Books I Say No To is an informal review segment where I take time to discuss why I couldn’t finish a book or dislike something about it enough to say so and why. This is not a means of discouraging reading of the book. You are always encouraged here at Lurv to seek out and read what interests you, despite less than enthusiastic opinions. A score is only given if it’s for Amazon Vine, where I occasionally receive ARCs.
Passion Play (Erythandra Series #1)
October 12, 2010
In order to discuss why this became a DNF for me, and why I was disturbed enough to mark it so, there will be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Blurb via Goodreads (where incidentally you can find some positive reviews for this book if you wish):
The daughter of one of Melnek’s more prominent merchants, Ilse Zhalina has lived most of her life surrounded by the trappings of wealth and privilege. She has wanted for nothing and many would consider her lot a most happy one. But there are dark secrets even in the best of families and Isle and the women in her family have learned that to be beautiful and silent is the best way to survive.
However, when Ilse finally meets the colleague of her father’s selected to marry her, she realizes that this man would lock in her a gilded cage. In her soul, she knows he is far crueler and more deadly than her father could ever be.
Ilse chooses to run from this life. Her choice will have devastating consequences and she will never be the same.
But she will meet Raul Kosenmark, a man of mystery who is the master of one of the land’s most notorious pleasure houses…and who is, as Ilse discovers, a puppetmaster of a different sort altogether. Together they will embark on a journey that will reshape their world.
Lush fantasy. Wild magic. Political intrigue and the games of seduction and treachery to gain control of a kingdom. PASSION PLAY is all of these and more. It is the journey of a woman who must conquer her passions in order to win all that she desires.
I got this book at BEA in New York City this year. In fact, I made sure to get it, marking it on my list as a must-have. What can I say – the gorgeous cover sucked me right in and the premise was certainly intriguing. I was really, genuinely, super excited to get my hands on this book. Instead, I’m sad to say it’s probably going to rank up with my top biggest disappointments for the year.
This past Friday I decided it was time to tackle Passion Play. Honestly, I was worried about it right off the bat, as even the first several pages were not very engaging. I felt bored. Then comes an evening where the heroine is expected to help her mother entertain several business guests under pain of her father’s iron rule over their household. This dinner was where I became both much more interested in the story as well as increasingly uneasy.
The world the author has created is pretty standard in fantasy. It is filled with men who look leeringly at the heroine, who in turn acts demure and ducks her head, slightly flirting as she admonishes some of the rich men for teasing her. This could possibly be due to her age – she’s only fifteen years old, soon to turn sixteen. And then she dances with one of the guests, a man who was obviously using some kind of magic while there, and he makes her extremely uncomfortable….while also stirring a mild and unsettling lust in her.
I’ve got to say, the writing itself was good – it just failed to engage me. I couldn’t find a reason to sympathize witht he heroine…not till later.
Due to the rigid hold men obviously have over women in the book at this point, it’s understandable that the heroine would want to run away from home when she discovers that her father’s contracted her to marry the man she danced with, was creeped out by yet also attracted to – right? NO, it makes no sense whatsoever, of course, despite her suspicions of the man’s previous and now dissolved engagement to another woman who hasn’t been seen for three days. I mean, maybe yes, it does make perfect sense to to run away from home when you fear for your life. When you have no other family anywhere to turn to. When you cannot defend yourself. When you’re just a young, beautiful, attractive and naive fifteen-year-old girl.
By this point I was in a state of all-out dread.
Why? Because everything I’d seen so far, all the subtle innuendo and rigid male control told me the heroine was going to get raped. But I told myself I was being silly. Why should I assume this, maybe this book will surprise me and not have such a scenario. But then our heroine pays for passage with a caravan, paying its brutish-looking leader entirely too much for passage and food. She knows this, but, see, she is desperate to get away and would pay twice that.
Warning: She. Is. Desperate.
She pays alright. Along the way to a city where she hopes to establish a new life as an assistant to a scholar or some such lofty appointment, our heroine is indeed raped. Her money and jewels taken from her by the caravan leader, she’s tied to a wagon. Two young men say they will let her go – who before this all happens, along with the caravan leader are constantly giving her sexual suggestions – if she will have sex with them. She refuses. At first. But then she agrees. She’s desperate. It won’t really matter. They generously give her a knife afterward to cut herself free, being too cowardly of a bunch of dogs to actually help her. Before she can truly get away, she’s captured again and this time the caravan leader generously offers to let her sleep with him, or he’ll sell her back to her father. She’s desperate. She can’t go back there, where everything feels like death wrapped in silk, where she’s only as good as the price she can fetch for her father. She takes her clothes off. And so begins a horrible next few pages in which not only does she become the whore of the caravan leader, but any and every man he wants her to be so with. Clearly these men already thought her a whore before she ever becomes their personal toy. Later in the book she tells another character that she was had at one point by thirty different men.
She is fifteen years old.
When the men holding her captive convince her that she asked for it, that she deserves it….and she agrees, I knew I was done.
She didn’t ask for this. She was a stupid, naive girl who made stupid, wrong choices, but she didn’t truly ask for that. You never ask to be raped. She was cornered by the men in the caravan, her every option and outlet taken from her until she felt she had no choice, till the only thing that could save her was to tell herself that she could pretend anything. They managed to convince her, though, and I began frantically glancing through the book, hoping that this attitude changes. I can’t say if it does ultimately, but I did read further along in a couple of places, and because of that time with the caravan, she does still think herself a whore and others treat her as a thief and a whore for it. She eventually meets her captor again, the caravan leader, and this time she is in a position of power over him, but I cannot say that it gave me any satisfaction as a reader. There is little satisfaction or enjoyability to be had now.
Even though I’m fully aware the book could possibly…get better after this, I don’t remember ever feeling this enraged or disgusted by a book. Many who read here probably know that this subject is one of my hot buttons. I’ve really only got two when it comes to reading – harm to children with absolutely no discernible reason in the story for it other than sensationalism is another. I wanted to hurt Passion Play. Throwing it at the wall wouldn’t be good enough, and my wall really doesn’t deserve to have the likes of that coming at it. In those first thirty or so minutes of shaky rage, I wanted to physically hurt that book. Dare I say set it on fire?
Don’t worry. I would never do that. I actually gently set the book down. In fact, I want it out of my house. So I’m offering my ARC copy up to someone who might not feel as I do about rape in books, or who might mind it, but can get past it and finish. I know lots of people are looking forward to this book. I sure was – but I’m afraid I pretty much loath it now.
Please leave a comment below and be sure to let me know if you’re interested in winning Passion Play. U.S. residents only please. I’ll draw a winner on Monday.
And if it wasn’t obvious by now – DNF.
P.S. The book’s signed by the author, yo! In case, you know, that appeals.
ETA: Wow, folks. There’s some interesting reactions out there to this post! I’m going to link some here now so you can go see for yourself if you’re interested.
Also, please be assured that my reactions to Passion Play in no way reflect on the author. This is simply one reader’s reaction to what was written, and one to an issue I feel I’m growing less tolerant of as I get older. Sometimes I think maybe I’ve just simply had enough of reading rape scenes in fiction. I know this happens in real life and feel I’m extremely emphatic when it comes to how the real victim feels. So when I read another fictional rape scene, I seem to be reacting more and more, well, mad. I’m not mad at the author. Far from it. Bernobich has total rights to write that scene in, just as readers have a right to react to it and discuss it. The beauty of all of this is that maybe I will learn something! Something aside from how the book made me feel up to that point.
I won’t lie – if you feel this post has saved you from a book you feel you probably won’t like, I’m glad I could help. I find more and more often that I too wish I’d known prior that a book contained a rape scene. I might choose not to read as well, or I might feel prepared and BE able to push past it. Of course, there’s really no way to tell until that scene is reached. But knowing could also be half the battle of getting past it.
Passion Play could totally be worth the effort. You, the individual reader, has to make that decision, though, and whether you decide to read or not, neither is wrong. Whichever you choose – happy reading, folks!
Links reacting to and/or discussing my post:
Post from Pheonix Rising
A little over three months later, still being discussed: Barnes and Noble
If anyone knows anywhere else I should link to, please let me know. I think the author is possibly aware as I have a link from her LiveJournal in my stats, but unfortunately I’m asked for a LiveJournal password and account name to access it, which I don’t have.