Review contains strong themes including rape
The Golden Dynasty by Kristen Ashley is the story of Circe, a modern woman from Seattle, who wakes up in a parallel universe. She is upon waking subjected to a so called wife hunt, rape and forced into marriage. The story continues of the main characters' struggle to overcome their many differences and Circe’s struggle to accept this new world of the Korwahk and her new warrior husband Lahn.
I didn't like this book at all and I especially loathe the heroine’s acceptance of this world. While there are numerous other things that irritated me in this book (such as the ridiculous made up language and the bad writing; punctuation errors, paragraphs overflowing with unnecessary adjectives, and all those inconsequential details that really don't make the world building any better) they really all pale in comparison.
In order to create a depth of differences between the main characters, not only of language, but of morality, ethics and of a sense of right and wrong, the author created a fantasy world; A misogynistic country dominated by chauvinistic, brutal men, a society in which masculinity and violence are emphasized and a culture in which rape and violence towards women are normalized.
The world depicted in this book is made up of a brute horde of men who see it as their right to rape, abduct and abuse women. Women have no rights in their society, it is a warrior’s right to rape and claim a woman as his wife and treat her any way he likes, with no laws in place to prevent abuse. With this social order of dominant male warriors Kristen Ashley created the perfect psychological setting for these men to vent their hatred of women.
The female mc Circe is a modern woman. A modern woman, who was raised in equality to men, with rights, with freedom, with the choice to say no and above all, with a sense of right and wrong. But she strives to accept her new husband after he repeatedly rapes, beats and mistreats her and she strives to accept this misogynistic world of the Korwahk with "their way". Kristen Ashley created a weak, ignorant, materialistic, selfish and shallow character who doesn’t bother to look beyond her own bubble of relative safety. She doesn’t fight for all the women in the Korwahk society who suffer immeasurably, nor does she even try to free herself from her awful situation.
As she becomes the new Korwahk queen, is given pretty jewelry and clothes, she surrounds herself with her circle of friends and screens herself off from the rest of the people. She sees only what she wants to; she calls her slaves “her girls”, gives them jewelry and clothes and overlooks the fact that they were brutally taken from their homes and forced to live out their lives as slaves, instead believing, that if she doesn’t treat them as slaves, it would make their lot in this world different. She really does not understand the concept of slavery and is actually baffled when one of her slaves betrayes her for her own people and her freedom (Teetru, the strongest, most likeable woman in this book as she actually fights against this society). This kind of ignorance, born from looking the other way and being able to ignore the horror when it is not happening right in front of one's eyes, makes her such a weak and detestable woman. She doesn’t give other women (the Horde's slaves who are forced into prostitution) who are kept as slaves a second thought, instead focusing on how it affects her and whether Lahn still as sex with them.
She gets wrapped in this bubble by Lahn and is pampered as the Korwahk queen. She puts on her rose colored glasses and sits contently back surrounded by her friends, forgetting, ignoring or looking the other way (I never figured out which) as the rest of the women in this world continue to suffer. And she has seen what women are subjected to by their husbands! While she made a rather pointless attempt to help one woman, she never stopped to look at the bigger picture, never broke the silence and raised her voice against all the wrongness of this society, never tried to change the way things are, and never fought for justice and equality for women. Instead, she focused on trying to accept her husband, his people and “their way”.
The male mc Lahn was born and raised into the Korwahk society and into the hierarchical command of the military with the power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, so it is of no surprise that he views horrific acts such as rape, abduction, slavery, forced marriage and violence against women to subdue, intimidate, punish and as a weapon as his right and as “their way”. If someone is raised to believe such values are fundamentally their right, how would one know of the wrongness of their acts? He is a brutal, cruel and ruthless warrior, who led his entire life as such, who takes what he wants regardless of the suffering of others. But the reader is made to believe that such a man can change himself, his values, his belief in the warrior’s way and the way he thinks of the social mechanisms through which his society functions. That he would come to view rape as an act of wrongness, after instrumenting it continuously as a weapon and as a way to control and subdue women, is just plain unbelievable.
Not only this, but that such a man, a king to a horde of savages, would abandon the Korwahk warrior’s most crucial social instrument and their most horrible weapon of war – sexual violence against women – is extremely far-fetched. Especially after it is impressed upon Circe how crucial it is, that he as king must not be seen as weak or challenges would be issued.
That a person can change their entire being, their entire belief of what is right and wrong, in a matter of days is not only absurd but is a dangerous message to send.
First off, in my opinion, such a relationship never has a chance. Never mind the way he treats her, but there is literally a world of differences between the two and it's just not realistic that their relationship can ever work out. But that is beside the point, as this is about how the romance is depicted the book.
Their relationship progresses with no explanation and because of that, is not believable. Lahn falls in instant lust with her because she's the only blond woman. Then, after being raped continuously for three days, Circe one day just literally has an orgasm during another attack and she starts calling Lahn by pet names at the same time. This is the man who raped her for days! She doesn’t come to terms with her rape and is able to view her rapist as her new husband and lover in ONE day. It just continues this way; there is no believable romance between the main characters, Circe forgives Lahn for his mistreatment of her and romanticizes the times when he acts different towards her. The issue of the many differences between them is resolved by Lahn just changing his entire personality and way of thinking and Circe accepting everything just because “it is their way”.
The society and "their way":
Seeing how this society is depicted in the book, the use of gender violence to control and subdue women becomes apparent. In this social order depicted in the book, in which men as a social class are dominant over women and men are entitled to women’s bodies and their lives, the violence against women is one of the vital social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position. Women in this society do not have any rights; they cannot speak up for themselves and have no legal way of seeking justice. Using a warrior’s weapon to defend themselves is an automatic death sentence. Those who are raised in this society are forced into subordinate positions; those who fight back against their oppressors are sentenced to death. The punishments for treason committed by women are sexual assault, violent rape, public humiliation and finally death. Women are kidnapped in raids and kept as slaves. Gender violence is not random and not only about sex, but functions as a deliberate social function; asserting control over women’s' lives and keeping them second-class citizens.
But all this doesn't matter to the female mc, for love is more important than such things as equality, freedom, justice and the right to choose.
Gender violence is used to assert control over women of other countries as well: Raids and attacks on villages on the borders are committed as common occurrence. Sexual violence and rape of women are used as a weapon of war. While the heroine is horrified when she learns of these raids she only asks that Lahn not rape anyone - because then he would be cheating!
She is told - by a woman (Diandra, the most detestable character in this book as she conditions other women to accept “their way”) - that to prevent him from raping women during the raids she must fuck his brains out, because then Lahn wouldn't have the need to rape women!
First, the use of rape in times of war is not a result of conflicts and not only about sex, but it is a pre-planned and deliberate military strategy and a weapon of war. That he, as their leader, would agree not to rape anyone and thus not use one of their most devastating weapons of war is just not believable. Sexual violence is a weapon of war used to humiliate and terrify, to destroy societies and to eliminate cultural and religious traditions. Especially as it was pointed out in the book, that he as Korwahk King has to lead a strong example and not show weakness to avoid uprisings.
And second, a woman is here conditioning another woman to assume the responsibility of a man's sexuality and of controlling his behavior. I don't even have to point out how wrong it is, to make a woman assume such a responsibility.
In addition to rape, girls and women of these attacked villages are abducted and forced into slavery. Women are kidnapped for the wife hunt and forced into marriages. Seen as spoils of war and as a warrior’s right, this just furthers to underline the belief of the Korvahk men that women are secondary to their world and as such to the world that matters.
But Circe accepts the use of rape as a weapon, the abduction and abuse of women, slavery and the overriding war culture as the new social norm because "it is their way".
The depiction of misogyny:
The way that rape is depicted in this book is utterly sexist. The reader learns, that these warriors see it as their right to rape women and that they don’t view rape as an act of wrongness:
he [Zahnin] kept using her [Sabine] body for the last three weeks as any warrior would feel his due from his wife. […] And he didn’t understand it but he’d been forcing her to live a nightmare for three weeks.
But this is completely contradicted later on in the book, when we learn that they do indeed know the difference between consensual sex and rape. So, while they see nothing wrong with raping women, it’s an entirely different story when it’s a man being raped:
“they don't allow homosexuality and they-?" Diandra shook her head. "No, Dax Lahn does, he does not seem to care. He only punishes those who force it on others who do not wish it”
The way that male and female victims of rape are viewed differently, and the way that a rapist’s punishment depends on his victim's gender is the most blatant portrayal of misogyny in the book and that I've ever seen in a romance book.
The female mc's acceptance of "their way":
Now, the heroine struggled – understandably – to accept this society of prevailing warriors and their king Lahn. Her friend Diandra most adamantly insists that Circe must accept her new husband and their way, while the threat of violence hangs over her head should she not conform to her new social role. Diandra “helped” her accept her new place in this world by explaining that “it is their way”.
The phrase “it is their way” is used throughout the book to explain and excuse these atrocious acts against humanity and to help the female mc accept this primitive, misogynistic land, its people, and their king.
And so Circe changes a lot - not to the better - during the book and with her, her views on the way things are. After three weeks, she not only accepts this society, but also sees nothing wrong anymore with "their way": In the beginning of the book she was naturally horrified by the way a warrior raped and abused his wife, Mahyah, and she even tried to help her. She also automatically hated that warrior because of the way he treated his wife. But then, later on in the book, Circe goes from sympathizing with a woman who was being badly abused by her husband to this:
Then she [Sabine] got up and quickly backed away, her eyes glued in fear to Zahnin, her body shaking.
I studied her.
Yep, this was why Zahnun was in such a bad mood. Three weeks [of rape] and she was still like this?
The woman was abducted and raped for three weeks and Circe is fucking worried about the rapist's fucking bad mood and is surprised that his victim "is still like this"? What the fuck!
Circe goes from despising a man because of how he mistreats a woman to actually liking another man who rapes a woman for weeks. She goes from trying to help a woman escape from her rapist to actually "helping" another woman stay with her rapist! And the reason, that after three weeks she has a completely different view on a rapist and his victim, is BECAUSE IT IS THEIR WAY.
All that violence against women happening in our world today BECAUSE IT IS THEIR WAY! There are too many societies in which such horrendous acts and worse are being committed, and it is also “their way”. This does not condone such acts. It does not make them all right. It most certainly does not serve as a way to justify them. And it definitely does not mean that women have to accept them just because it is their way!
Gender violence in this book is sanctioned in the name of tradition, because "it is their way". The way this society is set up and the way that Circe just accepts her subordinate place in it maintains the male dominance and female subjugation of this world and the violence against women is a manifestation of this unequal power relationship between men and women.
But instead of fighting against this status quo, Circe fights to accept it!
And that is my biggest issue with the book: That a modern woman could EVER accept these inexcusable and intolerable violations against humanity as the new social norm JUST because “it is their way”.
"But as much as your world scared me, as much as your practices repulsed me, I still chose you."
So, while countless women suffer and die every day because of the way things are in some parts of our world and while women continue to fight and die for not to having to accept the way things are in their societies, here we are, reading this romance book by Kristen Ashley, in which a modern woman passively accepts her place in a misogynistic society where violence against women is normalized and tolerated in silence because it is "their way".
While 300 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria earlier this year, sold into slavery and forced into marriages, here is this book by Kristen Ashley, in which the female mc is also kidnapped and forced into a marriage. She is told that she must accept everything as it is because "it is their way". And she fucking does! What kind of message does that send? Because, the Islamic extremists are also following their way. Does that condone or justify their horrendous acts? NO!
So why does “their way” condone and justify the exact same behavior in a romance book?
I honestly can not understand all those five star ratings.
I am guessing - and really hoping - that the author's only intention with this book, was to send the message that love conquers all differences. But dammit, don’t do it like this!
First of all, it’s just not realistic, and second, the way this acceptance in the name of love is depicted is just plain wrong and obscene. Women (and men) should never, ever have to accept such a status quo just because it is "their way"!