I just finished reading Earth Bound by Christine Feehan (a Paranormal Romance with straight characters). It was the first of her books that I’d read in a long time. There is no denying that she made a huge impact on me as a writer, and there’s no denying that her books were a big part of my teens and early 20’s. I devoured them one right after another, reading everything that she had out at the time. I loved them and they gave me a bit of sanity when my life was otherwise very tumultuous. Having not been involved in a long term relationship at that point, or really never having felt incredibly desired at that time…they gave me hope that someday I might be.
Feehan has a way with words. She is a very descriptive and eloquent writer, and easily paints pictures in your mind. Her books all have a paranormal touch to them, which always spoke to my Pagan sensibilities, and she writes about characters who have mental problems–several have panic attacks, a few have major PTSD…I’m really glad to see a mainstream author writing such characters. So she, and her books, get points for those things.
However…a number of years ago I had stopped reading her books. I still say she is one of my favorite authors because of the impact she had on me, but I got to a point where her books seemed incredibly formulaic to me. They all went something like this: tortured boy meets tortured girl. Boy pursues girl, girl hesitates and/or runs. Boy continues to pursue girl. They fight some Big Bad together. Live happily ever after. Somewhere in all of that they wind up having sex. (Feehan’s books are heavy on the romance–meaning sex is described in pretty deep detail. Sometimes multiple times a book.) All the girls felt the same. They weren’t completely damsels in distress, but they were in need of saving one way or another. You’ll see what I mean when I talk about Lexi.
Earth Bound is the first of her books that I’ve read in several years.
The story centers around Lexi Thompson and Gavriil Prakenskii. Gavriil is a hardened assassin who has never known love. Lexi was abducted at a young age and put into a cult where she was forced to marry a man in his 40’s. He was a pedophile and once she hit puberty he wasn’t really interested in her anymore. The only reason he kept her around was because she could make plants grow and be a little money machine for the farm. She escapes, goes to live on another farm this time with several other women all married to dominating men, and eventually meets Gavriil as he is brother to all of the men on that farm. Yeeeeaaaah.
Where do I even start?
I’ll start with this, because it’s a positive thing. Lexi has panic attacks, and the way Feehan wrote them was very well done. She didn’t have to say Lexi was having a panic attack right off for me to pick up that such a thing was occurring. Maybe it’s because I know people, and am very close to people, who have panic attacks that I can easily recognize the thought and speech patterns of someone who is panicking, I don’t know. But I will say that I thought those were well written. There weren’t a lot of them, and I’m okay with that. As an author, you don’t want to overwhelm the reader with things. And let’s face it, I don’t think anyone likes a panic attack.
The problems I had with this book were several. I won’t reiterate the formulaic-ness that I mentioned above, but there is that. There is also the fact that this book seemed…boring. Gavriil comes to the farm where Lexi lives and insists he bring his two big Black Russian Terriers with him. Those are big dogs, but for a good few chapters in the middle, most of the focus was on getting the dogs to accept Lexi’s sisters. Feehan spent an entire chapter of Gavriil going to visit Lissa (one of Lexi’s sisters) to introduce her to the dogs. Now, I give her a slight break for this because apparently Lissa had been attacked by dogs when she was a kid. So if she was going to show him taking the dogs around, Lissa seemed to be the character with the most interesting backstory to do it with. But it just felt…boring and unnecessary. It wasn’t compelling at all. The chapter did let us meet Lissa a little more, but the information gathered in that chapter didn’t really do anything for the plot. All it did was show what we already knew–that Lexi is close to her sisters. I would much rather that time be spent on building up the actual threats in the book and making them seem more sinister.
Throughout the beginning of the book, the biggest threat to Lexi had been the men in the cult seeking her out to find her and either kill her or take her back. It wasn’t clear which they wanted to do. I assume kill. The guy she was wed to, Duncan Caine, was killed in the first scene Gavriil and Lexi met. Gavriil killed him to protect her…a woman he’d never met but had the deepest instinct to protect because “she moved the Earth for him”. That’s meant in a metaphorical sense. In all of Feehan’s books the lovers’ first meeting is always a little Romeo and Juliet-esque. After that the biggest threat was the other men coming for her. Except for a large portion of the book that threat seemed to not be a threat at all. Like I said, Feehan spent most of the time focusing on introducing dogs to the family. Dogs. When there is a crazy cultist supposedly seeking for and wanting to harm her protagonist.
One of the other things I found disingenuous was the fact that Lexi wasn’t incredibly religious. In fact, she never mentioned God. It was mentioned several times that these men used the bible to get their way and to shame her and what not. It was clearly some sort of religious cult, and being that she was abducted around the age of 8 that should have left an impression on her. I’ve never been in a cult, but it’s very hard for me to believe they wouldn’t have pounded every bible verse into her head that was meant to shame women into submission. Or that Lexi wouldn’t have some big fears about angering God and bringing down wrath from him (I’m assuming a Judeo-Christian cult because that’s usually what they are). She once or twice telepathically (btw, how did they gain telepathy?) asked Gavriil if what she was doing was sinning. In reality, by this time, she wouldn’t be asking. The thoughts in her brain would be closer to “oh god I’m sinning. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. I can’t do this. I can’t. I’ll anger god and be punished for it.” She wouldn’t be shyly asking if it was sin. Not with the way Caine supposedly beat into her that certain things were a sin. (Also, points off for a girl needing to ask a guy permission.)
My other big thing complaint with this book is how several times things seemed a little rapey and/or very male domineering. In the beginning, a scene or two after just meeting Lexi, Gavriil joins their palms together and marks her as his. There is some magical thing all the Prakenskii brothers can do to mark a woman as theirs (in fact, this is a theme through all of Feehan’s books–not just her Sea Haven series. In her Carpathian series the way a male claims his female is by having sex with her and reciting some ancient spell. I chose my wording the way I did because that’s what happens–the male claims “his” female. The main guy in every book refers to the female protagonist that way–as his. Ugh. In this book it happened on page 4. FOUR!), and Gavriil did it to Lexi without asking her permission. He later apologized to her for doing it because he didn’t know her history. He said something akin to “I’m sorry I took that choice from you without knowing your history.” That is definitely paraphrased. I didn’t go back through the book to find the exact quote. It feels like he’s only apologizing for doing it because she was a rape victim and the victim of a pedophile. Not because he took a choice from her and respected her. Furthermore I want to reiterate he did it without knowing her history. Why would you tie yourself to someone that you didn’t know? I’ve been with my boyfriend almost 10 years and we aren’t married or even engaged! Our friends that have been together since high school just this year decided to get married. What Gavriil (and all of Feehan’s male characters) did was deeper than marriage as it apparently locks them for life (no such thing as divorce in this world!) and gives them telepathy (not sure why. Never read an explanation. This also happens in the Carpathian series, but since Carpathians are vampires and they drink each other’s blood as part of the little ritual it’s a little more believable.). Towards the end of the book, when you get to the sex scene, it is clear that Lexi is uncomfortable. She’s a rape victim. The idea of having sex and exposing herself to someone, and doing that act with anyone makes her panic. It is a trigger for her. Instead of saying “okay, this is making you panic, we don’t have to do this” Gavriil keeps pushing her, asking her to give in, even as he’s kissing her body and touching her in intimate places. He is essentially using pleasure and things that he knows will make her hot to keep her going and coerce her into having sex. It has a very rapey feel to it.
I will say this, though. Having read several of Feehan’s novels I know the first sex scene usually occurs within the first 150 pages. Feehan did take her time in letting Lexi come around to even kissing Gavriil and then clearly left the only sex scene until the end (the book is 355 pages long. The sex scene in this book was around page 345 I think), which does feel true for a rape victim. That isn’t something they’d rush into. So I do give her props for that, and for even attempting to write a rape victim. I also understand that because of the nature of the books she writes her publishers probably said there has to be a sex scene somewhere. But in reality, Lexi shouldn’t have had one. This book feels more like it should have been sex-less.
The final thing I’ll say about this is that these women are supposed to be strong female characters, but they never feel like it. At first they resist the guy, but always always always wind up giving in to them in the end. Also, a woman resisting a man that she is clearly attracted to doesn’t make her strong. That makes her stubborn and sometimes a little annoying. A strong female character would be more like “I like this person. I don’t care what society thinks. I like them, I’m attracted to them, I’m going to go after them.” None of this “he turns me on, but…but I shouldn’t” shit.
On Goodreads I initially gave this four stars, but then went back and gave it 3. Even that is being generous. There were several points (mainly when dealing with dog stuff. And mind you, this complaint about dog stuff is coming from someone who adores dogs and spends a lot of her time with/around them as a dogwalker and vet worker!) where I put the book down and honestly didn’t care if I ever came back to it or not. I could have put it back on the shelf and never finished it and been just fine. That’s not something you ever want your reader to feel. Ever.
My official statement on this book is: if there’s nothing else to read pick it up, but it’s not a page turner the way Feehan wants it to be. The threats aren’t nearly threatening enough for that.
Look out for Raven’s upcoming book, Seaborne (a NA Lesbian Magical Realism novella), which is being released on September 18, 2016. And if you simply need more lesbian fiction before then, check out her free lesbian stories~!