Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews
I couldn’t do it. I’ve enjoyed some of the other Ilona Andrews books that I’ve read, but I couldn’t bring myself to like this one—not even a little bit. There are just some themes that should not be in fiction at all, and especially not mucking up decent SciFi and Fantasy.
And the number one theme that fits that category is the romance novel trope of Stockholm Syndrome.
The book Alphas: Origins starts out funny. I loved the first line, even read it out loud to my family at Costco. I could relate to the main character. She’s a mom with a middle-grade aged daughter taking her and some other kids on a field trip. While driving, one of the kids announces that he has to go to the bathroom. So she calls another mom she’s been following and says “I’m going to stop at the exit right here for a bathroom break.” The other mom makes confused noises that makes it clear (to the reader at least) that she doesn’t see this exit, or the motel, or the blue sign. But Karina ignores her and so we as readers know that she’s off on her adventure. That beginning was spooky and disturbing, perhaps less so if you don’t have your own middle-grade child in tow, but I do so it worked.
But that was the only thing I liked about the book. It fell off a cliff right after the kids and Karina got out of the car. The action at that point got confusing. She was confronted by a couple of strange-looking people. She got the kid in a bathroom and then “stood guard” outside it until he was done. Then suddenly one of the strange people was saying something that implied she was food and she and the kids were running. They run to the stairs, where they go up (of course! What good horror movie heroine dos not go up???) and they can’t find any help, so they run to the fire escape, where she, I guess, throws the kids out the window. It wasn’t totally clear. At some point in this scenario she’s stung by something. Then when she goes to climb out the fire escape too, she sees other people have grabbed all the kids and then all goes black.
She wakes up thinking it’s all a dream, but wait, she’s not in her own bed. And she feels like crap. She immediately thinks “where’s my kid?” And she meets her captors. Apparently her captors are actually her “saviors” because she was poisoned by the sting and would have died without their help. Only, as the price for saving her she is now their slave and one of the captors will be eating bits of her periodically. But don’t worry, he’s a nice cannibal—he didn’t rape her while she was asleep.
From the time when she wakes up to the end of the story, the point of view switches periodically between Karina and her cannibal captor. I suppose this is to try and build some sympathy in the reader’s mind for the captor, who is just a guy, trying to make his way in the hard hard world. cue eyeroll When the author describes him as big and hunky I started thinking “oh no, is this a romance novel?” And when Karina starts thinking he’s kinda cute if you can get over his cannibalistic and slave-owning tendencies, I knew that it was.
Yes, Karina does try to fight it. There are some token words about how she needs to stay strong for her daughter and focus on escape. But it’s so half-hearted as to be almost laughable if I hadn’t been trying not to throw up. She says several times how she’s grateful because he’s so much stronger than her and yet he didn’t rape her when he had the chance. And yes, from the POV shifts into his character, we know he has considered it. But he’s limited himself to just pulling her clothes off and fondling her breast while she’s passed out. He also regularly considers fucking her (his words), but doesn’t. So clearly he’s a good guy.
What this book seems to say is that women should be willing to settle for the lesser of two evils. And not just settle, but be happy that the big, strong, non-rapey cannibal is willing to “protect” her. And for that she must fall in love with him. After all, he’s just misunderstood.
Beauty and the Beast is Not a Love Story
Yes, that’s what this story is attempting to portray. Yes, I got that within the first couple of pages of Lucas’s arrival. But saving someone so that you can own her is still despicable and a truly empowering story would have Karina recognize that and not apologize or excuse his despicable actions.
Spoiler Alert If you are still planning on reading this story, I’m about to ruin the ending, so stop reading now if you hate that.
The author tries to salvage the horrible theme and tone of this book by turning Karina into a “Wither” at the end of the story. This makes her extremely powerful, able to kill other bad guys with her mind. Giving her wings of lightning and a lot of strength and confidence. She ends up saving Lucas and his family’s lives. Because misunderstood slave owners deserve love too, I guess.
But the author can’t leave her as a super-powerful being. Nope. It turns out that one person in Lucas’s family is also a Wither, only he’s a “type 7” and she’s only a “type 4.” So he’s more powerful than her, even when she’s at full strength. If he’s so strong, why didn’t he save his family?
Luckily, she’s decided to stick with her owners, so it all works out. But my opinions are wrong, because the book ends with:
… People who knew the old Karina would judge her, if they knew, but that didn’t matter. She made her own choices now.
She put her hand on Lucas’s arm. He bent it at his elbow, letting her fingers rest on his muscled forearm, and they walked side by side into the night.
So I guess that makes me a judgey-mc-judgerson because I found this book too full of bullshit romance novel tropes and not nearly enough of the potentially interesting SciFi alternate/parallel universe tropes. Women don’t need to end up with the big-strong-man at the end of every book, especially if they turn out to be big and strong on their own.
And what the heck happened to the other kids that were in the car with her?