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[personal profile] oyceter
(covers The Unsung Hero, The Defiant Hero, Over the Edge, Out of Control, Into the Night, and Gone Too Far. Individual book write ups to come.)

As previously noted, Suzanne Brockmann is very good at writing sensible, normal characters who do rational things like try to talk to each other instead of letting Big Misunderstandings fester. Her categories suffer a bit from this because she has to resort to some authorial gymnastics to create conflict, but her Troubleshooters series mainly solve this by a) having more than one couple per book, b) adding in external suspense plots, and c) giving people a lot of background angst. Normally I'm not a huge fan of any of these, except I tend to like most of her couples and the diversity she puts in, her background angst is much more realistic than normal romance background angst, and although sometimes I dislike her external suspense plots, sometimes they provide excellent tension without taking over too much of the romance (my usual complaint for romantic suspense).

Also, I've seen Brockmann recced just about everywhere, but I've avoided her for the longest time for two reasons. First, I tend not to read contemporaries that aren't paranormals because although you'd think the contemporary setting would give romance authors more room to play with, the books usually end up with the same old romance tropes in a setting in which I find them completely unpalatable, as opposed to only somewhat unpalatable. Second, I know the series is about US Navy SEALs. I have zero interest in Navy SEALs or in the US military, romantic suspense is my least favorite romance subgenre, and I feel Navy SEAL heroes are the perfect excuse for more-alpha-than-you heroes and lots of heroines in distress. Thankfully, this is not the case in this series, which I am devouring despite all the above qualms.

Instead, the best books so far are about people falling in love with each other while other things go on in their lives—sometimes action related, sometimes not. So far, all of them have one main romance, a secondary romance, and then a third romance that's a flashback from World War II. Sometimes the secondary romance is concluded in the book, but sometimes it's a set up to another book or plot. I was going to say I like it best when they're concluded in the book, but the way Brockmann has set up several of her later romances has really worked for me. I don't enjoy her categories as much because the length works again her; instead, I think with shorter page length but a longer stretch of time, Brockmann is very good at packing in a lot of emotional complication, just as in real life. I like that people sleep together with disastrous results, that there are actually good reasons for people not getting together (some of it being emotional stupidity, but acknowledged as such!), that I get the sense that these are people with pasts and lives and interests.

I'm also reading these books as genre romance, despite them being mainly shelved in the general fiction section, largely because those are the tropes I'm comparing them to. I have no idea how they read as non-romances or as thrillers, and would be curious as to people from those genre's impressions.

Race

This is possibly one of the best non-targeted romance series I've read dealing with race (by non-targeted, I mean shelved with all the other romances, not marketed as "African-American fiction" or whatnot). This is not to say it's perfect; in fact, I have a ton of qualms with the series, but it's still heads above almost everything else in the romance genre. First, there are actual people of color! And more than one! Some of them get to be the romantic leads! Some of them get to be the romantic leads in what are so far two of the primary couples of the series!

... it is so sad that this alone basically rockets Troubleshooters to the "best of in race" list for romances, but there you go.

First, my qualms, of which, as noted, I have many. 1) Alyssa is frequently described in the first few books as having mocha skin and being gorgeous because she is mixed race. 2) So far, there haven't been any intra-POC interracial romances. 3) As with most suspense books, the villains are frequently brown and non-USian. The third point is my biggest qualm, since Starbucks description and exotifying is annoying but more in the realm of eye-rolling for me, particularly when it's very clear that Alyssa Locke is kickass, clearly supposed to be a fan favorite and one of the main characters of tthe series, and that much of the Starbucks description drops later on. I also hope there will be intra-POC romance later on, but am willing to wait given that Brockmann seems to be actively trying most of the time.

The first book mostly manages to avoid the problem of brown terrorists, but books 2-6 have them in abundance, with bonus Muslim-bashing to boot. Brockmann has a very white feminist approach to Islam, with many PSAs about how awful Muslim people are for treating their women like that, blah blah blah. I appreciate that she created the fictional Central Asian country of Kazbekistan instead of using a real country for her terrorists, but I'm still irritated by how Kazbekistan is portrayed as the pit of the earth, dangerous to women, and all around terrible. Had the first book not been so promising, I probably would have stopped reading by book 3, which is set in Kazbekistan.

The really interesting thing is what happens in the books I assume she wrote post-9/11. Once you get to book 5, published in 2002, the setting is once again in the US, as it was in book 1, and here, although she has the usual Muslim terrorists, she does something a bit more interesting with them. (skip spoiler)
The set-up with Ibrahman as the red herring and Bob the blonde insurance salesman as the acatual terrorists was kind of awesome. I suspected part way through, but because I was reading a romance novel, I wasn't expecting Brockmann to actually go through with it; I've been disappointed by books too many times before. But she does! The PSA about racial profiling and Arab Americans not equating terrorists is anvilly, and I was annoyed by her portrayal of Ibrahman's Islam as well, but it was so far above and beyond what I had been expecting! Also, Ibrahman gets to be a love interest! A minor one, but dude, this is possibly the first time I've seen a non-sheikh West Asian guy as a love interest.
I especially like that Alyssa identifies herself as a black woman in book 6, as well as Sam having a black family. Again, it's a bit anvilly, especially Dot's letters to Walt, but OMG. She mentions the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII!! She mentions how many black families are actually mixed race! I'm really hoping there will be a black hero down the line, since that's sadly rare in non-AA romances.

My other bit is when the setting is outside of the US, things get fairly headdesky in that usual suspense-in-brown-countries way. The thing that sets this series apart for me is that there are actual POC heroes and heroines, and that I think the latter books work more to have less of the US military in other countries and focuses less on terrorists? (I am a chapter in Flashpoint and already annoyed at the Kazbekistan setting. Does it get better? Are there any other books I should skip?)

Gender

I started reading Brockmann not for race, but for gender. Brockmann tends to like having emotional heroes who are head-over-heels in love with the heroines, and heroines who are fine with sex but shy away from emotional commitment for whatever reason. It gets a bit repetitive at times, but since this trope is so rare in the romance genre and since I love it so, I am willing to put up with A LOT of it. Unsurprisingly, the Troubleshoters books I like best are the ones that follow this format. Brockmann also seems to very much like giving her women a lot of angst. She gives the men angst too, particularly Sam, who I feel is Troubleshooters' version of fanMulder, but I like how often, the men's angst in the book is primarily about them worrying if the heroine loves them back or not, or if they should be going after the heroine or not, whereas the heroine's angst is frequently something like trying to deal with a hostage situation. I was particularly surprised by this, given that the series stars Navy SEALs, and although Brockmann says that her men are alpha heroes, I really don't agree. (This, by the way, is a BIG PLUS.)

There is a bit too much guy joking going on among the SEALs, particularly about women, and I still think Alyssa Locke should be a SEAL. Also, due to current US military regulations, most of the women are not SEALs for the obvious reasons, but Brockmann manages to make them kickass in her own way. Also, I really like that she comments on the lack of women in the Navy, particularly with Alyssa and Teri. Overall, her relationships tend to have much more equal dynamics than many romances I read, and I love that her men respect boundaries. The other thing she does that I didn't quite pick up on until later is that she flips the "heroine overcome by hero's sexiness and is betrayed by her own body" thing. It readds differently on men, and sometimes can go a bit too close to the consent line for me, but I love love love that her men are consistently undone by sex because they are so emotional about it, that the heroines usually use this to their advantage, and that the heroines are allowed to take charge during sex.

Brockmann also seems to have a thing for age differences, which I don't, but some of her books have a woman who is older than the man. The age differential is much smaller between the woman and the man when the woman is older than when the man is older, which I wish weren't the case, but I'm hoping we'll get more in later books. There have already been two heroines older than the heroes, one primary and one secondary (who I think will show up again), and that's already more than a lot of romances I read.

I do wish there were less heteronormativity and couple-dom and focus on babies, but there are less babies than usual, one main couple actually doesn't get married until much later, and I know the series is known for having a canonical gay romance in there.

Other cool bits

Despite my frequently being meh about the WWII flashbacks, I appreciate them because Brockmann uses them to have actual older people in her books. As in, not the usual romance trope of "She is forty and therefore very old!" but people who are in their seventies and eighties! I was a little disappointed the way the first book wrapped up, and I still wish we got to see the older characters having present-day romances, but dude. She has a seventy-year-old women being kickass in book 2. Other older women get to be kickass as well, but I just remember Eve best. There's an interesting thing in which she includes several age-related disabilities, from hearing loss to Alzheimer's, and I was a bit wary at first, because I didn't want all the older people to come to tragic ends due to their disabilities. Some of them struggle with it more than others, but the character undergoing some hearing loss gets to be awesomesauce in the end. Also, as mentioned, I wish we could see older characters falling in love when they're older, instead of just seeing it in flashbacks, but I love that she has more than one portrayal of happy older couples, that one of her older characters is black, that this means the characters have families and backgrounds. I also love that the older characters get to be romantic figures in their flashhbacks, and that several of them continue to be awesome in the present day as well.

In conclusion: I have qualms about many things, but the awesome bits so outweighed the qualms for me that I found these worth reading. (YMMV, of course.) My favorites so far are The Unsung Hero, Into the Night, and Gone Too Far. Over the Edge made me headdesk quite a few times with its portrayal of Kazbekistan, but it also sets up several plots that come to fruition later in the series. I've found it worth reading everything so far, but I may end up skipping books about characters or settings I dislike, and I think middle books are still skippable.

Date: 2011-02-18 03:02 am (UTC)
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
From: [personal profile] tevere
I first heard of Suzanne Brockmann for All Through the Night, which is the gay romance one you mentioned. The anvils dropped thick and fast, but I thought it was a reasonable effort. Since a lot of other couples and relationships were mentioned in that book, I got curious enough to read another from earlier in the series in order to glean a bit of backstory -- I forget which one it was. And I was ASTONISHED, floored, pleased to bits, that the main dude character of that book was of Indian descent. I seem to recall he was pretty whitewashed apart from that fact (my memory is sketchy, pls correct if wrong), but: Asian-American lead character in a mainstream romance! Colour me impressed. (And, like you say: isn't it sad that the mere existence of some POCs makes this series so notable in that regard.)

I think I will, however, be avoiding the Kazbekistan book.

Date: 2011-02-18 03:39 am (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
That's Max Bhagat, and the fact that I had to think who it was indicates that you're right, his Indian ancestry is really not prominent with regard to his character.

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