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Alexis Hall

AJH diligently fails to get to grips with yet more social media.

Force of Law

Force of Law - Jez Morrow Oh the difficult.

I read this because two friends were arguing about it.

And ... gosh ... my feelings, they are quite mixed.

On the one hand, I kind of enjoyed it. It’s almost irritatingly engaging.

On the other hand, it hurt my face. And I’m quite resentful of the ways it hurt my face because it kept lulling my face into relaxed amusement, and then punching it hard.

So, basically, I feel I slightly abused, like Charlie Brown and the football:

Force of Law: Come here baby, it’ll be fine I promise...
Me: Oh, okay, I suppose this is quite entertaining
Force of Law: THWACK
Me: Ow
Force of Law: Sorry baby, I won’t do it again, look he’s guiding his sex into his hunger
Me: Oh ...oh ... all right, I do sort of like this stuff, just don’t hit me again, okay?
Force of Law: THWACK
Me: Dammit.

I think it’s fairly clear that this is ... a ... I hesitate to use the word satire, I guess an m/m twist on an Harlequin Presents type romance. And, for the record, I’ve only read about twenty or so HQ Presents so I by no means know what I’m talking about. But we’ve got a protective, badass billionaire with a penis-mobile and a never-flagging erection for a hero. And a less experienced, less socially and physically powerful protagonist.

They hate each other. Then they fuck. Then people try to kill them. Then they’re in love. And there are a lot of other HQ Presents type tropes in here too: evil families, good families, potential financial ruin, an evil ex, blackmail, & etc, all of it basically ... hang on a second, this GR, lemme get a gif:


Even the, err, bonking is self-consciously and gleefully, well, Harlequiny.

That sexual thickness pushed inside him for an extended moment that stretched to eternity. His body ignited with a spear of sexual heat. The unexpected sensation left him thunderstruck, dazed and soaring. It was a revelation, as if a veil had been stripped away and suddenly he could see color. His body melted into fiery sweetness.

That sounds more like irritable bowel syndrome than any sex I’ve ever had, but honestly, I love this stuff. I love it in het, and turns out I love it in queer too. I mean, it’s silly, but it’s gloriously silly. And it’s not like the sole purpose of fiction to accurately represent your impression of reality.

However. There’s no denying that fiction does intersect with reality. And this is where things get sticky for me with FoL.

Basically, I think it comes down to an intersectionality issue. Because obviously het romance – and this style of het romance in particular – is heavily (and, even to a degree, necessarily) gendered. Most of the HQ Presents I’ve read have been engaged with juxtapositions of power and vulnerability, masculinity and femininity – sometimes in quite aware ways, sometimes not so much. Ultimately alpha heroes and HQ Presents-style power dynamics are not My Thing. That’s not the sort of man I aspire to be, and it’s not the sort of man I find attractive. But I do appreciate the sheer whacked-outness, sometimes, when I’m in the right mood. And, obviously, different books inspire different responses in different readers. I’ve read reviews that found pleasure in those sort of gendered dynamics in spite of the inherent problems associated with them, I’ve read reviews that actively objected to those sort of gendered dynamics in the first place, and I’ve read reviews that didn’t give a damn. All legit and entirely sustainable positions.

But because FoL is queer, it gets honestly pretty weird, and not in a manner I was able to easily dismiss or laugh off. Tom is a mechanic, rides a Harley, and has a muscular, bad-boy look, but basically – since we’re operating with the gendered framework of HQ Presents (het) romances – he’s ... uh ... he’s the woman. Quite explicitly the woman:

Law nuzzled his ear. “Still think you’re the man?

Um. Yes, sweetie. You’re both men. That doesn’t change when one of you has had a cock up your arse.

Just, as post-coital taunts go ... this is fucking weird. It presupposes a bunch of really pretty vile things about gender, sex and power – and none of them are things I want reinforced by books that are ostensibly supposed to be about me. Even if they’re not for me.

And, look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be overwhelmed, forced, dominated, taken. Whatever your gender. Masculinity is hot. Either subversively or directly.

And I get that the scene in which Law de-virginates Tom and then compares him to a woman is meant to reflect similar type scenes in het romance, of which, let’s face it, there’s loads. But it’s Made of Problems whichever way you cut it. A double whammie of homophobia AND misogyny that just makes me want to cry. While sex can be about power (sex can be about lots of things, and lots of things can be about power), a lot of forced seduction scenes in het romance are built on the idea that it is fundamentally and inherently and automatically disempowering for a woman to have sex with a man. Which, uh, I don’t know. Not my call. But I would like to hope maybe not. Don’t get me wrong, I think it can be, but I think that’s a symptom of gender constructions and centuries of unequal social power. I don’t think having one part of someone else’s body inside your body is by its very nature passive, disempowering, feminising or emasculating.

The entire scene between Tom and Law simply builds on these messed up ideas: that sex – at its core – involves a loss of power, that loss of power is feminising, and that this is demonstrated by who penetrates whom.

Also I don’t think the worst thing you can say about a man is that he’s like a woman. I don’t think power is a natural feature of masculinity, and I don’t think vulnerability is a natural feature of femininity. But these ideas are not only accepted without question by the text, they’re constantly reinforced:

I am not going to crumble like a virgin girl. I’m a guy. This is just sex.

God, yeah. Heaven forefend a man felt a thing. That would be terrible. And, okay, if you’re feeling super generous, maybe you can squint sideways and say maybe the text is exploring or challenge these ideas.

But it ain’t.

Or if it is, it might come across more effectively as A Theme if the book didn’t constantly refer to women as “bitches.”

And I don’t mean as an insult. I mean as a general term for the female of the species.

I think the sex thing would have troubled me less – it is, after all, a trope of m/m in general that liking to be penetrated is inherently submissive and just a little bit humiliating (le sigh) – if the same dynamic had not unfurled like a rectal prolapse across the entire book. It is Tom who takes it up the arse, it is Tom who sits around waiting for Law to call, it is Tom who is rescued by Law from Dangerous Drivers, it is Law who “submits emotionally” (usually the act of emotional rebalancing in a lot of het romances) to Tom when he proposes at the end. Basically Tom is a mechanic for like five minutes at the start of the novel and – while I am very hesitant to enter into the same constructed ideas of gender I have spent this entire review protesting – a woman from the second Law sticks his dick in him while he cries.

And don’t even get me started on Wells – this is Tom’s previous lover, the sylph-like and effete blonde we later learn was only “confused.” Because tonnes of men have taken all their clothes off and repeatedly rubbed themselves against me in a state of confusion spanning many months. FoL opens with this traitor to homosexuality getting fat and getting married. Again, not in itself problematic, but it troubled me that Wells was so thoroughly condemned as a “pretender” when ... I don’t know ... I think if you ejaculate while wrapped naked around your same-sex lover there’s likely to be some degree of sexual fluidity going on there attributable to more than “confusion”. There are, after all, plenty of behavioural waystations on the journey between straight as a die and flaming woofter. But because Wells is insufficiently masculine and insufficiently gay to “properly” penetrate Tom, you’re once again reinforcing extremely dodgy ideas about sex and sexual identity i.e. that sex only “counts” if there’s a penis entering an orifice, and that homosexuality is located somewhere inside the anus.

But, goddamn it, how can I be so pissed off and entertained at the same fucking time? I feel like the protagonist.

Force of Law thrust itself savagely onto AJH's e-reader.
"No, no," he protested weakly. "Please... don't... with your deranged attitude to anal sex and your messed up gender politics."
"You want me really," snarled FoL. "You took me in half an hour. You couldn't get enough of me."
AJH trembled like a peony in a rainstorm, and tried to pretend he was reading KJ Charles...