Not Really A Review: The Siren by Tiffany Riesz

A few years ago I discovered the Dark Romance sub-genre and have been flirting with it ever since. I enjoy the darkness, liking the way the fuckedupness of the characters in these kinds of stories makes me feel well-adjusted and totally sane. I've enjoyed tales of kidnapping, faking one's own death, mafia antics, and motorcycles gangs, and I've read my fair share of BDSM erotica. So when I picked up The Siren, I thought I was prepared for it. I was not.

I'm going to tell you up front that I enjoyed this book, loving the way it grabbed me from the beginning and never let go. The thing is that that grab wasn't for good reasons, though, but because the story and the characters were so utterly fucked up. The female lead is not a good person and I can't really tell which fellow is the male lead, although her ending up with either of them would be terrible. And the side characters are fascinatingly broken but not people I want to be friends with. The things that they do in this novel range from questionable to morally reprehensible. And they're pretty much never remorseful about their terrible choices.

So, while I recommend The Siren if you don't mind some darkness in your literature, I won't be reading the other novels and novellas in this series, and I'm pretty well gearing up for a rant. I've got opinions that I need to get out, so if you're looking for a literary rant, come with me through the jump. It's going to be pretty specific so spoilers will abound, but the book is five years old, so I'm not sorry. Come along, Saucy Readers.

This book is about many things. But ultimately it's about abuse, and the way that abuse is perpetuated, passed on from abuser to victim, leading the victim to often then become an abuser herself. I feel like that's undeniable here. But apparently after this book it gets twisted into a romantic saga. And that's problematic. Nora, the main female character, is groomed from the age of fifteen by her priest, Soren, to be a masochistic sexual submissive. They don't actually enter into a physical relationship until she is twenty, but it's clear that his psychological abuse begins immediately. When Nora, or Eleanor as he insist on calling her, is still very much a minor. 

We meet Nora a few years after she finally left the relationship she had been in with Soren for the prior ten years. She was in a D/s relationship with her priest for a decade. And before that she was a minor and he was training her, grooming her to be his perfect submissive. Just no. Even if I could put aside the clerical power being problematic (which I can't), even if I could put aside the pedophilia power being problematic (which I can't), and even if I could put aside the extreme sexual violence that is presented as an S&M relationship (which I can't), there are moments in which Nora recalls specific instances that are clearly the actions of an abuser grooming, preparing his victim. And all of that actually happens to actual people, so I find that fascinating, if horrifying. But the problem is that no one in this book, save Wesley, recognizes the abuse or the wildly inappropriate nature of the power dynamic in Nora and Soren's "relationship." Everyone seems to think it's perfectly acceptable, just not socially normal; they just don't live in the "vanilla" world.

As a stand-alone it's an amazing story. A character study featuring broken people who continue to hurt themselves and others. Full stop. Alone it's tolerable and riveting. What I find problematic is that this tale became an entire world told in eight novels and several novellas which show Nora and Soren's relationship as a romantic one, one in which they are soulmates unable to truly be together because of circumstances. In The Siren no one calls it abuse, and because they choose to function in a sado-masochistic world, the reader is left to come to her own conclusions. Unquestionably turning their story into something other than the abusive relationship that it is romanticizes pedophilia, and specifically in this case romanticizes the grooming he did to her for five years before he finally took her virginity. If Nora were my sister or my niece I would make damn sure she never saw Soren again and would encourage her to press charges, right before making sure she got serious therapy. 

While it's pretty clear to me that Soren is a terrible person who needed to seek professional help before trying to help the parishioners in his flock and I am perfectly comfortable writing his evil ass off, I'm sad about who Nora chooses to be. I don't understand the back and forth she does between Zach and Wesley. Is Zach just a game? She seems to genuinely care for Wes, albeit in a totally toxic way. It feels like she's trying to get back the person she could have been by preserving the innocence of someone she loves, who happens to be the same age she was when Soren started the physical portion of their abusive relationship. But at the same time she fucks with his head, she sleeps with lots of other people, pretty openly, and she perpetuates the abuse that was heaped on her. As I've said, that is all incredibly fascinating in one book where we are left to decide what's abuse, but as the other stories are presented as romances, it's just problematic. 

I'm not conflicted about being into this book, though. I couldn't put it down and I'm okay with that. Because I have a healthy sense of horror about what I'm reading. My mind understands perfectly that this is not okay. In no way, shape, or form is this okay. But it IS okay to read about people's fuckedupness. To be fascinated by it. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who can separate reality from fiction, who enjoys reading about broken people. But I won't be reading other installments in this series, because I do not see any of the relationships in this story as romantic, and I don't want any of the characters to end up together. Unless it involved a whole heap of counseling I wouldn't even wish the best for these characters. 


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