[Book Review] Sapphire Blue

Sapphire Blue / G. Doucette
Mara Cantor’s life is boring and uncomplicated, and she likes it that way. She has her internship at the museum—a job she shares with her roommate, Davis—and while it is low-paying and occasionally mind-numbing, it gives her all the free time she needs to finish her thesis. And that is just fine.

But when Argent Leeds, the internationally famous playboy and raconteur, visits Mara’s museum, he brings with him the most exciting archeological discovery in decades: the Pazuzu gemstones. Long assumed to be nothing more than a myth by most scholars, the gemstones are rumored to possess mystical powers.

Between Argent, his gemstones, and Davis, Mara’s boring life has suddenly gotten very complicated. Now she is caught up in a sexual adventure that is either the most exciting time of her life . . . or the most terrifying. 
As of late I have been striving to maintain a somewhat professional tone for at least the main body of my reviews, and keep the more personal and snarky bits as an addendum.  I do not think I can do so for this book if I wanted to.

The publisher summary gives this almost sexy Indiana Jones adventure feel (referring to the story line, not to any attraction to younger Harrison Ford).  Sounded like fun, some adventure, danger, a little barely believable mojo, and hopefully hot and dirty sex (after all, it is published as an Erotica/Literature title, so one hopes the sex is good).

I began to question the writing very early on.  In the first 10 pages I was already going "really, are you kidding me?"  Our protagonist, Mara, is supposed to be a beautiful (of course), independent, and highly intelligent woman who happens to not only be fortunate to have a paid internship at a museum but is working on her Doctoral thesis.  You go girl.  But first glance at these ancient gems and she's thinking about maybe it'd be worth it to forget professional aspirations and dive into full femininity if someone would consider gifting her with such gems.

From there she has intuition that these gems that she has never seen before and that have been examined by experts world wide just "don't feel right" and are fakes.  Turns out they are fakes (if these have been examined as much as he claims, how have they passed), that the real ones are safe at his home, and that she does have a special resonance with them once she sees them.  But there is no reason or her to feel anything missing from a set of gemstones.  The she goes and has surprisingly out of character sex with Argent Leeds (yes, his name is Argent), and like Cinderella dashes away home in confusion where she encounters her best friend/housemate who has the audacity to slut shame her for having a one-night stand.

Now things start to get absurd, though maybe I'm the only one who finds a millionaire wearing a corduroy shirt a little odd.  Things like them dining on "farm raised" lion steak.  I do want to acknowledge the fact that the author didn't shy away from using real body part names, because seeing the actual word "vagina" in erotica and romance novels is a bit of a rarity.  But perhaps most notably the sex starts getting weird, and not in a kinky exploratory way, but in a "has she been striped of personal agency" sort of way.

Mara has some sort of connection with the sapphire and Argent, something that makes her wetter than a bottle full of lube and as uncaring about the consequences as a kid on a snow day.  When under its influence she acts in ways she wouldn't do on her own, and takes the slightest suggestion from Argent regardless of how outlandish it might be.  This starts out with surprisingly public sex that could be just heat of the moment/high passion encounters, and grows into subverting a party on a private island into a mindless kinky orgasm.

And then we find out that every part of this is completely deliberate on the part of Argent.  He is in full knowledge that she is under an ancient magical influence that he holds in his power, deliberately puts her under it, and uses it for his own desires.  He knew that what he was doing was going to turn on the magical mojo and make her into essentially the avatar of a sex goddess in his control and never gave warning or asked for permission.  When she wakes up afterwards she is not ok with what happened and has no clue how she even went along with it in the first place.

Mara starts learning more, and has some time to think, and realizes that she needs to end the relationship, or whatever she has, with Argent.  At which point things go pear shaped and I almost walked away from the book.  His response to "I'm not comfortable with this relationship, I want to walk away," is to literally claim her as his property and to turn her into an enthralled sex slave/sex goddess avatar, and uses that power to enthrall and control her and others as he wishes with no intent to release her.  She has no memory of her life before meeting Argent, has really no memory of anything besides being with him and the sex they orchestrate.

She eventually breaks free, nearly kills him, and finds true love with her best friend.  This is after being a living sex toy with no agency or consent for eleven weeks 

All of the sex involving Mara in this book was rape, none of it was something she was capable or consenting to at any time and he never tried for her consent.  His first attempt at seduction is to link her to the stone making her his sexual slave.  This is a novel about someone under the effects of magical roofies being sold as erotica.  And according to the publisher's submission guidelines they don't accept submissions with "graphic or eroticized rape".
TWCS Publishing House will not accept or review submissions with any of the following topics or elements:
  • Bestiality
  • Graphic or eroticized incest
  • Necrophilia
  • Pedophilia (no sex involving underage characters)
  • Graphic or eroticized rape
  • Extreme fetishes
A happy ending does not change the fact that 90% of this novel involves eroticized rape.  Perhaps the best part of the book is one of the fellow victims telling Mara that Argent deserved to be killed for what he did, and that it's a shame that she only nearly killed him.

Even without the issue of rape Sapphire Blue is no more than middling quality prose.  The characterization is stilted, the setting is filled with poorly thought out details (though maybe you need to be into cars to laugh at the idea of a Honda Civic being close to death at only 100,000 miles), and just filled with moments that made me wince.  The book was nothing like I was led to expect from the description, nor like anything I should expect based on the publisher's guidelines.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

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