I couldn’t sleep last night. I was up from 2:30 AM until sunrise. This could have been a major disaster, and sure, I’m a little tired today, but who cares? Not me, because I had recently started Sweet Ruin, the latest in the Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole. So I just moved to another bed to avoid keeping my husband awake with the light of my Kindle, and settled in for a deep dive into an awesome book. And I was not disappointed. Moreover, I have ideas for several blogs, and I had time to write them all down, so life is very good indeed. Sweet Ruin is the story of Rune and Jo. He is a Dark Fey with poisonous blood and body fluids, and she is a rarity, part vampire and part phantom, immune to his poison. A match made in heaven. There is a catch, of course, and suffice to say that Rune has some major commitment issues, to say the least, which creates the central conflict in the story. But Jo knows what she wants, and she’s willing to hold out to get it. For her, nothing less than the brass ring will do, no matter how determined Rune is to deny her.
I loved the character of Jo. Her philosophy is to squeeze until something breaks. Boo-yah! She’s a call-them-like-you-see-them kind of gal, and she knows what she wants. And what she wants is Rune. Forever. She wants monogamy, a wedding, and maybe little Runes running around someday. He thinks she’s got the immortal equivalent of puppy love and anyway, he’s not a one-woman kind of guy, no matter how amazing that one woman is, and why can’t she that?! Rune decides that Jo has idealized and romanticized their relationship and has used an unachievable ideal as the “template for her love life.” Clearly, she is misguided, uninformed, and too young to know her own mind. Besides which, he’s not a one-woman guy for a variety of reasons that are valid in his eyes and bullshit in hers.
Why has this storyline captured my attention so completely? Because, as she has done before and will do again, Kresley Cole has taken a well-worn trope and turned it on its head. I love when she does that. In one of my favorite posts of all time, I wrote about how Ms. Cole puts the kibosh on slut-shaming by celebrating her female protagonists’ sexuality and ridiculing the men who think women should be virginal. In a similar way, in Sweet Ruin, Kresley Cole abrogates the unfortunate motif of the needy woman dragging the long-suffering man to an altar. This is a theme I find particularly distressing, mostly because I think men are as likely to crave marriage and monogamy as much as women, but also because I fell into that particular hole myself, and it took a while to get to where Jo begins the whole process. Let me explain.
Before I met my husband, I had three long-term relationships. All three had a similar trajectory: I fell hard and wanted a commitment from each of these three men who personified commitment phobia. I used to joke that if I were blindfolded in a room with 100 men, I would find the one who couldn’t make a commitment. Turns out, I was the one with serious commitment issues, which was why I continually chose emotionally unavailable men. But that is a subject for another blog. The point for today is that I must admit to feeling pathetic, unlovable and defective during all three of those relationships. What was wrong with me that these men didn’t want to commit? I fell into the “what if” trap. What if I were prettier, smarter, sexier, wittier, yada, yada, yada? Looking back, I cringe at these memories.
But I didn’t have the self-confidence or self-esteem to think it was them and not me. I was sure the fault lay in my perceived inadequacies, and if only I were more, more, more, I would get the brass ring—or the diamond ring, as it were. After three relationships like that, I began to believe that ring would forever elude me, and what’s more, I probably didn’t deserve one anyway. I got to a point where I was like Woody Allen—if there had been a man who wanted a commitment from me, I would have wondered what his problem was.
Thankfully, I eventually crawled out of my self-hating hole and figured out that these losers were just that, losers. After all, they could have had me—and I was a total prize—even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I eventually clawed my way to the place that Jo inhabits effortlessly, lucky girl that she is.
I love, love, love Jo’s attitude about making Rune see the light. She never questions her own worth, and she never wavers in her desire to have what she knows she wants. She is steadfast in her belief that she not only deserves Rune’s heart and physical fidelity, she never doubts that he will come around to her way of thinking—because she is just that fabulous.
Kresley Cole does not portray Jo as some poor little woman trying to “land” a reluctant groom. There’s no faux pregnancy scares like in An Officer and a Gentleman. There is no manipulation and no subterfuge. Jo wants Rune—and why not? He’s the smartest, sexiest, most accomplished man she’s ever met, and she knows that when he loves, it’s with all his heart. Moreover, she knows her own mind and her own heart, so his protestations that she is too young to make such decisions are lame at best, patronizing at worst. Jo is the epitome of a strong woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. She will get it or not, but there is nothing pathetic or sleazy going on there, just an honest assessment of desire and the determination to do her utmost to fulfill it.
So while Jo was encouraging Rune to the figurative altar, she wasn’t dragging him, and she wasn’t tricking him. Big difference from the usual marriage-minded heroine of days gone by. I think we should all take a moment to appreciate Jo and also Bob Marley who tells us, “If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you won’t give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy.” Boo-yah.