Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-174-0
Contemporary Romance, 2016
Mick Randall wants to leave his past behind – there were bikers and all, and it’s not as romantic as some romance novels would like you to believe – and when Torque opens, he finds a job at a wrecking yard. His arrival causes a ripple of disruption between Scotty Bell and his girlfriend Mercy Taylor. Oh, and Mercy is a trans woman who hasn’t transitioned – the male bits down there work just fine. Just letting you people know, in case you didn’t pay attention to the list of trigger warnings on the publisher website and then blink in confusion when Scotty goes down on Mercy’s pee-pee. Naturally, there will be all kinds of complicated attraction, and Mick isn’t going to escape his past that easily. What will happen to these kids?
Now, I love the fact that the whole LGBTQIA…. uh, I may be missing a few alphabets there but you know what I mean; what I was saying is that I love the fact that this particular slice of the romance genre is slowly making steps to encompass other spectra of sexuality instead of just gay boys all the time. There are problems in making those baby steps, though – too many authors prescribe to the Tumblr-style brand of identity politics and assume that one’s sexuality and all related baggage is the be-all and end-all when it comes to characterization. Worse, everyone speaks like they are posting on Tumblr and have very little actual contact with real human beings. Torque falls into the same trap.
The author initially passes her characters off as angst-laden and gritty, but she doesn’t dare to actually show me any genuine angst or grittiness. Mick is on the run, and ooh, the motorcycle gang he was tangled up in sounded menacing at first… but as I learn more about him, I find myself thinking, “Wait, that’s it? The whole thing doesn’t even seem like a scary motorcycle club!” No, really, I think a Brony Convention would be more scary than those dudes in Mick’s past. Mick is also said to be a bit slow upstairs, and oh, he is asexual. What, no autism? No aromantic unicorn-kin stuff? Maybe the author is saving all that stuff for the next book.
Scotty is said to have anger issues, but that aspect of him feels tame, white-washed, fake. Mercy identifies and lives as female, and that’s as far as her characterization goes. She is the author’s equivalent of a matador waving a red cape while yelling, “Look at me! I’m so progressive! My heroine has a penis, MY HEROINE HAS A PENIS EVERYBODY! Read my stories and absorb my amazing progressiveness via osmosis!” Scotty and Mercy are friends who just happen to get into the whole sex thing just because. But that’s how “romance” is in this story. Everyone meets everyone, it’s instant love and horny horns, and then the author starts checking off her list of amazing things she’d like everyone to know that she supports whole-heartedly.
Characterization? Believable emotions? A story with a good foundation? Look, the penises go everywhere, so that makes this a very modern, progressive, and diverse story. Who cares about anything else?