I applied for this on a whim because the cover art was so lovely. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold a candle to the artwork inside. It's not horrible--it has the look of older manga, like Hana Yori Dango--but it isn't the beautiful art I was expecting, either.
The plot is no less bizarre. Taehee is a high school student who cuts class because he'd rather work at a bike repair shop. He wants to make money now so he can move out and stop being so dependent on his uncle, who takes care of him.
One day, he encounters a boy who falls off a bike. The boy is Johann, a transfer student everyone thinks is gay. Johann doesn't say much, and doesn't seem to like people. Even when Taehee rescues him--and his phone--from disaster, he isn't grateful.
As the book goes on, Taehee and Johann sort of develop feelings for each other, but they're so immature and quick to take offense that it takes a while before they progress past the bickering stage. Also, Mr. Seo, Johann's teacher, prevents the relationship from developing because he has designs on Johann himself.
I wasn't really sure how to feel about BEHIND STORY. Taehee and Johann weren't very likable characters, and I didn't really give two hoots about their budding romance. I was also put off by how casually rape was introduced in this book. It's suggested that at first Mr. Seo's relationship with Johann was consensual, but when even when Johann makes it clear he wants to end things, his teacher refuses him, and at one point attempts to rape him in the classroom (again) but Johann stabs him in the back with a pen. I'm not sure if the relationship even was consensual, or if it was all Mr. Seo's attempt to rationalize it to himself (a la Humbert Humbert from LOLITA).
When Johann tells Taehee about Mr. Seo, Taehee picks up a gardening tool with the intent of killing Mr. Seo (?!?!?!) but changes his mind at the last minute. Okay? It was all pretty anticlimactic and seemed to only superficially graze what are actually pretty serious issues.
I used to be really into manga and manhwa and anime when I was younger. Now that I'm a semi-prominent book blogger, I have increased access to the newer titles and I'm starting to fall back into the old habit.
CORE SCRAMBLE is manhwa with m/m themes. So far it's shounen-ai, but I could see this getting really sexual later because of the very dark prevailing themes in this book.
CORE SCRAMBLE takes place in a dystopian future. Interdimensional portals called "Halls" appear at random in the city, and when they open up they not only destroy any matter they interact with, they also unleash hordes of creatures called "bugs."
The only people who can see and fight these halls have magic in their blood. The strongest ones are made chiefs of their troops, leading them into battle to fight the bugs. Chaeun, the main character, serves under the most powerful of all, a man named Gayoon. Unfortunately, Gayoon is also an asshole. He treats men and women like crap, and ditches his men mid-mission, leaving them to die. I'm pretty sure he's a closeted sociopath (and possibly a closeted something else). It's common knowledge how crappily he treats his men, Chaeun in particular, and the other chiefs are boggled as to why Chaeun has stayed with him all these years and never put in for a transfer.
One day, after a particularly vicious battle in which Gayoon ditches Chaeun (after having all of his men injured), Chaeun collapses after fighting off the bugs for eight hours straight. He's rescued by another sexy man-babe named Moonhoo, who he subsequently refers to as the pervert. Moonhoo has the same dangerous, broody alpha vibe as Gayoon, but he's a bit more playful and not physically abusive (there is this one really awful scene when Gayoon beats the crap out of Chaeun).
The military groups who fight off the halls are called Clarus Orbis, but they aren't the only groups interested in the halls. There's also the Core Hunters, who use the halls for power and financial gain. And they're not afraid to hurt people--including Clarus--if it means getting what they want.
I really liked the world-building in this book. It reminded me of an LGBT-friendly Ender's game (in fact one of the most powerful characters in this book is a woman named Song, and she kicks ass). It was really confusing and it took a while to sink into it, but once I did, I was able to appreciate the conflict between magic and technology.
I'm not giving this a higher rating because Chaeun really upset me with his passivity. Especially that beating scene. I don't mind abusive male leads but I don't like it when they're portrayed in a light-hearted way, if that makes sense. Abuse isn't funny or cute. Go all out, or go home.
When I first learned of GREY's existence, I immediately looked to my calendar to see if it was April 1st. It was not. The horror was real. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was going to be written--and speedily published--from Christian's point of view.
In all honesty, I wasn't surprised. All the commercially successful books are doing it. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER did it. EDGE OF NEVER did it. HOPELESS did it. It's probably the easiest way to publish a "new" story: rewrite it from another character's point of view. Hell, Stephenie Meyer did it in her heydey, too. Not just with MIDNIGHT SUN, but also with THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER. And considering FSoG's origins, it makes sense that it would follow in its predecessor's footsteps.
But that doesn't mean I was happy about it.
I think you all know the synopsis of this book by now, even if you haven't read the series or watched the movie. Girl meets boy. Boy is billionaire. Boy is really into BDSM. Girl is really into boy, but not so into BDSM. Enter soapy wangsting and bad sex.
This is literally the summary of the book. Literally.
Nothing else really happens.
So Anastasia Steele is a student at Washington State University. Her roommate and best friend, Kate Kavanagh is supposed to interview Christian Grey, a media mogul and CEO of a corporation that allegedly doesn't have a board. Kate gets sick, and convinces Ana to do the interview instead.
I've only read part of the first book, and I didn't like what I read (why I didn't finish, obviously), but at least it was readable. Not particularly pleasant, mind you, but readable. This book is...I don't know. It's like if you told a really sexist, douchey, sadistic boy to sit down and write what he thought FIFTY SHADES OF GREY should be like. During the whole interview, for example, Christian fantasizes about hurting Ana.
I wonder briefly if all her skin is like that--flawless--and what it would look like pink and warmed from the bite of a cane (10).
As she fumbles and grows more and more flustered, it occurs to me that I could refine her motor skills with the aid of a riding crop (11).
I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands tied behind her back. That would answer her ridiculous question (17).
The ridiculous question she asked is, "Are you gay?" There is a pretty strong undercurrent of homophobia in this book. Christian takes many opportunities to assert that he has never done any BDSM activity with the opposite sex, ever, God forbid! But BDSM doesn't always have to be about sex. I'm fairly sure that a straight Dom could tie a gay sub up, just so the sub could enjoy the sensations--and vice-versa. Not all aspects of BDSM revolve around sex. So this...odd reiterating of his sexuality seems defensive, and blurs what BDSM is really, actually about.
FSoG does a lot of that, blurring what BDSM is actually about. But more on that.
After the interview, Christian is obsessed and orders a background check on Ana. Somehow, this background check allows him to be privy to some details--i.e. the amount of money in her bank account to the penny--but not others, like her religious views or her sexual history. Which is odd, because those things should be pretty easy to find, whereas bank details are, well, not.
Also, what the fuck, Christian? WHO DOES THAT? Oh, hey, I like this girl--I THINK I WILL LOOK UP ALL HER PERSONAL INFORMATION TO DOCUMENT FOR LATER.
As Christian's dick comes to the conclusion that it wants to fuck Ana, he starts referring to her as "a deal." Getting Ana to sleep with him is "closing the deal." Every time he thinks he's cockblocked himself, he calls it "blowing the deal" or "losing the deal." One of Ana's reservations about starting a relationship with him later on is that he treats her like a prostitute. He denies this repeatedly (and gets pissed off, to boot), but referring to her like a business deal really underscored (for me) the reasons she might have felt this way: he thinks he can buy sex for money from her. By his own admission, he's done it before. By his own admission, he's used to using money to get his way.
Hell, he's referring to her as "a deal." Like consent is something you can fucking broker.
Newsflash: it isn't.
Anyway, they have coffee, and we get this weird line.
As she tells me she likes her tea weak and black, for a moment I think she's describing what she likes in a man (37).
He lets it drop that he used a GPS to track her cell phone and she doesn't even blink.
When Christian takes Ana home after she drinks too much, it's supposed to be sweet in the original book. Considerate. Especially since he saves her from date-rape. But in this edition, told from Grey's POV, he pretty much jokes about date-raping Ana with his brother right after he chastises Jose for doing the exact same thing. When Jose, a man of color, attempts to take advantage of Ana, it's wrong. But when Christian, a privileged white man, laughs at his brother's congratulatory "hope you get laid!" with a "me, too, bro!" it's supposed to be...I don't know...an insight into how much he wants her? Some bullshit like that? No matter how you look at it, it's ugly. Moving on.
The original books received a lot of flack for the ever-present inner-goddess and subconscious. You're probably wondering if Christian has something similar. The answer would be yes! His cock. It agrees. It concurs. It listens to music, and is oh-so-eager. So basically, yes, exactly what you would expect.
Christian also has a really weird relationship with food. I've seen friends criticize the other books for how he berates Ana about food, but I had no idea it was so bad until I read the books myself. He is always on her about food, always asking her when she's eaten last and what, how much she's had to drink, how skinny she is, how she's not athletic enough, how she doesn't eat enough, how she isn't allowed to waste food. One of the clauses of his infamous contract is that he gets to provide her a list with what she is and isn't allowed to eat. What the actual fuck. How invasive.
I also took issue with his relationship with Elena, who "seduced" him when he was fifteen. This is statutory rape. In most states, the age of consent is eighteen. Why? Because young adults--children--do not have the emotional or experiential wherewithal to enter into consenting relationships with adults. It puts them at risk for being taken advantage of--and it is taking advantage, because the balance of power is so unequal, and the risk of physical and emotional damage is so great.
Relationships like that can't be equal.
But in this book, Christian treats Elena with reverence. He's annoyed when Ana calls her Mrs. Robinson (a reference from The Graduate, in case you didn't get it, although that at least had a male who was of-age and in a consensual relationship, whereas this one has a lot of uncomfortably blurred lines--she was a friend of his mom, they had to keep it a secret, she later employed him (while they were having sex?--that enters into a whole other morally gray (ha--gray) ballpark, etc.)).
At one point, Ana (surprisingly) sums up my dislike of this relationship with this:
"She took advantage of a vulnerable fifteen-year-old boy. If you had been a fifteen-year-old girl and Mrs. Robinson was a Mr. Robinson, tempting you into a BDSM lifestyle, that would have been okay?" (291).
While this is a good point, it's still a flawed argument, because it suggests that all people who engage in BDSM are mentally ill, or emotionally disturbed, or else in some way perverted. Christian says that he is drawn to BDSM because he uses it like therapy (which I'm pretty sure is a huge no-no). BDSM isn't supposed to be about transferring your own issues onto your submissives as if they were strawmen. It's about sexual (or psychological) satisfaction and trust.
But Christian does a lot of things that are borderline (or in some cases, actually) abusive, as I said earlier. He tries to isolate her from her friends. He gets very angry and hostile towards Kate, when she starts to get worried about his effect on Ana and attempts to keep them apart. When Ana says she doesn't want to see him again--twice--both times he drives to her house and in one instance, demands explanations; in the other, he spies on her house and sends her presents.
The gift-giving is really inappropriate. Even though Ana is quite poor, and he knows she is in no position to reciprocate and that this makes her uncomfortable, he insists on sending her things he knows--he knows!!!--are unwelcome. First edition Thomas Hardy books, an Audi, a BlackBerry, diamond earrings, expensive clothes, and uprgrading her plane tickets without her permission.
The car thing is especially disturbing because he arranges to have her own car sold without her permission. Oh, he informs her retroactively, but that's not the same as asking permission, and doesn't quite cover how invasive and domineering and creepy his actions are.
Why does he do this, do you ask? He doesn't think her car is safe.
Oh, the irony.
Then there's also these decidedly unromantic quotes:
Christian: "You'd think I'd coerce you into something you don't want to do, and then pretend I have a legal hold over you?"
Ana: "Well, yes" (156).
Note: he doesn't dissuade her from this.
"If you were my sub, you wouldn't have to think about this. It would be easy" (161).
Note: this seemed like a pretty concrete example of how this book uses BDSM to legitimize domestic abuse. It sounds dangerously close to the "if you loved me, you'd do it" guilt-tripping some abusers use to emotionally manipulate their victims into doing what they want.
...you really wouldn't like me when I'm angry (199).
Note: he says this to her a lot. His bad temper is joked about, but it's scary how often he threatens Ana with it. It makes the "punishment" scenes uncomfortable, rather than sexy.
Kate, on their relationship: "Ever since she met you she cries all the time" (200).
Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you.
I can track your cell phone--remember? (208)
"No one's ever said no to me before. And it's so--hot" (245).
Note: Trivializes the importance of consent while also shaming women who embrace their sexuality and actively seek out and fulfill their own sexual gratification. All the women who express interest in Christian in this book are shamed by him--ruthlessly. He's quite cruel. Sickeningly so.
[Ana's] pissed at me; maybe she has PMS. She said her period was due this week (293).
Note: He refuses to see that his own behaviors might be the source of her distress.
"What happened to the other fourteen [women you slept with]?" she asked.
"You want a list? Divorced, beheaded, died?" (311)
Note: this is a legitimate concern since the only other two sexual partners of his that we actually meet are severely disturbed. One is a pedophile, and the other is apparently suicidal. Apparently slashing your wrists in your ex-boyfriend's house is a "spectacle" and merely a case of "suicidal ideation."
You know. Nothing serious.
I think the most disturbing scene of all happens when they actually discuss the contract. Christian decides to get Ana drunk because he knows it makes her more talkative and complacent.
REAL BDSM revolves around SSC--safe, sane, consensual. You cannot be safe, sane, and consensual if you're drunk, and Ana's painful lack of experience (and Christian's bucketloads) make this even more unpleasant because it's so obvious he's taking advantage. It'd be taking advantage even if Ana had slept with hundreds of men, but the fact that she knows so little about sex just makes this feel like she's a lamb in the lion's den, and it's so unpleasant and so unsexy that I was just like WHAT. D:<
Other highlights of this book.
At one point, Christian contemplates stuffing a peeled ginger root up Ana's ass. Peeled, because apparently it hurts more if you peel it. I'm surprised he didn't go with a ghost pepper, then.
By the way, this is what ginger root looks like. It is about the size of a human hand. Can you picture this shoved up your ass? I can't. And I have a good imagination, & years of Tetris under my belt.
My hand glides down her ass to the blue string, and I tug out the tampon, which I toss in the toilet. She gasps, shocked, I think, but I grab my cock and slide into her quickly (298).
Stop trying to make tampon sex happen. It's not going to happen!
He also has a special pair of jeans he wears when he has BDSM sex. He calls them "Dom Jeans" or DJs for short.
Christian--and E.L. James, by proxy--quotes Andrew Carnegie to Ana in his interview. Except he doesn't. The quote he shares with her--"the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership"--was actually coined by Harvey S. Firestone. A quick visit to Google would have cleared that right up, but it's obvious that nobody ever bothered to fact-check.
I think that was my biggest beef with this book, to be honest. I'm a reader of bodice-rippers and bad romance. If a book is entertaining enough, and well-written enough, it can be excused of nearly any flaw. However, the writing quality in this book is all over the place. Many parts of it are so boring that I just skimmed them (the contract itself is at least ten pages long and written in painfully dull legalese). Christian's many asides to himself, his tendency to refer to anything with two X-chromosomes baby, his self-congratulatory attitude, and the many factual errors in this book (yes, you can get pregnant on your period), bespoke a painful lack of editing. The impression I got from reading this work was that editing was mostly bypassed in favor of getting it published as close to the movie's release as possible in order to capitalize on the renewed interest following in its wake. This is pure speculation on my part, of course, but I don't think I'm completely incorrect.
GREY is a truly terrible book, easily one of the worst--if not the worst--I've read this year. It truly puzzles me how this series has garnered the popularity that it has. The relationship was awful, and borderline abusive, and reading the book through Grey's eyes turned an already dubious male lead into what almost seemed to be a reprise of Patrick Bateman a la American Psycho (maybe that's why he allegedly wanted to be the screenwriter for the movie version?).
I suppose if there's one bit of silver lining in this (fifty shades of) gray cloud, it's that E.L. James has caused publishers to look at independent authors differently than they have in the past. Before, they were a mockery, the much-laughed-at vanity-publishers. Now, people are looking at it as a viable enterprise that can actually--if you're very lucky--bring in the big bucks.
Okay, James. You've made your point. Now can we all stop beating the dead cash cow and go home?
------- Edit: Is it just me, or does that REALLY look like it could be Daniel Radcliffe on the cover?
“So often, I read romance novels and say to myself, ‘Wow, this woman is so busy being
I want to read this because of this:
(quote from Netgalley blurb)
“So often, I read romance novels and say to myself, ‘Wow, this woman is so busy being in love/having sex, how is she managing to hold down a job?’ I wanted to write a book where the heroine has a life, and falling in love has to fit into that,” observes Kait.