Genre: Erotic Romance
Date Published: April 16, 2019
Published By: Vintage Books
Number of Pages: 498
Well. That was..interesting.
I’m not sure what I was expecting with E.L. James’ new book. I can’t say I was a big fan of her Fifty Shades series but curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see what her new novel would be like. Would it be better? Worse? Turns out, it’s hard to say.
We’re treading familiar territory James has already explored in her Fifty Shades series – impossibly rich guy, Maxim, falls for considerably less wealthy Alessia, his cleaner (or, as the Brits say, his daily.) I’m actually a big fan of ‘across the tracks’ romances where two people from two different class backgrounds fall for each other. It can make for some interesting dynamics and conflict. And the beginning of The Mister kind of has a Cinderella feel to it. If Cinderella had just escaped a couple of sex traffickers and was working in the UK as an illegal immigrant.
I’m not making that up. Sex trafficking is used as a plot device in the book and while it does make our heroine’s back story more harrowing (and admittedly, more gripping), I’m not sure if it’s handled all that well. For example, Alessia mentions that she was taken along with about four or five other girls and when she escaped they all make a break for it – and we never find out what happens to these other women. The most that’s said about them is Alessia hopes that they got away but she will never know for sure. And then these other kidnapped women becomes like a non-issue once she falls in love with Maxim. Like, damn girl, that’s cold.
I will say I enjoyed the first part of the book when Maxim and Alessia were first getting to know each other and they first realized they were attracted to each other. There were a lot of lingering, stolen glances, and masturbating alone thinking about each other. Yes, even Alessia and I think representation of female masturbation is always a plus.
However, when they actually got together and declared their love for each other I thought the tension between them just kind of died. Maybe she took criticisms of her character of Christian Grey a bit too much to heart because Maxim is almost too considerate, asking Alessia every single time, ‘Is this okay? Only if you want to. Only if it’s okay with you.’ Sure, it’s PC. It’s just not very sexy. They make a lot of ‘sweet, sweet, love’ (and, yes, that’s a direct quote) and it’s all very….tame. And kind of boring to be honest. They don’t have much chemistry. In a good romance novel, the first kiss should be swoon worthy and while Alessia’s and Maxim’s first kiss wasn’t that bad, I found the rest of their intimate scenes a little too rote and formulaic. There’s only so many times you can make a character say ‘Ah’ when writing a sex scene.
“Ah,’ she cries. (p. 232)
“Ah,’ she breathes..(p. 291)
“Ah,” I breathe. (p.292)
“Ah,’ she calls out. (p. 292)
And then it takes a turn for the ridiculous when Alessia survives an attempted kidnapping by the men who were trying to traffick her…only to be kidnapped again by the Albanian man her father had chosen for her. When Maxim finds out about her kidnapping, he’s like, ‘Shit! Not again!’ Like, Alessia could you get your shit together and not get kidnapped every five minutes?
The portrayal of Alessia as the downtrodden, meek immigrant woman who mixes up her English and is flabbergasted by the gender equality in the west is a bit of a tired stereotype. And yet she can turn on a dime and be fiery and defiant when it suits the story so I found her character to be a little inconsistent.
And speaking of inconsistent characters…Maxim goes from being a selfish playboy who occasionally snorts cocaine into the sweetest, most selfless, caring, sober person in the space of about twenty pages or so. I would’ve found the story more compelling if he had held onto his selfish ways a bit longer and been more of a snob towards Alessia and gradually softened towards her over time.
And his whole caring schtick? It comes across as really condescending when he goes on and on about protecting her. Oh, and he corrects her English. A lot. Which is fifty shades of infuriating to this reader.
If you’re expecting the same kind of kinky sex that was in the Fifty Shades series, you won’t find it in The Mister. It’s almost quaint in a way, like a romance novel you might have read in the 70s or 80s. The Mister isn’t the worst romance novel I’ve ever read but it’s certainly not the best.