Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Book Review: In Flight, by R.K. Lilley

Yes, I know, I promised you A Game of Thrones. That review will be ready soon...ish. I hope. But right now I just have all these thoughts about all these erotic romance books I've been reading stuck in my head and I just need to get them out. Enjoy!

In Flight (Up in the Air #1)- R.K. Lilley

(WARNING: All the usual stuff about snark, possibly NSFW material, and some possible mild spoilers, although probably not too many. Also, I could honestly not care less if I did spoil this book. I think you'll understand why soon enough.)

My Rating: One Star

My Review: I'm just going to be upfront with you guys and tell you that this is one of the books I read purely for research. Long story short, the erotic novel/series I'm writing may contain one or two characters who play with the "controlling 'alpha' billionaire" trope, and even though it's more or less a deconstruction of the trope, I wanted to make sure I got the character type nailed down right. Needless to say, after reading Bared to You, suffering through all three Fifty Shades books, working my way through sporkings of This Man and Gabriel's Inferno, and now In Flight, I think I've pretty much gone as far as I can go on this semi-educational journey into the realm of filthy rich alpha-hole "dominant" love interests. And you know what I've learned from this?


So no, I didn't exactly go into this book expecting a compelling, masterfully crafted story with an interesting and lovable romantic hero. But my God, was this book a total yawnfest. It's the epitome of formulaic. Now, sticking to a formula that works isn't necessarily a bad thing--The Force Awakens is derivative as all Hell and I still enjoyed the shit out of it--and I'm a firm believer that just about any story can be enjoyable as long as the author has the skill to pull it off. R.K. Lilley does not.

The best way I can describe In Flight is to say that it's like Fifty Shades and Bared to You had really boring sex and made a really boring baby. I can't even bring myself to tear into it the way I did with those books because there really isn't much I can say about it in regards to the actual story that I haven't said about those ones already. Sure, our "hero" James Cavendish is creepy and gross and bleh, but like I said, he's the prototypical controlling, possessive alpha asshole stalker billionaire character at its most generic, to the point where I actually kept forgetting his name and mentally replacing it with either Christian or Gideon. He's every bit as repellent as those guys are, made even worse by the fact that it's so obvious the author basically handpicked traits from each--the few that the two didn't already share, anyway--and threw them together to create this douche. Literally nothing about his characterization is original, and the same can be said about this "love" story in general. In fact, I've created a special bingo card for the occasion just to illustrate my point. And in case you were wondering, In Flight checks off all but two squares.

Play at home with your unfavorite love interest! Fun for the whole family!

Our "heroine", Bianca, isn't much better. Just as with James, Bianca is little more than a lazy mishmash of traits borrowed from the protagonists of FSOG and Bared to You. She's self-deprecating and mild-mannered, has a tragic past, says she doesn't care about money, naive yet cynical at the same time, all the male characters who aren't gay either want to fuck her or rape her... blah blah blah, she's your prototypical heroine for this subgenre of erotic romance. She's not the worst protagonist I've ever read by far, but about the only truly positive thing I can say about her is that at least she isn't as stupid or spineless as Ana from 50 Shades. But I can only be so appreciative of her relative brains and backbone when she's as petty and judgmental as they come. Right from the beginning she's throwing around catty commentary all while desperately clinging to the moral high ground. Oh, I'm sure it wasn't Lilley's intention for Bianca to come across this way at all, particularly since she seems so determined to drive the point home that she has low self-esteem and thinks she's a bad person who doesn't deserve nice things because... reasons? It's never really explained why Bianca has this view of herself, but whatever, the point is that the way the author wants us to see Bianca and the way she's actually presented in the narrative are wildly different. She's exceedingly resentful of rich and attractive people (which makes me wonder why she ever wanted to become a first-class flight attendant), passes judgement on James and decides he must be an awful person before they've even been properly introduced based solely on these two factors, and is insanely catty in her attitude towards fellow flight attendant Melissa, dedicating pages upon pages right from the very first chapter to hating this woman and cataloging all the reasons why she's so awful.

Granted, Melissa is confirmed pretty early on to be a terrible person, but Bianca ragging on her is some of the earliest commentary we get regarding her opinions of the other characters, so it doesn't exactly make our dear protagonist look very good, particularly since she spends so much of the narrative complaining about her for no reason. But Melissa's character was probably one of the things that bothered me most about this story, after it's horrible romance, bad writing, and lack of originality, of course. She's the designated "slutty gold-digger" character, who's sole reason for existing is to act as a foil for our supposed "good girl" heroine and make her look good by comparison. The whole time I was reading the book I was wracking my brains trying to figure out why the Hell there was so much emphasis put on this rather insignificant character, thinking that she would end up playing an important role in some plot twist that would drive a wedge between the two love interests. But she never did, meaning that the WHOLE REASON she's even there is to have a female character for the narrative to take a dump on to distract us from how terrible Bianca is sometimes play up how much of a speshul snowflake Bianca is and how perfect she is for James by drawing comparisons between the two.

Dear authors, if you feel like you have to tear down other women--or just other PEOPLE, for that matter--to make sure there's no question about how great your main character is or how right she (and only she) is for her love interest, then maaaaaybe you might want to take a step back and really think about what you're writing. Not only is this offensive for being shallow and and an example of internalized misogyny, but also for being just plain lazy writing. Creating pointlessly over-the-top awful characters is one if the oldest cheatcodes for directing audience sympathy towards the author's preferred character or couple, and you just need to look at the frequent use of the Ron the Death Eater trope in shipping fan fiction to see how popular it is among young, inexperienced writers. But in published fiction it's just offensive and insulting to the readers' intelligence.

In Flight is also one of those books in the style of FSOG that's supposedly all about the kinky sex, but ends up ultimately demonizing BDSM by making it seem like something "dark" that our main characters are only into because they were abused in the past. I mean, James literally states outright that he believes having been sexually abused as a teen turned him into a sadist--not to mention that he thinks being a sexual sadist doesn't make him "one of the good guys" or whatever--and Bianca herself says this: "And he was obviously into some kind of S& M besides. I had my own demons to deal with, and that sort of thing was the last thing I should be interested in [...] I knew that it was probably because of my violent childhood that an excited shiver ran through me at the thought of some of the things he’d said [...] I worked really hard not to be a victim of my childhood. That made it all the more important that I stay away from someone like James Cavendish."

 Need I say more?

Remember when I said I'm a firm believer that any story can be good as long as it's well-written? Yeah, I kinda fudged the truth a little. I'm sure most of you know by now that there's no way I would've ever actually liked this story. But the very least it could've done was not put me to sleep! This book had neither the quality writing of Bared to You nor the so-bad-it's-sometimes-good hilarity of Fifty Shades, just 317 pages of what can only be described as the literary equivalent of monotone. The writing style is every bit as amateurish as FSOG, but on the opposite end the the spectrum; dry, lifeless, bare-bones beige prose as opposed to goofy and bizarre. It was often hard to really get inside Bianca's head and understand the emotional weight of certain moments because her narrative voice is often very bland and lacking in distinctiveness and much personality. One point where it's particularly glaring is when she and the rest of the flight crew are out drinking and at one point she states "Yes, it was official, I was drunk"... even though up until that point her thought process and style of narration gave zero indication that she was even slightly inebriated. It doesn't help that the narrative gets bogged down with long paragraphs of inconsequential details which took me out of the story.

So what did I like? Not much. There was this one very brief passage that I did appreciate, in which Bianca describes her work routine and talks about the satisfaction she gets from serving others and doing her job well. It was a surprisingly thoughtful bit of insight that manages to convey her inner submissive nature without holding the reader's hand, a rare bit of subtlety that quite accurately describes what it feels like to be submissive. And considering everything I just said about the offensive way this book handles BDSM, that's pretty fucking shocking.

I also liked the character of Stephan. Considering how lazy the rest of the writing is, I expected R.K. Lilley to go the easy route and turn him into a horrible gay BFF stereotype, but thankfully she didn't. Of course, this being the kind of novel that it is, Stephan naturally has to be the one to push Bianca into giving asshole James a chance at first, but apart from that early misstep I loved his character and thought he was not only a great friend to Bianca, but probably the most likable person in the entire novel. Not to mention having him kick James' ass near the end and barely hold back from beating him senseless gave me a lot of personal satisfaction, even if the two did go back to being cool with each other at the very end. Oh well, no one's perfect, I guess...

There are other bits and pieces I could go on about, particularly the minutiae of James' reprehensible behavior, but frankly I'm too exhausted to keep going. And what would be the point? The exact details of how he stalks and controls and abuses his love interest may change, but the fact is that he's just another alphahole billionaire clone. And I think it's past time that I left this subgenre behind for good. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a trope-deconstructing, semi-satirical BDSM erotic romance novel to write. Leanne out.

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