Dragon Bound, Part the First: Let’s Talk about Sex Consent

My reading of Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound did not begin auspiciously. In the very first sentence, we have an unnecessary adverb, and I don’t mind those in blog posts, but when one has an editor? Tut, tut. I should probably tell you my least favorite line up front, too: “the sight of his bare chest had stolen every digit of her IQ” (93). GAG.

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N.B.: Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

After that start, though, the book grew on me. For a while.

Pia is a resourceful heroine with some serious baggage, which makes her more complex and interesting than the blushing rose I was expecting from a romance novel. Bonus: she swears and actually has sexual experience.. I was going to be all kinds of annoyed if the first person she sleeps with were to be a dragon-person. I mean, Wyr. Anyway, when we see her, she’s just stolen something from Dragos (more on him in a sec), and is on the run.

I think Ms. Harrison’s world-building is pretty interesting, and clearly borrows from Tolkien, and probably from other, more modern fantasy writers that I haven’t gotten around to reading. The basic idea is that in this world, humans co-exist with Elves, Fae (like fairies and trolls, I guess, both Dark and Light), and Wyrkind (think ‘were-kind’). The Wyrkind folks can turn into all sorts of animals, apparently. Pia is half-human, half-Wyrkind. I suspect that the revelation of her kind of Wyr will be a major plot point.

Pia knows who Dragos is before they meet, which saves us some conversational exposition. Combine that with what we learn in this first section and we have a list of pretty snazzy qualifications: He’s super-sexy (to Pia), incredibly rich and politically connected, all kinds of powerful (magic-wise), a telepath, and a huge dragon as old as the earth itself. Oh, and he likes to get his own way, apparently. I do think the description of his size leaves something to be desired, though: “Dragos Cuelebre exploded into the sky with long thrusts from a wingspan approaching that of an eight-seater Cessna jet” (9). Yes, that’s a “thrust” on page nine, folks. But my real problem is the Cessna thing. First of all, everyone knows what a 747 is. But a Cessna? A Cessna 8-seater? Um, no. Why can’t he just be as big as a jet? Or a helicopter or something?

So, for 42 pages, ok. No sex, some magical intrigue, reference to a harpy (!), some interesting ideas about an integrated human-magic world (including Department of Energy contracts, which seems pretty brainy for a romance novel). Also use of the word ‘demesne,’ which I enjoy. And a cool, older, possibly half-Elven friend named Quentin for Pia. Quentin is crushworthy. I would totally hang out with him and I’m pretty sad that he seems to drop from the novel completely after just a few pages.

But . . .

There’s this dream-ish thing.

Before Dragos can decide not to rip Pia into itty bitty pieces because he thinks she’s super cute, he needs to find her, and for that, he needs to know her name. So he does his magic thing and reaches out to her in a dream.  To be more accurate, he sends her a dream/beguilement, or maybe implants it into her subconscious while she’s sleeping (it’s magic, and I’m not an expert, so cut me some slack, ok?).

This undertone of incursion/violation/assault/drugging was such a turn-off that it was difficult for me to read about the hot almost-sex the dream/beguilement versions of Pia and Dragos have.

[Sidebar: Dragos is constantly referred to as “a male,” instead of “a man.” I get that this is technically accurate because he’s a dragon and all, but I find the construction distracting, like someone’s talking about a lab rat.]

So in the dream/magic incursion into Pia’s consciousness, Dragos’s Power (capital P) turns Pia on. He uses his magic voice on her, and before she knows it, she rushes toward him, and immediately “He took hold of her arms, dragged her across his body and slammed her into the mattress as he rolled on top of her. Pinning her down with his heavy body, he locked his hands around her glowing wrists and yanked them over her head. The corded strength in his fingers make [sic] the flesh and bone they shackled feel slender and fragile” (45).

Um, what now? Here are some words that are problems for me here: dragged, slammed, pinning, locked, yanked, shackled.

Call me a capital-F Feminist, but I like my sex with a heaping side of consent. The “juncture between her thighs” (OUCH) may “[grow] slick,” but is Pia really in a position to give informed consent? She certainly didn’t consent to this mind-violation. How do we know that Pia’s engagement with Dragos in the dream isn’t the result of the drugging-magic thing Dragos has going on?

I get that this is a romance novel, and that in the pages that follow Pia and Dragos will have lots of mutually-desired sex. Great. Pia wants to be dominated? Have fun, Pia. She’s an adult, and adults should be free to do whatever they like in their bedrooms (or kitchens or whatever) with other consenting adults. What I don’t like is that the novel’s first sexual encounter has very negative overtones of non-consent.

Sure, Pia seems to be into the encounter, but the important word here is seems. She didn’t want the dream/encounter to happen in the first place: “Pia dreamed of a dark, whispering voice. She tossed and turned, fighting to ignore it. Exhaustion was a concrete shackle. All she wanted to do was sleep. But the voice insinuated into her head and sank velvet claws deep” (43).

See what I mean?

At least they have a talk later (87-88) about how she was beguiled and how her choices are now her own, which makes me feel a little better. A very little. Until Dragos started spouting nonsense about how Pia “belongs” to him. GROSS. Pia does correct him before they indulge in some pretty hot over-the-clothes action, and when she tells him to stop he stops. Thank goodness.

Man, I really hoped this was going to be funny. I just don’t get it — why can’t a novel geared toward women, in which we know the characters are going to fall for each other, feature clear consent at all times?

The rest of this first-third is a pretty good time. Dragos catches Pia and tells her that her ex is dead (boo hoo), and then pulls a Mr. Rochester when she almost faints, getting her a blanket and a drink. Pia reveals that she’s got a cool trick—locks can’t hold her— and then proceeds to use some political wiles and an order of steak to get Dragos shot with some sort of elf dart (why are elves always archers?), but then finds him so irresistible that she stays by his side to nurse him. Aw. I think the message is pretty loud and clear: Pia is attracted to the huge, dangerous,  good-looking dragon.

Now I’ve written more than a thousand words about this treasure, so let’s cut to the end. Someone has been very naughty and betrayed Dragos, which means that he and Pia are captured by goblins and dragged into an “Other” land, some sort of rip in the space-time continuum where mechanical weapons don’t work (like the Terminator’s time bubble). Dragos is apparently too incapacitated to launch more than one fireball (using his eyes — like a cross between Cyclops and Gandalf). Pia’s really freaked out about bleeding (can I get a Freudian in here, please?), and when Chapter 7 ends, the goblins are about to take Pia and Dragos into their fortress. Because what would a romance novel be with a dungeon?

See? It’s my first one, and I’m learning already!

By the way, who else wants to turn the metaphors of consuming and devouring into a publishable paper?

Stay tuned for next week’s installment, and check out the other readers-along:

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14 thoughts on “Dragon Bound, Part the First: Let’s Talk about Sex Consent

  1. Yes. The Cessna thing. And the Greta Garbo thing. There are strange references that aren’t universally familiar to people!

    And don’t get me started on unnecessary words OR the editing in general. There have been at least two instances now where the writing goes from third person to first person for a paragraph and I *know* it’s supposed to be that person thinking or something, but the fact that it’s not italicized or anything ruins the flow.

    “The corded strength in his fingers make [sic] the flesh and bone they shackled feel slender and fragile.” <– This sentence DROVE ME NUTS! Made! It should be MADE.

    And you're so right. Dragos is so aggressive and I hate that the sex is ALWAYS aggressive. When it comes to romance books, I like mutual consent, commeraderie. NOT "Oh, hey, someone hot is here, I'm going to let my moral compass fly out the window and just revel in his hotness. I don't care WHAT happens."

    Ugh.

    I actually LIKE reading romances but this one is just getting silly to me. I've already read most of this week's pages and I have to say, while there are aspects that I like about this (Quentin! The action!) I'm not going to be rating it very high in the end. Definitely NOT my favourite romance.

    Great recap!

  2. I like your review as much as I would surely dislike this book! Thanks for reading it for those of us who couldn’t handle the non-consent or the lost digits of the IQ.

  3. Yes, what Katie said above 😉

    “I just don’t get it — why can’t a novel geared toward women, in which we know the characters are going to fall for each other, feature clear consent at all times?” — and I wonder how many of its women readers will pick up on that. Do they like it? Do they notice it?

  4. Okay, I’m glad you came out swinging on this one. Somehow reading this book got me thinking of fairly large concepts like gender/societal issues. Happy to see I’m not the only one. (Although I had a feeling Laura was going to take a stand for a thing or two at some point haha).

    It’s weird though. As weird as this book is, as dumb as it can be, I’m actually wanting to finish it. Like, read-along or not, I would want to finish this book. If only to read more of the insanity.

  5. Pingback: Readalong: Dragon Bound (Part One) | Reading in Bed

  6. I am absolutely a capital F feminist and strangely had a milder take on the consent issues in this section, but I think it’s because of my recent Fifty Shades adventure, which is SO much worse that this kind of doesn’t seem so bad in comparison. The worst parts for me were the “I own you” stuff. To me that’s a lot more problematic then the dream/beguilement/whatever.

    The bleeding thing is pretty interesting, I hope it doesn’t turn out to be something dumb.

    I’m struggling with all the various creatures and how they relate to each other and to humans. Maybe if I was more familiar with Tolkein it would help? Is she sticking pretty close to the accepted ideas around Fae and Elves etc?

    • I can’t bring myself to read 50 shades. Ick. I think I had such a strong reaction in part because he’s violating her mind as well (should have written that).

      On the not-human creatures: Tolkien doesn’t have “Fae” or “Wyrkind,” and I’m not well-read enough in fantasy to say what the accepted idea of those beasties is, but the elves in Dragon Bound seem to align pretty closely, appearance- and temperament-wise, with Tolkien elves. Completely different context, of course.

  7. Pingback: Dragon Bound, Part the Second: I have a theory. | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

  8. Pingback: Dragon Bound, Part the Third: Pregnant Unicorns and Other Things I Wish I Never Had to Read About | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

  9. Pingback: Last Week’s Reading: February 26 – March 4 | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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