Darker by EL James

I’ve written on my blog before about how the 50 Shades trilogy was my guilty pleasure. I reviewed Grey, the first book that told the 50 Shades story from the point of view of Christian Grey, and having been very excited about it’s release, I was left feeling very disappointed with it. Whilst I’d hoped to get an insight into the mind of James’s fascinating character, what I felt I got was a male version of Fifty Shades of Grey but with a few added insights into the mind of the elusive male protagonist. It was with some reluctance that I decided to download Darker, expecting more of the same, but I hoped that I would be pleasantly surprised.

Darker tells the story of Fifty Shades Darker from Christian’s point of view, but unlike Grey, the reader gets much more of an in-depth view of Christian’s vulnerabilities and we get to know what actually happened when Christian’s helicopter went down; what Grace said to Christian when she finds out that her best friend, Elena, abused her 15 year old son; and what happened when he finds Leila in Ana’s apartment. It didn’t feel like I was reading the same story with a few tweaks. I was actually being given more information and being provided with what I’d hoped for in Grey – an insight into the enigma that is Christian Grey.

James is not the best writer in the world. There is still a lot of repetition, cliches and a few big words and high-brow references chucked in to try and give the impression of a more intelligent narrative. However, this was much less prominent in Darker, and the characterisation of her intriguing characters was allowed to shine through. As a reader, you get another perspective to Ana’s and Christian’s relationship, seeing that Ana is actually the one in control, and has been from the beginning. Christian’s desire to control each and every situation is borne from his terrible start in life, his love for Ana, and his complete lack of capacity to understand and deal with emotional feelings and responses.

We get more of an insight into Christian’s childhood and his relationship with Elena, which illuminates how his character has been created. This is James’s skill and where her writing falls short, she excels in creating multi-layered characters. Christian is flawed, yet brilliant. He’s assured, yet vulnerable. He’s more interesting than Ana to some extent, as his upbringing has undoubtedly shaped his entrepreneurial brilliance and his inability to recognise love. His vulnerability and his success are a fascinating combination for the reader.

After being so disappointed in Grey, I enjoyed Darker much more. The Fifty Shades novels from Christian’s point of view were so sought after by fans of the trilogy after the couple of scenes at the end of book three, that Grey was a bitter disappointment. It seems that James has decided to give the readers what they wanted with Darker and I sincerely hope that we get more of the same with the Christian version of Fifty Shades Freed.


The Prince’s Slave by PJ Fox

It wasn’t that long ago that I made PJ Fox’s The Demon of Darkling Reach my September Book of the Month. Since reading, and loving, this book, as well as it’s follow up, The White QueenThe Prince’s Slave trilogy has been on my reading list. The time had come for me to read it and I started it with a little trepidation. I wanted to be blown away by it, as I was with the first two books in The Black Prince trilogy. I’ve been in this position before. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a big Stephanie Plum fan (Janet Evanovich) so I was looking forward to reading Metro Girl when that came out and I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I expected to. In the shadow of a series I adored, Metro Girl didn’t come close. I was a little worried that after enjoying The Black Prince trilogy so much, I wouldn’t enjoy The Prince’s Slave.

The Prince’s Slave is a modern re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. The main protagonist is Belle, a confused college student, who attends a college in Dresden in the hope that she might find the answer there to what she wants to do with her future. She has been a keen ballet dancer until an injury dashes her hopes of a future career in dancing, but she suspects that this wasn’t her calling anyway. Determined to work hard and get a decent job so that she does not follow in the footsteps of her neglectful mother and her alcoholic father, we join Belle in a nightclub in Prague, having taken her homework with her on a night out that she didn’t want to attend, as she is neglected by her friends. She sees Ash, an intriguing, smart-looking but very intimidating man, staring at her, and when she is presented with an opportunity to speak to him, she uncharacteristically gets defensive towards him. She thinks that is the last she has seen of him until she is tricked into a dreadful situation that puts her in grave danger. Ash saves the day, or ruins her life, depending on how it is perceived, and we are shown how Belle reacts to Ash’s actions as her life changes beyond recognition.

I was overjoyed to find that I had nothing to worry about and was not about to have a Stephanie Plum crisis. I loved this trilogy from the first page to the last. As with The Demon of Darkling Reach and The White Queen, The Prince’s Slave is a really intelligent narrative that challenges pre-conceived ideas at every turn, and it is all the more refreshing for it. While this trilogy is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, Fox continually challenges the ideology of fairy tales throughout, including the Disney versions, arguing against their perceived image of what true love should be. Not only does she challenge these accepted notions, she urges the reader to consider the possibility that perhaps the assumptions that are generally held about how a relationship might develop is not the only way. While Belle initially is abhorred by Ash, his acceptance and adoration of her just as she is makes her question whether she can overcome her anger and distress at the way in which they have been brought together; she is his slave as she understands the situation, and also this is how Ash understands it to an extent. However, both characters are experiencing new facets of their sense of self. Self-assured Ash realises that Belle is not, and never will be, a true submissive, and Belle is challenged and intrigued by the world that Ash is introducing her too.

In reality, Ash doesn’t want to change Belle beyond expanding her sexual horizons. He treats her differently to his “other girls” by allowing her to share his bed and by giving her all she desires. He introduces Belle to the sexual lifestyle of a dominant/submissive relationship and she is appalled, yet fascinated by her body’s reaction to Ash’s sexual approach. Belle is fighting against being told by everyone in her life that she should act to a rule book of conformity and Ash is introducing her to sexual experiences that confuse yet arouse, further encouraging her that conforming is not necessarily what makes a person happy. There are some highly erotic scenes throughout the trilogy but they are not gratuitous, and each serves a purpose of highlighting Belle’s transformation of no longer being the wallflower but being the centre of Ash’s attention. Ultimately, as Belle learns more about Ash and him about her, they are able to develop their sense of self so that they both get their own happy endings, together, putting to rest a few demons from their childhoods along the way.

One thing I have learned about PJ Fox is that she doesn’t take a beaten path with her writing, but more seeks the road less travelled. While there are undoubtedly minor comparisons to be made to that other BDSM-related trilogy, what Fox does with her trilogy is shows EL James how it’s done. Fox shows how to write characters that engulf the psyche of the reader so that they are able to leave their preconceptions to one side so that the main protagonists can get their happy ending with the reader’s blessing. She also shows how to write a narrative that entices the reader without resorting to formulaic, Mills and Boon style descriptions. Fox displays how to formulate a story without repeating the same coined phrases over and over and also how to educate the reader in more than different types of sexual devices. Fox doesn’t tell the reader what to think, more that she provides as much information as she can to allow the reader to reach their own conclusions, assuming that the reader keeps an open mind and considers that maybe, just maybe, there are other ways for people to be happy; that conforming to an image of what people think is right isn’t actually right for everyone. Everyone has their own predilections and as long as they are not breaking the law, who is anyone to tell them that it is wrong.

50 Shades of Grey has been my guilty pleasure; I’ve mentioned this on more than one occasion. In fact it was a discussion on PJ Fox’s website about 50 Shades… that made me read The Demon of Darkling Reach in the first place. Not any more. I couldn’t read it now without feeling completely irritated by its inadequacies (not that I hadn’t noticed them before). The Prince’s Slave is a much better trilogy in every possible way. It encapsulates all that 50 Shades of Grey could have been in the hands of more skilled writer and storyteller and is much more eloquently written, something I have come to expect from Fox’s narratives, whether it be in her novels, on her blog or indeed, her messages on Facebook! Aside from the 50 Shades comparison, it is just a fantastic story and a joy to read. Fox has previously mentioned that people have commented that her books leave them with the feeling that “they don’t know what to think”. I think that Fox tells a brilliant story in a wonderfully engaging style. No if, no buts. I will undoubtedly be reading Fox’s other novels and of course, the release of final parts of The Black Prince trilogy is just around the corner. However, I have no doubt that I will read The Prince’s Slave again, and again, and again… Christian who?

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