After a long while off of the grid over the past year, I’ve finally settled down. I’m finalized on my address for Amazon, job applications, and W9s, I had to make that last leap of paper-trail-conformity and get a library card. After all, I’ve heard that having fun isn’t hard that way. An anthropomorphic aardvark advised me to contact my local library for some fun times, so I did.
I’ve had a lot of free time but very few books on my wish list. I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars, a great hard sci-fi book, and promptly ran out of ideas for things I wanted to read. But I am my mother’s son, and I wasn’t about to let my free library card go to waste, so I came up with a competition between my fiancée Sue and I. We’d each check out a book, and then force the other to read whatever it was that we’d found. The whole library was our literate oyster, with only two rules; No graphic novels, and a reasonable page count. Sue’s already pouring time into thousands of pages for grad school, and she asked me for “Anything but Warren Peace” so I guess he’s not the type of author that would write a short book.
We made our way into our library, and only showed our hand at the exit door. From behind her back, she removed a small, pristine paperback, about an inch thick. It was How to Marry a Duke. I, a giddy smile on my face, gave her the amazingly titled Choosers of the Slain. I’m going first, because as you’ll see, her book is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I’m worried I’ve won forever in our first entry. But until then, we’ve got a lot of repressed boners to cover.
How to Marry a Duke, by Vicky Dreiling
It’s obviously bodice-ripper. As you can see, a square-jawed man is wheezing into his blond girlfriend’s neckmeat while she mourns her torn pink gown. The man has the lowest nipples I’ve ever seen, like they’re trying to slink off his chest before he notices. It’s also a little tacky to have your Victorian fainting couch in the same teal as the wall. This cover is ripe for the judging, and the verdict is would, for both of the humans on the cover.
This is a book about sex. It may not be as explicit as our second entry (stay tuned!), but even if it includes less sex, it’s about sex. I’m going to talk about sex in this entry. You know how you know several Urban Dictionary-quality words and phrases, and someone asks you “Wait, how do you know that?” as if knowledge of an act is automatically an endorsement of its performance? Well, we’re going to run into that today. I just know, alright? Alright.
Our story opens in 1816 London, a time period and place that I hate. Sure, the mustaches are nice, but MAN are there a lot of white people problems in stories based in 1816 London. Unless you’re Charles Dickens, your story in 1816 London is going to involve a lot of glove-slapping fights and violations of etiquette.
Quick step into history. 1816 was called “The Year Without Summer” because of a volcanic eruption that threw enough ash and soot into the air to prevent the temperatures from warming sufficiently. This one-off ice age threw Europe into the greatest starvation crisis of the post-Renaissance era as food wilted early or did not grow sufficiently. But yeah, let’s focus on attractive people’s problems on banging while the rest of the plebs starve. We are the ugly 99%.
Tristan James Gatewick, a name that is truthfully and delightfully aristocratic, is the Duke of Shelbourne. Wouldn’t you know it, he’s England’s most eligible bachelor, but like, he’s SO TIRED of banging widows and loose women. He’s just trying to settle down and get a respectable heir for his dukedom. He’s at a sort of Victorian singles mixer, rolling his eyes at all these honeys trying to mack, but then he spots the finest honey of all. The first scene of this book involves our male protagonist checking out the love interest’s ass, so at least our author knows the male gaze pretty well. She is Miss Tessa Mansfield, a prominent single woman who has devoted her life to matchmaking for other couples. He contacts her to find his wife, and she agrees since he’s such a prominent figure on London’s “Scandal Sheets”. We’re reminded of that fact about as often as we are that the Duke is a rake, and his matchmaker a spinster.
A guy that wants to settle down! A match maker! This professional arrangement will work out professionally for the rest of the plot, I’m sure. Well, of course not, this is a romance novel. It plays out just as you’d expect. They start to fall in love, worry about scandal, get mad at each other, and then, well, I don’t want to spoil, but it’s a happy ending. The perspective switches about every other chapter between the love interests, showing us that Tessa is attracted to his compassion, his jawline, his honor, and love of his family, and that Tristan really wants a blowjob. It creates a gap of knowledge between the characters that allow for the requisite he-said-she-said-he-whispered-she-moaned back and forth of all romance novels.
There are some surprises along the way, namely that it’s exactly the plot of every season of the Bachelor. Tessa contacts 24 women to court the Duke all at once instead of picking a single lady as is tradition. The Duke and Tessa have to come up with all these flirtation events and special trips to family homes or London locales, and he invites those that passed some sort of rubric back for another week of Clorox Bleach and tampon advertisements. It’s not even the format that rings the truest, because catfights begin immediately to prove who is “here for the right reasons” and the prettiest girls get hated on because come on look at those eyebrows. They drag the Duke’s mother, sister, and best friend Marc “Hawk” Darcett, the Earl of Hawkfield in to give their testimonials as the girls are ferried to the opera and to a party-planning contest. The only way it could be more exactly the Bachelor is if Ben Higgins turns out to fall in love with Chris Harrison next season.
|Basically our main character|
It’s a book that’s so far from being up my alley I’m worried about their GPS. Get this, though: It wasn’t that bad. It’s mechanically solid, characters have clear but not explicit motivations that conflict with the easiest path, and the dialogue works well enough, given the subject matter and setting. Hawk says “Old boy” every other line, but he gets the most of the sarcastic witty repartee that’s all the rage. It’s Downton Abbey if the viewers were in charge of choosing a match for Lady Edith.
The Duke feels bound by honor and duty to put his title first, and Miss Mansfield feels that she needs to set an image of independence to counteract her loins’ need for the Duke. It’s nothing that you haven’t heard from this sort of thing, but it’s written well in that the characters themselves know that they’re in a crappy bind.
This book is like a jigsaw puzzle of a man punching himself in the face. All the pieces fit together, but the picture is not something I especially want to look at, and all of the conflict seems self-created. It’s a steam-powered dildo; congrats, you’ve created an element of engineering, but buddy I ordered my chicken fingers an hour ago and I get this instead? Who wants a steam-powered dildo? Steely Dan, duh.
Speaking of dildoes, I’m sure you’re dying to hear about the sex. And, other than the use of “manhood” and “male sound”, they’re not terrible either. The author knows how to work her audience. There’s this fetish called “edging.” Basically, you hold yourself or a partner on the verge of an orgasm for several or even dozens of minutes at a time, teasing and denying them until finally, when you do give it all, the wait and anxiety make it that much better. This book strings small moments of wanting or even -gasp- making out until you’re crying “Just bang already!” By the time they do (spoiler, it’s great), you’re at a place of relief because holy cow, guys, the number of boners this dude’s had to hide in old-timey pants.
The fantasies this book presents are pretty true to life as well. At some point in our life, I think, we’ve all had an unrequited lust that we wish our target would recognize and return. Or a hookup whose forbidden nature only made it all the more enticing. For me, I’m speaking about all the girls in high school who dared look me in the eyes. This book gives you a chance to be a handsome, tall, rich white dude or a beautiful, big-boobed, rich white girl and finally give into that bad idea.
Finally, the most surprising thing was the mixing of old-time activities and social scandal with modern relationship standards. If you’re a purist for historical gender relations, you’re probably going to chafe against the up-to-date ideas of abuse that this book presents. But as a man who enjoys not making women fear for their lives and safety (go me, I’m a baseline of decency), I was pretty proud of the character’s decisions. There’s a B-plot about a former jilted lover of Tessa’s that threatens scandal, and pretty much everyone around affirms that his manipulations constitute emotional and mental abuse which, let’s face it, is still not universally accepted as a form of abuse in our world today. So, you know, good for them.
Look. Two attractive people fight their urges before steadily advancing up the bases until they finally bang. You can call that literature or you can call that internet pornography, but as long as it’s well made, I don’t mind.
Choosers of the Slain, by John Mingo
Mick’s pick for me was Choosers of the Slain, by John Mingo, which is by far the worst book in all of existence. Choosers of the Slain is the third book in the Paladin of Shadows series, because of course there are more books this awful.
Now, let’s talk a moment about the title of this book, Choosers of the Slain. When I found out that the book was the third in a series, we looked it up online to try to find plot summaries of the first two books. Turns out, there are TWO UNRELATED BOOKS IN EXISTENCE WITH THIS TITLE. Two books. With the title Choosers of the Slain. 'Choosers' is not even a word. Ugh.
After searching for about thirty seconds without finding plot summaries, I decided to just give up and read the book cold. Turns out, with a book this quality, you don’t really need back story.
Choosers of the Slain chronicles the life of Mike Jenkins, also known as the KILDAR (a word that you can’t help but shout every time you read), a retired Navy SEAL who lives in Georgia (the middle-east one, not the state south of the Mason-Dixon) in a compound that he somehow came to inherit in the first two books. With this compound, Mike also inherited his own militia, called the Keldara. Mike is in the process of training the Keldara, and luckily enough, they keep running into rogue terrorist groups! How convenient for training purposes!
In between training sessions/terrorist raids, Mike goes home and relaxes in his compound, spending quality time with the girls in his harem. Because, oh yeah, Mike has a harem of twelve-to-sixteen year old girls, whose bodies the author describes in startling, unpleasant detail (the words ‘flamboyantly large breasts’ are used, despite the fact that those words should never, ever, be strung together in the same sentence). Also described in startling, unpleasant detail are the evenings that Mike spends with these girls. In one chapter, he spends three hours and forty-seven minutes with one girl (totally realistic, bruh), and he makes her go blind due to “loss of blood flow to the optic nerve.” Just in case you weren’t aware, that’s not how biology works.
I won’t go into much more detail, since there’s a possibility my future mother-in-law will read this post (and also because the whole thing is supremely icky). Let’s just say that despite the excruciating detail he writes into his sex scenes, it is abundantly clear that John Mingo has never even met a real live woman, let alone had sex with one. Nor, I’m assuming, have the majority of his readers, which is why this book has FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE STARS ON GOODREADS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, WORLD.
The first quarter of the book alternates between sex scenes and battle scenes. It’s so awful it hurts to remember.
Around chapter twenty-ish, we mercifully get a break from the icky sex scenes for several hundred pages of terribly written action. Mike takes his personal army to Romania, they blow up a brothel, Mike picks up a few more hookers for his harem, because why not, and then, in the midst of all this ‘action’ and ‘intrigue,’ for no reason whatsoever, our main character goes to Las Vegas to sell beer. Because he has a brewery, of course. Why wouldn’t he? So Mike takes a time out from blowing up brothels in Eastern Europe to go on a mini-vacay TO THE UNITED STATES. ALL THE WAY FROM GEORGIA. (He deserves it, guys, the man works hard.) He goes to Vegas to sell his beer.
Now, I gotta be honest with you for a minute. I love reading. I have loved books since before I could remember. I have continued reading books for hundreds of pages after deciding that I hated them, just because it kills me to not have the plotline resolved, no matter how terrible it is. Hell, I even finished all four books in the Twilight series. Despite all this, I have a confession to make…
I read the first half, then skimmed the second half, read the last four chapters, and decided I was done having this book in my life. And to tell you the honest truth, it all still made sense.
This entire book reads like the dirty fantasies of a fourteen-year-old who isn’t as cool as he thinks he is. “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a badass with a lot of guns, and people are gonna listen to me when I tell them what to do, and I’m gonna get a lot of pussy and drink a lot of beer and live in cool places and be really important to everybody and not have to listen to what anybody says,” says Johnny as he jerks off to the Victoria’s Secret catalog that he stole from his sister. It crosses everything off the checklist: power, money, women, action, beer, and a bad reputation – the only things that adolescent boys think they want when they’re too young and dumb to know any better.
Long story short, I hate this book. I hate it so much, it took me several hours and half a pitcher of beer to get through this review, because I don’t like being reminded that I actually read this book. I’m offended that this book is going to show up on my library history.
It also makes me a little concerned for the world that these books did well enough for there to be an entire series about this creep and his disgusting misadventures. I’m curious as to what kind of sad, lonely person honestly enjoys this garbage and roots for this deranged, sex-crazed psychopath. Reading the reviews on Good Reads did not make me feel any better about John Ringo fans or society at large, with comments like, “Lots of action and good fun.” “Mike and his Keldara blast a gaping hole in the Balkan sex trade. I think our antihero rapes a prostitute in this one – male fantasy. Very cool.” “This is the third time I’ve read these books and still don’t get tired of them.” “As always, I love this series, it speaks to my dark side.”
Thankfully, there was at least one sane human being in the review section of Good Reads, and I agree with him completely, “I don’t know if I ever want to meet somebody who actually loves this book.”