Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Mane Event (Pride #1) by Shelly Laurenston

Mace Llewellyn has changed a lot since his teenaged years - now out of the army and all grown up so very well (and his lion’s mane now growing out to its full glorious length) but he never forgot Desiree MacDermot.

When a murder in his mother’s pride brings him home, he is again reunited with now police detective Desiree. Their attraction burns - but there’s a murder to investigate and Desiree knows nothing of the supernatural - or the politics of werelion prides

While Ronnie Lee, werewolf, has had a wild life and she thinks she’s ready to make better choices and settle down. But does Brendon Shaw, werelion ready to leave the pride life count?

I love so many aspects of the world building here. So many books have sued the concept of the supernatural to justify all kinds of weird and regressive ideas (like alpha werewolves being abusive arseholes for romance and everyone considering it perfectly ok). Which is why I really like how the concept of werelions here is so turned on its head. A society where the men basically do nothing but breed with multiple women and get fed? That sounds so ideal for creating said abusive nonsense. But instead we see female dominated societies, men traded back and forth as breeding stock and discarded when they’re no longer useful (Brendan is considered less useful to the Llewellyn family because he’s already bred several times; they have children from him they don’t especially need him any more). The men live lives of relatively idle luxury but it comes with being treated as very hungry decorative ornaments who can fight really well. One of the linking elements between Brandon, Mace and Mitch is that they’re all heavily opting out of the Pride system because they object to this treatment and usage.

The Hyenas also look savagly interesting. Again a strong sense of community and culture from another supernatural group. If I have any complaint about the world building and these excellent cultures it’s that we focus so much on the romance between the characters that we don’t actually explore these cultures, this world building (and anything else that may be out there) as much as I’d like - there’s something really excellent here but we’re focused so much on the, admittedly fun, relationship that we don’t really delve into it.

I also like the plot lines which explore the worlds far more - the conflict between the shapeshifter groups, the importance of various characters and how certain actions are considered “cheating” even in relatively violent societies and how investigating requires territory wrangling - the plot intertwines excellently with this and is fun to watch. And I quite liked that there were two stories here - because when we focused on Mace we kind of ignored Brandon despite him being more centrally a victim. It was nice to step back and revisit the person who had taken the most hits here

I wasn’t a fan of the sex scenes. Not so much because they were bad but because there were So. Many. Of. Them. And, again, it got in the way of far far far more interesting parts of the book. I found it especially frustrating when Desiree learns about the supernatural and doesn’t particularly examine it or ask many questions.

I have… a niggle. It’s a niggle that comes having already read book 3 (because I managed to completely get the first book in the series wrong). The thing is, Mitch (the protagonist in Mane Attraction), Brandon and Mace all feel…. Pretty similar? Lions who have, for various reasons, opted out of traditional werelion society. Men who are pretty light hearted, jokey and hilarious.

And Sissy, Ronnie Lee and Desiree are… also quite similar. All tough women who prefer casual encounters to relationships and all are pretty severely adamant that they will not will not will not have a long term relationship (either in general or with this specific man). Until the above man continues pushing until she surrenders to the inevitable. The basic frame of the plot, the basic frame of the characters

And I feel kind of wrong for thinking this because, unlike so many romances, I really like these characters. I really like that they have fun, I like that they joke and are silly and tease and torment others. I say again, they have fun. And a lot of the tired tropes we see a lot in romance: the female characters are in no way virginal or “gently used”: they’ve been sexually active and have absolutely no shame in this. They also have close, excellent families that do strike sparks but there’s still love. And they have female friends - in fact I’d say their closest friends and most powerful relationships are with their friends not their lovers. It feels so broken to complain that the awesome and original is becoming a carbon copy… and yet… it is edging that way. And even the awesome photocopied is an issue: I await the next book to see

The large number of female friends also helps with the hefty amounts of female hostility. But it’s pretty well done. Sure our female protagonists have one or more women they loathe with the fiery passion of a thousand suns - but usually it’s not because they’re terribad awful people (except maybe Mitch’s sister) - but because we have some strong minded women who have taken a dislike. And their battles are hilarious.

I do wonder if the funness of the relationship makes me more forgiving of some issues. After all, we do have a woman who said “no” and a man whose “persistence” won her over. It’s a fun, laughing journey with little physical force and with lots of enthusiastic sex but still there’s that contrast. I’m also slightly discomforted by the idea of a man in his 30s fixating on a woman he had a crush on when they were both 14.

Desiree is a woman of part Puerto Rican descent whose ethnicity definitely informs her character with both class and race heavily influencing her background and the difficulties she faced and her family dynamics. It’s also emphasised that Desiree has brown skin, there’s no ambiguity in how she is described which is often the case with descriptions of paler skinned POC (the word “olive” is mentioned a lot but Desiree’s Puerto Rican parents and sister are clearly mentioned)

She has close former military friends who also include POC as well along with Desiree making a firm note that New York is a diverse city

This book is… not good with LGBTQ people. Firstly Desiree thinks it’s absolutely hilarious to tease those friends by making jokes about them being gay. Which made me think far less of her. Mitch decides it’s an absolutely hilarious joke to pose several drunk male werewolves because how funny is simulated gay sex?

While Brendon has a personal assistant who very very briefly appears, long enough just to confirm he’s gay (yay token gay servant!) and for this exchange:

Brendon: “Go home and see you… uh…”
Smirking, Timothy asked, “my boyfriend, sir?”
“Yeah. Whatever. Can’t we just call him Frank?”

Brendon, you are a man in his mid to late 30s, you run a chain of hotels. Be a professional, be an adult, and don’t act like saying the word “boyfriend” would choke you. Also, disrespecting your employee’s relationship like that is unprofessional and hostile.

It’s a shame this is a problem because the racial diversity was decent and the women are really awesome and the whole book is so excellently funny. It’s a book I generally read with a big smile on my face throughout reading it - there’s a lot of joy there