Pros: Riveting pacing and plotting
Cons: Justification of emotional abuse
Rating: 1 out of 5
I’ve read and reviewed four of Christine Feehan’s books including her latest, Burning Wild. I started out expecting good things, since she’s sold well and won plenty of awards. Turbulent Sea I enjoyed, but had minor issues with. Murder Game I had some relatively major issues with—in my eyes she blurred the lines inexcusably between a dom/sub relationship and emotional abuse. Dark Curse disappointed me on more mundane levels: the world-building felt like a hodgepodge mix of elements that didn’t really gel. And this time, Burning Wild has succeeded in absolutely, 100%, pissing me off. So prepare yourself for an unusually ranting book review. I try to keep my reviews as even-handed as possible, but this time, that just isn’t possible.
Billionaire Jake Bannaconni was bred by his parents in an attempt to create a leopard-shifter—but they believed they had failed, and they took out their rage on him through constant physical and emotional abuse. Eventually he broke free of them to become one of the most powerful businessmen in the world. A tragic accident left him to raise his young son alone, however, and also left a pregnant young woman alone to raise her baby.
From the moment Jake laid eyes on Emma he became obsessed with her. He manipulated everything around her so she’d have no choice but to move to his Texas ranch and take care of the house and both children. As the emotions between them get hotter, however, their lives seem to become more dangerous—someone is out to get them, and they’ll stop at nothing to succeed.
I’ll start with Everything Else, because once I start on the content that made me angry, that’s all I’ll be talking about.
First of all, Christine Feehan is, in many ways, one hell of a good writer. Her pacing is, in most cases, extremely good; my only exception is that her characters sometimes spend too much time over-thinking things instead of acting (particularly early on). Her plotting is tight and action-packed, and keeps me glued to the pages wanting to know what happens next. Her characters are largely fascinating (with the exception that the bad guys in this book are such over-the-top one-sided villains that they’re rather cartoonish). The frequent sex scenes are lavish, imaginative, and hot as hell, with some minor personal quibbles (spasming or clenching wombs will always make me think of PMS and cramps, not hot sexiness).
However, it’s extremely difficult to sit back and enjoy the above when I’m steaming mad about the rest.
Main man Jake is a cold-hearted bastard. Okay, no biggie, you say: it’s a common fantasy that women want to find themselves to be the only one who can warm the heart of the big baddie. This is fantasy, not reality. Sure. Normally I can accept that. I can accept dominant alpha males (although they get a little boring when over-used). I can accept depictions of dom/sub relationships (I’ll be reviewing a fantastic depiction of one when I review Jory Strong’s Ghostland later this week). There are, however, several reasons why this book’s depiction of an emotionally abusive, controlling, manipulative male lead went way beyond any of the above for me, straight to something that I find wrong.
1. A big deal was made out of the fact that a line was drawn between physical and emotional abuse, as though as long as Jake never actually hit Emma or the children he was somehow in the clear. Bullshit. Emotional abuse is real, and can be at least as devastating as physical abuse. To draw this line leaves many emotionally abused people feeling as though if they haven’t been hit, they have no right to call for help or leave their abusers.
2. Jake’s behavior was excused through his traumatic childhood. While it’s true that a traumatic childhood leaves a lot of emotional scars and often is a good reason for giving a person some slack and helping them through their problems, it is NOT an excuse for abuse. Many abused people do not grow up to be abusers. Again, the assumption seemed to be that as long as he wasn’t the physical abusers that his parents were, he was still a good guy.
3. Both of the above points ultimately were made to seem as if they didn’t matter because as long as Emma loved him, she could change him. By “surrendering” to him and doing whatever he wants, of course. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that this magically turns him into a loving man and puts them on an equal footing. Oh, yeah, and the fact that he’s sexy and turns her on is apparently an excuse, too.
4. Any manipulation of her on his part, no matter how nasty, is magically made okay because—get this—she really recognized that he was manipulating her all along and decided to allow it. It’s the worst kind of justification, not to mention it’s virtually a deus ex machina because none of her thoughts revealed until that point have apparently shown us the full truth of what she was thinking.
But ultimately, what makes this book so horrific to me is that it spends a very, very large number of its pages stridently defending Jake and justifying his actions. It’s one thing to simply portray a fantasy that some women might have. It’s another to go to such great lengths to justify abuse as a part of a romantic relationship. (This is exactly the kind of thing that gives the larger world such a dim view of romance and erotica novels.)
Normally I’d have to give Feehan at least a 2 or 3 because really, in many ways she is a very good writer, and it wouldn’t seem fair to give this book a 1 out of 5 due to one issue. This time, however, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t.
Let me explain something I thought I wouldn’t be talking about for a long while yet. I once knew a woman I’ll call Mary. She married an emotionally abusive man who was very controlling and manipulative. I and other people around her often wished that she would leave him, and tried to offer her help, but he had used financial circumstances and such to leave her feeling trapped (much as Jake did to Emma).
Later, when Mary was dying of cancer, I spoke with her in the hospital. She told me she knew intellectually that her husband would never change, but that she just could never emotionally give up on the hope that he would.
This is the kind of book that encourages that hope and that fantasy, that urges people to try to heal damaged, emotionally abusive people, that tells folks they’re safe as long as they aren’t being hit, that tells them go on, surrender, if you just really give in to your abuser then they’ll change. And after seeing Mary’s sorrow, after knowing she died without ever getting free of her husband, reading that attitude made me physically ill.
I have always felt VERY strongly that books, games, movies, etc. are not responsible for people’s actions—people are. I loathe the idea of censorship, banning books, etc. But if a young woman I knew was going to read this book, I would want to make sure we sat down afterward and had a very long talk about the realities of emotional abuse. There’s a difference, to me, between depicting a harmless fantasy, and spending half of your pages trying to convince your audience that the actions of an abuser are acceptable. And this book went waaaay over that line.
This review is written in memory of a very kind woman who deserved far more than what she got. May she rest in peace.