Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: None So Blind by LJ Maas

None So Blind by LJ Maas is a romance and a friendship between two soul mates, who, after years of trying to stay away from each other, have to connect again to rescue their daughter from the pit she's falling into.

Narrated in switching timelines, the story follows Torrey's difficult relationship as a single mother to an unruly, rebellious teenage daughter, and her flashbacks to her college years and early adulthood with Taylor, before they parted ways over mutual boneheadedness. Years later, after over a decade of stubbornly pretending not to be in love with each other, in case the other one ran away screaming, Torrey finally calls on Taylor to take her daughter for six months. This, naturally, leads to them finally throwing themselves into each others arms, having all the sex, setting themselves up as a family, and admitting their feelings. Not quite in that order.

Plot Summary
Torrence and Taylor were instant best friends from nearly the first moment they met. Roommates all through college, they were a dramatic pairing of short, naive and sweet, and tall, butch, biker, and most people assumed that they were lovers.

They weren't, of course, and Torrey found a guy who was as close to her Taylor as she could get, ended up pregnant, with a little girl that would grow up to look conveniently like a younger Taylor. Pregnancy and homosexuality were big deals at the time, and Taylor was slightly shunned for it, and Torrey had to drop out of her Catholic school, and face all kinds of difficulties as a single mother. Luckily, Taylor (who was a little older), had been offered a dream position with all the money in the world in her art career (can you tell this is a slightly unrealistic book?), and she sets them up as a little family. Domestic bliss lasts a couple of years, before Taylor's drug addiction becomes too much to ignore, but that's not the thing that separates them. Nope, that's all just them. Being self sacrificing and romantic.

Anyway, years later, they're both super-famous, super-successful women, Taylor's an artist whose work sells for mind blowing amounts, and Torrey's a writer, on a par with JK Rowling (from the description!). Unfortunately, their daughter, Jessica, has a rebellious, depressive, drug taking attitude a lot like Taylor's at her age, and her poor mother can't handle it anymore. But that's okay, because mysterious aunty Taylor (phonecalls and Christmas presents) owes her mother a favour, and takes the terrible teen on.

After a bit of drama and clashing personalities, and mutual soul baring, the two dark haired rebels come to an understanding, and Jessica manages to get clean... and find she has artistic dreams and talent, and that there's this really pretty local girl. So she persuades her mother to join them, and they all settle down into domestic bliss, like the two halves of a whole they were always were, and slowly, their mutual desire pushes them into revealing themselves. And then apologising and generally being frustrating.

Social Issues
Abusive childhoods, drug use, homophobia, and the stigma of being a single mother were all issues that affected the characters and their actions, and I had no problems with the handling of any of them (as far as my experience goes). They were always treated as serious parts of the story, not as punchlines, or wildly inaccurately portrayed. None of these problems affected the ultimate happy ever, but I could actually believe that living through them all helped the characters become the people they were, and that they might have gone quite different directions otherwise.

The drug use warrants a bit more discussion, as it was a major part of the story at the start. I'm no expert at all, and the problems Jessica (and Taylor before her) had were not just drugs, but their lifestyle and the emotional issues behind it all, but they did end up addicted. Both went to Narcotics Anonymous, and we got to see the difference in 15 years clean Taylor mentoring others, and the terrified, nearly-broken Taylor that only stayed because she couldn't leave Torrey and the baby. While Jessica figures out her issues remarkably easily, and everything is Solved by having Taylor back in her life as well (among other things, the two women engaged in Tai Chi exercises every morning, and the imagery of the cover art, with them moving in perfect harmony, is both literal, and a metaphor, of the whole family relationship), they don't neglect to mention that she is vulnerable and must follow rules. Permission to date, for example (so that you know you won't drag your new girlfriend down, or relapse and overdose - as one character does), and never drinking alcohol. So while it was all fixed a little too easily, with all the fighting and relapsing gotten over with at the start, it was also treated seriously and sensitively.

All the Romance Tropes
Most of my criticisms aren't really criticisms, because they're part of the kind of book it is. But there are some definite tropes here, and they all tend to fall on the 'wish fulfillment' side of romance, rather than the 'real people' side, so this is a list of thing that may put you off, or may be exactly what you're looking for: mutual secret love, dreams come true, money no object, soul mates, everything happens for a reason, Xena uberfic (not always a bad thing).

The two women were clearly perfect soul mates from the start, and more importantly, they were the starring characters in the story. Everywhere they went, the reaction was to them; they were amazing, strong, beautiful, clearly meant for each other. Luckily, they were a long way from perfect, and enough of the story followed their respective issues, and the various hardships they had undergone, to stop you screaming "aaargh" and trying to drown them in the nearest basin of rosewater.

I have to admit, the whole 'we're secretly in love with each other and will go to any lengths to deny it' trope is really, really annoying. The only tragedy is the one they create themselves. And because of the flashback alternating narration, we found out that this was the problem long before we reached the actual break up in the past. This becomes somewhat frustrating, and it's constantly rubbed in by constant refrains of "and she gazed into her eyes and she/everyone watching realised how hopelessly in love she was". One of the most 'facepalm' aspects is that Torrey realises early on that she's gay, and has been freely hooking up with ladies (and prostitutes) for the past fifteen years, but never mentioned to her gay best friend and soul mate (that she was apparently in regularish contact with, despite the distance they put between themselves) that she was gay. And poor idiotic Taylor is convinced that she can never tell her Straight Best Friend that she was, you know, slightly attracted in any way.

This isn't entirely ignored, though, with their daughter getting just as frustrated with them and the two women openly discussing their respective mental blocks regarding each other, by the end. And much as I get annoyed by the 'everything happens for a reason' trope (preferring 'everything happens, now deal with it'), there's nothing really wrong with that, in a happy romance love story. This is escapism, so you just have to go along with it and enjoy the ride.

Ah yes, and on eye colours... Xena uberfic. I have no problems with this, as a thing, and fanfiction can often be fantastic, both because you get to read about characters you recognise and because the writer is using characters that are guaranteed to have a working dynamic of awesomeness. But once it starts becoming your own story, please, please try and disguise it a bit? Your character won't stop being them if you change their eye colour, or other superficial details, and it won't constantly remind your readers that actually, it's not 'character from book' it's 'prexisting character who may not quite fit into book as your reader imagines them'. It also means that I start scanning the plot and the surrounding characters to match them up to the original show, and whether you intended it or not, it's very easy to read things into the characters and story if that's what you're looking for (for example, Taylor/Xena's redemption arc, her drug use as her dark side, her mother as ... her mother, that random lesbian couple as Hercules and Iolaus (especially as they actually got physical descriptions, something mostly reserved for the main three characters), Torrey's pregnancy as Gabrielle's actual pregnancy with Hope, Torrey/Gabrielle cutting her hair and maturing... see?).

I'm not sure if the 'successful artist/author' thing annoys me or not. I mean, sure, it could happen, and this is wish fulfillment escapism, and both characters 'work' as creative types, and it puts them on equal footing with each other, but... really? They both just happen to become incredibly successful creatives? That people recognise on the street? Sigh.


Oh, sorry, you wanted more than that?

There are three explicit sex scenes, Torrey with Taylor substitute, Taylor with Torrey substitute and Taylor and Torrey together. They're well written and carried the story along,weren't completely predictable and the women actually stayed as people throughout the whole thing. So, essentially, successful, and helped make the book into the romance it was. Naturally, Taylor and Torrey's finally they're in bed together scene was the longest and best, and hit the right note between 'two experienced women' and 'not perfectly scripted'.

Editing, Plot and Technical Stuff
My main actual criticisms are related to the previous points, but are actually failings. While LJ Maas can write, and this book was properly edited (only one misspelling that I noticed, 'taping' instead of 'tapping', yes, I do remember what it was), someone needed to forcibly remove all adjectives relating to blue and green eyes from that book. I'm guessing this had its roots in being Xena uberfic, but honestly, we don't need to be reminded of the colour of each persons' eyes at every turn. It reached a point of ridiculousness, when one of them actually used "viridian" aloud.

The constant "looking at them and being overwhelmed with secret desire" also got a little out of hand, as it was really obvious they were perfect together, and there was no need to constantly tell us, in increasingly contorted ways, that each woman was In Love with the other one. A few times is fine, but not constantly throughout the whole book.

The narration and reveals of events was not badly done, it just tended to reveal the more dramatic events before we reached in the correct timeline. Pregnancy, separation, drug use, all these were signalled, or openly discussed, in the present day, before happening in the past. This made for a gentler story, without unpleasant surprises, and fortunately the writing was good enough that I wanted to read how everything happened, but in a lesser book I would have been pretty bored.

The plot arcs itself started off strong and then flattened out into the slow, inevitable, falling into each others' arms and tidying up all the loose ends. Everything suddenly became easy and predictable, such as Jessica's awful behaviour and drug use suddenly solving itself, as she became a perfect daughter. It wasn't as if they pretended their previous problems hadn't happened, it was just that everything was easily solved; old sex partners nodded and smiled and stepped aside, Jessica behaved perfectly, Grandma knew exactly what to say. Luckily, the first part of the book had enough depth and consequences and difficulties to persuade me it was worth reading, and to get me to invest in the characters. If the whole book had been that easy, it would have been quite banal, but I was able to sit back and enjoy the predictable conclusion.


An enjoyable, sexy book that's easy to escape into. If soul mates in denial gets on your nerves, it will grate a bit, but there's enough good story and writing there that I think you can cope. Their daughter, while being a lively and adorable mix of both women, also provides the occasional 'audience reaction' to say what we're thinking and hurry them up a bit. There's enough grit and depth in there that it could have been a longer book, but it carries itself along at an easy pace.

You can buy None So Blind from Amazon as an eBook or Paperback

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