Dueling Review, Recommended Read

Dueling (?) Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall (2013)

Spoiler Alert: We all loved this book. So this is more of a long discussion post than a duel.

Spires, Book #1

Holly:

Heat Factor: Sex first, emotions later

Character Chemistry: I’m not entirely sure why Darian puts up with Ash, but I’m glad he does

Plot: One-night stand becomes something more

Overall: I finished this book and immediately made Erin and Ingrid agree to read it because I needed to talk to someone

Erin:

Heat Factor: There’s a lot of sex, and the sex does a lot of work, but it’s poetically rather than graphically written

Character Chemistry: “It doesn’t make any sense, but something in you speaks to something in me.”

Plot: Ash puts himself way outside his comfort zone and challenges himself to embrace the happiness he finds there

Overall: This has been on my TBR for a while, and I had a couple false starts because Chapter 1 was really uncomfortable, but the rest of the book was really beautiful

Ingrid:

Heat Factor: It’s kind of like eating dessert first, and then getting a little uncomfortable, so when you get the real food you’re kind of relieved/grateful and also just deeply satisfied?

Character Chemistry: This is probably a healthy dose of sexual healing mixed with a serious case of the ole grumpy + sunshine

Plot: Ash meets this glitter pirate, Darian, who just oozes joy at a stag party and tries really hard to pretend this man isn’t leading him into a life where he can find his own happiness and it DOES NOT WORK.

Overall: This book is absolutely like that song you hear on the radio and you’re like, oh god I’m not going to be able to stop humming this later, and that’s exactly what happens but you really love it…


Do you think the first chapter matches the tone of and sets up the rest of the book? Did it make you want to keep reading?

Erin: I started this book twice before I actually buckled down to read it, and that was because the first chapter is really hard to read. Ash is a big mess, his friend Niall is a different mess, and I felt like the outlook was incredibly bleak. It made me a bit scared to go on. As I read, I thought, “this isn’t as intense as I expected from that beginning,” though, in retrospect, that first chapter did lead in very well to the depression Ash experienced before meeting Darian again, and it also set the tone for an evocative voice with a bit of a lit fic style. Still, I did have to push myself through it, and once I did I was absolutely delighted. Hall’s turns of phrase are fantastic. 

Ingrid: The first chapter was absolutely a little heavy with dread but then honestly with a title like Glitterland I just trod onward without any issues. Sometimes you just have to trust and move along.

Holly: I knew, going in, that Glitterland featured an intense portrayal of depression, but that it was also hilarious. (Thanks to this episode of ShelfLove.) So maybe my expectations sheltered me? I don’t know, Chapter 1 didn’t slow me down. 

What do you think of Ash as a romance hero?

Holly: Glitterland is narrated entirely by Ash, so Darian remains pretty opaque. Which means that I have a strong sense of who Ash is and why he acts the way he does. But if the story were narrated by Darian—or if Darian were my friend—and he talked about some of the snide things that Ash says to him, I would be yelling at him to RUN. (Especially if Darian were a woman.) Like, even though we’re in Ash’s head, it’s not entirely clear that Ash even likes Darian, so when he does shit like make fun of Darian’s accent / spray tan / sparkly clothes…well…

On the other hand, Ash is a misanthropic snob and frankly, I can relate. 

Let’s just say that this book is definitely about Ash’s journey. And Ash is particularly messy. 

Erin: I really like Ash as a romance hero. There are about a gazillion messy characters trying to figure themselves out in romance, but the majority are not jerks. Most of them are terribly put upon (see: Beach Read or Not Like the Movies) or prickly and standoffish without going full asshole (see: Take a Hint, Dani Brown or Ten Things I Hate About the Duke). But sometimes people can be real jerks and then really regret their actions, and maybe they can deserve love as much as the whiney ones? 

Holly is totally right that he doesn’t treat Darian very well, but class and culture impact Ash a lot, as does Ash’s understanding of how his diagnosis impacts his ability to function. Hall probably succeeds with Ash’s characterization because Ash is reasonably self-aware and doesn’t make excuses for himself (especially as time goes on). I rather enjoyed reading a modern take on the snob realizing that he has found real joy with someone he initially thought was beneath him but couldn’t let go of. 

Ingrid: I think that Ash being the romantic hero is kind of an important part of the narrative here—he doesn’t think he’s a romantic hero, he thinks he’s like a romance anti-hero. And yes, he’s constantly sticking his nose up at all these silly and unpolished things that Darian and his friends radiate, but as the story unfolds it’s those very things that help Ash relax into himself enough to be able to find his own happiness. So while there are quite a few moments of terribly uncomfortable cringe that go on, the whole point is Darian is worthy of love and respect and effort the way he is, and so is Ash. It’s just that Ash (and some of Ash’s awful friends) have lost Ash in his mental illness. I do agree that some of this I had to kind of feel out because since it is entirely from Ash’s perspective we don’t actually get to know Darian as intimately as I’d have liked—but it didn’t put me off at all. I think the whole point is that Ash believes he’s not all that loveable, but for Darian, he is. 

Do you think Hall’s use of phonetic accents is effective?

Holly: Usually, I find phonetic accents really grating, but they really work here, for a couple of reasons. 

A huge divide between Ash and Darian is class (or, perhaps “classiness”), and Ash *notices* Darian’s accent—just as Darian notices Ash’s accent and comments frequently about how “posh” he sounds. 

Another divide between Ash and Darian is place. There is a really strong sense of place in this book, such that Essex and Cambridge are a million miles apart. Ok, they are actually 65 miles apart (and my Texas heart laughed and laughed), but they are a million miles apart culturally—and Darian’s accent accentuates this. 

Also, as written, the accent is just…right. I read a passage aloud to my husband (“don’t look at me like that cos at school we done the one wif the witches”) and I knew exactly how this character was supposed to sound. 

Erin: Unless I know the accent already, phonetic accents aren’t super accessible for me. Fortunately, the internet exists, so I found a video and suddenly everything totally clicked for me. Mostly. Hall didn’t write all the text exactly phonetically, but that’s probably because it would be unintelligible. So my brain did have to grapple with it a little bit.

That said, the big struggle is Ash coming to accept that he has real and valid feelings for a man that at first he can’t respect because of his social mooring. I felt like it was easy for Darian to feel like everything was fine because Darian is a very personally authentic glitter pirate, but also because his friends might wrinkle their foreheads at the match, but they’ll probably limit their judgment to “Ash is a rude, erudite snob.” From the other direction, Ash’s worries about people thinking he was slumming were centered very much in a class divide that is much more pronounced the higher the class one inhabits. It’s easy to think your friends aren’t judgemental as long as you’re not challenging their ideas, and Darian, with his pronounced accent and his appearance, stuck out boldly and unapologetically – a glaring challenge in a high society crowd. 

Ingrid: I’ll be honest, usually I can’t stand them. But in this particular case, I agree that it was really, truly necessary. I feel like reading their exchanges was a constant reminder of their initial dissonance—like when Darian made a hearty, homey shepherd’s pie and Ash made a pear roquefort salad. I feel like there are certainly sections that made me feel a little uncomfortable because I felt like the accent and conversational content made the Essex characters feel more like caricatures, (see the fashion show) but then it swung so far the other direction into straight cringe and I kind of understood why it unfolded that way.

Do you think Hall’s use of sex in this narrative qualifies the book as erotic romance?

Holly: I’m thinking about the post Erin did about erotic romance vs. erotica and the kind of work sex does in erotic romance in moving the relationship forward. And in this case, the sex scenes do a lot of the work in establishing the relationship and building the romance. 

However. In this case, the book starts sex-heavy and then kind of slowly tapers off, so that the climactic emotional beats toward the end of the book are completely outside of the bedroom. Even some of the non-climactic but still important moments of connection are not about physical connection at all, such as when Ash participates in an Essex fashion show. So I would not categorize this as an erotic romance. 

Plus, frankly, if a book is billed as erotic romance, I expect more frequent or detailed sex scenes than we get here. 

Ingrid: I do not, and I’m very much a square (like Darian). Because Ash is so tightly wound and self-absorbed, those scenes were absolutely critical for establishing subtle changes and movement in their relationship. The sex scenes absolutely move the plot and relationship forward. I will say that these scenes are very vividly and beautifully done, and they are not few; so I would understand why it would seem to kind of fit in either category…but I firmly believe this qualifies as erotic romance.

Thoughts on the portrayal of mental illness?

Erin: I thought Hall got the beats right. I suppose it’s possible that a reader could argue that Hall whitewashed Ash’s depression when he was with Darian, but my read was: there are ups and downs with both depression and anxiety, and different things might trigger them or nothing specific might trigger them. They aren’t together all that much, Ash and Darian—this is very much the beginning of something—and Ash definitely still struggled with some basic things, even when he was with Darian. But the majority of the book is not coated in a fog of depression and anxiety. 

Darian challenges Ash, most of the time not knowing Ash’s diagnosis or that what he’s asking of Ash is any kind of challenge at all, but the fact that he does it and Ash wants to be “normal” for as long as possible around Darian means that Ash takes some steps that are ultimately good for himself. Maybe he doesn’t have to force himself to go to the grocery store when it’s a whole day affair from psyching himself up before to cooling off after, but the juxtaposition of Darian thinking that Ash can versus Niall (the ex/friend) thinking Ash can’t speaks volumes as Ash negotiates his relationships in the wake of meeting Darian. 

Ingrid: I think that there are several things that struck me as beautifully done here—the way Ash has periods of disintegration followed by a kind of muddled, emotionally tangled recovery where the disintegration doesn’t feel real. I found the shame and the self-absorption to be extremely believable—when you’re constantly trying to figure out what’s going on with yourself and desperately trying to appear okay it’s kind of a natural side-effect to sound a little self-absorbed—but Hall doesn’t depict the self-absorption to be a huge character flaw. It’s very lovingly done. I actually found Ash’s motivation to really push for a trip to the grocery store and to get to the other events to be believable because he’s aware that being with Darian is different and that it’s bringing out things he likes in himself, so he’s deeply motivated to maintain that connection. It made so much sense to me. And the other relationships Ash has—absolutely it impacts friendships deeply and in a multitude of ways. So I feel like Hall did a really delicate and thoughtful portrayal here that honored the experience of having a mental illness and I appreciated it.

Does this book have a satisfying ending?

Holly: This is definitely an HFN rather than an HEA

Erin: I’ve read Hall before, so I knew not to expect epilogues with weddings. If it had been a new to me author I probably would have felt like I wanted more. Hall fully acknowledges he’s an HFN kind of writer.

Ingrid: It might be a HFN but it sure didn’t feel that way for the four hours I was glowing and sighing after I read it. I appreciate HFN way more than HEA as a thirty something.

Next time we see each other in person, can we please play Nabble? There is only one correct answer. 

Holly: Yes, obviously. 

Erin: TBH it sounds like the best game ever.

Ingrid: I’m going to mop the floor with both of you.


Buy Now: Amazon


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2 thoughts on “Dueling (?) Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall (2013)”

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