Monday, May 11, 2015

THOUGHTS on Nalini Singh's "Rock Hard"

"Rock Hard" is the second book in Nalini Singh's Rock Kiss series. I was not a fan of the first one,  "Rock Addiction," but Nalini Singh is an author I trust, so I thought I'd take a chance on "Rock Hard." I liked it better than the first book, but it wasn't a favourite. In this sort of case, where a book didn't elicit any extreme emotions for me, I previously wouldn't have bothered with one of these "THOUGHTS on" posts. But now that I've set up a new trio of criteria to consider,  I thought I'd examine whether "Rock Hard" passes my selected three tests for female presence in media. There may be what some people would consider spoilers in what follows, although I don't think there's really much of an external storyline to be spoiled, and given that this is basically a genre romance, you pretty much can guess what's going to happen in terms of the romantic arc.


Unlike Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter series, there's not much in the way of world-building in her Rock Kiss series. These are contemporary romance novels, although the characters (at least, the heroes, so far) are "larger than life" in the sense that they are rock stars, or former pro athletes. The hero in "Rock Hard" is Gabriel Bishop, a former pro rugby player turned wealthy businessman, who has been hired as a temporary CEO for the failing business where Charlotte Baird, the heroine, works. Despite Charlotte's fear of him, Gabriel sees that she's one of the few competent employees and ends up promoting her to being his personal assistant. So how does Gabriel and Charlotte's story hold up to the three basic tests for feminism I've selected?

2.0 Charlotte Baird, Gabriel Bishop and the Mako Mori Test

Both Charlotte and Gabriel have their own independent narrative arcs (in addition to their romance). Charlotte needs to overcome her fear and trauma from a particularly horrific event from her past, and Gabriel needs to deal with his childhood-induced fear of being poor and helpless, as well as needing to learn to let go of the anger he has for his father. Given this, both Charlotte and pass the Mako Mori test in that they each have their own narrative arcs that are not about supporting the other's narrative arc.

The Mako Mori Test: 3/3
(i) has a female character ( Charlotte Baird)
(ii) who has her own narrative arc overcoming her fear and trauma), and 
(iii) that narrative arc is not about supporting a man's narrative arc 

3.0 Charlotte Baird, Gabriel Bishop and the Sexy Lamp Test

Gauging whether Charlotte passes the Sexy Lamp Test is bit more difficult to determine, given that the driving force of these sorts of romances, IMO, is not an external plot, but rather the resolution of an internal conflict. The question is whether the resolution of Charlotte's fear and trauma is something that results as a consequence of particular actions that Charlotte takes, or whether Charlotte could have been replaced by a (damaged) Sexy Lamp that gets glued back together by the hero.  I think that Charlotte does pass the Sexy Lamp Test. At one point, Charlotte pushes Gabriel into touching the back of her neck - something that previously (and consistently) would set her off into having a flashback/panic attack. Although Gabriel doesn't want to do anything that would cause her this sort of trauma, she insists that he does, and so takes an action that leads to the resolution of her internal conflict.  Thus, Charlotte passes the Sexy Lamp Test

 What about Gabriel? I think it's important for heroes to pass the Sexy Lamp test, in order to make sure that romance novels don't just mirror-image the sexism present in the majority of mass media. In terms of the resolution of Charlotte's internal conflict, Gabriel's actions do play a crucial role - although Charlotte pushes him to take these actions, he still decides to take the sorts of actions that, while they may induce short-term fear to Charlotte, eventually lead to the long-term (at least partial) resolution of her trauma.

What's less clear, however, is whether Gabriel plays an active role in terms of the resolution of his own internal conflict - i.e., his fear of being poor (as evidenced by his workaholic nature), and his unforgiving anger at his father. In this case, it is almost entirely Charlotte who diagnoses and leads Gabriel through his emotional issues. There aren't really any times where I can clearly see Gabriel taking actions that affect his own emotional arc.

The Sexy Lamp Test:   1/2
  Charlotte Baird
 Gabriel Bishop

4.0 Charlotte Baird, Molly Webster and the Bechdel Test

As for the Bechdel Test, while Charlotte has a good friend, Molly (the heroine of "Rock Addiction,") who supports her, the majority of their conversations are about men. In most cases, Charlotte and Molly are discussing Gabriel. At one point, Charlotte and Molly discuss Charlotte's traumatic past, but as the trauma in question was inflicted by a man, the conversation is still technically about a man. There are thus not really any clear-cut cases where it appears that "Rock Hard" passes the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test: 2/3
(i) has at least two women in it ( Charlotte and Molly)
(ii) shows those women having a conversation (), where  
(iii) the aforementioned conversation is about something other than a man ( )

5.0 Conclusion

Overall I enjoyed reading "Rock Hard," although I didn't feel like it was anything special, and probably won't bother to re-read it. This isn't surprising since my favourite thing about Nalini Singh's writing is usually her intricate world-building and overarching plots, none of which are really present in "Rock Hard." I didn't find "Rock Hard" to be particularly original or funny, to have parts that made me feel really sad, feel any thrill of grandness, or parts that crushed me with their grittiness.

But even though "Rock Hard" is basically a contemporary romance, a variant on the boss-secretary plot bunny, "Rock Hard" passes most of my selected tests for feminism. I would claim that Charlotte as a heroine allows "Rock Hard" to pass the Mako Mori test and the Sexy Lamp test, although "Rock Hard" fails the Bechdel test:

Mako Mori:
Charlotte:    
Gabriel:  N/A, , 
Sexy Lamp:

Gabriel: N/A 

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