Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hard as a Rock (Gargoyles #3) by Christine Warren

Wynn Powe comes from a long line of witches.  As a child, Wynn thought that she would grow up to be a member of the Guild and maybe even have her own Guardian to watch over.  Because of the extreme sexism of the Guild, Wynn gave up her childhood dream and watched as her brother fulfilled the role she had once dreamed of. When Wynn finally does get her wish, it's nothing like her childlike fantasy and the Guardian she had once dreamed of, may just want more from her than she is prepared to give.

Hard as a Rock is book three in the Gargoyles series and at least as far as the romance portion of this series, the story has gotten pretty formulaic.  A woman with magical powers wakes a Guardian - a gargoyles who can shift into human form and bound to protect humanity from evil.  Said Guardian is initially amazed by his feelings for the woman but quickly comes to realise that the woman in question is his mate. The female love interest is quickly aware of her attraction but struggles against the idea of a fated mated but by the end of the book comes around. Were the Gargoyle series just about getting to the HEA, I don't think I would be willing to continue.

Warren does seem intent to use one book to wake each Guardian which very much makes the meta feel at times as though it is being dragged out unnecessarily. It's worth noting however that this is a case of mileage may vary.  Though the Gargoyles series is paranormal romance, as evidenced by the Man Titteh on the cover, it also has a very interesting meta which has the characters actively investigating dark magic. It is the latter element that has drawn my attention to the series; however, if you are reading this series especially for the paranormal aspects, you many not mind the slow down in the meta which happened in this book.

Though it is part of the formula to have the female love interest deny her feelings for her Guardian, I really like that Wynn's dissent is based in the idea that if she succumbed to her lust that she would be giving up her free will.  That being said, the importance of agency ends up of course being mute when Wynn gives in and agrees to become Knox's mate. The fact that Knox and Wynn are set up as a couple means that they never address the fact that he is slow to accept her limits and borders on abusive.
"Get off me,” she growled, matching him bared teeth for bared teeth. In another moment, he might have found her attempts at ferocity amusing. Now they just confused him. She wanted him, the beast insisted, wanted him almost as badly as he wanted her, so why was she pushing him away?  
 “I said. Get! Off!”  
This time, he felt a jolt of energy behind her shoves. She still lacked the power to physically move him—he was easily twice her size—but the force broke through the urgent lust clouding his mind, and he eased back a few precious inches.
"That was a really bad idea,” she stated, her voice eerily calm and filled with tangled undertones of anger, fear, desire, and frustration. “I think it would be best if we each got some space and took a little while to cool off. I’m going to go into my bedroom, and I’m going to lock the door.” (pg 84)
Because Knox is certain that Wynn is attracted to him, he doesn't comply immediately when she tells him to stop.  Warren uses woo woo to explain Knox's supposed confusion at an explicit request to stop sexual activity.  Wynn has to actively attack Knox to get him to back off and then tell him that though the he is capable of breaking down her locked door, she expects him to respect her space. None of this should have happened, nor should Knox have had to be told that he couldn't just claim a woman for woo woo reasons.

Even If I could forgive the fact that Wynn had to repeatedly tell Knox to get off of her, there's the little fact that he snuck up on while she was sleeping, lowered her blanket and started caressing her body. There's nothing romantic or sexual about this.  It reads like the creepy sexually predatory act that it is. To deal with this obviously inappropriate behaviour, Warren has Wynn become amused by the molestation and this left me totally confused.  One one hand, Wynn demands to keep her agency, and have the right to say no and yet when she is molested, she suddenly finds it amusing?  Honestly, I think that Warren really wanted to have a feminist protagonist but had difficulty with the follow through.

I was firmly troubled by the fact that Knox spent much of the book attempting to order Wynn around supposedly for her own good and his fear that something would happen to her.  We are told how protective he is but to me, rather than treating Wynn like a love interest and an equal, he treated her like a shiny possession which should sit on a shelf and only be taken down to be cleaned once a week.  Knox constantly referring to Wynn as his female, further giving the impression that she didn't really register as a person to him.

Hard as a Rock is the third book in this series to address sexism.  Griffin is Wynn's uncle and a former Warden.  He makes it clear that he has always known about the strength of the women in his family and the fact that they were wronged by not being given a place in the guild.  Griffin's awareness however does not stop him from jealous of the abilities of the women in his family and he even damages himself trying to increase his magic so as not to feel inferior.  I know that Warren was going for the idea that sexism hurts men too but her approach wasn't nearly nuanced enough for this to work.

Gender and sexism are obviously issues that Warren wants to confront in her work.  I think that's great but cannot help but wonder why she lacked the same dedication to dealing with race and sexuality?  Thus far, all of the characters are white and straight. I can see no reason for this erasure and in fact, adding some diversity would add some real meat to the Gargoyles series.  At this point, I don't hold out much hope for better but marginalized people certainly deserve it.

Because of the meta running between books, I don't recommend picking up Hard as a Rock as a stand alone novel, though the story itself is easy to follow.  I really do want to see where the meta is going and am willing to wade through the romance to get there.  I hope that the next book will pick up the pace of this series.  If you go into Hard as a Rock for it's paranormal elements, it's worth noting that the chemistry between Wynn and Knox feels forced, particularly given Wynn's resistance to sexism and patriarchy. Hard as a Rock is a quick read and while the plot feels a bit standardized there's enough going with the guild and the treat of demons to make it interesting.