Deep is the fourth (final? Probably not?) book in the Stage Dive series, a light and entertaining collection of contemporary rock star romances by Kylie Scott. My favorite is the second, Play, and that’s just because each book in the series features a different hero archetype and I liked him the best. YMMV. Ben, the hero in Deep, is a reformed hipster manchild who accidentally knocks up the heroine, Liz, during a one night stand. Though he promises to be there for her, his definition of how that works is pretty superficial, initially, amounting to little more than dumping money into her bank account and scarily looming behind other men who show interest in Liz.
At first, keeping his distance from Liz is the result of some pretty harsh castigation from fellow bandmates and heroine of second book Anne, who is none other than Liz’s big sister. Feeling that he crossed a line, Ben tries to respect their anger and back off, but Liz’s insistence that she was the one who pursued Ben and she accepts the consequences of their failed contraception takes a little bit of the heat off him. As such, his glowering at other men who attempt to flirt with Liz is less cute, because it’s just caveman posturing over a woman he won’t even claim for himself. I’d be somewhat remiss if I didn’t mention that this reminded me very much of the male lead from one of the rare books I DNF, Kev from Seduce Me at Sunrise. What made Deep much more successful than the other, despite shared inconsistency from their heroes, was first that Deep has a much stronger heroine and second that there is more of an honest explanation for Ben’s recalcitrance than for Kev’s. Kev’s position boils mostly down to “You’re too good for me and so I can’t be allowed to have you,” while Ben’s is the more nuanced “I accept responsibility that this happened, but I don’t know how to proceed because this is not what I planned for my life and it’s very shocking, and also I have the added workload of doing the majority of production for the band’s tracks so the other guys don’t really get why I don’t have as much time as they do to just go maternity clothes shopping in the middle of the day.” In other words, Kev is full of angsty b.s. and needs to get a grip, but Ben’s situation is one that in real life would garner genuine sympathy from me.
Of course, that doesn’t excuse giving Liz whiplash regarding what to expect, and that becomes doubly frustrating when one considers Liz as a character, because she’s great and I wonder why anyone wouldn’t want to lock her down. She’s funny, easy-going, practical, and she has a ton of agency and high self-worth. She’s not needy or desperate when Ben pulls away from her, respecting his stated desire for space. She doesn’t play games, and even though she loves him, she goes about living her own life and trying to move on when he indicates his inability to commit. She knows how to ask for what she wants and clearly state her expectations, and she’s not impressed by half-hearted gestures that keep her on the hook but don’t address her needs. In short, this is a character who respects herself.
If I wasn’t already in like with her, this passage on slut-shaming completely won me over:
“Why does it always come down to sex with women in the media? How many people have you slept with?” I asked, hands on hips. “Well?”
His tongue played behind his cheek. “I, ah, I didn’t really keep count.”
“They didn’t infer you were some kind of slut, and you’ve probably slept with dozens more people than me.”
He gave a careful nod.
“And yet I’m the slut because I’m the woman. Like it’s anyone’s fucking business how many either of us has slept with or if I enjoy going out for a beer occasionally. I’m not getting behind the wheel of a car and driving drunk. I’m having a few drinks with friends at a party and organizing to get home safely. And if I’m taking someone home, that is none of their business. Those hypocritical motherfuckers, condemning me for these things. What consenting adults do in private should not be entertainment for the world at large. Nor is it in any way a viable judge of a person’s character.”
In addition to being a mic-drop moment for Liz, the passage is also a nice glimpse of Kylie Scott’s general sensibilities. These books aren’t completely free of casual sexism — so few contemporary romances are — but I think as they progressed, they became a touch more in tune with how women actually feel about and interact with each other. We’re not above moments of petty jealousy and competition, but we don’t live our entire lives snarking on other women, and many of us don’t tolerate misogyny from the men in our lives either.
The Stage Dive series isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a series I reliably enjoy and Deep is a solid addition.