial hate palatable. So the fact that so many readers can easily and willingly toss disbelief right out of the window and didn’t need anything to make the racial hate go down easier in this book worries and scares me.

    But what about the sexy you ask. The hero was sexy. Believe you me, I’m all for sexy, Emma loves the sexy, but let’s be honest–how is it possible to find a man we believe is affiliated with The Brand sexy? Are so many readers unfamiliar with The Brand that they aren’t aware with what it stands for? Hate. Unrelenting hate. (Except for circumstances where money’s involved. Then that hate dissipates just a bit.) I don’t know about anyone else but I read romance novels for escapism. There’s enough hate in the real world and prefer it not to be in my escapism.

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  28. Wahoo Suze
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 17:09:50

    If he would be willing to brutally kill his sister for sleeping with a Mexican, would he ever brag about the great blow job he received from African American prostitutes?

    Nobody’s going to get pregnant from a blowjob. His sister, on the other hand, has to make sure that anything she gives birth to is pure caucasian.

    So, yeah. White supremacist and misogynist (and homophobe, for that matter) tend to come wrapped together in a hateful little package. Women are responsible for sex, housekeeping, and keeping the bloodline pure.

    I have a close relative who uses a lot of racial slurs, mostly for shock value (and, yes, usually not around actual non-white people). Our relationship is such that any reaction on my part that he finds amusing will cause him to increase his bad behaviour, so I generally just don’t react. But I’m finding that I’m becoming desensitized to it, and I have to watch my mouth so nothing I can’t forgive myself for slips out.

    There’s really no excuse for using racial slurs for shock value, which is what it sounds like is going on here. It DEFINITELY doesn’t sound like an exploration of how a racist person comes to realize that maybe their worldview is, um, limited, shall we say?

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  29. wickedlilpixie
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 20:26:29

    Thanks for taking one for the team Jane. I really don’t understand why an editor wouldn’t you know, EDIT. This was way overboard and I am disturbed that readers are okay with this.

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  30. Jane
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 21:17:10

    @wickedlilpixie: It could be that the secondary character that was so clearly evil and meant to die was overlooked by many readers. It wasn’t a super nuanced character despite his wide ranging grasp of racial slurs and so it would be easy, while reading, to simply skip over the dialogue (because it doesn’t add anything to the story) and thus not really register what is being said by that character.

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  31. SHZ
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 22:41:56

    @Sue T:
    **“It’s why Fifty Shades and all those other books with the “shock value appeal” are doing so well and well-written, nice stories are relegated to obscurity. We sure don’t hear anyone raving about “nice” stories that don’t have alternative lifestyles considered illegal and morally wrong, characters behaving badly or things simply to titillate.

    To me, that these books get published and constantly become bestsellers says a sad thing about society. We live in a world that thrives on bad behavior.”**

    Fifty Shades of Grey was an awful book – but NOT because of “bad behaviour” or “morally wrong” acts committed by people who “aren’t nice” and “only do it for the shock-value”.

    Kind of offended that someone could describe the sex lives of two consenting adults like that. Bloody sick of all the slurs against people who practice BDSM over the last few days.

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  32. Amanda Jeanette
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 22:56:05

    @Maili:
    My best friend is a woman who lives in the Southern part of the United States, and we often like to compare notes about the differences between the North, where I live, and the South. One of the things that came up was how DIFFERENT race is by region. What you’re describing sounds much like what she told me. So it might be that her experience is different from yours — I find myself wondering if you live in a different region than Ms. Swan.

    The racism I’ve seen tends to be of two kinds. The first is condescending and subtle. You have to ‘take into account the life he/she had’ and ‘make allowances’ and ‘respect how far they’ve had to struggle to get here’ since ‘they’re not really on a level playing field.’ The implication being that minorities are at a disadvantage and therefore the REALLY GOOD ONES are worth hiring/admiring/etc, but one really should ‘take into consideration’ that ‘the world works against them’ and their work/personality/etc can suffer for it.

    There’s a second kind, though, for people who just don’t get this kind of talk to be as horribly racist as it is. They think there some of the only people left in the world against minorities at all, and they ARE loud and they are obnoxious and they do go way over the top with it and throw out a racial slur for every time they’ve drawn breath.

    While Taz strikes me (from this review) as highly unnecessary, offensive, and wearying, he does not strike me as particularly unrealistic. Of course, I’ve not read the book, so take that with as much salt as you will.

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  33. April
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 06:09:09

    People come down on indie books for not being well-edited, but how does a major publisher get away with producing a book with an offensive and non-essential character and so many inconsistencies and incorrect facts? These are things an editor should have caught.

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  34. Suleikha Snyder
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 06:23:29

    For canon with an ostensibly racist character that has a well plotted narrative arc, I’d recommend Justified, where viewers are introduced to crazy church bomber Boyd Crowder — he has a swastika tattoo and everything — and viewers, over the course of time, realize that he’s more chameleon and an opportunist than anything else. But the show doesn’t ignore his racist beginnings. He has uneasy interaction with characters of color; his first love scene with his lady had a lingering, unflinching, shot of his tattoo.

    I remember when I was starting to warm up to Boyd, I thought, “How can I possibly care what happens to this guy?” Justified answers that question deftly. There’s no rush to redeem him; he’s still viewed very much as a villain, but he has a through line and a love story. It’s like a How To manual on introducing a character that seems beyond redemption and making him compelling.

    And, of course, there’s Oz: It was a weekly exercise in making you watch reprehensible people do reprehensible things.

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  35. P. Kirby
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 11:34:12

    @Maili: Quote: “Usually, racists are much more subtle and/or casual, and they rarely use racial slurs in front of minorities. They mostly do it when among their “own kind”. And there are those who use racial slurs without realising those are racial slurs.”

    True. I’m Hispanic via my dad who was a Mexican immigrant; my father was the archetypal Mexican that racists envision–short, round, brown. My mom is Anglo. Though I got my dad’s dark hair and eyes, I otherwise take after my mom and I “sound” Anglo (whatever that means).

    So I pass as Anglo. Consequently, I sometimes get to see casual racism on display by someone who “thinks” I’m one of their own. Usually an angry, irrational, fact-free rant about the brown scourge who are taking their jobs and health care, blah-blah-blah-racist cakes. It’s always amusing to inform them that I’m part Mexican myself, one of those scary anchor-babies that they hate so much.

    But even then, most garden-variety, middle-class racists don’t use the kind of language described in this book. I get that the racist in the novel belongs to a social class where every other word is fuck or some racist epithet. But if the character’s racism serves no particular point in the plot, then it strikes me as a exploitative exercise in “Look, I researched racist lingo.”

    IMO, people who brush off this kind of language and call those of us who find it offensive “oversensitive” are, at the very least, operating from a place of privilege. Quite often they are the kind of people who claim that racism isn’t a problem anymore. Ugh.

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  36. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 13:30:49

    It can be done. Brenda Novak wrote a great trilogy recently starting with “Inside.” The action concerns a gang of despicable people formed in prison, but at no time do you ever consider them anything but evil, twisted people, although they aren’t caricatures. The heroes of the trilogy are unmistakeably heroes, and if they go along with the racist behaviour, you are never left in any doubt that they don’t approve of any of it.
    So read those books instead. I’d far rather see a great series like that given the exposure than one that misses the mark.
    Oh yes, and “The Wire” showed you despicable characters, too, and got you involved with them right to the end.

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  37. DS
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 14:05:00

    Have to admit that I didn’t know dink was a racial slur. It was the childhood nickname of one of my relatives because he was not as tall as the rest of us, diminutive for dinky as in small. We still use it although he caught up with the rest of us who are 6 ft and above decades ago. I’m kind of thankful to find this out so I don’t unintentionally offend.

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  38. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 14:31:23

    I didn’t know dink was an epithet, either. It’s like the word “beaner.” I have a friend we called that because he was smart. I remember telling a friend I wanted her to meet my friend Beaner and being from Texas she was horrified. That was thirty years ago when Alabama was a lot less diverse. Doubt anyone would go by that nickname noe.

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  39. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 14:35:09

    In my neck of the woods (the only way I’ve ever heard it, anywhere, in other words), DINK is Double-Income-No-Kids.

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  40. Jane
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 14:52:42

    Dink was a popular Vietnam era insult. More common than gook. But really, the obscurity of some of these epithets does bring up the issue of how closely did the author research racial slurs and why not spend some of that time researching the issue of how to get a convicted felon’s conviction overturned when the entire HEA depends on that happening?

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  41. Ridley
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 16:21:31

    @Jane: I think this comment encapsulates why that character is such a failure. Rather than scour Urban Dictionary for shocking, racist language, why not research white supremacist gang culture instead? Wouldn’t presenting a more nuanced racist character do a better job of showing the reader why an otherwise good hero would have fallen in with the guy in the first place?

    In the end, I think Taz is the sort of character only a privileged white author would write. It allows white people to think they’re “good,” as only obviously hateful people like him are racists.

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  42. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 17:59:02

    That’s a good point Ridley. I was in the military in the early eighties. Some of the DIs were Vietnam era veterans and I never heard that word. And trust me, these guys weren’t particularly mealy mouthed about inappropriate language. Maybe she mentions it in the book, but I see no reference to 14 words. I’ve never met a WP who didn’t talk about this obsessively. It’s theur primary Articlle of Faith. Many have it tattooed on their bodies.

    Peopledon’t want nuanced racist characters. To make a racist a multi dimensional human being means that it could be anyone. A caricature is a safer choice.

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  43. Merrian
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 19:22:51

    I have been thinking about this review and my own response to what the book represents unable to get it from my mind.

    @P. Kirby:

    “”IMO, people who brush off this kind of language and call those of us who find it offensive “oversensitive” are, at the very least, operating from a place of privilege. Quite often they are the kind of people who claim that racism isn’t a problem anymore. Ugh.”"

    Thanks for saying what I was thinking as I read the review and comments.

    This particular book highlights for me, an inherent problem in the romance genre; that it doesn’t recognise its own privilege. The way in which ‘other’ people/someone or a group ‘not like us’ are used to add exoticness or edginess to what may often be a banal story is an exercise of power that also assumes that the book’s readers are the same and think the same too. Such stories implicitly suggest that there are no ‘others’ in the audience of romance readers as well.

    Responses to reviews like this will often tell us that because the book is an escapist fantasy we shouldn’t be so fussed about the content. I believe that because it is an everyday escapist fantasy we should be very concerned. Our romance books are scattered through our everyday life and influence us in their ubiquity. As several commenters have suggested there were ways in which racism could be tackled in telling a romance story but the key to telling these stories well begins in a much more reflexive and thoughtful approach than “Fever” contains.

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  44. Wahoo Suze
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 19:27:03

    This conversation reminds me a lot of the posts on rape culture over on Shakesville.com in the Feminism 101 section (note, if you go there, it is HEAVILY MODERATED. There are rigid rules about how commenters may behave, and you are required to read them before commenting. The idea is to make the blog safe from the slurs and emotional abuse that appear everywhere else on the internet).

    Anyway, the argument is that it’s important for people to speak up against, for example, rape jokes; not because we think every man out there is a rapist, but because RAPISTS think every man out there is a rapist. They think what they do is normal, and everybody does it, even if they don’t admit it. So by laughing at a rape joke, or failing to call somebody out on it, we give the message *to the rapist* that he (or she) is right, and everybody DOES do it.

    I don’t have a very clear argument to make here, as I’m floating in a sea of middle-class, white privilege, but I think there’s a similar stance to take here. It’s important to call out racist bullshit because if you don’t, you’re subtly reinforcing it. You’re telling the racists that they’re the normal ones, they’re in the right, and everybody else is just looking to take offense.

    It’s not being overly sensitive or pearl-clutching to call out inappropriate behaviour, it’s being a responsible human being. And I hope this came out more coherently than it feels like.

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  45. KZoeT
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 20:36:43

    @Wahoo Suze: “It’s not being overly sensitive or pearl-clutching to call out inappropriate behaviour, it’s being a responsible human being.

    This. So much this.

    Thank you, Jane (and everyone else) for saying why the racial slurs in this book are wholly unnecessary and offensive.

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  46. Linda Hilton
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 20:55:27

    @Wahoo Suze: ab.so.lute.ly

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  47. Tina
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 21:35:15

    @Lynne Connolly:
    Oh, I love that you name-checked The Wire. Talk about a narrative that is incredibly nuanced in it’s storytelling. It is series that “reads” like a novel on your tv screen. And it explores race and racism as system, not necessarily as an individual failing. It also flipped the script on a lot of race, class and hetero-normative based assumptions. It made the point that politics and politician are a lot more scary than any gang-banger will ever be, it showed that street drug dealers can have a deep moral code and it made a gave us arguably one of the most memorable, stereotype smashing gay characters on tv in Omar.

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  48. MrsJoseph
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 21:37:19

    Thank you thank you thank you for this review! My goodness! When I think I could have actually purchased this…it makes my skin crawl.

    Thank you for taking one for the team.

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  49. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 06, 2012 @ 16:33:33

    @Tina: IMO The Wire is writing done right. Nothing is wasted, everything works and as the series progress, the buildup is incredible. Right now my daughter got the box set for Christmas, so we’re doing it all over again from the beginning. We’re about half way through season two.
    Yes, there’s racism and to spare, but because every character matters, it’s possible to read it in context. You know when a character is using racism carelessly, or when they’re doing it for effect, or any other reason, because you know that person. There are no cardboard characters, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s such a superb series.
    I’m a Stringer girl. Omar was brilliant, but that’s what I mean. No short cuts in creating characters, no assumptions, no archetypes. Just people. It’s one of the reasons I’ve recently come out against the whole High Concept thing. Is “The Wire” high concept? Hell, no. I’m tired of reading ideas, of great concepts that disintegrate into wet cardboard.

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  50. What I’m Up To, Politics Fatigue, and Links | Read React Review
    Mar 07, 2012 @ 07:55:47

    [...] at Good Reads (which the author gave her some grief over), and then see Jane’s review at Dear Author.  Over at Something More, Liz has some thoughts on How Mean is Too Mean When We Talk About [...]

  51. Janine
    Mar 10, 2012 @ 01:41:51

    Just got around to reading this review now. I couldn’t read more past the first three lines of the epithets you quoted. Just reading that much made me recoil. I want to add my thanks (big thanks!) to you for writing this review.

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  52. readinrobin
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 22:17:12

    This is only the second review I’ve read of Fever, but the first one (I don’t remember where it was) made it sound so good that I almost ordered the book, right then. But then I reminded myself that I’d already blown my book budget for the month, so I resisted. Now I’m thanking my lucky stars, or rather I’m thanking DA Jane, that I did not buy the book. And I will not buy the book. And not just because of the racial slurs (though, eww, skin crawling…) but also because of the references here to the apparently non-existent legal research. I can suspend disbelief, to a point, but I think this book would be past my point.

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  53. REVIEW: Reckless by Skye Jordan
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 12:02:06

    […] for Joan Swan because I had such a negative reaction to the portrayal of racist language used in Fever, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. This book falls into the category realm for me and […]

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