“The Beginning” by Lexi C. Foss and J.R. Thorn is the first installment of the Noir Reformatory series. It immediately caught my attention because of its plot. I’m a sucker for dark fantasy, particularly anything involving angels of the Fallen variety. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing — I’ve been obsessed with winged people for as long as I can remember.
It didn’t hurt that I’ve been following Foss since I first got onto Instagram, either.
I decided to give this book a go. And, to be honest, on a personal level, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was hoping that I would.
I will explain what my opinions/preferences are in this review, but I also want to remain as objective as possible. Just because I am not the biggest fan of something, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t be.
I will start by saying that if you are in any way sensitive to triggering subjects such as sexual assault/rape (even if just in passing), do not read the rest of this review. I would also like to say that this book, in general, might not be for you.
With that all being said, let’s talk about “The Beginning.”
Raven is a freshly turned eighteen-year-old Noir Angel, being sent from one prison to another. Her only crime is having been born with black wings. An oddity, given that the noir plumage is only earned through egregious crimes.
She’s sent to a reformatory where she’s then locked away with the Kings of the prison. Sorin and Zian. Their relationship is a tense one, to say the least. But, over time, their resentment gives way to a searing physical relationship, purely driven by lust and forced proximity. They navigate their new throuple while also struggling to stay alive. Their Nora captors subject them to all sorts of dangerous tests, culling the rest of their ilk constantly where only the strongest are meant to survive.
If you’re like me and found “The Hunger Games” repetitive and unnecessarily soul-crushing, then this isn’t the book for you. The trials felt formulaic, and I felt like a large chunk of the book could have just been condensed to, “they were tested again and again. The first time with a ‘death by waffle iron’ trial. The second, a battle to the death with an Easy-Bake oven.” It started to feel a bit like a slog.
Truthfully, I think this book would have gotten a higher rating if either it was cut down to the “meat and potatoes” of the story. Or, if more plot points were interspersed between the trials.
I also didn’t really feel much of a strong bond between the characters. The relationship between the trio felt superficial. I don’t know if this could have been remedied with more time spent developing them, or if it required softening up the characters a bit earlier on. It felt like it went from burning, searing hatred to “I will die without you” real quickly. Not to mention, the threats of rape were the unsettling confetti to this entire dynamic. Externally, internally. It, in places, was quite a lot to digest.
I did, despite my grievances, enjoy the story. I do hope that there will be more explained in the following books (as I do intend to read them). I’m curious about the story, about where things are heading. I am a bit sad to know that the next book will not be from the perspective of the trio we follow in “The Beginning.”
Now to get into why I didn’t enjoy myself. If you like to read impartial opinions based just on structure and storytelling, don’t worry about this next part.
On a personal note, I didn’t much like the way that the relationship between Sorin and Zian was portrayed. I find that, a lot of times, when same-sex (particularly male) couples are written, it comes off as more of a fetish/over-sexualization than a valid relationship. Especially when harmful stereotypes or misconceptions are written into the narrative. In this particular instance, I was a bit taken aback to see the ‘bottom’ role referenced as ‘inferior’, contributing to a particularly harmful misconception that the one doing the fucking holds all of the power.
I guess, there is no such thing as a ‘power bottom’ in this universe.
There was a lot of language that made it seem like the belief was that only penetrative sex is valid.
As an openly gay person, I found a lot of the language in this book pretty unsettling, in general. It left a bad taste in my mouth. If our sexualities are good enough to be consumed as porn, they’re good enough to be given respect.
I may have romanticized notions about what it means to be a writer. But, growing up in a small town, I realized very quickly through books that there was a lot in life I wasn’t exposed to. Nor would I be. I have this life. I can’t conceptually understand what it means to live in another body. What it means to love differently. I learned to empathize and learned how to open my mind to lives and situations that weren’t my own. As writers, we have to keep in mind that our words, our stories, leave impressions on people. Long after they put the book down. So, if our work is contributing to harmful narratives or further objectifying/alienating an entire group of people, we’re doing something wrong.
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