I finished reading Diamond Girl: G-Man Series, Book I by Andrea Smith a few days ago. Diamond Girl was selected from the Book Club Reading List, and it was an interesting read!
One of the (welcome) challenges of reviewing erotic novels is that some readers care exclusively for the intimate scenes, and some place more importance on the story-line. Each element often impacts the other. I saw a lot of that tension within this book in particular. Let’s talk about it!
After her only child leaves home for college, thirty-something Samantha realizes that she has lost herself over the last nineteen years; her life revolves around her daughter, her cold husband, and her unhappy marriage. Eager to carve a space for herself – but at a loss as to where to begin – she signs up for a Pilates class to get back into shape.
But her new-found independence opens doors she never imagined she could access – some of them lead to her own self-discovery, and others steer her into danger.
Spurred on by the increasingly selfish actions of her estranged husband, Samantha hurls herself down a new path. In doing so, she uncovers a number harsh realities about her life, and experiences a new world of emotional depth and pleasure.
The new Samantha, however, cannot exist in her old life without consequences. As she shapes an identity of her own, past illusions come crashing down, revealing a host of secrets about people and relationships she thought she knew.
1. Emotional Intensity
The nature of Samantha’s strained marriage generated an intense emotional response from me that, given the genre, I was not expecting. It was well done. I mean, I already know I’m an emotional reader, but at one point I had to stop reading and wake my (fast-asleep) partner up for a hug.
2. A Fun Plot and Developed Characters
The story-line was exciting! I wasn’t expecting the mystery angle, or the twists; they definitely kept me engaged. It had a little bit of everything: drama, romance, suspense…
“I think, for me, it’s feeling the characters, you know? I have a need to crawl inside their heads to understand their actions, reactions and interactions, no matter if they’re evil or good. I need to empathize with their importance to the plot.” — Andrea Smith, interview
The story almost exclusively details Samantha’s background, and follows her journey. It’s quite satisfying to cheer for a thirty-something woman as she takes back her identity, and the process was handled so well! There are a couple perspective shifts toward the end of the narrative, but they don’t detract from the fact that this is a personal transformation story.
What pleasantly surprised me though, was that the secondary characters were also quite compelling! This was especially interesting, because Smith managed to effectively shape a number of characters without devoting too much time to them – it was embedded so well into the narrative!
Some of the characters shocked me too. It was difficult to temper my reactions to sentiments with misogynistic leanings, or to generalizing comments about characters. I am quite sensitive to that type of language, but I have to admit that these instances were true to the characters and, what’s more important: I got the sense that that was the author’s intention.
3. Not too Hard, Not too Soft: Goldilocks (who I am assuming is way older than 18 at this point) would be into it
A lot of erotica doesn’t end up feeling that relate-able to me, because the pendulum swings too far in either direction: either everybody has the perfect life (and they’re all hot, and oh yeah: they’re all billionaires. And by the way, why don’t we care about the poor millionaires anymore? Millionaires need to get their rocks off too – don’t get greedy!), or the stories are super dark, and harsh, and I need a shower after I’m done reading. Smith, however, wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in terms of difficult topics, but she focused on narrative, and not on shock value.
Things That Weren’t for me
1. Very Stylized language
Some of the characters were presented as rather stereotyped, based on their language. And parts of the narrative read in an “old-timey,” gangster-story type tone. Characters from lower socio-economic backgrounds felt more artificial and exaggerated than the other characters. I can see how this would appeal to some readers, and how it could potentially function to create a specific tone. Personally, I found it a little distracting, like I was reading two different versions of the narrative.
2. The Recurring Emphasis on Control
Okay, I’ll try to explain myself: power dynamics are NOT NOT for me. I mean, my introduction to romance included Louisa May Alcott novels, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, etc…So of course I like reading about control. Furthermore, the wildly unbalanced power dynamic between Samantha and her horrible husband was necessary for the story. Chilling, but necessary.
It was how the main love interest and Samantha interacted; their relationship was difficult for me to buy sometimes. It came on a little strong, and I couldn’t conceptualize it as romantic. The sex was still hot, so that was good. And it’s not that I find those types of romantic relationships invalid. It’s that it was presented in a way that suggests that such a relationship – such a possessive partner – is universally desirable. It reminded me of Twilight (that’s right, I read Twilight. It was a weird time. I regret noth– some of it. I regret some of it…), where you can see how elements of the relationship are hot, but then part of your brain is like “wait, who is this guy, and why does she think he’s so important?”
Still, I have to refer back to that incredible character development: it’s believable that, based on who Samantha is, she would crave that type of relationship. And, in case I didn’t stress it enough: the sex was still hot.
This book was strange, emotionally charged, and thrilling! I was excited to finish it so that I could find out what happened, and I cared about the protagonist. The author explored some serious, complex issues, and I loved that there was no obvious effort to clean up the general (and realistic) sense of moral ambiguity Samantha grappled with. I was definitely rooting for her!