Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer

"In a world where males are rarely born, they've become a commodity-traded and sold like property. Jerin Whistler has come of age for marriage and his handsome features have come to the attention of the royal princesses. But such attentions can be dangerous-especially as Jerin uncovers the dark mysteries the royal family is hiding."
- product page

Do you know what I hate? When you’re recommending a book to someone, or maybe you’re just telling them what the book you’re currently reading is about, and as soon as you say it’s science fiction or fantasy you get the look. The ‘oh, you like reading that stuff? Mine is a more refined taste.’ Seriously, I hate it. Half the time these people who disregard speculative fiction so readily barely read at all, or they only read what their favourite famous person tells them to, and I’d bet they’d never really tried to read a fantasy novel before.

Yeah, I sure do hate those people. Ignoring that fact that, well, I am one of them. ‘What are you reading?” I might ask. (But I promise I won’t interrupt your reading to ask you because I hate that as well). “Oh,” you’ll reply, “it’s this really good romance-” Whoops, and now I’m giving you the look. Romance? Really? I don’t read that stuff myself…

So you’ll imagine my surprise when a quarter of the way through A Brother’s Price I realised that what I had thought was going to be a light science fiction story was actually a romance novel. I couldn't even justify it and say it was science fiction with a romantic subplot, it was definitely a romance with a science fiction sub plot. It was trashy romance with a thin, wavering science fiction subplot.

If I’m being really honest I would say that apple flavoured bubble gum has more in common with fresh apples than A Brother’s Price does with actual science fiction. Its concept- what if one man was born for every ten woman- doesn’t seem to be more than an excuse to pepper the novel with some of the worst examples of the helpless woman stereotype I have ever seen, except the helpless woman are actually men, so that makes it ok apparently.

The women ride about tending to the land and keeping the law and drinking beer straight from the bottle, while the few men in the book stand about wringing their hands and getting rescued by the women. The female characters are strong and independent, while the males either passively accept what the women say is best (and are thus marked as good), or are prone to tantrums and sulking, (and so we know they are bad). What I’m trying to say is, if Price hadn’t done a gender switch this book would probably offend anyone with half a brain, or else not got published at all.

Even with the gender switch, I’m troubled. Spencer is a decent writer, nothing overly impressive but her words are clear and the plot (what there is of it) cracks along. Her female characters have depth, believable and unique motivations, flaws and scars. So really there’s no excuse for her male characters being such shallow caricatures that always seem to be one shock away from a fit of the vapours. Possibly Spencer was trying to make some kind of cutting social comment that I didn’t catch, but I have a nasty suspicion that she wasn’t doing it intentionally, that it was more of a ‘oh, look, the women are acting like good strong men and the men are wringing their hands like silly woman!’ kind of deal. Which bugs me, actually.

And even if we forgive this, there’s just so much potential here that gets wasted. The base concept is sound, and Spencer does touch upon some interesting implications of a society were men are a scarcity. The world has a sense of real history, with a major civil war that ended only a generation before still effecting the land. The problem is Spencer wastes much of this potential, discarding everything that does not serve the romance between a farmboy and the royal family. I think if the novel had of focused on the farmboy's grandmothers, who we learn were spies in the civil war and kidnapped a prince to be their husband, I suspect this would have been a far better book. Or if we focused on the royal sister Hayley who is AWOL on a mission of revenge for much of the book, or even if the plot between Farmboy and the sisters had have involved more than loving gazes and walks in the gardens, it would have been a better book.

Which I guess is like saying if it were a wholly different book, then I probably would have liked it. If romance is your thing give this one a shot, but just don't tell me because I might give you the look...

How did this book get into my hot little hands? Bookmooch



  1. I used to be a really big anti-romance snob, too. Seriously. The two books that changed my viewpoint were Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase and Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie. I sort of dared myself to read them to try and expand my reading horizons myself... and I was shocked at how good the pair of them were. Especially Lord of Scoundrels. I'd give those a try, just as an experiment!

    That being said, I hate it when expectations aren't met and it spoils your reading experience. Better luck next time!

  2. (Heh. FYI, you call the author "Price" about 5 or 6 times, but the author is Spencer. "Price" is just in the title)

  3. Well, obviously that was intentional... *shifty eyes*