Title: No Fear (Conquest #2)
Author: SJ Frost
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: Novel / 380 pages
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
After touring for more than a year with his band, Conquest, singer Jesse Alexander is ready to head home for a long rest with his partner, superstar vocalist, Evan Arden. When it’s time to hit the studio again, there’s competition from two new bands and tensions reach a breaking point that threaten not only Conquest’s future, but Jesse’s relationship with Evan. As he faces challenges unlike any he’s ever known, Jesse must somehow keep it together to duplicate Conquest’s success and reach his ultimate goal: showing NO FEAR and announcing his love of Evan publicly.
Sequels are always an interesting animal. When I read Conquest last year, I liked it a lot despite its many problems. What’s interesting about No Fear is that all the problems in the first book are still here in the second book. Unfortunately I couldn’t forgive those issues a second time around as easily as I could in the first book. No Fear reads extremely close to the original Conquest with the same writing style, same horrendous head hopping, same overly wordy and extraneous details, but this time around I found myself getting annoyed with these problems. It’s almost as if I had expected these issues to change and I soon realized this is very likely the author’s style. While I’m not sure I’ll continue with any more books by this author, if you liked Conquest, you may want to continue with the series.
No Fear picks up a year or more after Conquest ended with the close of Jesse and Evan’s worldwide tour. The happy couple is now headed back to Chicago to record their individual albums but while they are ridiculously happy in love, circumstances around them are tense. First Evan and Jesse are still officially in the closet and thus pretend not to be a couple, yet they are growing more and more tired of hiding. Second two new, up and coming bands have signed to the label and will be recording at the same time which causes friction, jealousy, and professional rivalry. Third Jesse’s brother Brandon is struggling to find his own soul mate now that Jesse is so happy. If all of that wasn’t enough, Jesse is jumped by a group of thugs late one night causing even more problems.
So right away the plot is filled with conflict after conflict. While the actual completed storyline with all the various offshoots isn’t horrible, a lot of these subplots are unnecessary and distracting. Most of these are thrown in to offset how ridiculously and over the top Jesse and Evan’s relationship is. Although they fell in love immediately in the previous book, this particular offering does nothing to actually further their relationship. In fact, their repeated immature actions and wild jealousy combine with an inability to communicate to show kind of how dysfunctional this relationship really is. The story tries incredibly hard to make the point that Jesse and Evan are completely, utterly, madly, and absolutely in love, so it throws outside obstacles at the couple to test that love. Most of these come in the form of other attractive men that provoke irrational jealousy in both Evan and Jesse. They are clearly very insecure in their relationship and fly off the handle with jealousy at every perceived threat.
The wild jealousy that both men experience is due in part to poor characterization. Whereas in the previous book both men seemed to have flaws and fears, now both Jesse and Evan are utterly perfect and their only fear is losing the other. Evan is described as absolutely perfect in every way, People’s Sexiest Man Alive, able to play every instrument perfectly after only listening to it once, gorgeous, caring, and the most generous lover ever. I wish this was an exaggeration but it’s not. That is exactly how Evan is described, which could potentially be put down to a biased narrator in Jesse if Jesse, Brandon, Julian, and others weren’t described as perfect too. So instead of adding more complexity to the characters as they figure out how to live their life in the spotlight while learning each other’s quirks – these two are perfect. Their only flaws are arrogance and temperamental behavior but these are accepted since both Jessie and Evan are considered geniuses.
Here is an example of Evan’s description:
Labeled as a musical and vocal genius, Evan brought elegance to rock music and his concerts themselves were a work of art, with pyrotechnics, light shows, perfectly choreographed routines with professional dancers, and a mini symphony. Evan could match moves with the best dancers, change between playing guitar, piano, violin, and drums with the ease of breathing, and still hadn’t tapped out all the instruments he was skilled in. He’d sprint across the stage, then blast out his baritone not the slightest bit winded. He could lift an audience up; he could bring them back down. During his time on stage, thousands of people became Evan’s willing captives.
Although perfection is often boring and shows rather flat, undeveloped characters, the story then manipulates the men and other cast in ways that make no sense. Evan and Jesse go off on these wild jealousy kicks that had me wondering at their emotional age. If they are so deeply in love, why does one just looking at another person cause so much jealousy they run off in tears? Then other characters seem to scream and yell for no real reason. The men and occasional woman are seen screaming at inappropriate times that make me wonder if all the characters had Turrets Syndrome. For example there’s a scene where one of the band members is making a stupid, sexist comment about strip joints and a woman songwriter yells “SCREW YOU!” It was an idiotic, bonehead comment but what professional screams like that out of nowhere? It didn’t make any sense to the scene or characters. This type of thing is repeated over and over as the characters yell curses at perceived insults that aren’t there. This just shows a real lack of maturity and common sense, which is surprising given the majority of characters are supposed to be sophisticated men and women – albeit rock stars.
In addition to yelling at inappropriate times, the characters often seem manic. They go from being supportive to being judgmental in the blink of an eye and back again, such as Kenny and Greg. Brandon, Jessie’s brother, even does this flip-flop as well and causes a huge fight between him and Jessie that makes no sense. Then they simply get over it and move on with Brandon becoming super supportive again once he has a new boyfriend – whom he moves in with on the second date and is calling him his soul mate within a few weeks. All of this extraneous conflict and drama seems not only superfluous and silly but contrived and manipulated. All through the story I couldn’t forget that the story was trying to simultaneously show how deeply in love the two men are while attempting to test their bond with all these outside problems.
Part of the problem is that book needs a much better editing. Whether on the publisher side or author side there should be more slash and burn style that cuts out all the extraneous and totally unnecessary detail. The writing style, which I didn’t really notice in the first book since I was so absorbed in the story, now has entire chapters of unimportant detail. Every single car used –and there are A LOT of cars – is explained in detail from the model, make, color, cost to every single character repetitively described with their clothes, earrings, hair, necklaces, and rings. There are pages upon pages of descriptions of countryside and the mansion, musical instruments down to the color of the grain wood, and what kinds of wine they each had at every meal with a detail accounting of the food that they often didn’t eat. Some of this description is good and sets the tone very well, however this is a case of too much of a good thing and the lengthy descriptions go on for far too long and end up distracting from the characters and action.
The last problem that could definitely affect reading is the horrible head hoping that once again happens. Here the characters’ point of view changes paragraph to paragraph and thrown in are a large cast of characters with two new bands and several minor players. So it’s often difficult to follow which point of view you’re in from one paragraph to the next. Since this review is getting epic already, I won’t include a quote but you can see the example of head hopping from the previous review which is similar to this story.
To wrap this up before readers go into a coma or have already left due to severe boredom, the book is not absolutely horrible as it shows Jesse and Evan deeply, desperately in love and how their careers have been going and the direction they will go. There are some good scenes with a lot of romance that will please fans of the first book. Unfortunately the problems with the characters and writing style overwhelms this offering and bogs down the pace and enjoyment with too many distractions. The book feels too contrived and obvious as it moves the characters to make point after point and dramatic issue after dramatic issue instead of a natural, absorbing progression. Reader preference will always vary so if you think the issues I brought up are ones you could ignore or don’t bother you, then absolutely get the book. If you think these are kill joys for you, perhaps wait for something else.