Author: Cora Carmack
Rating: 1/5 Stars
Eagle-eyed blog readers may note that the usual purchase links to online retailers is missing from this post. This was entirely intentional because I think every dollar that goes towards Roar is a dollar wasted. I went in expecting an entertaining fantasy, filled with storm magic and a princess discovering her destiny. While the book partially delivered on these expectations, it also came with a significant amount of toxic masculinity, two domineering and possessive love interests, a romance that perpetuates rape culture, and a woman of colour thrown under the bus to further the heroine’s own storyline.
I’ll get the lone positive out of the way first. The world building in Roar was compelling, set in a world haunted by tempestuous storms where gifted humans employ magic to control them. Since the internet has no shortage of glowing reviews about the magic system in Roar, I’ll leave it at that. I have a lot more to say about the toxic romance in Roar as, it is an example of how dangerous it is for harmful tropes to reign unchecked and unchallenged. This post will contain spoilers for the romantic plot within Roar. This is the book that ruins itself, so I am just helping it along.
Note: The protagonist in this book goes by three different names – Aurora, Rora, and Roar – I will use the name Roar for the sake of clarity.
Trigger warning for romanticised abuse.
My main issue with Roar is the very problematic romanticisation of male sexual aggression and possessiveness. Unlike many YA novels where the narration primarily takes place from the heroine’s point of view, Roar is also written from Cassius and Locke’s perspective – and their thoughts on Roar were disturbing and frightening, especially because the text largely presented them as romantic.
Creepy Love Interest #1 – The Tortured Prince
Moments later Cassius Locke melted out of the shadows, looking more like a villain than a prince—dressed all in black with dark hair and eyes to match.
The first love interest is betrothed to Roar. Cassius Locke is your classic dark, sardonic hero, complete with chiselled cheekbones and a secret agenda. Within ten minutes of their first meeting, we have him throwing her over his shoulders – caveman style – because her gorgeous gown was restricting her movement and he simply did not have the patience. Isn’t that charming? This particularly gallant thought also crossed his mind during their first encounter:
…he had a feeling that conquering her would prove more exhilarating than any storm he had ever defeated.
Yes, Cassius, because women are objects meant to be conquered. Also, this is the first of several instances that Roar is compared to a storm under a male’s gaze within this text – and given the misogynistic history surrounding the naming and feminisation of destructive cyclones and hurricanes, these comparisons constantly bothered me. The storms within this particular universe are described as devastating and mesmerising, people simply can’t help but be captivated and destroyed by their unknowable force. To her love interests, Roar is equally magnetic, they can’t help wanting her, it’s her own nature that makes them want to conquer and claim her.
Here’s a couple more examples of Cassius’s simply winning personality:
Her aggression had been a surprising but welcome new morsel of her personality. He had prodded at the fire in her, treated her like a woman he truly wanted, rather than a woman he had to have at any cost.
In this instance, Cassius perceives Roar’s anger as being a come-on rather than a warning that he has overstepped his boundaries (as mentioned above, this is a guy has no concept of what a personal bubble is). According to Cassius, when you’re interested in a woman, you have to ‘prod at her fire’ – because nothing is more romantic than pissing off your wife-to-be.
“You don’t deserve someone like me,” he said… “But you are mine all the same.”
Unfortunately, this is not the last time vile possessive sentiments will be voiced within the book. At least Roar is not impressed at this stage. However, the next time someone else says this, the text will treat it as romantic.
Mercifully, at this point in the novel, Roar does not entertain Cassius’s nonsense – she had the fortitude to think:
She had hoped that when all was said and done, she could finally belong to herself.
Ohhh Roar, I had such high hopes for you. Unfortunately, both our hopes largely go unfulfilled – at least in the romance department (to be honest, there’s not a great deal of plot in this book aside from the romance). Her second love interest is even more consumed with thoughts of possessing her.
Creepy Love Interest #2 – Protective Alpha Hunter
When Locke first appeared, I harboured some hope that the book’s romantic plotline will take a less toxic course. Perhaps Locke was the thoughtful, respectful foil to Cassius’s domineering personality. Alarm bells rang immediately when I saw his first POV perspective of the heroine:
He has been teasing earlier with his little girl comment, but now she did look young. And frightened. And it roused every protective instinct he had.
Right off the bat, we have the overprotective alpha-male trope rearing its ugly head, along with a healthy dose of toxic idealisation of masculinity. Males can’t help but want to protect their love interest, and in this case, the instinct comes with a need for control and possession. It’s a ‘romantic’ set up that we have unfortunately seen time and again, but this is one of the most rage-inducing version of the trope I’ve read in recent years.
To add another layer of creepiness to it all, Roar also reminds him of his dead sister:
But he remembered the feel of his sister, the timbre of her soul, the bravado with which she had lived. Roar had that same strange mix of vulnerability and strength.
In an entire book’s worth of Locke’s conflicting and very unsettling narration on Roar, this is a first. Locke simultaneously equates Roar to the little sister he had failed to protect, while also obsessively thinking of her through a more romantic lens. Here’s a couple of examples:
He had thought about her more today than he cared to admit, wondering what kind of home, if any, she had gone back to. But anything in this city would be safer for her than life in the wildlands.
At first it was kind of sweet, although perplexing as he’s only met Roar a couple of hours ago.
But now after three nights of restless sleep, broken by nightmares about a girl in danger who was somehow both his sister and Roar simultaneously, he had run out of excuses. It had been ages since he’d last had a nightmare. He knew having Roar here would throw him off balance, but it was even worse than he anticipated.
Then he began losing sleep over her and I started side-eyeing a little. Note that all of this obsessive behaviour is always framed as Roar’s fault, because of her nature – he cannot help but be infuriated, mesmerised, and obsessed with her. In Roar (as is sadly true in most romance), this is often painted as something that sets the heroine apart from other women, something that is romantic rather than unsettling.
And when he wasn’t consumed with thoughts of her, he was battered by an anxiety that had never plagued him before.
Obsession is not romance. Locke’s constant preoccupation with Roar eventually manifests in a more physical manner during their training sessions (for context, he’s teaching her how to manipulate and hunt storms). All of their training session sets feminism back by around two decades, but these passages are the ones that made me physically ill:
He should let her go. He knew her well enough now to know that manhandling her would only make her fight harder. But he was too distracted by the way her body fit against his own. Her soft hair tickled his neck. Even more startling, she had stopped fighting him completely. Her body sank against his, her back pressed against his chest and abdomen. He became acutely aware of where his arms wrapped around her shoulders and her midsection. She sucked in a breath, and the rise and fall of her chest moved through both of them.
Firstly, I do not think anyone of any gender would respond well to being manhandled. Secondly, his display of physical dominance followed by his sexual arousal truly makes me want to hurl. It is passages like these that are potentially triggering for survivors of sexual assault. I think it is absolutely vile that Locke even made it off the editing table. When I read paragraphs like this one, I feel like I am seeing through the eyes of an abuser – one that blames women for being distracting and inviting with their “soft hair” and curves. There is nothing remotely romantic about this predatory behaviour. This is abuse, and I cannot brush it off as a bad alpha-male trope – especially given how many reviewers view this as romantic.
Locke then follows up this assault with thinking:
He knew he should step away, but it was like he’d been mesmerized. He stood there, stock-still, his mind filled with nothing but her. If she were a storm, she could destroy him, and he would never lift a finger to protect himself.
Locke, you sack of waste, she is not a danger to you. Quite the opposite, you’re the clear aggressor in this situation. You do NOT get to blame her for mesmerising you, not when you clearly can’t control your own revolting impulses to dominate her. Society keeps making excuses for men like Locke, and seeing echoes of these excuses in fiction – especially ones that defend his action in the name of romance – make me see red.
As if this assault was not bad enough, within the same chapter, Locke then proceeds to start groping Roar. The passage is far too long for me to quote here, but it includes ‘he stilled and looked at her like hunters looked at prey’, and ‘the hand around her neck tightened’. Also, there is this very awful passage which reduces a woman’s body into an object to be conquered:
‘She was uncharted territory, and mountains formed where he touched her and a river of sensation flowed down her spine.’
The fact that this takes place from Roar’s perspective makes it all the more disheartening and disturbing. By the time Locke’s wandering hand started ‘grazing the upper curve of her bottom’, she begins to question ‘Why?’. Why was he putting his hands all over her without clear consent? The answer, dear reader, truly establishes what we already know – Locke is trash:
“When you’re distracted or feeling strong emotions, the natural barriers of your mind are weaker and more susceptible to being mesmerized by a storm’s magic. Which means something as simple as a thick fog could do much worse than make you forget where you are or what you were doing. It could keep you in the fog, even as it moves, dragging you along with it. Your mental barriers must be without weakness.”
He claims this particular assault was done in the name of training, to strengthen her mental barrier. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or rage at this point. Of course, there are no consequences for Locke. It’s heartbreaking to see Roar turn the anger she feels towards herself instead – for not being able to see through his manipulation. She does this on a couple of occasions:
Locke’s voice was a fierce, angry growl, and she bowed up, ready to growl right back. She was getting tired of his moods—suffocatingly protective one second and a beast the next.
While Roar does occasionally acknowledge that Locke’s behaviour is tiresome, the text never probes further. His action is portrayed as a minor annoyance and a character quirk – rather than extremely harmful and toxic. Roar only pushes back enough for Locke to see her as a challenge to be conquered, and she never manages to get him to respect her personal boundaries. In one scene, she shares a horse with Locke and tries her best to avoid bodily contact—this is what our romantic hero proceeds to do:
After the tenth or so time she had tried and failed to keep from falling against him, he was out of patience. Wrapping the reins once around the pommel so he didn’t lose them, he reached both hands back to grip her thighs, well above her burns, and tugged her forward. She squeaked in response, her fingers tangling in the leather straps and holsters that crossed his abdomen. He would be lying if he didn’t admit that he got pleasure out of both her outraged cry and the feel of her surrounding him. “There,” he said, his voice low so that only she could hear. “We’re touching. I can feel you, all soft and warm against my back.” He heard her sharp intake of breath behind him, and he could swear her fingers tightened on the holster around his midsection. “You can feel me, and the world has not descended into flame again.” Though there was plenty of heat moving down his spine.
Because when a woman is clearly establishing boundaries, what you should do is force her into compromising position and tell yourself that she enjoys it? Roar rightly calls him ”such an ass!” after this particular exchange, and this is his smug response:
“Yes, but I’m an ass who gets what he wants.” He hadn’t meant those words to sound quite so possessive. He still thought it was a bad idea to get attached to her, but since the kiss, he was having trouble getting himself to care.
The book is aware that Locke is an overly-possessive alpha male – yet it is continually treated as something that’s attractive. This would be problematic no matter which audience the book was published for, but Roar is specifically marketed to the YA audience and this makes it all the more abhorrent. Teens are partially informed about the world around them by the media they consume. Having the primary love interest constantly pushing the heroine’s personal boundaries and dismissing her protests is harmful and irresponsible. By the way, that kiss he mentions in the paragraph above also unsurprisingly transpires without consent:
“Would you listen—”
“Can you just leave me alone?” His hand seized her elbow, and he spun her around forcefully. He growled, “No. I can’t.”
And then his mouth collided with hers. For a moment, Roar did not understand what was happening. She knew his lips were on hers, pushing hard enough to be punishment, and his fingers threaded through her hair, and an arm wrapped tight around her waist. But even knowing those things, she could not quite comprehend that Locke was kissing her. She froze, unsure whether she wanted to allow it or shove him away. She had been so angry, but now that blazing heat had melted into something different, like molten glass being shaped into something new. He tilted her head back, his hand gripping tighter in her hair, and when he opened his mouth against hers, she followed. He kissed his own fury into her, melting and reshaping her again and again with each strokes of his tongue over hers.
I nearly threw my Kindle across the room at this point in the book. Roar really knows how to get these romances burning, because haven’t we all dreamed of being shut up with a kiss – especially one that was akin to “punishment”? After all, isn’t that what we deserve for defying the alpha male’s unquestionable authority? Especially because we seem to enjoy the kiss so much? There are so many layers of wrong to this passage that I cannot unpack them all.
Roar does push back a little after this kiss, telling Locke he ‘cannot manipulate [her] into letting go of [her] anger’. Yet the book quickly diminishes this display of backbone by i) having Locke spout the age-old excuse ‘I was worried, and I overreacted.’, and ii) we have to end this particular assault with her thought on how the ‘kiss [was] so intense that she was still shaking’.
The book makes excuses for Locke time and again, and Roar is too distracted by her physical attraction to him to ever truly challenge him. While I wish I could say the book did this with the intention of subverting the trope, and I continued reading Roar with that hope in mind – I truly believe that the readers are meant to think of this as romantic. The PR campaign around this book is all about picking your book-crushes, not about confronting your abuser. Given the amount of reviews saying how ‘swoon-worthy’ or ‘steamy’ the romance is, I am truly disheartened. I am angry at how easy it is to dismiss these toxic tropes and for the world to make excuses for (or even overlook) abuse.
How do I know that the book has no intention of redeeming itself and will paint Locke as a romantic figure to the bitter end? Because this is the culmination of Locke and Roar’s relationship, and it’s definitely meant to be viewed in a positive light. In classic Locke manner, all romantic interactions are drenched with language that’s intended to dominate and control:
…suddenly he was thinking about kissing her again, tugging her down until their mouths crashed together. Would she yell at him or kiss him back?
Blog readers – if there’s ever a possibility that a woman might yell at you when you kiss her – DON’T DO IT. Actually, don’t kiss anyone without their consent. It’s frightening that the thoughts Locke has about Roar often forgo consent.
He had lost control over his own hand, and it trailed up and down her back now, tracing the delicate line of her spine again and again. And with each pass, he claimed a little more of her…
And of course, even when he has consent to touch her – he uses words that imply he has no choice in the matter. He can’t help but want to claim her like she’s some trophy to be had. Locke, I would have a tiny measure of respect for you if you would just own up to your own action and obsession instead of blaming your lust for Roar on male instinct.
Locke couldn’t stop the fierce protectiveness that rose in him, and before he knew what he was doing, he had caught her face in his hands, turning it toward him. “Who was he? The man from the market?”
Hey, book, I am getting really sick of this. Abandoning logic, reason, and consideration for the other party because you ‘love’ them so much is not romantic. There is always a choice, and pretending there is not is the classic tactic of an abuser. This kind of protectiveness is just a few steps away from actual violence, whether it’s towards perceived threats or the actual person you’re meant to be protecting. How many times have we seen domestic abuse in real life being explained away with these same excuses? ‘I couldn’t help myself.’ ‘I lost control.’ ‘She made me.’ Book, please make Locke take some goddamn responsibility for his atrocious behaviour.
“I’m the first to touch this mouth? To taste it?” Her nails dug into his shoulders, and her blue eyes flashed with heat. She nodded, her tongue darting out to soothe the skin he had tugged between his teeth. “That means it’s mine. My territory. And I’m prepared to protect it, every hour of the day if I must.”
What ever happened to ‘not wanting to sound possessive’, Locke? A woman’s body is not anyone’s property. For a book that began as a journey for Aurora’s independence, seeing her reduced in the eye of her lover to an object to be conquered is truly devastating. On a larger scale, seeing Roar marketed as a fantasy book with female empowerment, it’s distressing to see how wide it missed the mark when it came to romance.
The Forgotten Woman of Colour
Nova, one of Roar’s maids and her childhood friend, is the one character I enjoyed within this book. She’s a woman of colour (unspecified in that vague fantasy race fashion, did you expect any more from this awful book). She also has anxiety disorder that was portrayed with some measure of authenticity (according to promotional post, this book is #ownvoices for the anxiety disorder).
She might have been born with magic same as Aurora, but long ago, her kind of magic had been deemed dirty, evil even. After all, it was people like her that caused the Time of Tempests
Of course, unlike our heroine who’s a princess with undiscovered potential and power – Nova has ‘dirty’ magic – in fact, her entire people have dirty magic. It is never really challenged within the text aside from hints that the entire Stormling construct is corrupt.
Using her past friendship with Nova, Roar convinces Nova to help her escape the palace. The power imbalance between the two already makes me uncomfortable, but the fact that Roar would put Nova into harm’s way, knowing of the royal family’s dark intentions, makes me hate her a little.
Then the book proceeds to forget that Nova exists. Occasionally checking in on her to i) show us Cassius’s manly posturing as he abuses Nova to get information about Roar, and ii) to undoubtedly use her to advance the plot within the next novel. People of colour are not set pieces, but in a book so enchanted with its lily-white heroine and her abusive love interest – I am not really surprised.
I am disappointed that in 2017, we still have books where male sexual aggression is rewarded, where abuse is romanticised, and where readers will happily accept it as ‘cheesy tropes’. We owe it to ourselves to hold the YA genre to a higher standard. Words have power, and I personally do not want to see that power go towards excusing the toxic behaviour of alpha males.
Thank you so much to Jananee of Head In Her Books and Sofia of The Literary Casanova for helping me proofread this post. They both have brilliant blogs that you should check out. All remaining mistakes are solely my fault.