Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Beast in Him (Pride #2) by Shelley Laurenston

Back in high school Jessica was awkward, lonely, bullied, helpless and desperate

Many years have passed since then - she’s now successful, powerful, rich, has an awesome network of friends and an amazing pack. Of course she has some old scores to settle and is perfectly willing to give old crush Bobby Ray Smith the run around.

I love Jessica. And I would love this entire book to be the story of her awesome life. Jessica was an orphan and grew up almost friendless, ostracised and severely bullied. Her family lost through a plague that hit so many were-wild dogs (and I like that the world building includes elements like that - that a disease can his one population and what that does to their culture and survival). We then have the gap to adulthood

Jessica is wealthy, successful, snarky and she has a pack. And while I am a complete and utter cat person and would never ever ever have a dog, I absolutely love the wild dog pack. I love how they have fun. I love how they rely on each other. I love how they constantly support each other. I love their bonds, I love their karaoke, I love their family and how important it is to them. I love how they support other lost orphans and work closely with them to help them feel belonging and connected.

I just want the story of Jessica. I want the story of her and her four closest friends. I want their fun, I want their complete lack of embarrassment over everything (they’re not wolves - they’re dogs. And since when do dogs care about being silly?)

And I want the story of her claiming her power; not just wealth and success but how she built her pack and staked out territory and her pack together. There’s some excellent, awesome scenes where this wild dog pack showed just how much they are contenders and excellently take down the packs who look down on them.

Jessica is also a Black woman. She is completely lacking in stereotypes or tropes or other elements that so often make us cringe when we see a Blackety-Black portrayals. On the downside I reached page 163 and read “get my Black, Wild-dog ass out of there” and said “wait, she’s Black”? Which is almost a little odd because one of her pack is Asian and that’s very clear; we also have another Japanese wild dog who visits and is a major business partner which is very overt.

It’s going to sound odd but I kind of like that Sassy was one of the girls who bullied Jessica. Because it’s easy to have a cruel bully be a complete monster we’re meant to hate. It’s harder to see that bullies can be people we like and appreciate - but that doesn’t change the terrible, cruel things they do to other people. I like that it challenges the narrative that because someone is nice/friendly/fun with you doesn’t mean they are to everyone. And I like that Jessica is still extremely not happy with her.

Sadly, while I’ve kind of loved many many many characters in this series, Smitty is not one of them. He is extremely aggressive in pursuing Jessica and showed her considerable lack of respect (also I’m calling her Jessica through this whole piece simply because she insists on it and he repeatedly ignores her and calls her Jessie Ann. And this isn’t because he forgets her name or even pretends to - it’s because he just decides he prefers Jessie Ann). I found myself cheering every time Jessica managed to snarkily put him in his place - not just because I love Jessica and not just because I appreciate some good snark - but because I loved her putting him down and driving him out of her life. I actively wanted him out of her life. He continually forces his way into her life, he forces his way into property she wants to keep private from him, she ends up hiring his security business to protect them from a non-existent threat because she couldn’t tell him to mind his own damn business about some pack business they were involved in. He once locks her out of a fancy part in freezing cold to demand he have a date with her. He follows her to private parties and private retreats he just constantly pushes and pushes and pushes and pushes when she’s made it clear - usually awesomely, how much she wants him to back off

But he persists and… wins.

It would help if Smitty had some personality at all. But beyond “southern accent” and “doesn’t like mornings” there’s not a lot there. He has issues with his dad but we don’t really go into that - which is a shame because his rejection of the violent domineering habits of the Smith clan would be an interesting story. Instead I’m not seeing any of that - if anything he just embodies them (which would be nice if, again, it was recognised as a thing). Even the idea that he may feel insecure as the poor country boy going after a woman as rich and intelligent and successful as Jessica falls flat because his self-confidence/arrogance just squishes this vague attempt at conflict that makes me wonder why they even raised it.

I just really don’t like him

Though in reading him it does make me wonder if I’ve given the other male characters more of a pass for their behaviour. In those books, Mace, Shaw and Mitch are all fairly pushy towards their respective love interests. Ok none of the women have been remotely as reluctantly as Jessica has been towards Smitty and none of them have been as obnoxious as he has been. But that does make me question myself and wonder if I’m more willing to give a pass to objectionable behaviour because Mace, Shaw and Mitch are funny and charming and have wonderful snarky relationships with their love interests while Smitty lacks the cushioning of being an otherwise fun character to soften his arseholery. Let me be clear, I’m not saying I’m being overly harsh on Smitty - I’m thinking I’ve been overly kind with the others.

We need the greater chronicles of Jessica. Single Jessica. Who has left Smitty behind somewhere.