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REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

When Jane put out the call for site improvements, I saw several people suggest more ‘Indie’ reviews. And I was inspired. I’ve been suffering from some lackluster reading, and I thought that reading and reviewing some Indie books would be an interesting challenge. So I started with yours.

Spoil of War by Phoenix SullivanYou might want to stop reading right about here, because this is not going to be pretty.

(Also to anyone else: if you are easily triggered by rape discussion, you might also want to stop reading.)

I don’t know how I happened upon your book, but I do remember being struck by the cover (and the dead-eyed stare of the couple).  I was intrigued when I skimmed the blurb and saw that this seemed to be historical fiction mixed with romance, and the hero was King Leodegrance of Arthurian legend (Guinevere’s father). An Arthurian prequel. Interesting. The reviews were universally positive on both Goodreads and Amazon, and I skimmed the pages and it started out in an interesting manner and you seemed like you could write, so I purchased. There was a warning about adult situations, but I don’t expect historical fiction to be all sunshine and puppies, so I was fine with that. Perhaps this would be one of those ‘Indie treasures’ everyone keeps talking about.

I was wrong.

Before I get into the story itself, I did want to comment that editing always comes up in conversations about Indies. Upon reading this, I felt it was obvious you had not hired an editor. There were commas in places that should not have commas, random capitalization, and misspelled words like “probbing” instead of ‘probing’ and an egregious “fagging courage”, which should have been “flagging”. The errors aren’t ugly enough to make one stop reading, but they did jar me from my reading on a regular basis. Luckily, the grammatical errors were overshadowed by the terrible history this ‘historical novel’ has, and the awful, awful storyline.

This book is the story of Elsbeth, and set in the preceding years before King Arthur unites Britain. Sort of. I’ll get into the historical timeline later. For now, go along with it. Elsbeth is the daughter of a duke who is at war with the new king, Leodegrance. King Leo lays siege to Elsbeth’s castle and kills or enslaves everyone there, and Elsbeth herself is taken as a ‘spoil of war’, hence the title.

This story starts out with a heroine that I thought would be strong and likable, and quickly descends into “what the fuck did I just read” territory. This book was so bad I emailed friends and told them what I was reading, just because I had to share the sheer insanity of what was on the page.  There are so many things wrong with this storyline I don’t even know where to begin. When the castle is being conquered, Leodegrance’s men (and Leo is the hero, mind you), murder people left and right, and the ones that are left are ‘enslaved’ to take back to Cameliard  aka Camelot. Her nursemaid’s dead body is defiled by a soldier, and our hero tells her:

“It’s the nature of war, my Lady.” He laughed, and the sound was not pleasant. “Truly you can’t be so naïve?”

“But she was old and – and – “

“Dead? She’s also still warm. Some men prefer women with the fight taken out of them. And some men will use whatever’s available to quench the passions aroused in them by the fighting. Get used to it, Lady. It’s the way of war.”

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

It gets worse – there is an eleven year old girl in the castle named Ruth. Ruth is raped by someone in Leo’s army when they enter the castle (I guess all the dead old ladies were taken), and the king sees that she is pure up until that first rape, so he decides to save her as a gift for his true friend, Ector. Ector, you see, likes them young and “before their womanhood” so Leo saved her for him.

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Despite these charming qualities, Elsbeth is attracted to King Leo and they share a few smoldering glances over dinner, even as she is torn over what is to happen to her. They are heading to her chambers when Leo is called away. He sends her back to her rooms with one of his guardsmen, who is drunk. The drunk guardsman then proceeds to throw Elsbeth down on her father’s bed and rapes the hell out of her. Leodegrance returns while the guard is raping Elsbeth. And when he sees this, he is annoyed.

“The Duke’s daughter is mine,” Leodegrance told him. “Go find a scullery wench to sate your appetite.”

While Elsbeth is still sitting on the floor, sprawled, Leo notices her virgin blood staining her thigh and then he gets mad.

“Trystan, get this traitor out of my sight. Take him anywhere, I don’t care. And know that he’s no longer welcome in Cameliard.”

So to recap: rape is just annoying, unless you took her virginity before the king could. Then it is a real offense.

At this point, I’d like for the heroine to stab the hero’s eyes out with a hot poker. But instead, he gets into bed, and lays his sword down between them. Instead of taking this and carving out his liver, she lays down into bed next to him and tells him her name.

I would say this is spoilery, but we are only in Chapter Two.

From here, the “what the fuck” continues to get worse. King Leo is smitten by Elsbeth, and vows not to sleep with her until she won’t fight him. She doesn’t have to be excited about it, just not fighting him. Elsbeth declares she will never sleep with him because he killed her father and enslaved her. I rally, thinking she is going to show some sense.  The next morning, our heroine is out in the courtyard and views what is left of her people.

Today, the sun looked down on the tattered remnants of a conquered people. Miserable as her night had been, theirs would have been far worse. At least she had slept on a bed beneath a warm fur. At least she hadn’t been hurt – not physically anyway. And what had happened to her had no doubt happened to every female above the age of ten. Every male, too, if the rumors she’d heard were true.

You will recall she was raped savagely the night before. I guess that does not count as being hurt.

As they ride away from the now-destroyed castle of her father, Leo puts Elsbeth on the horse in front of him and as they bounce along…she gets turned on.

Elsbeth, sitting sidesaddle, grabbed at [the horse’s] mane to steady herself. Found herself steadied instead by Leodegrance’s strong arm which circled her chest. Circled her so that the full swell of her breasts rested against his forearm.

She gritted her teeth, hating the king even more. Knowing he could have asked his horse to change to a smoother gait. Knowing why he didn’t. Hating him because the rising and falling of the horse’s stride, coupled with the jouncing of her breasts against his arm, sent peculiar sensations through her abdomen and loins. Sensations so powerful that she had to press her thighs together to keep from crying out.

Nor was Leodegrance indifferent to those same sensations that burned through her. She felt himself clutch at her, drawing her against his iron strength, matching himself to the rhythm of the horse.

You will recall she was just raped the night before. And before that, she was a virgin. And now she is dry humping her captor on horseback.

They make it to Cameliard and Leodegrance introduces Elsbeth to his wife. I’m going to let that sink in for a moment. His wife. He makes it painfully obvious that Elsbeth is going to be his mistress, and the wife is okay with it, because she doesn’t want the attentions of her husband. She’d rather sit up in her rooms and read Sapphic poetry.  Elsbeth is moved into posh quarters of her own, and 11-year-old Ruth (remember her?) is moved into the room next to her. This is critical to remember, because as the mental will-they-wont-they continues between Elsbeth and Leo, every night, Ector the guardsman goes to 11-year-old Ruth’s room and rapes her. Every night. And Elsbeth can hear it, since their rooms are adjacent. Her reaction?

Invariably, each night before he left, Ector would call out, “God grant you a good evening, Lady.” And invariably, Elsbeth, hidden behind her door, would blush, knowing that Ector knew she could hear.

Part of the blush was infuration, too. Knowing that she could hear every groan, every slap of flesh on flesh, nearly every drawn breath, still he came and still he went as if he were but a doting grandsire visiting his grandchild. No decency, no modesty, no Christian humility.

And she hated him, too, because no matter how hard she tried to ignore what was going on each night in her antechamber, her body wouldn’t let her. It yearned for the feel of another’s flesh on hers. Yearned for the breaching that made Ruth gasp each time it happened.

Recap: our heroine gets off on hearing a man rape a child.

We are only on Chapter Three at this point.

I won’t go line by line through the rest of the book, though the insanity never stops. Instead, I’ll give you a brief recap of the rest of the story because I would not wish this book on anyone.

You will be relieved to hear that the 11 year old gets pregnant by the much older Ector, tried to stab her uterus with a hot poker to kill the baby (but was prevented from doing it), and then a month later dies of a miscarriage. So now Elsbeth, who was having feelings for the king, no longer loves the king because of Ruth’s death. He then whines to her that his wife is less to him than a jaded whore, and can’t Elsbeth just sleep with him? He has needs.

Eventually they kiss and make up. Later in the story, a young, handsome knight named Patrise shows up while the king is gone away doing war things. The queen falls in love with him, but he wants Elsbeth. And when he gets his first chance, Patrise rapes Elsbeth.

The queen walks in mid-rape and Patrise says Elsbeth came on to him. The queen blames Elsbeth and they are no longer friends. When the king goes off to war, Elsbeth is scared to be left in the castle with evil Patrise, so she asks to stay with the camp followers and tag along in the war party. Patrise goes with the war party as well, finds her with the camp followers and rapes her again, and this time, Leo finds them mid rape. Elsbeth declares that the hero should not be mad at her, because it’s not what it looks like.

Leo is, of course, mad at her and ignores her for days. Elsbeth decides to leave the camp, so she steals a guy’s armor and dresses up like a boy, and gets caught up in the battle, since there is a war going on. She is discovered by the enemy, so they capture her and drag her to their leader, Uther Pendragon, who is an old and crusty man who is into BDSM. At this point, her newest captor holds her down so crusty old Uther can rape her. Repeatedly.

And then Uther ties her to a mattress in his tower and whips her and rapes her for several days, sometimes in front of his men. She is left tied to the mattress at all times. After days of this, the castle is taken by King Leo’s men and Leo walks in with his new best friend, Patrise. They kill Uther and discover Elsbeth still tied to the BDSM bed. Leo realizes when Patrise grabs her boob that Patrise is not his buddy after all, and maybe he should not have blamed Elsbeth for all the rapes.

So THEN they fight, Elsbeth helps the king kill Patrise, and they all return to Camelot. The queen hears about her love Patrise’s death, flings herself from the castle wall, which leaves Leo and Elsbeth free to marry.  Epilogue is her pregnant with Guinevere, the future queen of Camelot.

The end.

Despite this horrible, horrible storyline, there were two other major things that bothered me. One – the rapes. Not only is she raped by every primary male character in the story except for the pedophile and the hero, she is dismissive of it, thinking it happens to everyone. Or when it does happen, she shows no reaction. For all that she cares, they might have sneezed on her. I kept reading, waiting for her to show reaction of any kind – anger, violation, sadness – but she never seems to register any sort of emotion until the hero blames her for it, and then she gets mad at him.  If anything, the multiple rapings seem to make her more turned on, which totally baffles me. After she is raped, she gets turned on every time she hears someone having sex. At one point, after she has been raped twice and is following the war party with the camp followers, she is turned on yet again.

The smell of sweat and lust assailed her, wove its way into the symphony of passion that surrounded her, infiltrated her, touched her very core. She rode the crescendo as it swelled around her – eyes, ears, nose overwhelmed by the insistent, rising tide of a magic as old as life itself. Then by touch, too – her own – was she overwhelmed, plunging her into a sweet pleasure, relieved only when the wings of sleep at last closed over her.

Nothing makes me want to touch myself quite like camp followers, after all.

The rape in this book is bad enough, but there is blatant victim blaming as well. When Leo discovers Elsbeth being raped by Patrise for the second time, he turns and leaves in a fury. Elsbeth follows him to try and explain that she didn’t want Patrise’s attentions, and Leo slaps her across the face.

(Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.)

The other thing that bothered me with Spoil of War was the awful historical accuracy. You tout this book as a historical novel. Your website mentions you have a minor in history. And yet…there is nothing even remotely accurate about the history in this book. Most Arthurian history is fairly ambiguous due to the different versions of the legend, so I let the references to dukes and kings and pageantry slide. I blame Malory for that, not the author. I do blame you for the attempts at historical accuracy that have nothing to do with Malory, however.

I had a terrible time trying to place the history of this book.  I felt like I came closest when Elsbeth and the queen are discussing Dido, the legendary founder of Carthage. One character states that Dido lived 1800 years prior to them. I did a quick wiki check and learned that Carthage was founded approximately 825 BC. Fast forward 1800 years and that places us around 1000 AD.

This is about 500 years later than most ‘true’ Arthurian legend is thought to be, but let’s roll with that.

Very late in the book, Leo states:

Leo’s eyes blazed into hers. “Just so, my Lady. Now I will bend my blade and sweep all of Britain before me. Then I will lay a land of wealth and greatness at Theodosius’s feet.”

There are three Theodosius (Theodosii?) mentioned in history. Wikipedia shows me:

Okay. I still don’t know which one it is. Throughout the book, though, Leo and his people are referred to as Romans. They have darker skin and black hair. They follow the edicts of Rome. Rome fell around 400 AD, remember? There is no ‘consul’ to report back to, as the book references, if they are in medieval times.

Elsbeth is stated to be of ‘old blood’. She has red hair and pale skin and her mother was Celtic. Often in this book, Celtic is confused with Norse, and both are referred to as if they no longer exist. She follows a mishmash of Celtic and Norse gods, referring to Loki and the Norns repeatedly. She curses and rails against the ‘new’ religion of Christianity.

The heroine also dresses in houppelandes, which are late medieval dresses that appeared in about 1380. When the castle is taken, the king calls for his “Carthaginian skald” to sing him a lay.

Carthage fell in 146BC and was razed again in 698AD. A ‘skald’ is a Norse bard (nowhere close to Carthage, I’m afraid) and the Norse were prominent around 800-1100 AD.

‘Roman’ king Leodegrance  has a wife from Constantinople in the Byzantine empire. At one point the queen is reading Sapphic poems. In a book. Actually several people have books in this tale. Books would not have been commonly available until after the printing press (~1450).

This feels like historical nit-picking but all the time period confusion had me googling to try and determine when and where this ‘historical novel’ was occurring.

My best guess is that you were attempting to set the story around 1000 AD, but that makes the heavy, heavy use of Romans as the enemy (and your reference to Londinium) as grossly incorrect. I finished the book and frankly, I’m still baffled as to what time frame you wanted this to be in.

I’m sad to say that this book was a failure on all angles for me. Your writing was easy to follow and the story flowed, but I found myself reading more from sheer horror and disgust at the trainwreck unfolding rather than any real desire to find out how the story ended up for the hero and heroine.

I really wanted to give this a better grade, lest all the January reviews seem like endless hate. But I can’t give a higher grade, sorry. If anything, it should be lower. Can you give a grade lower than an F? I am leaning toward F——-.

All best,

January

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January Janes

January likes a little bit of everything. She's partial to unique paranormals, erotic romances, contemporary, and YA. She has a fondness for novellas and trying self-published works, though more of those are misses than hits. She still refuses to read anything that smells like literary fiction. January also changes this bio on a regular basis depending on her reading mood.

303 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 02:52:27

    um, I don’t know that I could compare this book to anything Jenny Crusie ever wrote. Just sayin’ (ref comment #173)

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  2. Bronte
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 04:01:19

    I’ve been watching this train wreck unfold and I almost vomited in my mouth a couple of times. Two words: Paedophilia and Necrophilia. All of you who are fine with that, I’m SOOOOOO glad that I do not know you, and hope I never have the misfortune to meet you. Getting turned on by an 11 year old being raped? I can’t express my disgust enough. A romance hero being okay with all of the above = NOT ROMANCE!!!! Just because it happens in real life does not mean I want to read about it. If I wanted to read that sick s**t I would read things other than romance.

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  3. Linda Hilton
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 08:35:50

    @Alice: I didn’t know a review was supposed to be “constructive criticism.” I thought that was saved for judging contest entries or critiquing (I never can spell that noun/verb) a partner’s work in progress.

    This book has already been written and published. The review is one person’s opinion and analysis of that book, and the commentary is our response to the review. The comments made here by the author gave no indication that she was looking for suggestions on how to “improve” her work.

    My understanding was that DA_January found the issue of the multiple rapes — AND the way the author presented them — to be a serious impediment to her enjoyment of the story. She found the characterization of the “hero” to be inconsistent with what she considered appropriate romance-novel-hero behavior. She cited details from the novel that contradicted the author’s claim of historical accuracy.

    If this had been a manuscript being judged for a contest or critiqued by a Saturday afternoon critique group, don’t you think maybe the same kind of comments could have been made, allowing the author to go back to her computer and change the way her heroine reacted to being raped multiple times? Couldn’t she have taken the time to check her details for their historical accuracy and fixed them if she thought it would make her story more credible and consistent?

    Because this book has been digitally published, the author actually can go back and make any of those changes if she so wishes. She doesn’t have to, and no one here is saying she does. But we’re also saying that the presence of certain elements simple make the book unreadable for many of us.

    As DA_January stated in her review, the icky stuff started happening in the opening chapters. I downloaded the sample — no fucking way was I gonna give the author any of my hard earned money for this crap — and read it, and I too was disgusted. But because I’d had fair warning about the ickiness, I was also able to see other flaws, other inconsistencies that regardless of the rapes and everything else would have kept me from buying the book.

    And as so many have mentioned so many times in this thread, the issue has rarely been the rapes themselves as elements of the book but rather the way the author treated them. I’m reminded of the discussion here not too long ago about the “fourth wall” and how one author seemed to step beyond it by bringing herself into the story almost as a character. And someone in this thread — someone much better trained than I in the art, science, and language of literary criticism — brought of up the issue of narrative voice and how the author as narrator bridges the gulf between the characters and the readers. The consensus has been, I think, that the author failed to do that in a way that allowed the reviewer to establish empathy with the characters.

    That’s not a denial of the way things were in post-Roman Britain. That’s not a denial of how women were and/or are still treated. The supermarket tabloids are still filled with front page photos of poor little Jon-Benet Ramsey, all dressed up like a streetwalker. She was dressed up and made up and put on parade by her parents not looking like a latter-day Shirley Temple but more like Mae West. It was a child’s sex-appeal that was promoted, not her innocence or even her talent. We know about the use of rape as a military tactic in Bosnia and Darfur. We’re neither dismissing nor denying any of that.

    But some of us find the way these issues were treated by the author in this particular book to be offensive to the point that we aren’t going to buy the book. That’s not even close to denying “reality.”

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  4. Sarah
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 08:36:25

    Just because “rape happens”, it doesn’t mean the novel is good . . . Possibly the author & friends don’t realize that. Their right to read/write whatever they want is protected by the constitution but bad writing is not defensible to the paying readers. Arguing about whether or not rape and abuse is historically accurate is throwing a smoke screen over the fact that the author’s story line does not make logical sense, the characters are not sympathetic and the vast majority of people do not want to read this book.

    I am deeply saddened that a story of this ilk has entered the average romance reader’s awareness. If there is a market for titillating child molestation stories, it is NOT the romance genre. Sometimes I think people are trying to make a quick buck by assuming that readers of romance are stupid and sexually frustrated and will read anything with alpha males dominating weak women (because secretly that’s what all women want).

    Romance readers are not stupid, we won’t waste our time or money on books like this.

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  5. Chelsea
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 08:42:16

    @Sunita:

    You beat me to it. Also, just because something happens to a lot of people doesn’t mean it shouldn’t effect an individual emotionally. For example, a majority of people will suffer from cancer or have someone close to them suffer from cancer at some point in their life. But that doesn’t mean that when you’re diagnosed, you shrug it off as no big deal and go about your business. Same thing with rape. I’d be able to believe that the character repressed her feelings in order to survive, or TRIED to tell herself it was no big deal. But I really can’t believe she (and all of the other people suffering the same way) would be totally dismissive of it.

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  6. Caveat lector: Editing and “editing” in genre fiction | VacuousMinx
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 09:10:12

    [...] January’s review this weekend of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book led to a long and involved comments thread. A [...]

  7. Sue T
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 09:50:24

    @Bronte – YES! Exactly what I was thinking as I read the review of this horrendous book and the comments. Rape of a child is unforgivable and a hero/heroine turned on by it? Just plain disgusting and it makes me sad that there is a segment of society that says it’s okay (and of course, that segment of society is not here at DA or in the comments). Leo is everything a hero SHOULD NOT BE. And yes, the sex with a dead woman? Come on, really? And that’s justified? Gross, just gross.

    I have heard the same arguments – this is what happened back then. I get it. But it holds no water with me to justify the way this author portrayed the times and her belief that that’s the way it was so it’s okay.

    Ugh, just ugh. And for Jennifer Blake….I don’t get it. And I’d LOVE to know the agents/editors who raved about it because I’d NEVER submit to them.

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  8. Amy
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 10:22:24

    This sounds like a terrible read.
    If the heroine is a red-head, who’s the brunette on the cover?

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  9. Rex Jameson
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 12:30:11

    Again, I believe this is simply a case of poor choice in genre. This is not a Historical Romance, for reasons noted throughout the review and some of the comments. I would recommend that the author switch to Fantasy, rather than Historical Romance, as readers in this genre have certain beliefs about how a romance should unfold, despite the realities of the era it occurs in.

    Now, onto addressing some of these comments. I am an avid history buff, and I’m seeing a ridiculous amount of revisionist history going on in this thread that I would like to address.

    First, to those who claim medical knowledge that no child could be impregnated at 11, despite thousands of years of documented cases, I’ll just go ahead and provide this link for just the past century. 5 years old is the youngest mother currently on record, and this occurred in Lima, Peru, which does not have a good history of nutritional reinforcement.

    The second youngest in the modern age occurred in the USSR in 1934. When the girl was raped by her grandfather in 1933, the country had experienced its first non-famine wheat harvests in 2 years. So, you have both stress factors of losing 5-7 million people around you and starvation. Anyone who claims that pregnancies cannot happen to someone younger than 11 is fooling themselves, and because you didn’t do a simple Google search, you are participating in revisionist history. There are photo and video records out there of doctors assisting in C-sections for 5-7 year old girls. Not only was it possible for an 11-year-old to become pregnant in the middle ages, it happened.

    Now, onto whether or not you think “most women” would experience rape in this period. That depends on which side of the fence you fall on. Were you a part of an oppressed people that were frequently conquered or marauded? If so, then yes. A lot.

    Among the fascinating history of our “civilized” forefathers was the belief that women were to be treated as property during war. This was the policy of both the Greeks and Romans, who believed that their war rules set them apart from barbarians, and they used these rules on the peoples of Britain, Germany, etc. And these property “traditions” and rules of war were returned in kind. Cicero and others detailed rapes occurring in streets after a town was conquered, and if you’ve been or you know someone who has been in a wartorn country, even in the modern era, you should understand how the bloodlust spreads and normal people do absolutely brutal things.

    If you research historical battles during this period, especially sieges of towns, you will find a plethora of evidence that rape was not only allowed but encouraged to further humiliate the population. The British and Vikings had similar rules, and these are easily verifiable if some of you would simply search for them in related literature. Heck, even a Western Civ book would be a good start. You don’t have to find a niche history book for this to be detailed.

    Now, onto the effects of rape. Some of the commenters here do not appear to have frequent interaction with rape victims. I actually do. So, not only do I disagree with many of you, but I also find it deplorable that many of you here don’t do simple searches to find out if what you are saying is verifiable.

    One of the most common effects of rape is a lack of empathy. When the world is brutalizing you, and you have no control over anything, a victim may sever their connections and understanding of the outside world. This includes losing the ability to empathise with peers. In short, the victim goes numb and may even suppress rational thought processes, which leaves mostly primal instincts in place.

    In the quoted parts of the book in January’s post, the victim says she “hates” the men that are doing things around her and not just because of what they are doing, but because of the way it is affecting her physical reactions. To me, this shows a classic loss of empathy which is very common with rape.

    Now, many of you in this thread have not only lambasted the author for sharing a story that depicts a woman that exhibits a common symptom of violent rape (lack of empathy), but many of you have also claimed that this verifiable, documented symptom does not exist. I don’t care what your intentions were in responding to this thread, but what you have done is participate in a mechanism of revisionist history. “This doesn’t make sense to me because I don’t think people are capable of this. Obviously, it didn’t occur.” It also means that victims of rape that have experienced a lack of empathy and sexual arousal from primal instincts will just blame themselves further.

    As I said, I have a lot of experience talking to women who have been raped from an early age. It’s ridiculously common in the U.S. and other developed countries. Lack of empathy is a common reaction and this is verifiable and documented. Consult psychology textbooks or even a physician. My heart goes out to anyone that has been raped, and I understand that not all rape victims respond the same, regardless of how I would hope I would respond to the same situation.

    To come full circle and reiterate, I think the main problem with this book is bad genre placement. The “romance” part is inappropriate, and the author should try placing this in general fantasy, imo. I would also say that the choice of halberd should be changed in the offhand comment in the armory because it really wasn’t as widely used until later in the period, and it may save you some heartache with these kinds of reviews. The flint-heads are actually fine with me. You could argue that Leo’s kingdom was short of funds to acquire the necessary reserves of iron, and that flint was used for the arrows to cut costs. In fact, this might even explain why Leo was raiding and plundering so much–he was cash-strapped.

    This was a brutal era, and women most certainly were considered property during the Arthurian period–which is one of the reasons why Arthur’s Camelot was held in such high esteem. It was supposed to be an exception to the rule–a beacon of hope. From what I can tell from the review, the author Phoenix Sullivan tried to present a different context that meshed with her own understanding of the period via her degree foci. I do not see any obvious reasons why the frequency of the rapes cited in the review with regards to towns being ransacked would be impossible, and I most certainly disagree with the perception, in this thread, that lack of empathy is not a side effect of violent rape for the reasons stated above. Lack of empathy happens and so can sexual arousal despite terrible events happening.

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  10. KMont
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 12:48:18

    I’d seen the tweets about this book review over the weekend, decided it could wait for a Monday, when it only made sense to inflict it upon myself (just felt wrong to spoil the weekend). First of all, kudos to the reviewer for reading the book so the rest of us don’t have to, you deserve brain bleach (pass when you’re done, I need some, too), and as for the book – barf.

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  11. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 12:53:44

    @Alice: Actually, if I recall correctly from research and all, people often DID live past 30. Life expectancy figures, I believe, also take into count the number of children who didn’t live past the second year of life and the figures are the averaged-out number. I’m no historian, though.

    And no, 11 yr old girls weren’t likely to have been considered women-not unless they were menstruating.

    From a medical standpoint, I think it’s unlikely the typical 11 yr old girl would have started menstruating.

    A female who is undernourished hits puberty later. Most people in that time period didn’t have access to the nourishment we do, so puberty would have hit the females later and that means her period wouldn’t have started until later.

    Unless she was getting her period? The society she lived in wouldn’t have seen her as a woman because, in the most sense, she couldn’t ‘function’ as a woman does-that would have been to bear children.

    Currently, the estimates are that 1 in 6 women have been raped or are the victims of sexual assault-it’s likely the number is higher, since many victims don’t come forward and it’s a disgusting highly number, IMO, but it’s not a majority-and thank God.

    “Majority” by defintion would mean more than half of all women. ]

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  12. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 13:03:42

    @DA_January: I think it’s VERY dicey to go by Amazon review averages, especially for self-published books. It’s pretty common for self-published authors to be friends with a bunch of other self-publishing authors, and all of them “swap” positive reviews. This means that it’s very common for a self-published book to have nothing but glowing reviews, especially in the first few months it’s out. I’d say any review average that includes less than somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 separate reviews is utterly unreliable. (And none of my books has that many. So basically, I’m telling you NOT to rely on those averages to judge my own books.)

    You asked how to choose self-published books for review, and my answer is this: read the sample. It sounds like the WTF-ery in this book began in the early chapters. Reading the sample could have spared you reading the entire book, although of course, you wouldn’t have reviewed it then and I honestly feel like this book should come with a warning label, so you’ve done the world a service. Thank you.

    Of course, sampling doesn’t AlWAYS help. For short books, the sample can be so short that it’s not enough text to tell you anything. In other cases, the sample has been polished within in an inch of its life for contest submission, while the rest of the book is a trainwreck. BUT, in general

    This book actually appeared in one of my suggested lists on Amazon (maybe based on viewing history), and I immediately dismissed it as not my cup of tea (Arthurian stuff just doesn’t get me going), but I would never have guessed at its content without reading this review.

    All of that said, I admire authors who choose to tackle difficult/taboo subject matter in their books, including rape and pedophilia, but they have to actually TACKLE it, IMO. A book in which everyone lives HEA despite wanton violence and brutality without anyone actually DEALING WITH that violence and brutality is a huge fail. Just because it happened hundreds of years ago or is commonplace in a society does not mean it’s without consequence or overcome by pretending it didn’t happen.

    Also, I don’t care if “fagging” and “probbing” are real words. They are so unfamiliar and closely related to other, familiar words that they LOOK LIKE misspellings of those words. Just because you CAN use a word doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

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  13. Barbara
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 13:52:41

    I’m going to blindly assume that the worst of what’s in the story and is being discussed is historically accurate in some nebulous time that the book may have taken place. I’ll even go with the idea that the hero would be the one who ordered a lot of it done and the heroine could still fall for him. More idiotic things have happened.

    The author gets a giant fail because she apparently doesn’t get that while she’s writing about historical events (however fictionalized or “real” she thinks they are), she’s writing to a contemporary audience with modern sensibilities and morals. However historical the theme, you still have to at least have a veneer of romance likability to your characters a modern reader will accept. Repulsive pedophilia, necrophilia and what sounds like a whole lot of rape glorification? Not so much something that flies in 2011.

    There’s a sort of reading gag reflex for different topics for different people and this author seems to have hit them all. Now that someone’s pointed out the cover art, all I can see is how underage the girl looks. Yet another fail on the part of the author who I’m sure approved it.

    Jennifer Blake? I’m shaking my head. Niece or no niece, this was a mistake on her part.

    Re: Amazon reviewers for Indie/self-pubs – I never trust any review at Amazon made by anyone with less than 50 reviews under their belt and even then, I look through their last several to see if they look related to the same pub/author/friend. Sometimes you can see a reviewing circle pattern. I caught an author I like copying blogger reviews and posting them on her own books under her own name. No clue how she got away with that for so long, it was weird.

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  14. Trash the book, not the author! « Kay Elam Writes
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 15:52:18

    [...] Her sales had been steady, then . . . over the weekend, Spoils of War went viral on Twitter and various blogs. It all started with a scathing review by January on a popular website called Dear Author. [...]

  15. Estara
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 15:53:29

    I would like to object to one impression I got from the review – the implication (as it comes across to me) that this sort of book could not have been published by a publishing house, so if we still only had publishing houses we would be sure not to come across things like this.

    Especially in the late 80s I have read “romances” or “family sagas” were similar things happen – not having a wide selection of reading material and not being sure how to recognise it.

    I do believe in gatekeepers in general, not just for indie-published books though. Due to some really good tipps on various review sites I have come across the work of Ann Somerville, Moriah Jovan, Andrea K. Höst – to name authors who have indie-published books out (although Ann Somerville is also published by Samhain). I don’t regret those at all.

    So the point probably remains labelling and good gate-keeping to avoid stories with tropes you don’t really want to read.

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  16. Ridley
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:26:31

    @Rex Jameson: tl;dr

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  17. DA_January
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:41:39

    @Estara
    I actually do believe that this book would have never passed a publishing house’s gates – if nothing else, for the completely random and incorrect sense of history. Even after reading all 200 comments on this thread and the author’s statement, I still have no clue what timeframe this book was supposed to have taken place. Nor has it been clarified for me. If this was to be historical fiction through a NY office, that would have at least had to have been cleared up, and they would have been far more stringent on the facts than I was.

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  18. DA_January
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:45:04

    @Jackie Barbosa
    My question was rhetorical. I choose the books I read based on my own personal interests and a variety of sources – Goodreads, Amazon, sampling, etc. I did read a few pages of the sample and saw that it left off at a disturbing place, but the author had a disclaimer that she handled such things in a sensitive manner, so I felt confident reading on. Rape is not my favorite theme but it will not automatically make a book a DNF for me. Rather, it was the quantity and the context that sent the book quickly into “F” territory.

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  19. DA_January
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:53:57

    @Rex Jameson

    Rex – I do not believe this was “simply” a poor choice of genre. Had I discovered this book on the fantasy shelves (and I read there as well), it would have received an equally foul grade.

    I cannot speak for the other commenters (and will not even try) but I will re-state my own personal stance on the rapes in this story. My problem was twofold: that every major character except for the man designated as the hero, rapes the heroine. I’m not sure what this is trying to convey to the reader, but I feel it’s a rather revolting – and lazy – plot device to use the heroine as an object to propel the plot forward, rather than someone who propels the plot. In addition, I felt the author did not address the psychological standpoints of the repeated rapes. The child Ruth is raped and is vacant and listless (and later tries to kill herself with a hot poker). The heroine – who went through the same scenario – simply looks in the courtyard the next morning and is happy she was not hurt, and hey, it happens to everyone. I’m sorry, but that does not seem like the response of a rape victim; that is sloppy writing and the author forgetting that her character needs to react appropriately. Even if there had been a brief paragraph about her suppressing her horror or anger, or how she felt dead inside, that would be fine. To completely ignore addressing any of the rapes that happened to her? That was where the author failed. And failed four times in the book. Not once, not twice, but every time the heroine was raped. She would be upset while it was happening, and then continue to go about her day as if nothing else happened. If the author wishes for us to believe that she is suppressing, she needs to lead the reader to it with context or with blatant statements. Doing neither brings me back to my prior comment: sloppy writing.

    I read the book. I did not like the book. I found the reactions unbelievable. You may not agree. Feel free to write your own review.

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  20. FD
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:54:20

    @Ridley: A textbook example of ‘mansplaining’ y/n?

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  21. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:56:03

    @DA_January: I’m sorry; I didn’t realize it was a rhetorical question! I know that the sample isn’t always a reliable indicator of the content of the book, and I totally understand why the quantity and context was a problem for you.

    I do, however, see a fair number of readers complain that a self-published (or even house-published) book was atrocious from nearly the first page, yet they apparently never sampled the book. That tends to leave me scratching my head, as I almost NEVER buy a book without having read at least an excerpt (and with few exceptions, this goes even for authors I’ve read and enjoyed before), And that’s why my first response to complaints about having paid for a terrible book tends to be “Sample, sample, sample”.

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  22. Christine M.
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:02:14

    @Ridley: I did. We’re apparently a bunch of st00pid arses trying to rewrite history to our advantage and spreading false information.

    ReplyReply

  23. Amanda
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:04:52

    Wow. I don’t know how you managed to finish that mess. It sounds more like horror than romance.

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  24. Dhympna
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:06:39

    @Rex Jameson:

    Rex are you an expert in medieval history? Did you happen to notice that the children who gave birth in that wiki chart you cite are all from the modern era? Do you know why? Do you know anything about the demographics for what you are calling the “Arthurian period?” If you are an expert, I am sure you are aware that your above analysis is whiggish and therefor flawed.

    I have not read the book yet, so will not comment on that, but I will point out that the evidence you cite is problematic in the case of this particular era.

    If the most authoritative source you can cite is wikipedia…well….

    The author has cited her own “expertise” in this subject and has also claimed that it was carefully researched. To me, this means the work can no longer hide behind the “it is just fiction” wall.

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  25. Linda Hilton
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:06:57

    @Rex Jameson: I think you missed the point entirely, but you obviously know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING so I won’t argue with you.

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  26. Linda Hilton
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:26:18

    @Amanda: Were you referring to the book or Mr. Jameson’s post?

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  27. Lora
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:48:24

    I am surprised that so many have taken offense to this book and it’s contents in which the author and even at least one review made clear had dark and adult content, when school libraries nationwide are asking children around the age of 13 to read “Gateway” books which are packed with rape, molestation, dismemberment and death throughout each book. Those books, by the way, all went through publishing houses and were even awarded the well-known “Gateway” seal of approval so now our schools can push them on children. My son was so offended he went to the librarian himself and complained, as did I. It is hard for me to stomach all of the above comments regarding a book very obviously directed toward adults but how many of you have made a stand against the “Gateway” books?

    By the way, rape was then, as is now, very common and, yes, even deemed unimportant by many. In the 80′s a rape happened every 8 seconds wasn’t it? What is the stat now? Also, child brothels were being found all over Washington, D.C. just a couple of years ago.

    Even dogs go through it. Have any of you ever purchased a dog from a breeder? Ever heard of the Rape Rack breeders use? If you have purchased a dog from a breeder, it is very likely you have paid to have a dog raped!

    Rape is not only historically accurate, but it is “presently” accurate and even though we like to say we are an evolved society, how many people turn their heads when their bosses, politicians or even sports “non-heroes” (no sports personality is ever a “hero” sorry folks, just for playing sports and being famous) are caught red-handed raping someone? Who was that guy Hollywood stars were praising just a few years ago who drugged and raped a 13-year old girl just because they wanted to be in his movies? Wasn’t her rape deemed “no big deal” to millions because he was famous and so were his friends? Not even a king, just rich and famous!

    Time to get off your soap boxes regarding a historical book and start volunteering in organizations to fight the evil of child, adult and even, yes, animal rape. Rape may offend you, but don’t blame the author, blame the rapists and those who ignire it. I love this author for bringing such a harsh subject in to all of your hearts; maybe now more people will get off their bum and DO something to help prevent it!

    Please turn off the tv (or put a book down in this case) and start volunteering at Rape Crisis Centers and Animal Rescues where they help victims who have been left permanently maimed mentally and often physically for life.

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  28. When King Arthur comes to Gor
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:49:27

    [...] on at Dear Author, where a self-published historical Arthurian-era “romance” called “Spoil of War” by Phoenix Sullivan has just been reviewed. The book apparently isn’t just a common variety [...]

  29. FD
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:59:33

    @Lora: What makes you think some of us don’t already do such work? Funnily enough, one can be an activist in the day to day world, AND have concerns about portrayals of rape in popular fiction/tv/etc, as they can reinforce ‘rape culture’ which is what is at play when people like Roman Polanski get away with their crimes. These issues need to be dealt with both on the macro and micro level for change to happen.

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  30. Jennifer
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:05:44

    I’m so happy to see Annabel Joseph mentioned here (full disclosure – I know her casually from a writer’s group we both attend on occasion) but shudder that she’s been mentioned within a conversation about this book. At any rate, Annabel is a solid writer who deserves attention. Thanks to the person who rec’d her.

    Sorry if this was mentioned before. I read so far and then was just too saturated with the topic to continue comfortably.

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  31. Joanne Renaud
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:19:56

    @DA_January
    What a fascinating thread this has been. Thanks for reading this trainwreck of the book and reviewing it. I discussed your review on my blog here, and mentioned some of my reactions to it.

    I especially loved what you had to say about the apparent lack of historical accuracy in the book. I have to add my own two cents and say that the use of the names “Elspeth” and “Ruth” in a story set in late antiquity/early medieval times makes me cringe.

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  32. Linda Hilton
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:26:54

    @Lora:

    You have no clue what ANY of us do when we aren’t commenting on discussion boards. You have no clue whatsoever what any of us have gone through regarding rape, sexual assault, victims’ rights, crisis center, etc., etc., etc.

    And you apparently don’t have much clue what’s been said in this very long and very literate and very informative thread.

    Not one of the critics of this book has said rape didn’t happen or doesn’t happen. NOT ONE. Words of one syllable — NO ONE.

    No one has said the instance of rape in warfare is not real. No one has said the depiction of rape shouldn’t be in books, or even in romance novels. No one has said rape is historically or comtemporarily inaccurate. NO ONE.

    The complaint is with the way this particular author chose to deal with the issue of rape, rape, rape, and rape. We are allowed to complain about it. We are allowed to criticize it. We are allowed not to like it. We are allowed to think it is bad writing.

    Someone posted on this thread that she had been raped as a young child and was still dealing with the effects 40 years later. You have no clue how many other posters on this thread have dealt with rape, with sexual assault, with domestic abuse, with any of the many varieties of abuse that people deal with. You have no clue how any of those posters deal with the effects of their trauma. YOU HAVE NO CLUE.

    Once again, in simple words — No one has claimed rampant violent brutal rape of women, children, the dead, the dying is historically inaccurate. NO ONE.

    I also don’t think anyone here has defended Roman Polanski, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Mike Tyson or any other public figure who has been acknowledged as an abuser.

    And I will tell you right now that this book has absolutely not put anything into my heart except loathing for it, its defenders, and increasingly for its author. If anyone should be accused of not having respect for the victims of sexual assault it should be she.

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  33. Ridley
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:34:16

  34. Christine M.
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 20:09:23

    @Ridley: Thanks for the laugh.

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  35. Meoskop
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 20:32:32

    My takeaway is that supporters of this book think objecting to the use of rape to advance plots or titillate is wrong, because rape happens. Don’t hate the hero, hate the (subjectively viewed) history.

    Supporters of this review think defending the use of a child’s rape as a sexual stimulant to the heroine is pretty sick, yo, regardless of what does or does not happen. Also, they think they don’t want to spend their hard earned cash on the same.

    The more you know!

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  36. Linda Hilton
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 21:03:54

    @DA_January: In replying to Estara you wrote “I actually do believe that this book would have never passed a publishing house’s gates. . .

    Apparently the author believed so too because after no publishing house actually did let it past the gates, she chose to self-publish.

    She has, after all, attempted to label it “historical fiction” and one presumes then that she marketed it to publishers of historical fiction rather than publishers of historical romance.

    However, I believe she also said somewhere that she was urged either to “tone down” the romance or beef it up with a “hawt” hero and she chose to do neither. My take on that is that the rejecting editors felt it was either too “romantic” for straight historical fiction, or not romantic enough for romance.

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  37. Lora
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 01:01:16

    @FD You are absolutely right. I so very much wish more people would get involved in standing up against sexual violence towards any victim.

    @Linda Hilton

    “You have no clue what ANY of us do when we aren’t commenting on discussion boards. You have no clue whatsoever what any of us have gone through regarding rape, sexual assault, victims’ rights, crisis center, etc., etc., etc.”

    True and True. Although, if the previous stat I read on here this evening is true, 1 in 6 of us commenting here is a victim. However, the one victim who was opening herself up to the discussion seemed to be harassed by many for her take of not only her experience but also her take on the book, yet is seems you are deeming me the insensitive one??

    “And you apparently don’t have much clue what’s been said in this very long and very literate and very informative thread.”

    Actually I question your use of “literate.” The first 100 or so comments were mostly bashing the writer because she didn’t write about rape the way the commentators deemed “correct” and then most of the comments after that seemed to move in the direction of opening a dialog about sexual assault, which I agree with you there, was “informative” but eventually went back to “bashing” again, losing the informative angle that was being created.

    I do admit, there are a few comments here and there that actually do have valid “literate” interest. Such as, I would LOVE for someone to finally define the difference between an indie author and a self published author. I admit to being naïve; I never knew there was a difference but am very open to hearing more about it here if anyone is interested in filling me in.

    I also found the use of “flint” in that period of time interesting; I would’ve never caught that.

    “The complaint is with the way this particular author chose to deal with the issue of rape, rape, rape, and rape. We are allowed to complain about it. We are allowed to criticize it. We are allowed not to like it. We are allowed to think it is bad writing.”

    Um, so is it my imagination or are you saying YOU are allowed to have an opinion, but I am not??

    “Someone posted on this thread that she had been raped as a young child and was still dealing with the effects 40 years later. You have no clue how many other posters on this thread have dealt with rape, with sexual assault, with domestic abuse, with any of the many varieties of abuse that people deal with. You have no clue how any of those posters deal with the effects of their trauma. YOU HAVE NO CLUE.”

    I wouldn’t attack someone (author, victim {fictional or otherwose}, etc) for writing or dealing with it in their own way, which seems to be much of what this thread is doing. By the way, weren’t you attacking earlier the same person you are using as a reference point now?

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  38. Lora
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 01:24:52

    I commend January and Phoenix Sullivan
    for, though probably accidental for both parties, opening a discussion regarding sexual assault, the horrors of it, the many ways in which people deal with it, etc.

    I’m sure when Ms. Sullivan put pen to paper and January clicked her key pad, neither had an idea what they were setting in motion.

    Though I know this thread was originally intended as a very negative review, I hope as it goes further along that it opens avenues for a very open conversation on this topic, including further education, prevention and healing.

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  39. Lora
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 01:30:40

    I will openly admit that the day before I initially read this review was the first day I’d ever heard of the dog breeding “Rape Rack” and saw the permanent damage inflicted by it, including paw amputation. I was infuriated and I still feel helpless. I can’t get the images out of my head and can barely sleep. (which is partially why I’m up writing this when hopefully many of you are sleeping)

    How can we prevent this if most of the time these breeders are backyard breeders and hidden puppy mills? If you can’t even find them, how do you shut them down?

    Many may think I’m being overly sensitive or even insensitive because it’s an animal, not a person, being injured. It is still violent abuse, is still horrifying and it is a person who straps them to the machine repeatedly.

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  40. Ariel MacConnor
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 01:42:15

    So I was the one who gave Phoenix Sullivan the heads-up about “Spoil of War,” and now she has blogged about it. I have just finished reading the comments. Many people are saying that January, and other people who strongly object to the novel, just want “puppies and sunshine” and Ms. Sullivan is just being realistic… and that other bestsellers have included pedophilia, so what’s the big deal about “Spoil of War”? Is it just me or are they missing the point?

    Anyway, I also asked Ms. Sullivan what year her story is set in, but she hasn’t answered me yet…

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  41. DM
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 01:58:21

    Okay, my curiosity got the better of me and I broke down and read the book.

    Kids, it’s bad. Just plain bad. It’s the in-bred, anemic baby of the lesser bodice rippers of the 70s. You know the ones. The ones that wanted to be Wicked Loving Lies and Stormfire, but ended up propping the screen door at your garage sale, not even good enough to go in the ten for a dollar bin with Rangoon.

    And it’s not just the rape or the child molestation that makes it bad. There are books that depict lives of heartbreak and misery in brutal eras with nuance and emotional depth. Try Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter if you want to see myth and history combined into something page-turning.

    Or break out your yellowed copy of Stormfire, and try to stop reading it. You’ll feel like you need a shower by the end. The hero is a jerk. The heroine suffers vilely. You want them both to die horribly…but you just finished a doorstop of a book.

    Because Monson and Rogers, for all that their books spoke of the conflicted female sexuality of their age, understood character, and structure. The hero of Stormfire has a backstory and motivation. The hero of Spoil just doesn’t mind rape or rapists, who are often quite jolly chaps when you get to know them. The heroine of Stormfire fought back. Again, and again. The heroine of Spoil is pushed around by the mechanics of the plot, and NEVER reacts to anything that happens to her. She has the emotional depth of a footbath. The book is entirely devoid of cause and effect, the mortar of satisfying fiction. Every time the heroine is raped, it is a cause with no effect. And the hero’s change of heart is an effect with no cause. At the end of the book he decides, for no clear reason, that maybe the heroine was telling the truth after all.

    And the real truth about Spoil is that it failed to find a publisher not because the subject matter was edgy, but because the execution was sub par.

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  42. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 07:16:09

    @Lora:

    Lora…frankly, that’s judgmental, because I don’t recall a query on whether or not anybody here does anything to help rape victims.

    I wonder if you’re very familiar with the typical romance reader-you’re talking to lawyers, nurses, teachers, moms, librarians, and that’s just a vague summary of the typical romance readership.

    It’s been my experience that certain groups, IE: nurses, teachers, lawyers (and this is just a vague reference again) etc are actually pretty active in speaking out, donating, volunteering for victims.

    Unless you’ve spoken with every last one of us and got a negative answer- “No, we don’t do any sort of advocacy, offer any sort of support..” ?

    Should you ask that question, you won’t get a huge whopping, “NO.” I’m certain of that.

    Since you didn’t bother to ask such a question, it appears you’re making a blanket assumption, so your impassioned rhetoric there falls rather flat.

    Assumptions are rarely accurate.

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  43. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 07:32:09

    regarding the ‘mansplaining’… I’m going with Ridley’s response.

    Not worth the effort to read. He can’t wrap his mind around our concerns without attempt to explain them away, so why bother?

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  44. Linda Hilton
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 08:35:02

    @DM: BRAVA!! BRAVISSIMA!

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  45. Maili
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 09:22:38

    @Joanne Renaud:

    I especially loved what you had to say about the apparent lack of historical accuracy in the book. I have to add my own two cents and say that the use of the names “Elspeth” and “Ruth” in a story set in late antiquity/early medieval times makes me cringe.

    Same for me with those as well as ‘Ryan’ and Phoenix Sullivan’s historical note about Ryan/Rion/Riain/Rian, which is, unfortunately, incorrect. I suspect she may have been a victim of badly researched baby name books or sites, though.

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  46. Cliff Stanford
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:12:19

    @Maili: Phoenix Sullivan’s historical note about Ryan/Rion/Riain/Rian, which is, unfortunately, incorrect.

    I’d be interested to see your reference for that. I understood Rían to be a Gaelic diminutive for rí, king.

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  47. Linda Hilton
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:42:58

    @Maili:

    While “Ryan” may in fact be a form of an ancient Irish Rian, the meaning is “little king.” The ard ri is the high king of Ireland.

    As Lin Carter and others have written about the “naming of names” in fiction, it’s important not just to have a name, but to have the RIGHT name for a character. “Ryan” comes across as anachronistic and flippant, even if it does have some historical validity. (Who was it that said the difference between fiction and truth is that fiction has to be believable?)

    But the underlying meaning contradicts this character’s kingship. Even in a time when kings might not have been hereditary and thus given kingly names at birth, a warrior king would probably have chosen to rename himself something that resonated with his people. “King Little King” probably isn’t going to get it with his troops, and it would leave him vulnerable to jibes and political graffiti.

    One would think, of course, that if the author took the time to research the history of the name she would also have recognized that its meaning would be important. But given that she has other names that jar the reader regardless of their authenticity, a reader might speculate that she either did the research later or just looked for a name, any name.

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  48. Kim
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 13:04:43

    Jennifer Blake has responded and thinks this review is quite unfair. She also stands by her endorsement. You can read her blog post here:

    http://jenniferblakejournal.blogspot.com/2011/08/dear-author-review.html

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  49. Sheryl Nantus
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 13:22:28

    I never consider it a good sign when Auntie has to make an appearance. Maybe it’s just me but both the author and her aunt seem to be quite annoyed at this discussion despite their claims to the contrary. True, they haven’t come out swinging and screaming but the continued defense of bits and pieces without dealing with the overall criticisms of the book re: historical inaccuracy but they might as well have.

    Given she makes a point to mention the blog comments are moderated I doubt we’ll see much discussion on that webpage.

    :P

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  50. Minx Malone
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 13:23:52

    Even though this book doesn’t sound as if it’s to my taste (and everyone has the right to their own taste), I have to give the author MAJOR kudos for her classy response. I’ve seen so many author meltdowns lately and her response was the most professional I’ve seen.

    Genre fiction in general doesn’t get the same opportunities for serious debate and critical review and I really appreciate this type of forum to discuss genre books.

    People always assume that when women participate in a lively debate about an issue that we’re “fighting”. It’s not fighting to have a spirited, detailed discussion about a piece of fiction. This has been the best book discussion I’ve read in a long time!

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  51. Linda Hilton
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 14:32:02

    @Sheryl Nantus:

    I guess the question then is whether author and auntie have successfully refuted any of the claims made by the critics? Have they identified the specific historical period during which this novel takes place so the specific historical details can be determined to be accurate or not?

    It’s very easy for a critic simply to say a book did or didn’t work for them. Traditional Regencies aren’t my thing, nor Inspirationals, so it’s gonna be hard for even the best of those to tickle my fancy. But it seems to me that the initial reviewer here, January, and the subsequent back-up DM, both cited specifics about the writing that made the book a fail for them. Not about the story, not about the setting, not about the actual history/legend on which the plot was based. The areas they pointed out were pretty much the same areas a (good) contest judge or teacher or other qualified and honest critic would have noted and are essentials to the crafting of fiction. Things like character motivation and reaction and consistency, historical accuracy, ability of the reader to identify with the protagonist, appropriate cause and effect, proportionate reaction to events (“the ouch should equal the pinch”).

    Are author and auntie ordering readers to like this book just. . . because? Are those of us who don’t like gruesome rape and brain-dead heroines supposed to just STFU because the author is BNA’s niece? I don’t think so.

    I’m not going to their blog and risk getting my head bitten off, because I don’t care to argue with the stubborn. (I raised two children, including a red-headed boy, so I know the meaning of futility.) But please, please, please, is it so wrong to expect someone who brags about their historical accuracy to be able to explain how/why they have Stone Age weapons being used at the same time as late medieval ones? (Because that’s all they could afford????? GMAFB) For crying out loud, I’m no weapons expert, far from it, but even I knew enough to suspect flint arrowheads and halberds didn’t come from the same era. I mean, wouldn’t someone who set out to write an Arthurian novel that involves a lot of brutal warfare at least, at the very least get the damned weapons right? And, seriously, all snarking aside, if indeed Gunther’s men couldn’t afford iron arrowheads, shouldn’t that have been explained in the text so the reader didn’t go WTF?

    The whole issue of rape-as-romance has been a controversy since The Flame and the Flower. Radway addressed it, Hazen addressed it, Faust addressed it, Thurston, Krentz, Modleski, Feidler, Fowler, Mussell, and bunches of others. We may not agree with all their conclusions, but at least they addressed it. This author, and her auntie, seem to be saying we should put all that behind us and just write whatever makes us feel good and tell everyone to like it and love us. I’m sorry, but until they can point out that the factual claims of the reviewers are in error, until they can present evidence that the characters react appropriately to events, that the details are historically accurate to a specific time and place (including names), and that the critics claims are wrong, I don’t think A&A have a leg to stand on.

    There’s no way I’ll read the rest of the book, not even if it were given to me free for the purpose of review. I’ve never recovered from Frank Yerby’s The Devil’s Laughter which was a finely written book but had one scene that has left me with nightmares for 40+ years. No way in hell am I going to subject myself to a feast of gore and rapine, and one that appears to be really badly written at that. (Someone should compare this book’s description of the effects of rape on a child to Antoinette in Yerby’s The Saracen Blade.)

    I’m sorry, truly sorry, if I’ve upset anyone with my comments. The deeper I got into this discussion the more it hit home in ways I can’t — for the sake of people near and dear to me — express. I’ve written and aborted the worst of the posts, and yes, they were lots worse than this one.

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  52. Isobel Carr
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 14:50:01

    FYI, re dog breeding and “rape racks”: those are something used by the same despicable people who fight dogs. They are NOT a normal accoutrement of dog breeding (and yes, I grew up around dog breeders and showers, all giant breeds, had never even heard of a rape rack until I saw one on Animal Planet on one of those pet rescue shows). If you’re buying from a reputable breeder (NOT a pet store or a BYB who doesn’t show and won’t let you meet the parents) then you can be pretty sure that no such violence was involved in the creation of your new pet.

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  53. Chelsea
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 15:08:00

    First off, I’m not sure where that guy got the idea that the sex with Ruth was consensual. Definitely it’s possible that, during that time period, a girl of marriageable age would be married off against her will and the sex she had with her husband could be considered consensual. But there are certain problems with that, like:

    1. We are living in this time, and we all can agree that you can’t have consensual sex with an 11-year-old. Sorry.

    2. Ruth is not a girl of marriageable age married off against her will. She is a pre-teen considered a “spoil”.

    3. The text is very clear that Ruth is being assaulted against her will!!!

    Which brings me to my main point. I, like January, actually read the book. And I fully understand that the concern here is not the inclusion of rape in the story, but rather the treatment of it.

    The point I want to make is that so much of the difference between my and January’s opinions of the book come down to interpretation and inference. I never for a second inferred (or read) that any of the rapes were meant to be titillating. In fact, the only time any confusion of that kind could ever come up is with the way Elsbeth physically reacted to Ruth’s assault. And I personally read that reaction as something born of intense, overwhelming loneliness coupled by the fact that yes, Elsbeth had been assaulted, and yes the body can react after one is assaulted, without the mind’s permission. Elsbeth wanted companionship. She had lost everything and was completely alone. I did not get the impression that she was aroused by Ruth’s assault so much as by the thought of the physical companionship of someone who would be kind to her. Was it still an alarming situation in which to become aroused? Absolutely. Is it alarming to be wrenched from your home, watch your father be killed, your home go up in flames, and be locked in a tower like so many princesses in a fairy tale? Absolutely.

    But never once did I think either Elsbeth or the author were condoning the rape of Ruth, let alone considering it titillating. I am honestly kind of aghast that people thought that.

    I thought Elsbeth was reacting and responding to an impossible situation. In fact, I thought that’s what the book was about. I never thought Elsbeth was being dismissive of the effects of the rape. It’s been said here that people wanted to see her working through the assaults internally, but I thought those conversations in her head about how it happens to everyone WERE her psychological means of talking herself down and getting herself through the day.

    That was my interpretation.

    I’m also a little concerned at how many people are talking about how Elsbeth is dismissive of rape (especially people who haven’t read the book—but that’s another conversation, one better had with Meghan Gurdon Cox, who also learns about books by “talking to people”.) Throughout her time in Leo’s castle, Elsbeth is CONSTANTLY arguing with him, trying to get him to free Ruth and trying to get him to free her. She is horrified by Ector’s treatment of Ruth and tries to reach out to the girl, to offer her some comfort in this horrific situation. And although Leo dismisses her concerns about Ruth, and although other characters impose victim blame on Elsbeth in different circumstances, I never once thought that was the author saying victim blame is okay. In fact, I thought the exact opposite. Spoil of War, from its very title, to every chapter, is a story of women living in a time when they were nothing but property, and everything that happens to Elsbeth—the assaults, the loss of family, being locked in a castle—all are a condemnation of a society where women are stripped of freedom and equality. It is a warning story of what will happen if we don’t continue to fight for equality on every front. It is BECAUSE of her society that Elsbeth is assaulted and then blamed for it. That was the author’s point. (Or, that is what I took to be the author’s point while reading.) It seemed a bit like January was taking Leo as the protagonist and his points of view as the ones we should agree with. I didn’t see this at all. Leo could be terrible, infuriating and cruel, but I think the point was that Elsbeth could choose him or no one at all. There are several passages in the novel where Elsbeth considers what would happen if she were to run away. Both she and the Queen do. In the end, she chooses the life where she’s a prisoner but isn’t being raped and beaten on the streets. She also chooses the companionship of a power hungry king over nothing. Would other women choose differently? Or course. Would those of us in the modern day, living in non war-torn countries believe we would choose differently? Definitely.

    But anyway. Let’s wrap this up, shall we? From what I gathered, here was a story of one woman’s search for self in a world where people didn’t believe she had one. Was her journey often ugly? Yeah. I’m pretty sure that was the point. And while I totally understand not wanting to read about such horrific things—a lot of people don’t, some do—I never once got the impression that the author was condoning this treatment of women. I thought the author was making the point that we CAN NEVER GO BACK TO THESE TIMES, and in those places where women are still being treated this way, we must do everything we can to change things. Which, of course, includes HERE.

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  54. DM
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 16:21:28

    @Chelsea

    Elsbeth is dismissive of rape.

    Near the end of the book Leo asks her about the two men who have raped her most recently. This scene takes place in the room where Elsbeth has been tied to a mattress and raped and beaten for days. Leo has just freed her. He asks:

    “First Patrise, then Uther — God’s wounds, Elsbeth, how do you bear it? How do you bear me?”

    Elsbeth’s reaction:

    Elsbeth shrugged.

    Her ordeal, being tied, raped, and beaten for days, is never mentioned again. It serves no purpose in the story. It does not change her as a person, it does not give her insight, it does not cause her or any other character to act and it does not have consequences.

    This is the definition of titillation.

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  55. Unbiased Observer
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 17:12:21

    @Linda Hilton:

    “I’m not going to their blog and risk getting my head bitten off, because I don’t care to argue with the stubborn.”

    I nominate this as the most self-unaware comment of 2011.

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  56. Linda Hilton
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 17:18:12

    @Unbiased Observer: Which is precisely why I never argue with myself, because I know I’m always correct.

    But seriously, Observer, can you point out where I’ve been factually incorrect and have clung to a belief in something that has been shown to be inaccurate or untrue?

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  57. Unbiased Observer
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 17:25:35

    @Linda Hilton:
    Ha! Stellar response.

    Ack…it was snappier before you added the second part.

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  58. Linda Hilton
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 17:43:57

    @Unbiased Observer: I wanted to make sure I got the first part in quickly and right after your comment.

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  59. History and the Work of Narrative | Something More
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 19:57:31

    [...] spent entirely too much time in the past few days following the comments on January’s F review of Phoenix Sullivan’s Spoil of War at Dear Author and Sarah’s D review of Georgette [...]

  60. Alice
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 22:02:48

    @Sunita:

    yes, rape is not unusual. it is unusual to the first world western civilization. in many parts of the world still it is reality.
    and I am not talking about statistics, when people don t live much over 30, then children tend to be considered mature earlier on. I am talking about the things that archaeological findings tell us – up until recently the expected life span was short – people tended to grow up, work for their families, have sex and grow a family of their own much much sooner than we do. many of them do that today as well (the first that come to mind are the romani gypsy people, but there are others all over the world – it s a big place and lots of things happen yonder).

    and to expect a hero not to be a representative of his own time (whether that time is historical or fictional historical) is expecting a fairy tale. not all heroes (main characters) are heroes (“save the day” cardboard characters). and they shouldn t be.

    while everybody has a different taste in literal matters, I feel that you should review the work itself instead of having an unnecessary issue with things that don t really define it. a lot of great literary work deal in one way or another with rape, sex with children and what not, it s not something we haven t seen before in art.

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  61. DM
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 22:42:41

    @Alice

    See my comments above if you are interested in a review of the storytelling quality of the book. The book isn’t bad because it contains rape. The book is bad because it contains rape that has no impact on the story, because characters do not react to stimulus, because the protagonist is passive and does not have a need or want to drive the action.

    And for the last time, life expectancies prior to the 20th century were not vastly different from today. A high infant mortality rate brought the AVERAGE lifespan down, but those who lived past their teens could expect to reach old age.

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  62. Linda Hilton
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 00:19:57

    DM —

    I’m not sure that merely surviving one’s teens was sufficient to let one expect a long life. There were still many pitfalls of the middle years, especially wars and accidents and childbirth, which was a big killer of women until modern surgical techniques and antibiotics. The poor and working classes still didn’t generally live as long as the upper classes, but when you consider Eleanor of Aquitaine lived to be active until at least 80, it was certainly possible. Issues were disease and nutrition, just as they are today, in which the well-to-do are better cared for and better fed than the peasants. The human animal hasn’t changed that much in the last 2000 years or so.

    Alice:

    Regardless of life expectancy, being considered mature and actually being mature are two very different things. As Sunita stated, her grandparents were married at an age prior to sexual maturity but they did not become a married couple and begin to set up housekeeping — and one presumes begin having children — until they were sexually and physically mature in their mid-teens.

    In the U.S. we still have debates over the “maturity” of children as young as 8 who commit heinous crimes, and whether they should be tried as adults at that age. “Considering” them mature is one thing; whether they are physiologically or psychologically or emotionally mature enough to be held responsible for their actions is another thing entirely.

    The culture of this novel might very well have considered an 11 year old girl “mature” but that is actually irrelevant to the discussion because it’s not relevant to the events in the novel. She was not treated in the context of the novel as a “mature” woman. The author specifically stated that the man Ector liked his girls before they became women. He had a preference for physiologically immature females, not ones who matured at a young age. This is stated in the book. If the author really meant that Ector liked young women who were slim and had small breasts and looked kinda like boys but were sexually mature, she could have done so. She said that Ector liked his females before they reached maturity. That is pedophilia. Ruth was not “considered” mature in the novel; what any other culture “considers” mature is irrelevant. Ruth was not mature and was not considered mature in the explicit context as the author wrote it. Ector is a pedophile.

    No one has said pedophilia cannot be used in a novel. What’s been complained about in this review discussion is that some of the reviewers felt the pedophilia was not written well in terms of how it fit into the novel, how it drove the plot, and how the other characters reacted to it and to Ector. All of those elements are entirely and completely and absolutely under the control of the author. If the writing failed to meet the reviewer’s standards, then that is the author’s fault and no one else’s. The author cannot dictate what the reviewer shall and shall not like. Neither shall the author’s friends, supporters, defenders, and aunts. The reviewer is autonomous at her end; the author is autonomous at hers.

    We are not disputing any of the facts regarding the prevalence of rape in historical or contemporary times. We are not disputing the validity of using rape as an element in a novel, even in a romance novel. There are still many readers out there who dearly love the “Old Skool” romance novels of Rosemary Rogers and Bertrice Small and wish more writers were writing them. There are lots and lots and lots of readers who defend the actions of the heroes in two highly controversial novels in which the hero rapes unabashedly the heroine — Putney’s “Dearly Beloved” and Gaffney’s “To Have and To Hold.” I happen to adore the former and intensely dislike the latter and I have my reasons. Other readers have theirs for liking the other, liking both, or loathing both. They are entitled to their opinions.

    And while they may discuss their opinions and explain why they feel the way they do – and be as stubborn as Missouri mules in the process – they are not entitled to tell others how they must think or feel.

    What we are saying is that the execution of these elements in the context of this novel is poor. We’re very sorry that the author didn’t succeed, because I think all of us would like all authors to succeed. But this one didn’t. And we have tried to cite specifics from the book to validate our responses.

    As some of us have already pointed out several times, there are the issues of historical accuracy. If there is no specific historical period stated, how can anything be considered accurate? Is the story set in 500 CE or 1200 CE or 755 CE? When is it set? The names don’t match the period. The costumes aren’t right. The weapons. The politics. As a historical novel, it has to have some basis in history, in a specific time and place so the details make it historical. When you write about World War I, you can’t have jet bombers. When you write about the Spanish Inquisition, you can’t have Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you’re writing about late Roman Britain, then you have to include those things, and ONLY those things that would have existed at that time. No houppelandes, no halberds.

    If you’re writing about a fantasy time that’s not connected to real history, then you can mix up things all you want. You can have your hero wearing a houppelande with fishnet pantyhose if you like, because it’s fantasy. But if it’s fantasy, you can’t claim historical accuracy.

    Am I making any sense here at all? It has to be one or the other, not a la carte.

    Chelsea said here that she took a very different reading from the book than January or DM did, but she admitted it was her inference and her interpretation that were different. She didn’t debate the facts, because those were quite in evidence, including the fact that the author specifically stated the 11 year old girl was being raped against her will and it was not consensual sex. If that’s Chelsea’s interpretation, she’s welcome to it. She’s entitled to her own opinion, as is every reader. But she’s not entitled to her own facts and neither is anyone else. Not if the evidence is to the contrary. And as far as I know, Chelsea didn’t dispute the facts.

    Here’s another example — the scene January cites with the heroine riding sidesaddle and being turned on by the motion of the horse and the hero’s arm touching her breasts. Do you know how pathetically easy it is to find a nice color photo of a Roman saddle from Caerleon in Wales, which was at one time one of the candidates for the “real” Camelot? A Roman four-horned saddle is not made for carrying a second rider sidesaddle. It’s a military saddle, and the scene as written is probably physically impossible. Riding “sidesaddle” would have been impossible on such equipment, and the more familiar saddle for a women to ride wasn’t invented until the late middle ages, a good 700-1000 years after Arthur’s time.

    Do you begin to see what we’re getting at? It’s not that the material in the book is in and of itself bad. It’s that the writer didn’t execute well. Repeatedly accusing people of saying rape isn’t historically accurate and therefore their criticisms of the book are wrong is nonsense, because no one has said rape is historically inaccurate. The logic simply doesn’t compute.

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  63. Debra D.
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 01:05:46

    @Sarah Laurenson:

    I was raped repeatedly as a child, and I agree that sometimes you cannot have a ‘reaction’ so as to save yourself.

    But I can darn well assure you that I wasnt sitting around as my sister got raped and thinking…”Oh that sounds wonderful in there…or…Gee, I would like to be touched and cared for like that…or even…hmmm, I am so turned on by the sounds she is making in there.

    Abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous.

    No reaction or emotion to save yourself? Fine. Getting all hot and bothered by a child not to much younger than yourself being RAPED in the next room? DISGUSTING.

    And no amount of spin you or the author put on this is going to change that honey.

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  64. Linda Hilton
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 01:09:02

    @Debra D.:

    ::hugs::

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  65. Debra D.
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 01:38:54

    @Rex Jameson:

    So what you are saying is that women who eventually lack empathy from repeated rapes will then get turned on by another woman or child, as the case may be, being raped?

    Cuz really, out of this whole review and discusion, this is what I am taking from ALL of this:

    —Historical Romance has Hero who rapes Heroine, who eventually lacks feelings and/or empathy, but still has enough feeling to get hot and bothered when 11 year old gets raped in next room.—

    No explaining that she was losing sight of her feelings cuz she was raped so many times, or no thinking to herself…Hmmm, I am getting turned on by child rape, I may be having a problem here that I should consider more carefully.

    Nope, its ALL OK cuz its historically accurate. Well yeah, and so is female genitalia mutilation, but honey that dont make it right, and that doesnt mean anyone wants to read about the HERO doing it in a fucking romance for christ sake.

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  66. Debra D.
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 01:46:41

    @Lora:

    How condescending you are Lora. I work with many child rape victims as a volunteer, as I was a child rape victim. I also volunteer at my local animal shelter twice a month…AND…I am a foster mom to 6 dogs, 3 cats, 1 chicken, and a rabbit. And God knows, I hate that fucking chicken. But I still love him and will still take care of the little bastard, till he dies, or finds a home. Whichever comes first lol.

    And even if I didnt, that would not make me any less knowledgable about this subject, or any less able to speak on it.

    As far as the Gateway Books, I havent a clue what your talking about. I homeschool my daughter…But, if you give me a link, I will be more than happy to research it AND see if our school district uses it. If they do, as a taxpayer I will be more than happy to let them know how unhappy I would be if they are using the books.

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  67. Indiana Jim
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 07:58:08

    Thank you January for giving us all a good lesson in what makes a good book… and a bad one.

    Coming from someone who plans on testing the self-published waters (with plenty of peer-review and a good, PAID editor), I think there’s two sides to that coin. I have found plenty of traditionally published books where I have been disgusted with a) typos, b) weak characters or c) a terrible plot. Sara Douglass’ The Wayfarer Redemption series comes to mind.

    That there are self-publishers releasing their dross upon the world in a somewhat saturated marketplace comes as no surprise. And I don’t know what to do about five-star reviews for terrible books. Overall though, word-of-mouth is still the best publicity for any book, regardless of its publication method. That this… THING… somehow received favorable word-of-mouth should be seen as an aberration, not the norm. Most of the time, bad books will get bad reviews.

    But as all of us know, sometimes you pay $7.99 for a paperback and it’s still bad. So $2.99 seems a bargain to me.

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  68. Robin/Janet
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 11:21:29

    @DM: I haven’t read Stormfire, but I have a definite soft spot for Rangoon. Whatever the WTF-ery of the romance and cartoonish violence in that book, not to mention Lysistrata’s stereotypical virginal feisty Americanness, I was impressed at the way Monson approaches the cross-cultural issues in the novel.

    She doesn’t treat colonialism as a cultural/national necessity or Lysistrata as benevolent force (Rangoon is one of the few Romances I’ve read, actually, that indicts the Anglo heroine for her clueless privilege), and I think Monson really tries to negotiate the cultural, racial, and national complexities of the time and of her hero with sensitivity and, dare I say it, subtlety.

    I’ve been too afraid to read any more of her books, but Rangoon definitely made me curious.

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  69. Rex Jameson
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 15:37:12

    @Dhympna:

    Yes, I’m aware of the modern era of these because I even said “from the past century”, but it’s a long post and I don’t expect you to read it all (even if it is in the same sentence). I also don’t expect you to read about why I feel these are relevant cases–since they all happen in underdeveloped countries and I even correlated famine to it.

    I am not a professional expert of the era, but I am posting my sources. I do regularly read history books (not fiction) from the eras in question, and I have taken college courses in the era in question.

    Again, Dhympna, the specific cases I note are from impoverished countries that were often experiencing famine. Peru and USSR are NOT the developed countries you are looking for. A country experiencing famine for two years in a row is not going to have a healthy cocktail of vitamins and minerals to speed along the maturation process of a five-year-old girl to motherhood. But famine is something that was very common during the period in question and it seems unlikely that the human body has evolved within the past 500-1000 years to the point that we are all-of-a-sudden able to have pregnancy occur before the age of 11. In fact, it is not uncommon to find records of women having 6+ children before they turned 27 in Roman times (even before the period in question) and being married by 11 and performing the duties of a wife.

    The breadth of history that we have from the era indicates that it was common for a women in Roman times (even before this time) to become a grandmother before she turned 30. This would mean that the mother and her daughter would need to average about 14 before becoming pregnant (total of ~18 months spent in pregnancy for the two women combined before grandmotherhood).

    I do not buy into the completely hearsay evidence in this thread that an 11-year-old girl could not get pregnant in medieval times. So, rejecting the book based on this “fact” seems to be revisionist history, especially since we know that even 5 year olds today can and have gotten pregnant. The human body has not evolved to the extent that was claimed in this thread earlier.

    I think the author should not have placed this book in historical romance because readers of historical romance want a hero–the kind of templated hero that has existed in our romances for centuries.

    —-

    @Debra D.:

    I have no idea how you could have taken that type of context out of my reply. I did not say all women who develop problems with empathy become turned on by the rape of a child.

    What I am saying is that the woman in the novel is displaying one of the common effects of rape–empathy–but to an extreme. Empathy comes in a wide-range of psychology scales. One of them would involve a complete disconnect from reality and the ability to empathize with any other human being. The woman in the story appears to empathize to an extent but part of her humanity has been ripped away from her. I am very sorry to hear that you were raped as a child, and I am glad to hear that you are dealing with this. However, I am not saying the words that you put in my mouth, and I do not appreciate you putting them there–regardless of your circumstances.

    —-

    @DA_January:

    Like I said earlier, I very much appreciate your review and the comments of other concerned readers in this thread. It has been a fascinating read, as are most conversations involving “experts” on the internet.

    I do not question that you would have given this an F even if it wasn’t historical romance, but as I said before, it is obvious that this book was not in your tastes. Period. Others may find its gritty reality (and I’m sorry, but my experience in studying this period tells me that the frequency and brutality of rapes as described in your review are more reflective of what was likely the reality of the period) disturbing but still appreciate this woman’s goals in writing the book. I think you gave a very thorough, unbiased review of how you felt about the book, and I certainly respect that.

    And thank you, everyone, for your comments and reactions to the book. I cannot fathom ever venturing into this area of writing!

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  70. Dhympna
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 16:03:25

    @Rex Jameson:

    Actually Rex, I did read your entire comment and I still find your argument faulty. I, unlike others, was not really arguing against the probability of Ruth or an 11 year old becoming pregnant. My real issue is the lack of any real historicism by an author who has repeatedly set herself forth as an expert in this field and ergo authoritative in this particular era of early medieval history.

    That does not mean that I am not allowed to call into question your conclusions based on problematic sources and faulty evidence. I still have problems with your sources and the new ones you cite, and I say that as an expert in this field–I am a medieval historian, by the way.

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  71. coribo25
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 16:44:38

    Just want to make the point that small indie presses also plant glowing five star reviews for their authors. I suspect the big boys do it, too. They’re a little more clever at covering their tracks. But we all know this, don’t we?

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  72. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 17:05:14

    @Rex Jameson: In a former life, I was a Classicist. I also studied quite a bit of anthropology.

    One thing we know from both the historical record and comparison to existing pre-industrial cultures is that the onset of menarche is the dividing line between childhood and adulthood for females. In most such societies, females typically marry shortly after menarche, which we also know occurs later on average in subsistence cultures than in modern ones. I believe menarche typically occurs between 13 and 15 in such cultures (13 is apparently the statistical average TODAY). Put together, this means that yes, it would be quite possible for a woman in Roman times to be a grandmother by the time she turned 30.

    Was it possible for some girls to begin menstruating earlier? Sure.

    The problem with the description of Ruth in this book isn’t that she’s too young to be menstruating by historical standards, but that she’s supposedly “before her womanhood.” But if she is “before her womanhood”, she should not be menstruating, since that is the very definition of “womanhood” in the period we’re discussing. Moreover, the development of secondary sex characteristics nearly always precedes menarche by 1-2 years. If the 11yo Ruth is capable of becoming pregnant, she should also be in possession of breasts and some pubic hair. In other words, by the standards of her era she presumably would have been viewed as a woman, not a child. Those standards aren’t particularly palatable to us, of course (I have a 12yo daughter and I sure as heck don’t think of her as a woman despite the fact that she’s well into puberty), but it’s the disconnect between these two data points that tosses any claim of historical accuracy into the junk heap.

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  73. El.G.
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 18:25:36

    The author sounds like someone who reacts really inappropriately to rape and violence and has no empathy, hence the complete lack of ability to write in such a way that makes any kind of sense in dealing with those issues. Maybe she’s a sociopath.

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  74. DM
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 18:25:59

    @Robin/Janet

    I’m with you on Rangoon. Deft and nuanced in its treatment of cultural complexity…and tone deaf in terms of its romance. I can’t recommend Stormfire. I read it because I wanted to understand why the most famous and enduring of those doorstopper books were so compulsively readable. My conclusion was that it all comes down to craft. Some authors understood character, suspense, scene and structure so well that they could make you swallow the bitter pill of some truly distasteful content. Jennifer Blake defends the turkey that is Spoil on her blog with a pretty good summary of the WTFery that passed for plot back in the day, claiming that the heroine, “accepts her fate with stoic endurance and uses her silent rage to best her enemies.” What Jennifer doesn’t realize is that neither we, nor the heroines we read and write, are willing to rage silently anymore.

    ReplyReply

  75. Linda Hilton
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 19:01:27

    @DM:

    As someone who actually read the whole book, DM, can you (or January or Chelsea) tell us which of the heroine’s enemies she “bested” (according to Blake) if all she did was stoically endure and silently rage? Which enemies, and in what way were they “bested”?

    @Rex –

    What Jackie Barbosa said.

    ReplyReply

  76. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 19:09:50

    @Linda Hilton: Well, she “bested” the (anti-)hero by marrying him, I suppose.

    ReplyReply

  77. Linda Hilton
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 19:16:41

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    But, but, but . . . . if she didn’t do anything, how can she be said to have bested anyone? Was it just the power of her existence? That’s not good storytelling. But you know that.

    ReplyReply

  78. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 19:23:33

    @Linda Hilton: Yes, I was being facetious. As in being married to the heroine must be a form of punishment. That’ll learn him.

    ReplyReply

  79. Melanie the Constant Reader
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 20:52:33

    Dear Ruth,
    RUN. NO SERIOUSLY. GO FAST AWAY FROM THIS BOOK AND NEVER LOOK BACK.

    ReplyReply

  80. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 21:10:33

    It would appear no matter how many times we point this out to @Rex Jameson, he’s not getting it.

    The book describes Ruth as BEFORE HER WOMANHOOD. Now typically speaking, that would be… BEFORE PUBERTY.

    As @Jackie Barbosa has rather clearly explained, as many of us have rather clearly explained, the writer chose to describe Ruth as a CHILD… before her womanhood.

    I can tell you, medically speaking, and yes, I’m a nurse-I can pull up that data for you should you need to read up about female puberty, a girl doesn’t go from flat-chested, slim-hipped, childlike and that straight as a board appearance and to capable of bearing a child in a matter of days, or weeks.

    It starts slow and last over a period of many months or years-we’re looking at 12-18 months of physical development, very often before the period starts.

    A girl hitting puberty will develop breast-buds, typically, first. And pubic hair. Had Ruth been in any stage of development, she wouldn’t have been described as before her womanhood . A budding woman, perhaps. But not before.

    Breast buds. Pubic hair… then typically the period, and generally, to be able of conception, that period thing-part of the ovulation cycle is rather important.

    But it’s not the first thing to happen during puberty. If you’d like to read about the stages of female puberty, here’s one site.

    http://www.female-puberty.com/5StagesOfPuberty.html

    The period typically starts in the latter stage.

    Let’s recap…she’s described as before her womanhood . For argument’s sake, lets just say that means… before puberty . I think that’s fair, considering we’re going by the author’s description.

    For many of us, it boils down to this.

    The guy rapes a child. Heroine hears and it excites her.

    Was there anything the story to explain why Ruth’s abuse and subsequent death were important? Did it drive the heroine to grow a spine and go kill every last man in the book?

    No. From all appearances, it just happened…because the child was a spoil of war.

    Never mind the fact that what utterly appalls us is the fact that the heroine is getting off by hearing the child get raped

    Lets set aside , for the sake of argument, that she was described as a child.

    If the heroine was getting off at hearing anybody being raped, I would have been disgusted. That it was a character the writer chose to describe as a child only mankes it that much more disturning

    And we don’t need history books, explanations or anything else to tell us what we’re entitled to feel.

    The book depicts a child being raped-by the writer’s own words, before her womanhood . And that bothers us. A lot.

    Attempting to explain our feelings away, or rationalize them is crap, IMO. Unless, of course, we’ve suddenly turned into the ‘borg and we’re all required to think, view, feel, act, respond the same.

    ReplyReply

  81. Caillin Rua
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 09:04:09

    Was this book written by Antoine Dodson?

    ReplyReply

  82. Rex Jameson
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 02:34:33

    *Sigh*

    Again, youngest recorded mother in history conceived at 5 years old. Not 11. Not 13. Not 15. Five.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lina_Medina

    The LA Times reported about this on May 16, 1939 (requires registration with the LA public library system to search through the archives), and I have no reason to believe it’s a fake story. There are pictures in the above link showing breasts that have developed over her pregnancy. I can’t for the life of me believe that a 5 year old had already gone through puberty. This came as a complete surprise to her parents, from all accounts, and bleeding tends to draw notice to a 5 year old much earlier than when she’s 7 months pregnant, folks.

    The medical community literally has x-rays, biopsies, and photographs of her in the hospital before and during this 5-year-old’s C-section. Not hearsay. Not credentials thrown out in a Dear Author thread. Documented cases. These were hugely publicized stories in their time. As were some of the 6 and 7 year olds mentioned above.

    Don’t like Lina Medina? Seem too farfetched? Then let’s look at an article from Time magazine back in 1959. In Peru, Obstetrician Rolando Colareta witnessed four pregnancies of girls under 11 in his own country during his 30 years of practice. And those were just the cases that were brought to him from his home country. Are we calling him a liar too? And the doctors in the other dozens of cases I linked earlier? Big conspiracy to try to undermine Dear Author commenters 70 years before the review is even posted?

    This novel obviously has issues. No one is debating that, but debating a conception occurring at 11-years-old? I don’t know this author, and I have no intention of reading this book, but people should research this for themselves. You don’t like reading about rape? I can’t blame you. I don’t either. But why invent a separate sidebar that claims an 11-year-old couldn’t be further victimized by being impregnated during the time period? This has medical precedent and not just one case. In Peru alone before 1960, there were four girls under 11-years-old. It’s rare but it’s probably so rare because rape is rare at this age range. THIS IS NOT THE IMPOSSIBILITY YOU ARE LOOKING FOR.

    ReplyReply

  83. Jane
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 06:59:37

    @Rex Jameson What is your point exactly? Who cares if the youngest recorded person giving birth is five years old? How does that a) make the story more historically accurate or b) less about the casual response to rape portrayed by the main female protagonist? You are arguing a straw man here. Ms. Sullivan’s grasp of medieval history is weak and drumming up statistics from 1960 doesn’t help to shore up her credentials.

    ReplyReply

  84. Linda Hilton
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 09:32:00

    @Rex Jameson:

    NO ONE has said the pregnant 11-year-old is an impossibility. NO ONE, get it?

    What we have said is that the “facts” presented in the novel are internally inconsistent.

    I don’t care if you’ve got video of a three-year-old delivering octuplets. That has nothing to do with the issue, which is the internal consistency of the novel in question.

    Sheesh.

    ReplyReply

  85. Maili
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 11:58:08

    @Cliff Stanford:

    Sorry about the delay. I completely missed your response. Let me explain why I disagree with Ms Sullivan’s comment:

    @Phoenix Sullivan:

    I’m also not here to go point by point through the research, but I will mention that “Ryan” is the anglicized version of the many variants of a name that is ancient Gaelic in origin (Rian, Rion, Riain, etc), much like the name Arthur itself is an anglicized version of any of several variants from Roman or Welsh origin.

    Rían, Ríon and Ríain aren’t variants of one name nor do they have anything in common, except for one thing–this prefix: rí.

    ‘Rí’ on its own does mean ‘king’ (or in contemporary sense, ruler), but it doesn’t mean it’s just that when used as a prefix. Please, Irish – certainly old Irish – is a lot more complex than that. As a prefix, it implies anything that suggests high position or influence.

    As it stands, there is nothing so far that can confirm the meaning of Ryan is ‘little king’. Four reasons: a) the supposed etymology of Ryan/little king doesn’t fit in with the traditional Irish naming system – same with the (Scottish) Gaelic naming system, b) some say that in Irish, it’s grammatically incorrect, c) it doesn’t fit geographically, and d) every intensive search so far had failed to make a solid connection between Ryan and ‘little king’ and/or ‘Rí’. Any decent Irish or Gaelic name etymologist can and will tell you all this.

    Those who still like the ‘little king’ possibility anyway tend to use ‘may’ or ‘probably’ in their definitions as a cop-out in case they’re challenged. :D It’s certainly the most romantic, which is probably why so many baby name sites and books went with ‘little king’.

    Traditionally (and basically), most Irish surnames originated from first names. Son of name, daughter of name, grandson of name, etc. evolved into surnames, which then were Anglicised during 15th or 16th century or thereabouts, which were then either modernised or produced variants from 19th or 20th century onwards. There are many that were Anglicised much earlier, as far as 6th century or thereabouts, but those are apparently well documented. ‘Ryan’ isn’t listed among those.

    Some etymologists believe ‘Ryan’ is a contemporary/updated version of Anglicised ‘Rian’, which some believe is from ‘righin’ or as some believe, O’Maoilriain (which also has variants and all roughly translates to ‘descendent of a noble disciple’). Some believe it’s a variant of ‘Regan’ (similar pronunciation and it shares the root: ‘righin’). Some believe it’s from one of other names (too numerous to list here). The general view is, which I personally support, that ‘Ryan’ is probably a product of 17th or 18th century and it didn’t become a given name on the mass scale until much later, e.g. 20th century, but for the US, I believe it’s 19th century. Even so, it’s still all a theory.

    The point is, no one really knows the origins of ‘Ryan’. While everyone has a favourite theory, most agree it doesn’t mean ‘little king’. There are a couple who do believe that Ryan does originate from a lineage of ‘Rí’, but they couldn’t back it up. Hence, them giving implications, instead of assertions, when outlining etymological entries of ‘Ryan’.

    Welsh, Irish, Gaelic and similar names are certainly among the most misunderstood, mistranslated and horribly mauled groups of names on the internet and in baby name books. Probably because of those certain and wildly popular baby name books over last two centuries (baby name books published during the Victorian era are probably the worst and likely the source of many contemporary baby name books today), which still makes most name etymologists cry. :D

    It’s always tough for any author to choose historically suitable names for their stories, but I think it’s much easier to say “I chose this name because I felt it was right for my character/story”. With this, author has nothing to apologise for because, after all, it’s part of an universe of his or her own making for a book or series.

    Sorry for being so long-winded, but I hope it explains where I’m coming from.

    ReplyReply

  86. Rex Jameson
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 12:21:54

    I apologize that neither of you feel the need to read the thread. This started at or around the 121 mark.

    @Sunita:

    It seemed some commenters were determined to find more errors in historical accuracy, and this developed into a push to claim that an 11-year-old could not get pregnant (due to arguments about menarch) by @Shiloh Walker:

    Despite presented evidence, it was repeated:

    @Shiloh Walker:

    And some commenters decided that human beings had evolved since the middle ages (apparently) or without any evidence of any kind to support their statements, women were only getting pregnant after the ages that society deemed a woman to be a woman. I won’t list all of them. Just read from the preceding link onward. And I guess forget that women captured during raids or captures of towns were considered property by many “civilized” cultures before and during this time period (more on that in a moment).

    @Dhympna:

    Or that I am a know-it-all and just don’t understand the genius going on in these replies because I “OBVIOUSLY know everything”, instead of accepting evidence that 11-year-olds can become pregnant.

    @Linda Hilton:

    Or that this was a case of “man-splaining” because I can’t understand what commenters are going through.

    @Shiloh Walker:

    And then we had the credential poppers. Medieval historians. Classicists. Etc. The claim is apparently that no woman can become pregnant before menarche or maybe 1-2 years before menarche, and this is where my previous comment is aimed. That women were treated as property in raids (and “womanhood” was in no way considered) even up to the Genghis Khan period (seriously, try reading about what the Mongols did to captured cities) was given no real credence, despite their apparent knowledge of the period, because apparently it was considered unacceptable by all societies ever to treat an eleven year old as property. I’m afraid I don’t see how the credentials dropped here are refuting any such possibility.

    @Dhympna:
    @Jackie Barbosa:

    As I said, this has been an irrelevant sidebar, and I really wish I would stop getting emails about this. But since new articles keep getting posted and linked to this discussion, I doubt I’ll ever here the end of it. I’m one of the only ones in this thread even providing sources, but I’m still getting labelled a liar and worse in personal correspondence.

    And between last post and this one? Well, now I’m accused of building a strawman by mapping a simple truth. An eleven year old can get pregnant. It’s not a strawman. There is medical precedent. Or apparently no one is claiming that an 11-year-old can’t become pregnant, despite the links provided above?

    So what’s my point? For you “tl;dr” folks, I’ll repeat it.

    This novel obviously has issues, and I believe many if not most of the concerns expressed here are valid. No one is debating that. I don’t know this author, and I have no intention of reading this book. You don’t like reading about rape? I can’t blame you. I don’t either. But why invent a separate sidebar that claims an 11-year-old couldn’t be further victimized by being impregnated during the time period? This has medical precedent and not just one case. It’s rare but it’s probably so rare because rape is rare at this age range.

    So, stop sending hatemail to me (I can only imagine what the author has gotten) and flinging more insults at me because you think I’m defending the novel. Yes, pregnancy at 11-or-younger is possible, but I wouldn’t want to read about it in a historical romance. Which is why I’ve said all along that this should not be placed in any romance genre, because it will elicit a very emotional and overwhelming response (such as this review was).

    ReplyReply

  87. Rex Jameson
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 15:01:19

    My other comment was finally posted. Seems it might have been in conflict or something with a simul-post. Apologies. Edited out.

    ReplyReply

  88. Unbiased Observer
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 19:55:10

    When you argue on the internet, everyone loses.

    ReplyReply

  89. Rex Jameson
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 21:53:11

    @Unbiased Observer:

    So true ;D!

    ReplyReply

  90. Laura Jennings
    Sep 05, 2011 @ 10:52:14

    This was hilarious to read. More authors need to realize that this is the readership that awaits their crap: mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. More books sell by word of mouth, and word of mouth is faster than ever these days. I guarantee you this author was fostered in some fanfiction slash environment before he turned his sights on attempting to do a legitimate book.
    All hail traditional publishing, folks. It’s not going anywhere, because of crap like this.

    ReplyReply

  91. DUAL REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan - Dear Author
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 04:00:44

    [...] has been considerable debate about whether this book should be classified as historical fiction or historical romance, but I honestly don’t see how it could be categorized as [...]

  92. Introducing the “mistorical,” and The Uses and Limits of History in Romance - Dear Author
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:24:50

    [...] Romance” is an important element of its construction. This was certainly the case in DA January’s review of Phoenix Sullivan’s Spoil of War, in which the author explicitly defended the historical representations of her book: As an indie [...]

  93. Karen
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:02:24

    Funny thing about Phoenix Sullivan is that she is now moderating the comments on her blog before publishing them. *sighs*

    ReplyReply

  94. DUAL REVIEW: Spoil of War by Phoenix Sullivan - Dear Author
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:46:23

    [...] has been considerable debate about whether this book should be classified as historical fiction or historical romance, but I honestly don’t see how it could be categorized as anything but [...]

  95. Rebecca
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 23:04:28

    I had to read this review after seeing the dual review and ick, I definitely will not be reading this one! I have to agree with those who said it’s less about historical accuracy and more about the author choosing to write the story this way. Of course there have always been children abused in war or randomly abused by evil people, but I don’t know of any society that considered it normal/okay to bring home from war a prepubescent girl to be a sex slave. Even in a time when children were often seen as property, I’d guess that children of defeated enemies in war were much more likely to either be killed or be used as regular household slaves.

    ReplyReply

  96. Spoil of War: Or, Kiddie Rape and a Komodo Dragon in Arthurian Britain
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 06:16:19

    [...] Several other brilliant and scathing reviews have been written about this book– first by DA_January on Dear Author, and then a dual review by Dhympna and Sunita. All of them address the many problems that this book [...]

  97. Recent Surfing Results: Bad writing, Medieval dudes, and the reality of fiction | VacuousMinx
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 07:00:57

    [...] from the serious to the silly, that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book is the gift that keeps on giving. Joanne Renaud was persuaded by Dhympna [...]

  98. Furrama
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 17:14:40

    Pffft, this isn’t “historical romance” it’s the plot for a porno. Probably animated and from Japan.

    Seriously, I can think of at least two famous henti games that this is similar to. Lots of European fantasy and rape in that genre.

    I think I’ve been on TV Tropes for too long. Guuuuh, things I didn’t want to know about.

    ReplyReply

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    Dec 27, 2011 @ 04:18:02

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  100. Karen Knows Best » Phoenix Sullivan & Jennifer Blake, You Should Be Fucking Ashamed of Yourselves
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 22:37:29

    [...] assume that the majority of you will have read the review of Phoenix Sullivan’s book over at Dear Author by [...]

  101. GUEST REVIEW: Celtic Storms by Delaney Rhodes | Dear Author
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 18:32:49

    [...] and the setting was such a ridiculous historical mishmash it called to mind the trainwreck that was Spoil of War. There were iron age roundhouses next to Italian domed palaces… not to mention an Indian rug [...]

  102. Anachronist
    Feb 19, 2012 @ 05:25:23

    Thanks for this review. I won’t read/buy/borrow this one. I don’t want to repeat why because most of my reasons have been listed above.

    To the author: you need some therapy pretty badly. I hope you will get it soon.

    ReplyReply

  103. Why STGRB Promotes Cyber Bullying Rather Than Stand Against It | missreadthis
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 02:18:01

    [...] Okay, that just seems like constructive criticism. She also claimed the author of Spoils of War promotes rape and pedophilia. Again, even if this is the content of a book, the author does not necessarily condone what they [...]

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