Someday, I’ll tell you the story of how Fifty Shades of Grey murdered my libido in an adult store. I hated that series from the moment I heard of it. No, I didn’t have to read it to judge. It’s Twilight fan fiction that glorifies abusive relationships, people. On top of that, it’s atrociously writ. So fuck that.
And yet, despite the fact it murdered both my libido and my faith in the reading public, I have to be somewhat grateful for its existence. After all, it was in reading critical analyses of it that I learned quite a bit about actual BDSM, which has been liberating. It also taught me more about abusive relationships and how to avoid them. And… there’s the fact that one of the best romances I’ve ever read wouldn’t exist without it.
I generally can’t stand romance. Most of the ones I’d read, back when I bothered trying, were vapid, awful things filled with phrases like “his throbbing member.” The “hot” sex was generally introduced by a virgin getting raped, then spending the rest of the book falling in love with her rapist. When I worked for a bookstore, the assistant manager and I used to pull the returns from the romance section when we were starving but it was too early for lunch. Just reading the titles was guaranteed to kill our appetites for a few hours. I’ve spent the majority of my life thoroughly loathing romance, so it’s a little odd to be thoroughly loving a trilogy based on The Worst Romance of Our Time.
It’s Jenny Trout’s fault.
She wrote a thorough takedown of the FSOG trilogy. Somewhere in there, she also decided to jump in the inspired-by-FSOG pool, and show everyone how an actual champion can write. As Abigail Barnette, she wrote The Boss trilogy, which is basically the finest fuck-you to FSOG ever. It’s everything FSOG isn’t: scorching hot BDSM between a sophisticated billionaire and a smart, confident woman. It doesn’t get into extreme stuff, but it goes far enough to show how truly awful and fake the FSOG version of BDSM was. It’s also feminist. I am in love.
SPOILER ALERT: I’ll be reviewing these books in some detail. Stop here, download The Boss, and proceed with reading that if you want to find out what happens without me blurting a lot of it at you in advance.
The Boss starts off with Sophie Scaife, overworked PA to an incredibly demanding fashion magazine maven, discovering her boss has been tossed out. She won’t have to take the boss’s dog in for ear candling anymore. Yay! Her new boss, Neil Elwood, the billionaire who unexpectedly bought the magazine to eventually give to his ex-girlfriend and business partner, doesn’t have a dog. He does have a history – with Sophie. Yes, the new boss being the man she had a one-night stand with in a hotel room six years ago definitely complicates the transition.
After some misunderstandings and divesting of baggage, they resume their relationship. He’s in the throes of a divorce, so there are shenanigans in a very posh hotel room rather than his house. They go beyond the spanking and anal they’d engaged in before, and start exploring the delicious depravity of a great BDSM relationship. People, this is a book you need to get for all your FSOG-loving friends, right now, and you can get it for all of them because right now, it is free. It models what a good relationship should be:
- Consensual (and believe me when I say consent makes it extra-sexy).
- Respectful: Sophie and Neil respect each other’s boundaries, wishes, and careers. Safe: both in the no-abuse sense and the watch-out-for-STDs sense.
- Caring: they take good care of each other, checking in and generally assuring the relationship and the hot sex within are good for both parties.
There’s conflict, of course: things like Neil deciding to make the magazine cruelty-free (which everyone else, Sophie included, is convinced will sink it); Sophie putting her career ahead of her fuck-buddy without being completely open about it, and the difficulties inherent in having sex with your boss. They work these things out via communication. Love happens. The Sophie gets pregnant, Neil gets sick, and they (briefly) break up.
SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading here if you don’t want to know about the rest of the trilogy, but would rather read it unspoiled.
Never fear! Because it’s a trilogy, and you know they get back together. There’s no Sophomore Slump with The Girlfriend. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the best book of the series. How many romances start with an abortion? One during which neither partner wangsts, and guilt is not felt, and after which freedom from parenthood is enjoyed? They have to savor the brief time they have, because Neil has got leukemia, and it has come roaring out of remission.
And so Sophie decides she will move to England with him while it’s treated. They have a lovely Christmas. They go to Paris. They go to a BDSM dungeon there and have a blazing-hot three-way. They have a happy New Year. And then they go through hell, because cancer is horrible. Yet the book remains romantic and wonderful and sexy as hell. Including Neil directing the action as Sophie and Paris-three-way guy go all the way, since chemo has made it more difficult for Neil to perform, but he wants Sophie’s sex life to thrive, and they both have the hots for that dude.
The end of this book had me bawling, people, and I don’t tend to feel that way in romances. I mean, I was dissolved in total sad-happy tears, the kind of crying that only happens because you love these characters intensely and you know they may lose each other and yet even death isn’t going to end the romance, because they have convinced you it’s That Kind of Love.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop here etc. You know the routine by now.
It’s not a supernatural trilogy, so you know Neil survives. Mark of a good author, though, is having you half-convinced he won’t.
The Bride is life-after-cancer, and mostly family drama. It didn’t really pick up for me until the last third, when Sophie lost her best friend due to having to rat her best friend’s soon-to-be wife out for corporate espionage. And the ex-girlfriend business partner nearly destroys happily-ever-after. I don’t want to give too much away. Just that the end had me punching the air and shouting “Yes!!” and budding with happiness and sexual satisfaction. Oh, and did I mention this series improved my sex life by 1000% and taught me how to masturbate better? It absolutely did.
You will find passion, kink, and plots within these pages, all of which were lacking in FSOG. You won’t find abuse of any kind masquerading as love. Sophie and Neil aren’t sad little codependent freaks: they’re accomplished, independent adults who are wild for each other, and work through their problems with open communication and couples’ therapy. If people want to pattern their lives on a fictional love story, burn their copy of FSOG and give them this trilogy instead.
Best. Alternative. Ever.
And Hollywood? I want these made into movies. You owe us after putting FSOG on the silver screen. Give us a groin-grinding feminist romance with fully-realized characters facing real-life trauma and drama for once. Give use role models worth modeling ourselves on. The world – and our love lives – will be better for it.
PS. The fourth book in the no-longer-a-trilogy-but-is-now-a-proper-series will be out soon! Read a preview chapter here, and I’ll update this post when ordering info is available. Or you could just read Jenny’s blog, which is worth doing anyway.