Since this whole project started because of a conversation about the Fated Mates Gentle Rogue episode, it seemed only fitting for Dani and me to start our project with Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey, published in 1990. In case you missed our intro posts, this was a re-read for Dani and a first time read for me. When Dani started reading the book, before I had started, she texted me about loving falling back into the books, but worrying that I wasn’t going to like it as much since I wouldn’t have nostalgia coloring my view. It’s always interesting asking someone to read one of your favorite books with you, because her nervousness about my thoughts mirrored how I felt when it was time for her to start Rock Hard by Nalini Singh, published in 2015. Both James Malory and Gabriel Bishop are alpha men, but romance years move fast and 1990 to 2015 saw a lot of societal changes reflected in the books we’ve read. But looking at just the romance and not the extra cast of characters or the time period, it was fascinating to see that we’re still grappling with the same issues in our romances. In this case, what Dani and I both noticed was how for each of us, the power differential and how it was handled gave us pause in the new to us books.
If you, like I was, are unfamiliar with Gentle Rouge, it is the third book in the Malory-Armstrong series and features Georgie (short for Georgina), an American shipping heiress searching for her missing fiancé, and James Malory, former pirate and current viscount. Some things you should know are that Georgie absolutely hates the English, and especially hates noble English. But after she finds out her fiancé left her voluntarily and has a wife and two kids, she is so desperate to get back to America, she sails out of England on a ship bound for Jamaica disguised as a cabin boy. An important flag here is that it is beyond weird to read a book acknowledging that our romance hero has a plantation in Jamaica and therefore owns slaves. Sure, the slavery aspect wasn’t specifically addressed, but the man is a plantation owner. He has slaves. If this keeps you from reading the book, I get it. Anyway, James is the captain of the ship she sets sail on and recognizes Georgies from a fun run-in he had with her at a bar while she was searching for the fiancé and so he insists she sleep in his cabin and help bathe him, amongst other duties.
Before I jump in too far, let me say that I rated this book a 3.5. A stylistic choice that I don’t think we have as much nowadays is that the perspective jumps back and forth in a way that is very disconcerting, especially if you’re listening to the book as opposed to reading with your eyeballs. And two quick points before I focus in on mine and Dani’s conversation about power dynamics are the following: (1) Rich noblemen who are either against marriage or need a titled woman to marry so they think they should ask their love interest to be their mistress instead of their wife is a really irritating trope and I desperately need it to die forever. (2) Dani and I both expressed our frustration at the super experienced man and virgin heroine trope. Georgie didn’t even know what she was experiencing was attraction. She thought she was nauseous every time she got close to James and, as Dani said, it was funny, but also gave her (and me) secondhand embarrassment.
One of the main things Dani and I talked about as I read the book was whether or not and how the power differential worked in this book. In asking for my thoughts, Dani sent this text: “Objectively, I feel like I shouldn’t like it. He’s a lot older, more experienced, and he’s captain of the ship, so he has all the power. But for some reason it doesn’t raise any red flags when I’m actually reading it?”
Both of us agreed that the power differential should raise more red flags than it did for us. Personally, I felt uncomfortable that James knew Georgie’s secret more than anything else, but Dani pointed out that the good thing about it was that “we don’t have any of that homophobic nonsense.” I concede it’s a good point and I would prefer to not have the homophobic nonsense than to have had James be honest with Georgie from the moment he recognized her. I suppose that might have gotten in the way of the actually story though.
Dani wondered if having both James and Georgie’s POVs and trusting in the HEA is what makes the power dynamic work. I’m inclined to think this may be a YMMV situation because we all have different things we’re okay with power dynamic wise and that may depend in part on the genre and our mood when we read a book. Still, Dani suggested (and I agreed) that it would be uncomfortable for someone to write a book with this premise today. Regardless, we were both impressed by how well this book holds up, 29 years later.
Turning now to Rock Hard, which is about Charlotte Baird and Gabriel Bishop. Charlotte is a records clerk who survived something extremely traumatic and has been living her life in a safe little bubble since. She’s working on a Saturday just before the new CEO starts on Monday when she hears someone in the records room. Uncertain what to do, she takes a stapler into the records room and throws it at the intruder. The intruder who just so happens to be the new CEO and former professional rugby player, Gabriel Bishop. Through a series of events, Charlotte and Gabriel wind up working more closely together and Charlotte begins to truly live her life for the first time in a long time.
Again, before I jump into mine and Dani’s conversations about power differentials, I want to make five quick unrelated points. (1) One of the best parts of this book is Charlotte’s personal journey toward healing. This book covers quite a decent span of time and we as readers really do get to see the steps Charlotte takes of her own volition toward recovering and moving on from her past trauma. (2) Without spoiling anything, there’s an element at the end that does feel unnecessary and like it’s just an added in plot device, which wasn’t great to read about. (It is, however, somewhat realistic, which is depressing.) (3) Charlotte nicknaming Gabriel T-Rex is the best. (4) Gabriel apologizing for bad boss behavior with desserts is an excellent strategy. (Dani and I would advise that you get macarons and/or cupcakes to eat while you read this book.) (5) In contrast to James, Gabriel makes up his mind about Charlotte quickly and he stays the course. We love a patient hero.
Focusing now on power differential, it’s so interesting how books written 25 years apart grappled with the same major issue. Gabriel as the CEO just inherently has more power than Charlotte, an employee of the company he runs. Charlotte, like Georgie, has to develop her own way of standing up to Gabriel, who can be very pushy and likes to have things his way. For both Charlotte and Georgie, it seems like that nudge to stand up and push back against Gabriel and James respectively, really helps them come into their own. However, perhaps especially in 2019, in the aftermath of #MeToo (but also just always), workplace harassment is a real and very problematic thing. People abusing their power is extremely real and Gabriel is great about taking things slow and making sure that Charlotte is on board every step of the way, but Dani thinks that HR should have gotten involved or that the relationship should not have happened while she worked directly with him. She was able to set that aside because the rest of it is so great, but it’s a really good point. For me, Gabriel’s method of addressing the issue was enough, but I’m not sure if it’s because when I first read it, I wasn’t as bothered by boss/employee relationships in books or because it actually is enough. Or, if, like Dani suggested with Gentle Rogue, if I could just trust in both Gabriel and Charlotte because I got to read both of their POVs and could trust in the HEA. Another YMMV, most likely, but it’s hard not to wholeheartedly recommend Nalini Singh.
If you have any thoughts about either of these books or just thoughts about power differentials in general, please do share them with us below!