A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Chaz Brighton is the youngest and most talented recruit the Academy has ever had. Superfast reflexes and god-like hand-eye coordination ensure his place as a gunner, one half of a team to man the Needle, a space fighter so advanced that everything around it is classified. Imagine his surprise when he lands on the lunar space station that serves as the training facility to find that not only is he partnered with the most dangerous, enigmatic man at the academy, older cadet Eric Ferron, but the Needle must be flown naked with their bodies pressed against each other, preferably interconnected. The only way to keep themselves alive during battle is for Chaz to totally submit to Ferron. Can Chaz do what it takes to stay in the program and save Earth at the same time?
This is not the first book by Evangeline Anderson that I’ve read. Showing that every reader is different, I was lukewarm about The Assignment, a book which Wave adores. I also know that, as Ingrid put it, EA’s books are not “fluffy and rosy all the way.” Not letting that stop me from reading and reviewing Broken Boundaries (I thought the blurb was very interesting), I entered into the experience with an open mind.
I thought the idea of Top Gun meets Starship Troopers meets Star Wars meets Independence Day with some hawt man-on-man lovin’ fascinating, and it started out pretty good. I tried to ignore the niggles of discomfort at opening scene where beta Chaz Brighton, one of the protags, is having a dream about being coerced into anal sex, but it got better as we are introduced to this young man and learn how he got to be aboard the Lunar Academy of Excellence, the training facility for the Fleet that protects Earth at some point at least 50-some years in the future. His dream is to be a gunner on a Needle, space fighters that are shaped like needles, and to fight alien threats like the Saudebers (commonly called Lobsters because, well, they look like lobsters). We also meet alpha Eric Ferron, the scarred resident bad-boy and best pilot at the Academy who has a terrible reputation for his temper and violence, and whose last partner died mysteriously. So far, so good. Alien lobsters — funny. Anderson is a good writer, and I am enjoying how she has put the story together so far. The Needle program is super hush-hush, so Chaz is in for numerous unpleasant surprises now that he is officially a Needler, those who man the fighters, one of which is that he is being partnered with Ferron. Another is that manning the Needle requires the pilot to be draped over the gunner. Naked. Preferably connected, if you know what I mean. One dominant, one submissive. Hmmmm, interesting concept and a bit campy, but I’m getting a little nervous around Ferron’s actions and words, and am hoping it’s not going where I think it’s going. We meet some of the other cadets, mostly arrogant, prissy and/or homophobic jerks that make life difficult for many. We also learn a little about of the futuristic technology used, especially for the gunner-half of the team. We’re thrown terms like “neural net,” “bone growth stimulator” and “smart metal.” But then it all went downhill.
I think the easiest thing is to group my many issues by topic, not necessarily in order of how they come to us in the book, but by my reaction to them:
Those boundaries that are broken in the title, that’s personal will around the sex act: rape (and attempted rape and an almost constant talk of coercion/rape). It’s the under- and overlying theme in the story. Ferron is constantly saying things like “I want to stroke you, suck you and violate you in every possible way,” and “You will get used to my hands on your body, Green Eyes…You have no choice so you might as well get over it now.” And these were the ones clean enough to print on the blog. There will be those who talk of “forced seduction” and how it’s not really rape since the seducee gets hard and may kinda like it (if he could get over how sick it all is). To them I say bullpucky. It reminded me — and not in a good way — of 80s het romance novels, where rape was often the vehicle for the romance. The heroine just needed to be shown how great sex could be, and if force was the way to it, then so be it. I hated it then, I hate it now. But here is the quote of quotes (since it may be considered a spoiler, I’ll black it out and you can highlight it to see):
“Please, Ferron, I don’t want it to be like this my first time. I just…I still don’t feel ready. Can’t we do this without you…without you f*cking me?”
“If it was just the final exam, I would agree not to,” Ferron said softly. “But it’s a hell of a lot more than that, Green Eyes. And you know it.” His voice became suddenly deeper and there was a tone in it Chaz couldn’t quite understand—regret maybe?
“Look, Ferron—” he began but the older cadet cut him off.“Spread your legs, Brighton,” he said and there was a steely note of command in his voice Chaz knew he wouldn’t be able to disobey. “Get ready to be f*cked.”
“Ferron, please…” Chaz protested but he already knew it was useless.
That is rape and I was disgusted. Rape = Love? Not for me. And not for Chaz, at least at first. Ferron’s actions were and incredible betrayal to him — and to me. Regardless of what my issues other were/are, this alone ruined it for me.
Gay For You
I understand that this is a common theme for Anderson, and while there are some stories where I can buy it, I didn’t here. Chaz is supposed to be fighting the attraction he’s feeling toward Ferron, but I didn’t believe it. Too much fight, not enough attraction, and that attraction he feels, he absolutely hates himself for it. His Needler peers call him “latent;” I call him straight forced to have responses and feelings he normally would not have had if not for this situation. He says he will only be “that way” with Ferron, that he loved Ferron. After he’s been screwed literally and figuratively. Without his consent.
He hurt me, part of him argued. He broke his promise—made me into something I didn’t want to be.
He did what he thought he had to do, something that sounded suspiciously like the voice of reason argued back in his head. And as for making you into what you didn’t want to be—get real, Chaz. Don’t you mean he made you face the fact of what you are? Nobody can make you gay or straight. Ferron just made you acknowledge it for the first time.
I think he had it right the first time. There are also several other Needlers who are obviously not gay, but for some unknown reason, stay in the program.
If Sanderson had his way he’d probably be home and married to his girlfriend, trying to forget he ever had any kind of urges toward another guy.
Few likable characters
From the protags themselves to Landrews, the Nellie queen, to Burns, the homophobic bully, I didn’t like one character. Well, maybe the twins, who are the only non-sexually-involved Needlers, and we don’t get too see them very much (though their finishing of each others’ sentences got old fast). I didn’t find Chaz sympathetic — why the hell wasn’t he fighting back or asking questions or leaving the damn program? — and I thought Ferron was a brute, even if he showed some remorse after the rape thing.
Significant homophobic overtones
Another Anderson theme. Even Chaz, who is supposed to be Gay For You hates gays, hates the feelings he has, hates himself. Many of the other cadets do some serious gay bashing, verbally and physically, going as far as attempted rape.
Suicide attempt and thoughts of
I really, really dislike the idea of one protag saving the other from suicide, and I didn’t like it any better here. Depression so deep that it causes a person to want to kill themselves is not sexy, it’s time for medication, therapy, and maybe a short hospital stay.
Not a romance
There was not a romantic element I could see here. None. I am simply amazed that this was marketed as a romance.
After I wrote this review, I was still pretty upset. I decided to go out to see what others were saying. Was I the only on that felt this way? Could I be the only one expecting a romance and seeing something that didn’t resemble it at all? It’s possible as every reader is different, and perhaps my idea of romance isn’t the same as the next person’s. Boy, this is one controversial book! The other reviews are mixed, but what struck me is that some say it’s hardcore yaoi; some say darkfic; some say forced seduction; some say it’s an EA book, what do you expect? I expect a book marketed as a m/m romance to be just that, not hardcore yaoi, not darkfic, and definitely nothing including rape-inspired love. And I would expect some warning about at least dubious consent in the blurb.
In saying all of this, it’s entirely possible — even probable — that those who don’t mind “forceful seduction” (read rape) and/or Gay For You plot devices, and/or who are fans of Evangeline Anderson’s will absolutely love this book. There are already quite a few voices to that effect, and many defenders. As much as I thought it was a well-written effort, and as much as I went into it with an open mind, what I perceived as the rape factor alone made this one a fail for me.