Guys. GUYS. I’m pretty sure Christina Lauren, like, really listens and responds to feedback.
This book would have been written too early to claim a direct line of insight from the epic post on slut shaming in romance, but I feel like the cultural tides that made way for that post influence Christina Lauren very much.
1) Luke, the male hero, out-and-out declares himself a feminist.
2) In direct contrast to almost every other book featuring a recovering rake, this one goes out of its way to point out, also vis a vis Luke, that there wasn’t any kind of moral or personal flaw in the women who came before; even London, our heroine, couldn’t have made him settle down before he was ready.
3) While a bit of jealousy from London’s point of view is inevitable in a story about her learning to trust that Luke can be a one-woman man, the book is also less deliberately nasty to other women who ogle Luke, shifting the focus to him and how much attention he gives them, and allowing other peripheral women to also express their sexuality without being dismissed as slutty.
When Luke says that he’ll “most likely say unintentionally sexist things you’ll need to point out,” it feels like the authors speaking directly to the readers about those inevitable growing pains in feminist education. It feels like a confirmation that Christina Lauren are here trying to write feminist contemporary romances, and when we speak up about missteps, they listen. They’ve always been sex-positive in that they write experienced heroines and acknowledge the prevalence of casual sex as a normal, healthy thing, but Wicked Sexy Liar is further evolution in outspoken affirmation of women’s sexual agency.
It does all of this while still following one of the most basic, traditional storylines: the reformation of the (male) rake through introduction to the magic hoo-hah. We’ve met Luke before, sort of. He’s infamously known as the ex of Mia, heroine of the first book in the series. They’d grown up together and then tragically broken up after Mia’s catastrophic accident, leaving Luke in the wind and seeking comfort in the carnal embrace of anyone who — well, anyone at all, really. Attractive, charismatic, and respectful, Luke is a player with a heart of gold, even if he’s non-committal. He meets his match in London, who has Luke’s number immediately. He’s just a bit too smooth and polished to not have done this hundreds of times before; plus, his over-active phone indicates no small number of *acquaintances* who all seem to check in with him during peak hookup hours. That said, he seems nice enough, and London has a case of the horns and wants to blow off some steam, so she decides just to go for it for a night. She’s not looking for and doesn’t expect anything more serious than just the one encounter, but something about her holds Luke’s attention longer than even he expected.
Within this roughest of sketches, there are some details that made the story feel more authentic to me than most of its ilk. A player of Luke’s caliber, who has done the full genital tour of San Diego, CA, but without the icky sense of conquest and objectification of women, is something of a sparkly unicorn in real life, but that’s okay — I’ll take that variety of wish-fulfillment in romance, thank you. London, though, is the type of heroine who I rarely see and frequently wish I did. She has casual sex, but not as a character-defining statement. This is a nice contrast to protagonists who use their promiscuity as a mask to hide their “damage,” or because they value themselves as being like “one of the guys,” not desperate to ensnare men into a relationship like all the other girls. London just has chemistry with Luke, recognizes him as more than willing, and thinks “Why not?” This attitude tracks closely with what I actually observe “in the wild,” where casual, consensual sex is used much less frequently as a weapon against one’s inner demons than it appears to be in fiction and people’s imaginations.
Similarly, the main obstacle to their relationship is not some strange contrivance, but a totally understandable and probably smart concern about their long-term potential. For London, this comes from two places: first, she’s been cheated on before, and she looks at someone like Luke and wonders how he’d ever be okay just being with one person. She doesn’t want to go through the pain and disappointment again of being fully committed to someone and finding they haven’t been as loyal as she has. Second, and importantly, she’s not really sure where she’s going in her own life, so a relationship isn’t a priority when she wants to figure out her goals just for herself. For the time being, she’s happy surfing during the day and tending bar at night, but she wants more eventually and wants to make that decision for herself without needing to worry about someone else being in the equation.
Of course, neither Luke nor London is a match for the charms of the other. I found the two very well-suited for each other, and their banter and easy sense of companionship with each other made the emotional romance very believable and a good supplement to the steamy sex, with which of course Christina Lauren excels as ever. In short, I agree with other reviews that this is the best book of the series, both because of the maturation of the series in general and because I found this to be the most developed romance. After being disappointed by Dark Wild Night, the third Wild Seasons book, I am relieved to be back on board and looking forward to further Christina Lauren output.