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REVIEW: Petals and Thorns by Jennifer Paris

Dear Ms. Paris,

Around the time we were having the discussion of rape fantasies here at DA, Jane asked for recommendations of books similar to Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim, and your novella, Petals and Thorns, came up on Twitter. Reader MaryK, who hadn’t read it, thought it might fit the bill of what Jane was looking for, and author Megan Crane recommended it. Having enjoyed Willing Victim, I was curious and so I purchased Petals and Thorns.

 Jennifer Paris's Petals and ThornsI hasten to add, for readers of Willing Victim, that I found little similarity between the two. In Willing Victim, willing is the operative word. All the sex that takes place is consensual, though the hero and heroine playact rape fantasies. In my view, the sex that takes place in Petal and Thorns is less than fully consensual.

Petals and Thorns, classified by the publisher as “BDSM Fantasy” is an erotic retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. The story begins with a wedding ceremony. Amarantha has agreed to marry a creature known only as “Sir Beast”. The terms of their marriage are such that if the marriage is annulled within a week due to the Sir Beast’s inability to consummate it, Amarantha can leave the marriage with half of Sir Beast’s considerable wealth, which, as she thinks “will restore her father’s fortunes and more.”

Two things are in Amarantha’s favor – the cowl-wearing Sir Beast cannot take her virginity without her consent, and he has promised not to harm her physically. The promise does not extend to other sexual acts though: Short of penetrating her with his penis, Sir Beast can do anything he wishes to Amarantha, and if she wants to win half his fortune, she has to comply.

On arriving at Sir Beast’s castle, Amarantha is stunned by the profusion of red roses that decorate it, and by the invisible servants who cater to her husband’s whims. Sir Beast requires Amarantha to strip for him, though she cries and pleads with him not to ask this of her. When he tells her that her resistance has won her a punishment to be administered later, she goes along with his wishes and displays herself for his viewing.

For dinner, Amarantha has no choice but to wear a gown that displays her breasts. Sir Beast feeds her with his gloved hands and a dreamy feeling overtakes Amarantha, only to be dispelled when Sir Beast asks her the following question: “Amarantha, my bride, will you beg me to collar you, chain you to my bed, and fuck you?” A horrified Amarantha refuses.

Sir Beast then administers the punishment he promised her for her earlier resistance to disrobing by chaining her hands and tormenting her breasts. Amarantha is unsettled by her own arousal, and then further disturbed to learn that under his gloves, Sir Beast has claws and golden fur.

Thus begins the pattern of Amarantha’s days with Sir Beast. Her new husband orders her to dress in provocative outfits and if she resists his orders, he administers erotic punishments. Every night, he pauses to ask the same question, worded in exactly the same crude way. And every night, Amarantha refuses him.

But as the days progress, Amarantha finds herself anticipating her nightly encounters with Sir Beast more and more, developing a taste for his games and punishments. Sir Beast shows Amarantha tenderness after their sexual encounters, and Amarantha begins to understand that he feels trapped in his beast’s body, which he despises. Will Amarantha be able to forget Sir Beast when their brief marriage is over? Or will she betray her father and sisters by giving in to the temptation to answer his question with yes?

As I mentioned before, Petals and Thorns is classified by Loose-Id as “BDSM fantasy.” It’s not a genre classification I have encountered before and so I have decided to try to evaluate it as erotica and erotic romance.

On the erotic level, this novella worked for me. The writing was solid and the sex was quite steamy IMO. Most of the erotic scenarios were creative, too. Although there are definitely overtones of dominance, submission, bondage and pain play, I want to make it clear to readers that Amarantha doesn’t have the self-knowledge to classify herself as a sub, nor is a safe word used. Initially Amarantha is so inexperienced with sex that she does not even recognize her arousal for what it is. She cries and pleads with Sir Beast more than once, so there is a big power imbalance between them, especially in the beginning.

On the other hand, Amarantha does not leave. Presumably (though I would have liked more clarification of her motives), this is because she doesn’t want to disappoint her sisters and her father who have asked her to stay with Sir Beast for the entire week so that their family can acquire half Sir Beast’s fortune.

If I were to take this story completely seriously and apply our own era’s values to it, I would have to ask myself whether Amarantha (whose age I was unsure about but whom I pegged as eighteen or so based on her lack of life experience) is a rape victim or a teen prostitute. But is there really a big difference between the two?

The fairy tale trappings of the novella lessened these concerns for me. I’m sure that if it had been set in our world, I would have seen red, but since it wasn’t, I was able to suspend some of my disbelief, view it as an erotic fantasy and enjoy it on that level, and even to appreciate some aspects of the second half of the story, when Amarantha began to understand herself and acknowledge her desires, as a story about self-discovery.

Where the novella failed for me was as a romance. Although it isn’t classified as a romance, I feel the need to evaluate the novella on a romantic rather than just erotic level because it ends in what appears to be a commitment on the part of the characters to their marriage.

As anyone familiar with the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale can guess, the power imbalance does shift to some degree toward the end of the story. But for me, it wasn’t enough because Amarantha and Sir Beast had never gotten to know each other outside their sexual activities, had never shared their pasts with one another in any kind of depth, and most importantly, because the trauma that encounters like their initial ones should have left Amarantha with wasn’t dealt with between them or even acknowledged as more than a source of titillation in the text.

I want to make it clear that I am speaking only for myself when I say that I feel deeply ambivalent when I read a story in this vein – one with a great power imbalance, nonconsensual sex acts, but no acknowledgement of lasting trauma or issues that need to be resolved between the protagonists.

As a teen in the 1980s, I cut my teeth on romances that fit the description in the above paragraph, and they worked for me. Why I found them sexy is a mystery to me, but I know that I did and that I was able to enjoy them without reservations in those days, when rape wasn’t very real to me.

But as an adult, I find it difficult to suspend disbelief in a happily ever after between two characters whose relationship begins with a sexual assault, unless the redemption and recovery process are a significant part of such a story.

I am aware that for some readers, no amount of redemption is sufficient, while for others, redemption isn’t necessary in what is simply a fantasy. I would no more judge readers who enjoy fantasies like this one than I would judge the readers who don’t enjoy them. I, however, fall somewhere in the middle between the two reader groups.

I think for me it boils down to an issue of reader consent. If this story had had a different ending, I might have been able to enjoy it with fewer reservations. But although I typically prefer books that end in a happy marriage or other romantic commitment between the characters, Petals and Thorns is one case where I would have preferred the story to end with the protagonists going their separate ways.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

30 Comments

  1. MaryK
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 14:31:50

    Oh well! I’ll definitely have to buy it now to see how my grade compares. :) Not sure if I’ll have the guts to report back though given the recent discussions on sexual fantasies.

    More and more I’m coming across confusing genre classifications. I realize some of the newer stuff, especially from small presses, doesn’t pigeonhole easily but couldn’t we at least get a “Happy Together” (HT) descriptor for things that don’t really fit in Romance?

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  2. Janine
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 14:45:14

    @MaryK: I hope it works better for you than it did for me.

    Not sure if I’ll have the guts to report back though given the recent discussions on sexual fantasies.

    I know what you mean. In all my years of reviewing here at DA, this is one of the reviews that I’ve been most nervous about posting. No pressure, but I hope you do report back, and that others here post their comments, questions and opinions about the novella. I would love to hear what more people think about it.

    More and more I’m coming across confusing genre classifications. I realize some of the newer stuff, especially from small presses, doesn’t pigeonhole easily but couldn’t we at least get a “Happy Together” (HT) descriptor for things that don’t really fit in Romance?

    Petals and Thorns would probably fit under that parasol if there was one. As I was thinking about it more, I realized my ideal ending for the novella would have been for Amarantha to dump Sir Beast after she liberated him from his curse. Then she could have gone on to explore her erotic interests with someone (or ones) more deserving. Sir Beast would have been left to ponder what he should have done differently.

    It’s always a sign that a story was thought-provoking but not what I wanted it to be when I find myself making up a different ending.

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  3. Jane
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 19:41:31

    @Janine: Loved your review. I’m still interested in reading it. It sounds like the prose is good but that you faltered with the execution.

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  4. Janine
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 20:14:20

    @Jane: Wow, thanks! I’d probably grade the prose at around a B- and the steaminess at a an A- but the characterization was a C- (Because I didn’t get to know the characters well enough) and as far as buying their marriage as being a happy and healthy one in the future, well, I didn’t at all. That part was an F. I would have loved to see Amarantha take the dom role at the end and give Sir Beast a taste of his own medicine, but that doesn’t happen.

    If you read it, please let me know what you think!

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  5. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 20:18:25

    Someone recommended this to me on my blog and I promised to buy it. So I just did. Great review, thanks.

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  6. Janine
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 20:36:59

    @Jill Sorenson: I hope you enjoy it, Jill. I’d really love to hear what you and others who read it think. It just occurred to me that some people might feel more comfortable discussing it in email, in which case, I can be reached at janineballard at gmail dot com.

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  7. Liza Lester
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 23:52:22

    I’ve been captivated by the vigilante/rape fantasy discussion, but couldn’t pull my thoughts into clear comment last week because Jane’s question sent them off in so many directions (I inflicted my musings, instead, on my 70-year-old dad. He takes these sex discussions pretty well, considering.). Last week I was wrestling with Lora Leigh’s Harmony’s Way, a paranormal that features both forced seduction (with a side of infantilization of the heroine) and vigilantism. A sampling of other entries in her 21-books-and-counting “Breed” series showed Harmony’s Way, to be pretty typical of the set. The depiction of romance, love, and intimate interaction in the series disturbs me profoundly. But it occurred to me that if the forced seduction were presented as (rather mild, actually) BDSM erotica, if it were explicitly a game, or limited to a scene, I would have no problem it. The broader context bothers me. As Janet writes about Petals and Thorns, I can accept Harmony’s Way as erotic, but not as romantic.

    Harmony spends her life avoiding capture by various agents—of the law, of an evil consortium that genetically engineered her into a lion-human hybrid, and of a pack of free lion-humans (aka “Breeds”), the good guys who want her back on the reservation and under control—while chasing down and murdering child abusers. Her vigilantism is a personal penance for her past as a child assassin, under the control of the evil consortium. The evil scientists told her that her targets were child abusers in order to secure her cooperation. So…now she murders her own targets (sometimes for hire), of whose guilt she is sure. Painful past experience has not led her to question the justice of her actions, or to worry that she might be wrong about the guilt of her current victims.

    Nothing in the text gives the impression that her lack of introspection is a deliberate character flaw, and so I think that the corollary was unintentional. Her established flaw, for the purpose of narrative conflict, is that she is “running away” from life, and needs to “grow up” via the application of unwanted sex, humiliation, and forced impregnation, which will make her too “weak” to continue on her path of destruction—all aided by the overwhelming physiological lust and forced seduction of the “mating heat”. The mating heat creates a weird scenario, in which it seems that both characters are being raped, although it is made explicitly clear in this series that the man is dominant and more powerful. The tension of the mating heat later evaporates when it turns out that, surprise, they are in love. Furthermore, the heat/lust-at-first sight could not happen without (future) love, and also—God arranged it!

    I’ve been struggling with the idea that criticizing the ethics and content of a romance might mean shaming the women who enjoy it, and stifling their sexual expression. I don’t want to casually shame other people, and I really appreciated Jane’s provocative post. I’m frustrated when commentors reflexively and self-righteously pile on anyone who triggers their sensitivity to paternalism or rape culture. But. I disliked Harmony’s Way intensely, in terms of both content and craft. I wish that the style and tropes it uses were not so popular. I can see this as a problem of reader consent—that I can’t consent to the entirety of the novel as a fantasy, in which the woman has respect, love, and power through the devotion of her man. I can’t help but read it as a deliberate commentary on people and society, and I don’t think it is a true or good depiction. Is romance literature? Do romance novels like Harmony’s Way mean to say something about human relationships? Or are they strictly entertaining fantasy? And if I vociferously criticize and object to the fantasy, am I objecting to the women who like it?

    Sorry for going on so long on a tangent…

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  8. MaryK
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 02:22:16

    @Liza Lester:

    And if I vociferously criticize and object to the fantasy, am I objecting to the women who like it?

    Yeah, I think so. You can criticize it and point out all the reasons you personally dislike it, but if you object to its very existence then you are objecting to the women who like it, IMO, and questioning their correctness in liking it. If such-and-such is wrong, then by definition those who participate in it are wrong. In this kind of situation, I believe correctness is a matter of opinion.

    We all know how very subjective reading is – some people like fated mates, some can’t stand them; some people hate first person POV, others think it creates a greater connection with the character, etc. Vampires are hugely popular, yet there are readers who can only see them as pale, lifeless undead and can’t conceive of them as romantic characters. If the vampire haters strongly object to vampires as romantic leads and campaign against them in that role on the grounds that it’s necrophilia, aren’t they by implication accusing vampire fans of necrophilia?

    When I read, it’s mostly about the feeling of the book; rarely can I tell you what the characters and their surroundings look like, but I can describe to you the characters’ feelings and motivations and explain why they did something or why they wouldn’t have done something except that the author diverged from the story’s internal logic. [ ;) ] I’m sure there are readers who think my lack of visualization is a severe handicap, but I’m completely satisfied with what I get from reading and don’t care whether or not I have mental pictures to go with stories. I know there are readers who could pick apart books I enjoy and point out hackneyed plots, overused themes, and unrealistic happenings of all kinds. I don’t care as long as it all hangs together.

    [Did I digress? I can't tell. Anyway ... ]

    Consider that other readers may view the same content & craft, styles & tropes from a different angle and see something in them that you don’t. Or they might see it from the same angle but with a different interpretation or a different philosophy so that there’s not the same clash that you feel.

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  9. dm
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 03:19:23

    I’ve been struggling with the idea that criticizing the ethics and content of a romance might mean shaming the women who enjoy it, and stifling their sexual expression. I don’t want to casually shame other people, and I really appreciated Jane’s provocative post.

    I’m with you all the way here. All this talk of what is and what is not acceptable for women to read is not feminism. It’s paternalism. The idea that women are so weak minded that their reading material has to be carefully controlled by people who know better. The arguments lobbed against forced seduction scenarios–and romance in general–are the exact same arguments that were used to shame women for liking “sensation” novels in the past: we’re so impressionable that these books will lead us into dangerous behavior or damage our fragile psyches.

    But it occurred to me that if the forced seduction were presented as (rather mild, actually) BDSM erotica, if it were explicitly a game, or limited to a scene, I would have no problem it. The broader context bothers me.

    And it’s the broader context we’re not discussing. The themes and messages that romance novels contain that get missed in this talk of what should and should not be in them. Prior to the 90s, a large number of romance novels used rape as a substitute for consensual sex. This resulted in a message, largely unintentional I believe, that it was normal for men to express sexual desire through violence. I do not believe that this was purposeful on the part of authors. I believe they were trying to deliver stories their readers wanted, of sexually adventurous heroines, at a time when such heroines could not be open about their sexuality. This message has largely disappeared from romance novels, and I wonder if one of the reasons we’re still talking about it is that we’re not ready to take on the pervasive romance messages of our time.

    Do we want to talk about the surfeit of paranormal books that feature heroines who go from independent professionals, as in Lara Adrian’s books, to entirely dependent wards of their “mates,” living in gated compounds where they are valued for their ability to “breed?” Do we want to talk about Madeline Hunter’s Regency heroines who often attempt and succeed at daring careers, but when the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions is within their grasp, they choose marriage and childbearing instead?

    This is the broader context that bothers me. When the hero and heroine achieve a partnership of equals, a little bondage or forced seduction plays as part of the courtship conflict, the struggle, literally, to see who will come out on top. But when forced seduction takes place within the context of a relationship that ends in the diminishment of the heroine–and I think The Sins of Lord Easterbrook is a great example of a book in which the heroine ends with a smaller world than she started with–it takes a disturbing turn.

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  10. Jane
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 07:53:00

    @dm

    Do we want to talk about the surfeit of paranormal books that feature heroines who go from independent professionals, as in Lara Adrian’s books, to entirely dependent wards of their “mates,” living in gated compounds where they are valued for their ability to “breed?” Do we want to talk about Madeline Hunter’s Regency heroines who often attempt and succeed at daring careers, but when the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions is within their grasp, they choose marriage and childbearing instead?

    Wow, this is a fascinating subject and the subtext is one I really hadn’t thought of before. Perhaps you could guest something for DA? (jane at dearauthor dot com if you are interested)

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  11. Jane
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 08:02:44

    @Liza Lester I think a lot about the idea of whether romances reflect and normalize current values and honestly I think they mostly reflect and normalize the author’s values. How the reader responds to them, of course, is different. I’ve read about 60 Charlotte Lamb books and her body of work is fascinating because I believe it depicts a woman who had her beliefs and feelings really challenged by the changes between men and women in the 70s and 80s. Her work reflects a real struggle as she vacillates from one book to another depicting different power dynamics.

    I don’t know that you could take one singular book by an author and say that it reflects and normalizes her values, but I think you can look over her body of work and glean some things from them.

    As it relates to readers, however, it is different because each reader’s interaction with the book is different based upon the reader’s own cultural and societal bias. I don’t think that if you vociferously criticize and object to the way that the fantasy is portrayed in the book, you are objecting to the women who like it. But that is different, isn’t it, than saying that you object to the fantasy period? Maybe it is all in the execution?

    One thing I keep circling back to as a core fantasy is Lisa Kleypas’ depiction of an alpha male in romance. She once said that an alpha male is one who takes care of things for you, who is so dependable, so capable, that he even takes care of your orgasm. You just sit back and relax. In her three contemporary books, you can see this played out over and over. (I need to do a post on this). For me, this is a great fantasy. The idea that I could lie (lay?) on the sofa all day long and someone just does everything for me and my life is full of orgasms and chocolate. But it is only a fantasy because in real life, I would go nuts after a day of lying on the sofa; but the escapism is magical.

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  12. Janine
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 09:28:21

    @Liza Lester: I’ll agree with Jane and say that I don’t think criticizing a specific book is the same as criticizing a fantasy. I for example, have read some books with forced seductions and rapes that I didn’t care for, but there are others I loved. Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold is my favorite romance, and I have seen responses to that book run the gamut. I don’t feel personally condemned when a reader can’t stand it, unless that reader criticizes me rather than the book.

    @Jane: I hope dm takes you up on your offer!

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  13. Jeffe Kennedy/Jennifer Paris
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 10:06:52

    Hi Janine – thanks for the really thoughtful review! I also find this discussing fascinating. I’ve long been interested in Jane’s (et al) theories of reader consent in otherwise non-consent scenarios. It’s interesting to play with this kind of fantasy and tread the fine line of consent/titillation/rape. I could absolutely see Amarantha breaking the curse and walking away. However, as you all acknowledge, in the fairytale setting (whatever historical era we’d call that), she doesn’t really have that option. Though I suppose we could make it be whatever we wished.

    I don’t know that I feel criticizing a specific book is the same as criticizing the fantasy. We all have the “thing” that sings for us, whether or not that conforms with our real-world values. Like Jane, I grew up on those rape-tropes of the early romances that I find frankly horrifying now. But clearly I’m still fascinated by issues of power, control and consent.

    Thanks for a really interesting discussion!

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  14. Janine
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 10:26:03

    @Jeffe Kennedy/Jennifer Paris: What a classy response. You’re welcome. I hear you about the fairy tale setting and I could see where the structure of Beauty and the Beast, which this story follows, might lead readers to expect a HEA ending.

    I don’t know that I feel criticizing a specific book is the same as criticizing the fantasy. We all have the “thing” that sings for us, whether or not that conforms with our real-world values.

    Agreed.

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  15. Isabel C.
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 11:59:50

    @Jane: Huh, and that gets back–interestingly–to the whole “everyone’s fantasy is different” thing as per a couple threads back, because that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I like working partnerships, I even like some struggle for control and what TV Tropes calls Slap Slap Kiss, but the idea of being taken care of on any but the most temporary and superficial level leaves me…worse than cold.

    @Liza: Absent anything else, the equation of adulthood with maternity would squick and offend me. Depends on how it’s presented in the book, granted, but my initial response to the summary was “oh, Hell, no.”

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  16. MaryK
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 13:47:32

    @Jane:

    Lisa Kleypas’ depiction of an alpha male in romance. She once said that an alpha male is one who takes care of things for you, who is so dependable, so capable, that he even takes care of your orgasm. You just sit back and relax.

    Whoa, sign me up for that! I was involved in a discussion at AAR once where a commenter found it appalling that a modern, adult woman would fantasize about being swept off her feet by a moneyed hero who took care of all of her problems. But it really depends on your perspective. People with health issues, people who can’t support themselves working in their calling, or people who just want to imagine a break from reality can find that fantasy wonderfully appealing.

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  17. Sunita
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 16:19:45

    First, Janine, thanks for the thoughtful and insightful review. It’s a terrific complement to the conversations we’ve had here over the last couple of weeks.

    I find these discussions about reading fantasies v. real-life preferences fascinating. Why is it the case that if someone enjoys a book with forced seduction or rape in a clearly fictional scenario, their commitment to gender equality and their own sense of self is up for discussion, but when I confess to a love of Betty Neels novels, no one assumes I want to marry a reserved Dutch doctor and raise kids in a house along a canal in Amsterdam?

    I also hope DM will write a guest post. For myself, I would far rather read a forced-seduction plot dealing with humans than a fated mate or woman-animal sex scene. I don’t equate the two in any way except that they are both fictional creations, but I do wonder why liking one is suspect while the other is accepted unquestioningly.

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  18. Jaclyn
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 21:27:11

    Janine, thanks for starting this discussion, I’ve been avidly reading the conversations here at DA these past couple weeks and mulling over the myriad views and ideas everyone is sharing.

    I read Petals & Thorns last fall. As I recall Aramantha’s family were horrible, greedy people and I found her situation with the Beast *better* than her life with her father and sisters. Or maybe that’s the romance reader in me, wanting her hero to be better than what she had before.

    This next paragraph might be spoilerish:
    Aramantha’s innocence combined with some of Sir Beasts more extreme pain play (is that the proper term?) split me in two–on the one hand the eroticism worked and in the context of a fairy tale I was cool with it, and like Janine, I’d give the steaminess high marks. On the other hand I had intellectual trouble with the power imbalance, especially since Aramantha’s naivete meant that she didn’t always understand what was happening to her own body. But there’s a key to the story that’s totally in Aramantha’s favor–in answering Sir Beast’s crude question each night, she holds ALL the power over his future as man or beast. I’ve always thought this evened the playing field to some degree, except that it took Aramantha a while to figure out the power she held. For certain this is a story that’s hovered in the back of my mind since I read it.

    I completely agree with this comment: “I’ve been struggling with the idea that criticizing the ethics and content of a romance might mean shaming the women who enjoy it, and stifling their sexual expression. I don’t want to casually shame other people.”

    It’s not my intent or wish to judge or shame anyone, especially for their sexual fantasies. Women need empowerment and support in our culture, not more shame.

    What does the rape fantasy really mean? If we decode it, what would we discover? Has anyone studied the rape fantasy and deciphered its myriad meanings? (I guess this is happening here at DA, in a way.) Is rape fantasy in romance/erotic romance a subversive means of women reclaiming our sexual freedom? By women writing rape fantasy for other women’s reading enjoyment are we claiming the meaning of rape from those who would use it as a tool of dominance and shame, and ultimately defusing its power?

    When a book “takes place within the context of a relationship that ends in the diminishment of the heroine”, as @dm said, it deeply troubles me, even as I sometimes enjoy the stories. I couldn’t finish the Easterbrook book. The exchange going on: being pampered, coddled, protected, pleasured, treated like a (caged) princess and giving up their ambitions–it’s one that as @Jane says can be magical within a book. But what’s given up, at least for me, is so precious that I find myself hating the heroes, just a little, for caging their women. When this happens in a book I usually find it’s a bittersweet HEA.

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  19. Janine
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 21:50:00

    @Sunita: .

    I find these discussions about reading fantasies v. real-life preferences fascinating. Why is it the case that if someone enjoys a book with forced seduction or rape in a clearly fictional scenario, their commitment to gender equality and their own sense of self is up for discussion, but when I confess to a love of Betty Neels novels, no one assumes I want to marry a reserved Dutch doctor and raise kids in a house along a canal in Amsterdam?

    LOL, great question. For the same reason readers of books about serial killers aren’t accused of wanting to murder, no doubt.

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  20. Janine
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 22:00:29

    @Jaclyn: Thanks so much for posting, it’s great to have another person who read the novella weigh in.

    S
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    I read Petals & Thorns last fall. As I recall Aramantha’s family were horrible, greedy people and I found her situation with the Beast *better* than her life with her father and sisters. Or maybe that’s the romance reader in me, wanting her hero to be better than what she had before.

    I agree with you. The father and sisters were more self-centered than Sir Beast, and had no compunction about using Amarantha for their own ends.

    Aramantha’s innocence combined with some of Sir Beasts more extreme pain play (is that the proper term?) split me in two–on the one hand the eroticism worked and in the context of a fairy tale I was cool with it, and like Janine, I’d give the steaminess high marks. On the other hand I had intellectual trouble with the power imbalance, especially since Aramantha’s naivete meant that she didn’t always understand what was happening to her own body.

    That describes the way I felt too.

    But there’s a key to the story that’s totally in Aramantha’s favor–in answering Sir Beast’s crude question each night, she holds ALL the power over his future as man or beast. I’ve always thought this evened the playing field to some degree, except that it took Aramantha a while to figure out the power she held.

    Yes. I would have loved for the novella to be longer and for the section where Amarantha understood the power that she wielded over Sir Beast to be longer. Because she started the novella feeling so powerless, I wanted to see her claim her power to a greater degree than she did.

    For certain this is a story that’s hovered in the back of my mind since I read it.

    I have the feeling that it will stick in my memory too.

    You ask good questions about the rape fantasy. I don’t have the answers but it is fascinating to discuss the subject and to think about it.

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  21. MaryK
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 22:02:32

    @Jaclyn:

    Aramantha’s innocence combined with some of Sir Beasts more extreme pain play (is that the proper term?) split me in two–on the one hand the eroticism worked and in the context of a fairy tale I was cool with it, and like Janine, I’d give the steaminess high marks. On the other hand I had intellectual trouble with the power imbalance, especially since Aramantha’s naivete meant that she didn’t always understand what was happening to her own body. But there’s a key to the story that’s totally in Aramantha’s favor–in answering Sir Beast’s crude question each night, she holds ALL the power over his future as man or beast. I’ve always thought this evened the playing field to some degree, except that it took Aramantha a while to figure out the power she held.

    Oh, this made me think of something. (Keeping in mind I haven’t read the story.) They’ve, or he’s, got seven days, right? It would take pretty drastic action for her to go from naive to “tie me to the bed” in seven days. This seems like it could be an accelerated sexual awakening story.

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  22. Jane Lovering
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 10:07:54

    @Isabelle C – I’m with you too. I have never desired to be a ‘kept’ woman and I think it derives from my fear of dependency. If a man is catering for all my needs – what happens if he leaves? Am I less of a woman then? I prefer to cater for my own needs, and have a man fill in the gaps (so to speak!). A cage is still a cage, however full of cushions and orgasms it might be. But I am aware that for a lot of women the fantasty of having a man who looks after every aspect of their lives, particularly women struggling to pay bills, might be a powerful one.

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  23. Isabel C.
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 11:09:20

    @Jane: Was discussing this with friends the other night, actually, and it’s odd: I certainly fantasize about being wealthy and paying people to take care of things, and I would have no problem living in a commune where my friend paid the bills and I just kind of lounge around. But when a guy gets involved? Yipe. No.

    For me, it’s less fear of what happens when he leaves and more fear that *I* won’t be able to leave when I want to. And also, a big fantasy for me is having guys find me impressive and awesome–lovable is not so big a deal–which is harder for me to imagine if someone’s taking care of me.

    Fantasies are such odd things, really.

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  24. Jill Sorenson
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 12:57:25

    I have this fantasy of being rich and successful through my own efforts. Silly, I know! One thing I find fascinating about these discussions is the issue of power balances and control. Who has it, who cedes it, where and when does it shift.

    As others have said in this thread, something about the wealthly, privileged hero (esp. in contemp romance, like Hqn Presents) interferes with my independence fantasy. As a stay at home mom, I often feel, well, dependent. I don’t want to be taken care of. I prefer to take care of stuff. For example, I love the injured hero/nursemaid trope but am much less interested in an injured heroine.

    I love Lisa Kleypas’s contemporaries because the heroines maintain a strong sense of self, even if the hero ultimately saves the day. I like the idea of an emotional or physical rescue over a financial one. Not sure why that is.

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  25. Carin
    May 01, 2011 @ 10:49:58

    Based on the review, I thought I’d like the book. I bought it and read it last night and I did really like it. I think the fairytale setting lets me forgive a lot that I wouldn’t be accepting of in a contemporary setting.

    I wanted it to be a little longer with more insight into why they were feeling the way they did. In particular, at about the middle of the story Amarantha has a change of heart and her sympathies start to swing toward Sir Beast. I actually enjoyed the story even more after that transition, but I wasn’t sure *why* it happened.

    Thank you, Janine for the review!

    I’ve also really enjoyed the discussion in the comments and love that Dear Author is taking up these issues.

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  26. Janine
    May 01, 2011 @ 13:34:17

    @Carin: Thanks for posting, Carin. I’m glad you enjoyed the novella. I agree with your comments — I too liked the second half of the novella better than the first half.

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  27. Jill Sorenson
    May 03, 2011 @ 00:34:05

    Okay, I just read this. I sort of enjoyed the second half of the story when the heroine began to have feelings for the Beast and recognize her physical reactions. But I think it worked better as romance than erotica. The pain play was too extreme for me. With BDSM I really need to know what’s going on inside the heroine’s head because it’s an unfamiliar place for me. This heroine didn’t seem to know her own mind so it was difficult to understand why she enjoyed his…ministrations.

    It reminds me of a discussion on Anne Stuart’s Black Ice at RRR Jessica’s. I loved the book but disliked the dubious consent scene because the heroine never made a decision. In those gray areas between yes and no, I feel unsafe or uncomfortable as a reader, much more so than I would in a straightforward rape scene.

    I’m not sure what kind of lesson the Beast learned, either. His beastlike behavior got him cursed. So he uses the same type of behavior to break the curse?

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  28. Carin
    May 03, 2011 @ 10:08:19

    I wonder how it would have felt if she’d known more up front. If there’d been more explanation of what was going to happen and she gave a more informed consent, I think she would have enjoyed it more, and me, too.

    I really liked the twist that it was his beastly behavior during his BDSM play that earned him the curse. But I’m with Jill on the resolution of it, what he did to Amarantha, especially in the beginning before she understood what was going on, was pretty beastly.
    And that behavior reminds me of all the alph-hole books I’ve read where the “hero” is a total ass to the heroine for the first half (or even more) of the book. This certainly plays along with the trope where the hero knows better than the heroine and her character growth consists of coming to understand “hero knows best”.

    This is where over analysis ruins it for me, so I’m going to stop! I enjoyed it as a fairytale. The end.

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  29. Janine
    May 03, 2011 @ 10:52:30

    @Jill Sorenson: I agree with you to an extent. The first half made me uneasy even though I found it erotic. I wished I’d known what was going on in Amarantha’s head more, and for that matter, what the Beast was thinking, too. I also agree there wasn’t much of a lesson for the Beast which is why I would really, really have liked to see Amarantha leave him at the end.

    Where we part company is when you say that it worked better for you as a romance. To me the idea of the Beast and Amarantha marrying when she is just getting to know who she is is unsettling. I don’t feel that it would be a balanced marriage in terms of power.

    To my mind, this story is not exactly BDSM — since there’s no informed consent or a safe word either. I know it’s categorized by Loose-ID as BDSM fantasy but I think it’s much more of a forced seduction fantasy, although it does use bondage, dominance/submission and pain play.

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  30. Jeffe Kennedy
    Jul 23, 2011 @ 09:06:52

    [...] there have been interesting developments with Petals & Thorns. It was reviewed on Dear Author. I was simply thrilled. This is a major site – one I really like and respect, for the honesty [...]

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