It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s something incredibly sexy about bikers. There’s something even sexier about fictional bikers: the imaginary world of motorcycles has leather, tattoos, and no one ever gets bugs in their mouths despite riding without helmets. Enter Chaos, the Denver-based motorcycle club around which author Kristen Ashley has built an epic saga. Wives and girlfriends are “old ladies,” ex-wives and girlfriends are usually bitches, and various crime syndicates threatening the greater Denver area are held at bay by vigilante bikers. Buckle up. (Or don’t actually, since motorcycles don’t have seatbelts.)
Type: Contemporary romance series with an extra dose of testosterone and motor oil.
The couple: Logan “High” Judd, is a seasoned member of the Chaos motorcycle club. He likes Chipotle, loves his daughters, and has a romantic chip on his shoulder thanks to Millie. Try not to get distracted by his nickname: his friends have names like “Boz,” “Dog,” “Joker,” and “Tack,” so it’s not really that weird. Millie Cross is an event planner with a perfect house and successful business. She hasn’t been on a date in decades, which she claims is because she was completely shattered by her break up with High, but I think it also has something to do with not wanting to sift through all the weirdos on OkCupid.
Tropes: Second chance romance; motorcycle club series; alpha males who do what they want, get what they want, and claim the women they want.
The story: High has spent twenty years being really, really angry that Millie broke up with him when they were in their early twenties. They were both so in love and devastated that neither has ever gotten over the break-up. Well, he got married and had two kids, but he never really loved his wife, so…I guess that’s ok? Anyway, after coming across High in Chipotle, Millie tracks him down and they reunite, have a bunch of angry sex, and then she tells him the secret behind their break-up, which totally blows everyone’s minds and leads to a lot of feelings, angst, and even more sex. The two work on figuring out how to rebuild their relationship, while also dealing with some pretty serious bad guys targeting the motorcycle club. There’s also some kidnapping and disgruntled children, so it gets pretty real.
Also, quick note for context: the Chaos story started in earnest about five books ago with Motorcycle Man, the last book in a different series, and continues through Walk Through Fire, the fourth and most recent in the Chaos series. You can follow this one without reading the others, but you might consider starting further back in the series to get a sense for the history of the secondary characters.
How’s the sex? Fan-fucking-tastic. It’s unbelievable even by romance novel standards. Specifically, the sex in this book is earth-shattering that the men can do literally whatever they want and the women essentially respond with “well, the sex is amazing, so I guess it makes up for all the other stuff.” Most importantly, the sex in this book is so spectacular that as a reader, you kinda get where those women are coming from.
Is this book for you? Honestly, I can’t even figure out if this book is for me. Don’t get me wrong: I discovered the series last month and within eight days had read about 2,600 pages about how the Chaos world turns. If Ashley came out with a new Chaos book next week, I’d buy it without hesitating: her writing is good, her characters are compelling, and the ongoing story lines are as addictive as just about anything else I’ve read in this genre or any other. But the gender dynamics in the series bug me. A lot.
Uninitiated readers may not know that romance novels, written mostly by women and for women, tend to feature more empowered, badass female people than mainstream media. And the women in Walk Through Fire are smart, talented, and exceptionally well dressed. The men in the story are also honorable, loyal, and fun. The issue arises with how they interact. It’s not that the men of Chaos don’t love women; they do – head to toe, and especially the parts in the middle. They’re also honest with them, and they even respect the women they choose as partners. They just don’t necessarily love or respect women more than they love doing and getting what they want.
I can deal with bossy – lots of people of both sexes are bossy and if you like a bossy motorcycle dude, knock yourself out. Where I get uncomfortable with Walk Through Fire is with the occasional physical dominance of High over Millie. There’s one scene in particular when Millie states multiple times that she wants to leave a place and she’s physically restrained by the men of Chaos and taken to where High wants her. Being a dominant biker type, even a good and honorable one, doesn’t grant you dominion over anyone else’s autonomy, and my main frustration with this book is that it not only allows for that type of thing, but essentially condones it.
Conclusion: It’s left me a little perplexed that I can so enjoy a story that has a piece to which I object so strongly, but since that’s the case in other fiction and entertainment, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be true in the case of romance as well. Ashley creates a world that’s easy for a reader to lose herself in: there are heroes, villains, ridiculous nicknames, sex, violence, and just a whole lot of general angst. And although I’m definitely in, I’d have a much easier time being all in if once in awhile a woman rode a motorcycle without hanging onto a dude.