Monday, July 14, 2008

Charlie's Bargain by Evangeline Anderson

TITLE: Charlie’s Bargain
AUTHOR: Evangeline Anderson
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 63k)
GENRE: Futuristic sci-fi erotic romance
COST: $5.95

Without a credit to her name, Charlie Owens flees with her younger brother to the one place in the galaxy their creditors won’t find them, an appalling planet so devoid of anything pleasant it’s simply called Hole. She refuses to make a living on her back, and together, they take menial jobs just to survive. But someone has noticed Charlie, a creature from an alien species that makes Hole residents look positively civilized. Lynx terrifies Charlie, but when her baby brother manages to lose a large sum of money to the man, there is only one way to pay off the debt – strike a bargain to satisfy his loathsome needs…

I knew when I was buying this book, I was doing so because it hit a kink factor in me. There were red flags in the excerpt, but I chose deliberately to ignore them because, well, the blurb and idea wouldn’t let go. In fact, the first third of the book lives up to the pulp fiction vibe I was expecting. It’s futuristic sci-fi that’s over the top, sometimes ridiculous, with the erotica as an added bonus. The atmosphere is richly painted, and the settings leap off the page. I even absolutely adored Lynx then, the Xorn reviled by everyone including the heroine. He’s alpha to the extreme, who fights desperately against his baser instincts because he loves Charlie and doesn’t want to hurt her.

Things start to fall apart a little for me about a quarter of the way into the story. The bargain Charlie is forced to strike with Lynx is sexual in nature. The males in his species go through several periods in their lifetime called The Thirst, during which time they absolutely have to drink from their female partners. By drinking, I don’t mean blood. What they need to consume is a female’s arousal, straight from the source, so that means lots and lots of oral sex. Charlie is essentially a good girl. She doesn’t want to sell her body to get by, and she especially doesn’t want to have sex with an alien that disgusts and terrifies her. So she holds out for as long as she can, which means the author – since this is an EC title – finds other, creative ways to get the smut quotient in. Charlie works with a woman named Marlene who is more than happy to prostitute herself to customers at the bar they work at, so Charlie witnesses two different encounters with her, a threesome scene in the alley where both men take Marlene at the same time, and a gangbang in the middle of the bar. Rather than find it sexy, I found myself repulsed by them, the second scene especially. Much of the sex in this story borders on nonconsensual, and though Marlene gets paid for what she does, she keeps protesting for them to use protection or do it somewhere less public. Nobody listens. It makes for an incredibly uncomfortable scene, which unfortunately prevails when Lynx ends up doing some of the same to Charlie later on, albeit at a much gentler level.

But I’ll be honest. I knew that when I bought this book it would very likely border on some of the noncon for the hero and heroine. For the most part, they’re well written scenes. Lynx’s dismay at how it all transpires is palpable, and considering what we already know about him, it’s easy to believe how much he loves Charlie. But witnessing a scene with a character I’m not invested in spoils it for me. My head starts out the Charlie and Lynx sections in the wrong place, and I get increasingly distanced from the love story. The clincher was the emotional climax, which I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say, it was far more over the top and ridiculous than much of the preceding story, even if it did fit in with the world’s logic.

The author knows how to construct erotic scenes, but there’s an odd juxtaposition of coarser terms with clinical throughout this. The author uses anus alongside words like cock and pussy, which for me, doesn’t fit. Clinical words in erotic romance have a tendency to throw me out of the story. That being said, I generally expect vernacular in erotic romance, and I actually don’t have issues with most words if it makes sense within the context of the story. But because I know quite a few female readers have problems with it, I think I need to warn about the excessive use of the word cunt throughout the story. It’s not a problem for me, but it could be for others.

Readability

7/10 – Minor editing issues and the juxtaposition of clinical with coarser terms slowed me up.

Hero

7/10 – Sympathetic and appealing even when I don’t think he should be.

Heroine

6/10 – Slightly histrionic and uneven, I didn’t buy the emotional turnaround

Entertainment value

6/10 – I was actually going along for the ride until the emotional climax, which was just too over the top and ridiculous for me to believe, even if it did fit in with the logic of the story.

World building

9/10 – Some great details, very vivid worlds.

TOTAL:

35/50

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