JOINT REVIEW: Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell
Dear Ms. Mitchell.
Sarah: It’s no secret that we love your books here at DA. Your No Souvenirs is on my list of Perfect Books. I recommend Collision Course to anyone who will listen. You’ve had some semi-duds (for me) and some it was incredibly difficult for me to read, but overall, I adore your voice, I adore how you write men, and I wish like anything you could write faster.
This book…well, I’ve had a storied history with it. The first time I read it, I was…in heated discussions, let’s say, with my partner. So when parts of the book confused me, I assumed it was me, not the book, but I still didn’t really enjoy it. I reread it to write this review and I think now it’s very much a book that works better the second time around. I love the characters — adore them even more the second time. But even emotionally unimpaired, I was still very confused by some plot points and that just bugged me.
First, plot summary! Kellan Brooks is homeless, jobless, moneyless. His father, owner of Brooks Blast Energy drinks, has thrown Kellan out, cut him off. And Kellan’s pissed and wants to get back at him. So he hunts down Nate Gray, whom he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, and asks him to be his boyfriend in an attempt to piss off his homophobic asshole father.
As a literary critic, I love quite how many tropes this book plays with here: marriage of convenience, gay for you, friends to lovers, grudge relationship, second-chance relationship. You make G4U work: you make it sit up and beg, dammit. And I adore that.
Sunita: I started reading this without knowing anything about it. I was definitely not expecting the Gay For You trope in a KA Mitchell novel. But I figured that if anyone could make it work, you could, and I was curious to see what you did with it. I wasn’t totally convinced, but I appreciated that you gave us a lot of time in Kellan’s head as he worked out the feelings he had.
Sarah:See, I was utterly convinced about the G4U, especially taking into consideration Kellan’s back story. This wasn’t G4U for the sake of G4U — it worked for the character. What I don’t like, however, is that, for me, the whole premise of the book is shaky. Kellan is a professional rich kid, basically, like Paris Hilton with less money. He’s been engaged three times. He’s been on a reality show, sort of. He’s…not really done anything with his life for 28 years. So when his father throws him out and tells him to grow up, he acts like a teenager and does what he thinks will piss his father off the most, which is “turn” gay. I get that. I even appreciated it because of the character construction. I’m just not quite sure…what he expects to get out of it, honestly. I don’t know what his end goal is and I’m not sure if that’s just because he doesn’t have one, or because I didn’t find it. I think he wants his father to both take him back and stop trying to run his life, but I’m not sure how that would work. And in the end, his father is just a bogeyman and I guess I was disappointed with that, because Mitchell’s so good at making even secondary characters fully functional.
Sunita: Having read lots of category romances, I had less problem with Kellan’s motivation. He was definitely a guy, but he shares characteristics with some of the ditzier rich heroines of the HP and Modern Heat lines. He’s not stupid, he’s just never had to use his brains much. And having seen people hold endless grudges in real life, I didn’t have as much of a problem with the father-son storylines as Sarah. Over time these kinds of dysfunctional relationships can become pretty unmoored from the original issues and just run on their own steam. That’s how I interpreted these.
Sarah: Ha! That’s interesting. Yes, this very much work likes a category romance but it’s been a while since I read any. However, Nate’s reason for taking Kellan in is also shaky. I mean, he takes Kellan in because they have huge history. Best friends from seven years old, then Kellan turns on him in high school when Nate figures out he’s gay, then Nate thinks that Kellan’s father betrayed his own father when he founded Brooks Blast Energy Drinks…for me, the stuff between Nate and Kellan works, but the stuff about their fathers was confusing, and even when it was explained and modified at the denouement, I didn’t understand it.
Sunita: On the other hand, I found Nate and Kellan’s early years somewhat underexplained, even though they talk about it a lot. What I mean by that is that they tell me what happened, and they talk at each other about it, but I didn’t get a strong sense of them as a childhood unit. Perhaps more examples would have helped, or perhaps it didn’t sink in for me even though it was there.
Sarah: Wow, see, that’s what I really thought worked — but on a second read-through, not the first time around. Mitchell says in her dedication something about “loving Kellan even when he was a jerk,” and yes, he is, but his reasons for being a jerk to Nate in high school and how that blends into the completely believable Gay For You are for me just brilliantly done and so subtly handled throughout the book, which was the reason the book worked better for me on reread. I was having a hard time with how I was supposed to sympathize with Kellan the first time I read it, but knowing his reasons and going back and rereading, the weaving and layering of his feelings was brilliantly done. In fact, I thought NATE was more of a jerk on the second read.
Sunita:One thing that I initially found difficult in reading but that I really appreciated in terms of Mitchell’s writing was that neither one of these characters is all that sympathetic. Or rather, they’re each sympathetic and annoying by turns. Kind of like real people. Here they are initially representing certain archetypes, but they are completely human, to the point where I wanted to smack each of them upside the head on a regular basis. And yet I kept reading to see what happened.
Sarah: Yes! As always, Mitchell’s characterization is perfect. Nate is different and distinct from Kellan, and both are utterly different from any of your other characters. These are real people she creates, with real problems and real things that piss me off about them and real things that make me love them (yes, thank you, I can distinguish fantasy from reality).
Sunita: When Kellan finally falls in love with Nate, and Nate finally lets himself believe it, it’s lovely to read.
“What are you doing?”
“Being your boyfriend.” Kellan kissed his ear. “You see, when one guy says fuck you to his homophobic father and a big pile of cash, then gives another guy a blowjob in the apartment that the other guy has invited him to share, they’re boyfriends. Even a former straight guy can figure that out.”
Nate turned around. “Wait. You really mean this? Not because of your dad or because you want to get off?”
“For a smart guy, you’re an idiot, Gray. That’s what I’ve been saying all night. What do you think I came back for?”
Nate’s head tilted and his eyes—
The look broke something inside Kellan and made everything right at the same time. How could one look say so many goddamned things? And Kellan was so fucked because love was a hundred times worse than all the stupid songs could ever try to explain. And when he loved you back, it was too much. Like all of those feelings could never fit. You’d have to spend your life trying to figure out how, but it wouldn’t matter as long as he kept looking at you like that.
Nate grabbed Kellan’s head and kissed him.
Kellan wished their first real kiss could have been something special, something that didn’t happen in an alley with a bunch of other guys standing around laughing and clapping.
Sunita: Despite my initial misgivings about the premise, I totally believed that they fell in love, and I could retrospectively see how their long relationship formed the basis for what is objectively a quick transition. And the way their physical relationship develops feels appropriate to their backgrounds and experiences. Bad Company has plenty of the steam physicality and romance that characterizes Mitchell’s other novels, and it is nicely calibrated to the needs of this relationship, which is quite different from the other ones she’s written.
Sarah: When Mitchell sticks with pure romance — two men meeting, falling in love, overcoming emotional barriers, and getting their HEA — she’s brilliant. Add in a little mystery (a la Chasing Smoke) and…well, things tend to fall apart (for me). Or at least, get a little frayed around the edges. But, despite my misgivings about plot points, I loved these two men and totally believed in their romance.
-Sarah and Sunita
Sarah: And OMG, I can’t *wait* for Eli’s book!