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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