August 18, 2013

Review: Red Grow the Roses by Janine Ashbless

I think I promised this review back in January. Sorry about the delay. Bad reviewer. Very bad reviewer. <Guilt /> One of the reasons for both the delay and the description of this book as "epic" is the impressive list of kink that it caters to. It think I counted: femdom; fighting; vampire biting; multi-partner M/M/f,  M/f/f/f/f/f, M/M/m/f; a cougar (sort of); humiliation (f); anal (m and f); forced seduction; bondage; rape (or possibly dubious consent); slavery (f); blood; corporeal punishment; torture of the not all that sexual type; torture of the sexual type. And a dual theme of power and roses. That might be it. But I can't guarantee that I haven't forgotten something that might squick you. (Though presumably you don't squick on roses....)

I'm always a bit wary of things that try to do too much (in both life and books) and thus other things have risen in the TBR pile, which to be honest, hasn't been well attended to anyhow (hence the lack of reviews recently.)

The way that Red Grow the Roses deals with the plethora of subject matters is by dealing with each chapter as almost a short story in its own right. Each chapter has a different first person narrator (and I don't think, given the heavy hint about the vampire and blood theme, that it's too much of a spoiler to say that several people, including some first person narrators, end up snuffing it). There are also several (six, one for each vampire I think) extended descriptions from the omnipresent author/god telling the reader about the vampires and where we might encounter them. A sort of intermittent field guide to vampires. If all this sounds a little disjointed, then that's about right. Though I think it is intentional and the threads of the story become intermingled and gradually it becomes (more) clear how everything is connected.

Perhaps you understood this from the long list I began this post with, but this doesn't actually feature a lot of femdom. There are really only two chapters you could tenuously describe as F/m. One ends on a bit of downer by saying that the Domme doesn't really identify with being female anymore. The other is first person from a female character who likes to be in control, but the scenario strips her of any power or agency. (I'm trying not to put in spoilers. I'm really trying.) So as far as femdom goes, this is a total fail. For the femdom aspect, I'd give it a C. It's okay, but it didn't really show femdom in a positive light. I suppose that really it suggested that all power is transient, but the F/m part of this didn't really do it for me. The rest of the book is mainly a combination of male/vampire dominance and women who like being bitten and fucked. Fine, though not my thing. There's some plot, later on in the book, which justifies some of the gore. Some bits are quite sweet: when the alpha vampire submits to having a blow job from his secretary (it's rather more lovely than it sounds). All the humiliation (of a woman) stuff wasn't for me. The male vampires dominating other men for whatever reason was pretty hot, even when it was quite violent. Other parts will turn sensitive stomachs, though its no worse than a standard-ish horror, which mixes up violence, sex, pleasure and pain until you're not sure what is what anymore.

TL;DR: Male vampire perpetrated biting and sex, in all orifices, with varying numbers of partners and degrees of consent. Not femdom. Not really worth getting through all the other stuff for the femdomish bits, unless you like the other stuff.

I don't know if a grade is very meaningful to this. It held my attention and squicked me, but didn't actually stop me reading, which is a testament to the good writing. I was engaged with some of the characters (though sadly not the dominant women, as there's almost nothing about them). It felt like one of those horror films that captures you and you can't look away. I was reluctantly intrigued and aroused. It didn't fill me with fury, like some books have (Ds, Es and Fs, I'm looking at you). So I guess that it's a C-, with a whole stackload of provisos.

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