Since this is a three-in-one review, it is a little longer than usual, but since I know many of you are as curious about these books as I was, I figured no one would mind!
Flashplot: Readers of the Twilightseries will see many similarities in the plot and characters of these novels since Fifty Shadeswas originally written as a fan fiction for Meyer’s series. However, though James closely shadows certain Twilight aspects, the trilogy ultimately tells its own tale of forbidden love between a deeply flawed young man and a self-conscious young woman forced to come into her own in order to save her love and her lover.
That’s the story in a nutshell. Really. Okay, so the ‘forbidden’ part is derived not from Christian being a sparkly deer-eating vampire, but a palm-twitching Dom with a love of BDSM, and unlike Bella, Ana doesn’t isn’t faced with the decision to give up her humanity, but rather to embrace her sexuality in all its kinky glory. Other than that, though, it’s your typical Romeo and Juliet tale.
As a reader: Like many woman, I picked up the first book out of curiosity. I wanted to see if Fifty Shadeswas really worth the hype. Unlike some soccer moms out there, I had read romance/erotica books before, so I wasn’t expecting to be shocked or disturbed by the sex scenes. Overall, I wasn’t. J. R. Ward had explored the BDSM angle years ago in her Black Dagger Brotherhoodseries. So what it came down to was whether the characters and plot could pull me along with or without the sex scenes (preferably with). Though the flawed writing, especially in the beginning, was distracting, the answer was yes. Like in the Twilightseries, I loved watching the heroine, Ana Steele, grow from timorous to tenacious. These books allow women to reminisce about our first loves and cringe over our struggles to grow from shy teens to confident young women. I equally loved watching Christian Grey, Ana’s love interest, devolve from a rich, domineering sex-god, to a broken but healing, lovable human being. The initial fantasy of finding a rich, handsome, and dangerous lover is fun, but realizing that most of the time it really is nothing more than fantasy is comforting and more realistic.
As someone who enjoyed the Twilight series, I was a bit disappointed at first by the amount of similarities between the main characters and plots. However, as I read further into the books, James began to divert more and more from fan fiction until what she ultimately created was her own story-a bit cliche, but still fun by its own merits. Some of my favorite bits of the books were when James was having fun with her own humor and creativity, mainly the subject lines of the emails sent between Ana and Christian, which were always either rib-cracking funny or eye-poppingly shocking.
So although the sex was great, in the end it was the characters with miles of heartbreaking backstory and those bits of creativity and humor that sucked me in and kept me up to all hours of the night.
As a writer: I’m not sure whether books like these ought to make me feel better or worse about my own writing. I felt great reading the opening chapter of the first book and recognizing that it was in some serious need of revision. It is comforting to know other new writers struggle getting their stories out of the gate. It is clear as one reads further into the book, that James was still finding the voices of her characters in those opening chapters. Though the first person narration felt stiff and the dialogue sounded forced for those first few chapters, James got into a groove relatively quickly. Soon, Ana sounded like a realistic twenty-two year old, both in her thoughts and dialogue. Her inner monologues often rang sadly and humorously true of a twenty-two year old in the throes of love and life.
There were other flaws, too, such as overused words and phrases, which began to stand out as the series progressed. Plot development was also shaky, but this I understood as a writer. James was trying to balance the plot surrounding her characters’ personal journeys with external plots. If the two plots aren’t tightly linked to one another, as James’s weren’t, one can climax at an odd time within the arch of the book.
So why would all these flaws make me feel worse as a writer? Well, because my own books share many of them, but they aren’t likely to go viral like Fifty Shadesany time soon.
Bottom line: If you’re an adult who liked the Twilight series and are comfortable with some untraditional sex scenes, you’re likely to get sucked into this series, so go ahead and purchase the entire trilogy. You’ll save some cash, and trust me, you won’t want to stop reading long enough to drive to the nearest store.
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