Handsome, driven, masterful, vaguely Greek, millionaire playboy tycoon Alex Costas has had a string of short affairs with models and starlets, but no woman has ever touched his heart.
Shy, virginal, untouched, pure, attractive (but quietly so, with glasses) Elynn is more focused on her mycology studies than romance. She never dreams that Alex (see above list of adjectives) could be interested in her.
In case contemporary romance is new to you, allow me to set your mind at rest: this is not a story about two different people who continue to be lonely. It’s about how her gentle femininity softens his rough edges as his confident masculinity shows her that there is more to life than dusty libraries. I apologise for giving away the big twist in 90% of all books that contain the word “tycoon”.
Making Her His is slightly different to the norm in that, rather than being Alex’s new secretary, or maid, or (an oddly common option) vet, Elynn is his step-sister. Let me be clear here – there is nothing legally wrong with their relationship. In fact, the Amazon page for the book takes pains that everyone understands the key details:
Please note: there is NO underage sex in this book. There is NO incest in this book.
I don’t, in principle, have a problem with a romance centred on adult step-siblings. I can envisage scenarios in which that works and isn’t creepy. You’d need to establish early on that they hadn’t grown up together, never had that sibling relationship, were adults and had been for a while when it all started. I don’t think I’ve read a book that does it well, but I’m saying I think it could be done.
Regrettably, Making Her His does not manage to avoid being creepy. Alex is the only man in Elynn’s life other than her step-father – due to childhood trauma, she’s very sheltered. He’s been in the big brother role for years. He starts making moves on her the moment she turns eighteen, and is clearly tempted before that; in fact, the relationship has been his long-term plan for an unspecified number of years. He’s ten years older than her and she looks up to him. Again, I’m not saying that their relationship breaches any laws, but it’s definitely creepy, and the word “grooming” is applicable.
If that’s not enough, the book also displays some messed-up ideas about masculinity and femininity. All men are presented as predatory and controlling, though the book wants you to think that this is sometimes okay if the man is rich and Greek and the protagonist. The Madonna/whore complex is everywhere – Alex’s previous partners are spiteful, unhinged Jezebels compared to Elynn’s quiet purity. And the purity thing is a big deal – Elynn is characterised as terrified of all men so that Alex can claim and deflower and protect all over the place. She gets attempted rape as a backstory to justify this, which, quite apart from the attitudes about gender it reveals, is narratively lazy.
The book does pay lip service to important concepts – consent, Elynn’s independence, Alex’s controlling tendencies – but that’s as far as it goes. The author understands that some things are red flags, and addresses them briefly, but doesn’t actually solve the problems. When Alex replaces Elynn’s entire wardrobe with shorter, tighter, more overtly “feminine” clothing, she calls him out on it. It’s an alarming sign of control, Elynn objects – so far so good. But then she spontaneously decides not to be upset about it anymore, capitulating entirely to Alex and dressing the way he wants. This is just one of many examples. Instead of making the relationship less controlling, such scenes serve only to highlight how unbalanced it all is.
There is a villain. He’s a predatory man given to rages who has been possessive over Elynn since she was a child, believes that they belong together, and has a track record of not respecting her choices. He shares all of the above characteristics with the hero. There are differences of course – the villain is actively violent, for one thing – but the two characters have an awful lot in common. It’s bizarre to me that someone could write both characters and not pick up on the parallels. The biggest difference, to my mind, between the two is that the author wants you to like one of them and not the other; it comes down to presentation more than anything else.
Elynn isn’t given space to make her own decisions, and this is all presented as fine – she’s happy, Alex is happy, and his possessiveness is continually excused and justified by the narrative. It is the privilege of an author to make causes have the effect they want, but it’s also a responsibility. Just because you can present something as ending well, doesn’t mean that that is reasonable or right. If someone described their relationship as like this one, I would worry for them; it’s presented as healthy and normal, but the presentation does not do anything like enough to redeem it.
I didn’t care for Making Her His. It’s not that it’s not competently-written (though the author has a tendency to deal with the difficult bits of narrative off-stage, which feels like cheating), but it is stuffed with attitudes and ideas that make me uncomfortable. “Powerful man matched with yielding woman” is a romance trope, and it can be, and often is, done well, without raising issues about informed consent and independence. Here, it’s weird. All the issues with control and gender hang heavy over the book and taint any sense of romance or a happy ending.