Before I launch into the critique, let me offer a foreword.
LOVED IT. LOVED IT. Even loved the parts that made me cringe. Maybe I especially loved the parts that made me cringe. The fact that I am spending so much of my (ahem, valuable) time on this series is a tribute. WARNING: The following contains MAJOR SPOILAGE… READ THE BOOKS FIRST.
Just so we're all on the same page, so to speak, I'm qualified as an observer of humanity and as a person who holds an M.A. in Psychology to say conclusively that the relationship depicted in this series CANNOT (let me repeat), CANNOT occur in real life. Why? Because people can be predisposed by genetics to be loving personalities, but anyone - A-N-Y-O-N-E - who suffered constant abuse as a child is going to be an abuser as an adult. Period.
Further compounding that, the protagonist in this book got the double whammy. He was not only abused, but love was withheld as well. He can't love. He doesn't know how. Don't shoot me. I'm the messenger and the only one in the room who is telling the truth.
KELLAN, THE BEAUTIFUL UNICORN. So long as we agree that he is as much a fictional character of fantasy as a werewolf, vampire, or elf, then we can proceed to enjoy the books through the filter of fairytale and have a good time.
Before they met, Denny told Kiera that Kellan was a figjam. (Fuck I'm good just ask me.) Well, fuck, he's good just ask any one of us who's in love with him.
How could we not be in love with him? Kellan is, well, everything. He's a mythical beast who's been carefully crafted as the ultimate lover with ultimate appeal and, damn, if he doesn't hit every single note. We've been manipulated, victims of our own evolutionary psychology, to fall head over heels in love with this unicorn. Intellectually I know that. Intellectually I sort of resent that. Makes no difference. The heart wants what it wants - and that's Kellan Kyle.
...is a flawless beauty
...with sexual experience to play you like a xylophone and ring every single bell.
...turns male exhibitionism into an art form - literally.
...has enough bad boy going on to pull that trigger as well. Got a raging case of Dark Triad Syndrome. Seriously. That's what "bad boy" is called by social psychologists.
...is the consummate "little boy lost" which is like a giant magnet pulling at the single most powerful instinct in women; that's right, maternal instinct - our impulse to soothe, heal, and protect. NOTE: Kiera's on the hook, but she doesn't fall head over heels for Kellan until he cries.
...cooks for himself and does his own housework.
...uses words like "adore" and "adorable" which, of course, heterosexual men avoid like the plague unless they're berating each other.
...is the unicorn. Once she gives him carte blanche to love her, he repays her with what most women want more than anything, a lover who only has eyes for her.
...is a snappy dresser. I saved this one for last because it is the least believable thing of all. Of all these traits this is THE one that makes you start hearing a Sesame Street tune going, "One of these things just doesn't belong here. One of these things just isn't the same." Straight guy? Dresses himself in stylish, sexy clothes that fit him, look great on him, and match? Huh uh. Not happening in any reality. Any woman who has been in a relationship with a REALLY STRAIGHT guy knows that it would be easier to find a werewolf who doesn't shift on the full moon.
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. She's such a mess I don't know where to begin.
How about this? She's afraid to go to school by herself? Really? It's not kindergarten. She's a junior in college! This is not a charming or "adorable" trait. It's a portrait of a young woman who is emotionally handicapped and everyone close to her (with the single exception of Jenny) is indulging that at the least and enabling it at the worst. Kellan is going to walk her to class? Good grief.
Regarding this character's lack of character. It's not just that Kiera can't find the courage to do the right thing. It's that she doesn't even try.
She engages in what adolescent psychologists call "magical thinking". She plans to practice avoidance behavior indefinitely with the hope that the problem will magically resolve itself. In the meantime, she is torturing one boy she professes to love and betraying another. I can't relate to Kiera at this point. I don't like her. In fact I think I hate her. Yet, I still don't want her to have to watch Kellan parade sexual exploits through the living room, bedroom, and even (reaching past her) the refrigerator. At that point I hate him too. (Get the damned whipped cream if you have to, but wipe that smile off your face or prepare to get "smacked".)
The final straw is that she doesn't even pull herself out of the tangle she made. Her sister does it.
Anna is the ultimate rescuer. She picks up and moves to the opposite coast to become her Kiera's solicitor, nursemaid, roommate, companion, and general caretaker. She even instigates the reunion between Kellan and Kiera. We have no reason to believe that they would have ever gotten back together had Anna not forced it.
Anna, God love her, even tries to make excuses for the train wreck Kiera has left behind her. She passes off abominable behavior saying Kiera is "young and inexperienced". Now that's unconditional love, folks. Anna, will you be my big sister? Please?
4. Denny the Dense...
I don't know if good guys really finish last, but I do know that, in some ways, Denny was just as much a coward as Kiera. Of course he knew something was going on. He didn't have the nerve to confront her so he set up a sting operation to catch the lovers red-handed. I understand why he did it, but I think it was a chicken-shit approach.
Did he deserve to lose her to Kellan? Well, yes. She moved to the opposite side of the country for no reason other than to accommodate his internship and be with him. When he left her in Seattle, he was asking for exactly what he got.
This is the title of one of my favorite chapters. Why? Partly because I know that hurt gets acted out with anger and I appreciate an author who understands that. And partly because this chapter caused me to respond viscerally. My solar plexus ached. (Like I haven't had enough trouble in my own life? I have to go and borrow heartache from fiction that's supposed to be entertaining? Ugh. Does this mean I'm a masochist?)
If I'm that engaged with the story, so much so that I feel it psychically, emotionally, AND physically - then I think that means that the author isn't good. She's great. By that point in the story I couldn't have stayed away from that book if someone threatened one of my kids.
6. Why me?
Why did Kellan fall for Kiera and not one of the other 1500 girls he has "been" with? Would Kellan have fallen in love with her if she hadn't come along with Denny and moved in?
The answer is no.
He recognizes that himself. Near the end of the book she asked Kellan, "Why me?" He replied, "It was you and Denny... your relationship." In the world the author built for us, this was Kellan's first look at what a loving relationship looks like. I'm not so sure he fell in love with Kiera per se. All I know is that he fell in love with love.
7. The proxy line...
When Kellan tells Kiera that "every girl is you", it somehow doesn't ring true for me. If every sexual encounter was a substitute for Kiera, then why did each one have to be traffic-stopping beautiful and, for that matter, why did they need to be one-time-stands? It would be just as easy to use a mildly attractive person and use them more than once. No doubt they'd be willing.
Love you, Kellan, but I'm calling pants on fire on this one. Lucky for you that Kiera decided not to examine that sentiment too closely.
8. The Culture of Smack.
No. Not cocaine. I'm talking "smack" as a verb. If I wasn't so invested in the story, my irritation over all the "smacking" going on would have won out at some point. She uses the term "smack" to describe everything from a playful love pat to hitting someone hard enough to be very serious about getting their attention. If your attempt to correct someone's bad manners involves a "smack" to the back of the head, what does that say about your manners?
My e-reader allowed me to count how many times people were "smacked" in this first book alone. FIFTY ONE!
I can only assume that this author comes from a world that is alien to my own. I don't "smack". I'm not "smacked". And I don't know people who go about their lives "smacking". It was weird (to me) and entirely overused. If you weren't annoyed, more power to you.
This trilogy moved me to a rare reread. If you haven't read the entire series yet, you will have to take my word for it. The author does an excellent job foreshadowing things to come.