Wildest Dreams by Kristen Ashley
Read July 9 – July 18
This book had two things going for it.
One, I picked it up for free when it was having a free day in the Kindle app, so I didn’t have to spend money on it. Two, it definitely succeeded in making me feel very strong emotion.
That emotion was rage. 😀
The ‘romance’ was unhealthy, the characters were walking stereotypes, the plot was predictable, and the tropes present in it were done very poorly.
There. That’s the overarching ‘why I don’t like this’ part of the review. I warn you now, I really didn’t like a single thing about this book. So if you don’t like reading very negative reviews you might wanna back out.
The gist of the story: our main character Finnie, who is oh-so-shockingly super rich, pays a witch to transport her to an alternate universe, swapping places with the other-world-Finnie there. The deal is they’ll stay swapped for one year and then swap back. She arrives to this fantasy land (HAW HAW THAT’S THE NAME OF THE SERIES, GUYS) to find herself immediately married to this beefcake called Frey Drakkar, who is this first-time-in-centuries-born guy who has the power to both summon elves and dragons alike. Turns out her alternate self agreed to the swap to get out of this arrangement. And after I finished the book, I didn’t blame her.
So that’s the plot. Throw in a bunch of sex scenes and tropes and you’ve got yourself this novel.
I figure way most succinct way to give my thoughts on the book is to start with overarching themes and then go plot point by plot point. So bear with me. Also, as I warned above, major spoilers ahead.
- The very first thing that struck me about the book was the POV writing – the story is told from Finnie’s perspective and obviously she’s a bit overwhelmed at being transported from our world into this other world, but if I had a dollar for the amount of times I read ‘Holy moly’ or ‘Ho boy’, I could pay off my student debt. The government would no longer own my soul, people. I’D BE FREE. I assume the character was at least in her mid-twenties. I don’t quite remember. It might have said her age, but clearly the information slid in one eye and leaked out the other during one of my many fits of rage while reading this book. Regardless, the vocabulary of the main character left much to be desired.
- Secondly, the homophobia and sexism in this book were unchecked. I feel like the author didn’t intend to write it that way, but it came out very much that way. The fantasy-world Finnie that switched our main character was a lesbian woman, who obviously had no desire to marry a man and bare his kids. Fair enough, right? But this introduced a theme that allowed for a few instances of where the characters essentially said ‘I’m not homophobic, but…‘ and then said or acted in a way that obviously showed differently. Same with the sexism. I’ll get into specifics later on below.
- Thirdly, my most dreaded trope showed up in this book. The ‘I’m not like other girls’ trope. There is no way to write this well. Like, why would you want a character that fit this? It just makes them into a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and then anything you have them do after that I automatically add on ‘because she was so special‘ in my head to the end of every sentence. Specific instances of this will also be mentioned below.
For overarching themes, the above three are it. Otherwise, my gripes with the book had to do specifically with the characters and how they interacted throughout the story. Frey Drakkar in particular, I really hated. In any other book, an author who wrote this character would have written him as a villain. He’s not a good guy. But somehow, he’s the love interest and every single shitty thing he does is either ignored, forgiven, or supplemented with ‘he only did it because he loved her’. Barf. Finnie is a ding dong herself, but is more of a victim of Frey’s manipulation than anything. Sigh.
Here we go.
At the beginning of the story, right after Finnie is plopped into the fantasy world and married off to Frey, we find out immediately that he hates fantasy-world Finnie. Like, loathes her. Why? Because one night, Fantasy-Finnie drunkenly told Frey she was a lesbian. Therefore, he took it as a personal insult that his bride was not attracted to him. Never mind they both only entered into the marriage under contractual obligation, Fantasy-Finnie being a princess and Frey being the elf-dragon guy. Neither one had feelings for each other before and both grudgingly agreed to enter the union only because they knew an heir would need to be produced, so what does it matter what their sexualities are. It wasn’t like Fantasy-Finnie decided to like women to be spiteful to her would-be husband. Goodness.
Anyway, so day of the wedding, Frey is noticeably pissed right. Finnie is none the wiser, not knowing the sexuality of her other-self yet. So they’re married and immediately Frey drags her from the hall, throws her on a horse and gallops away into the woods, where they ride for hours, before he dumps her at his log cabin, tells her, and I quote, ‘I’ll not thrust my cock where you’d prefer a woman’s mouth to be’ and then disappears for two months.
And Finnie is left there, deer-in-a-headlight.
Now, while I mentioned I didn’t blame Fantasy-Finnie for running because Frey is just such a stand up guy, she’s not a stellar player either. She didn’t tell Finnie that she’d be arriving to immediately get married to Mr. Grumpy, or that she was a princess, or that she’d have obligations, yada yada. She left Finnie very unprepared for any of it (which she actually tries to rectify later, but I’ll get to that).
When Frey finally appears again, two months later, he’s surprised to find that Finnie has adjusted to log cabin life very well, had made friends with everyone in the town, yada yada. And he’s grumpy at her now because she’s not acting morose and depressed at being dumped, as he had expected. As they start to interact, Mr. Grumpy keeps being wowwed that Finnie is acting differently. Eventually he tells her he’ll take his ‘husband’s right’ that evening, whether she wants him to or not. So rape. He tells her he’s going to rape her. And what does she do? She goes ‘Oh I should try to mentally prepare myself.’ What. What.
So Finnie, having deduced at this point that her other self is a lesbian, tells Frey that she’s straight pretty much point blank. That, combined with the way she didn’t devolve into a ball of misery at being abandoned, makes Frey think, ‘Wait no this can’t be the same person, she’s so much better‘.
So he goes to the elves who say ‘yeah no this is other-world Finnie who likes men pretty much’ and Frey then binds her to the fantasy world permanently without telling her so he never has to deal with lesbian Finnie again because he hates her so much. Now, this part of the story was mentioned in the synopsis. So I was expecting it, but the way it was written screamed ‘I’m the bad guy who will eventually become the villain’. But does that actually happen? Nooooo. So now that Frey knows that Finnie is from our world, he tries to reneg on the rape threat during a chapter written from his POV, thinking to himself that he’d never force anyone, that he doesn’t dislike lesbians at all (as long as they’re not being a lesbian in his direction apparently), blah de blah.
So the story progresses, the two actually starting to get along now that Frey has realized that Finnie is straight, and Finnie is jumping on the opportunities not to be essentially in a feud with the man she was forced to marry.
Notice the theme? He’s totally okay with being nasty to people he doesn’t like, including handing out rape threats, and only treats people ‘nicely’ if he feels they’re useful to him. Remember this.
So the two eventually begin banging, despite the fact that he was a complete dick four chapters ago, as Finnie is amazed with how ‘hot’ her husband is and how he makes her ‘breasts swell’ (I swear that’s the actual phrasing in the book). She had told him shortly after the rape threat that she would need to use birth control. She starts using it, which is probably the wisest decision she makes the whole book. Frey, being distracted with how different, and wonderful and more better his ‘wee Finnie’ is than Fantasy-Finnie, doesn’t notice. Does she try to hide it? No. He just doesn’t notice. Remember this.
One of the reasons that Finnie agreed to the swap was because when she was young, her parents died. Fantasy-Finnie still has hers, so seeing her parents again is a big theme in the book. When they meet, her parents are kinda cold to her, thinking she’s Fantasy-Finnie, and only warm up to her after they realize she’s not the same one. Again, the whole ‘this Finnie is just better in all ways’ theme. It goes to the point where Frey, Finnie, and Fantasy-Finnie’s parents agree that Fantasy-Finnie committed high treason by running away and that they’re better off now that she’s gone. Even Fantasy-Finnie’s maids, four of them, who were supposedly her best friends for years and years, do nothing more than ‘oh that’s a shame that she’s gone’. Like… geez, guys.
There were also a few side characters, one of them blatantly sexist mind you, that decides that Finnie is ‘not like other women’ when she goes on Frey’s boat without being afraid. Like… what? And nobody calls him out on it, either. It’s just ‘oh this guy is how he is, but he likes you at least so it’s ok’. Again, ‘not like other girls’, ‘Finnie the special’, ‘Sexism is ok as long as it’s not directed towards Finnie’. Goodness gracious.
So the rest of the book is basically ‘Finnie’s evil extended family wants to control the country so they try to assassinate Finnie a lot’. Basic plot with a predictable ending. If it would have just been this, this book would have gotten a two star rating, maybe two and a half, if the ending would have been really good. But it was more than this. It was this, plus the terrible relationship dynamic that is Frey and Finnie.
I present to you, the (mostly) complete list of how Finnie and Frey are just awful:
- Frey, as mentioned above, binds Finnie to the fantasy world without telling her
- He’s constantly telling her how he’ll take her on adventures, lulling her into liking him, but then when she goes on one he thinks ‘she better not get used to this. No more of this after she had my kid’.
- He’s constantly thinking she won’t be permitted to do go on adventures or do this or that or anything without his say so in the future, yada yada. Does he say any of this out loud? No.
- Finnie finds out Frey had slept with a castle maid years before the two had gotten married. She gets insanely jealous, despite the fact that she’s mid-twenties and he’s mid-thirties. Like, he has this huge mentioned-over-and-over reputation for being virile, did she expect him to be celibate?
- They argue over this maid, and Frey tells her that a marriage means he can still sleep around but she can’t and she’ll just have to deal with it. Finnie decides that her first impressions of Frey were right and that he was a jerk (at this point in the story, I’m thinking ‘maybe this will flip and get better, maybe they’ll out him as the villain’)
- Frey then flaunts the maid in Finnie’s face by having her serve him during a meal they were having together. They don’t talk for a while as a result, but eventually make up with Finnie thinking ‘I’m still not comfortable with Frey being able to sleep around and me not, but whatever I suppose.’
- At one point, as I mentioned earlier, Fantasy-Finnie tries to correct her earlier actions – she becomes guilty at putting Finnie through everything and contacts the witch to opt for an early switch-back. When the witch comes looking for Finnie, Frey intercepts the message and doesn’t tell Finnie the witch was ever there.
- The witch is aware of the binding spell – Frey lies and tells her that Finnie knows of it and approves of it to keep the witch from talking to her.
- They get intelligence from a neighboring land where a traditional activity is ‘The Wife Hunt’ where men literally hunt down women and claim them as their wives via raping them. Frey talks about a woman who was hunted down by the king and is now his bride by force, and says, ‘She’ll need to do some adjusting, but (king) is an honorable man so she’ll be fine’. Participated in Wife Hunt = Honorable Man. Does not compute. At no point is The Wife Hunt relevant to the story, mind you. It’s just a thing that was thrown in as a factoid. Was it done in a way that said ‘This is bad’? Was it ever called out for being bad? Nope.
- Frey gripes about spending time with Finnie doing things she’s interested in but he is not. They went to a play she wanted to see and the whole time he did nothing but complain.
- When Frey finally notices that Finnie is taking birth control, becomes enraged that she’s been ‘lying to him’ and he swaps it out for a placebo without telling her. There goes the consent Finnie was giving – at no point was she ok with unprotected sex – she had mentioned it multiple times.
- Finnie gets pregnant.
At the point where Frey switches out the birth control, I almost quit the book. I was absolutely disgusted. The only thing that kept me reading were the multiple hints that Frey would be outed as a villain. It was the only thing that kept giving me hope. Like, one can’t write a guy like this and go ‘oh no he’s not the villain, he’s the wonderful love interest’, right? RIGHT?!
Towards the end of the book, the witch manages to circumvent Frey and gets in contact with Finnie. She tells her everything that Frey has done – the binding, the intercepting messages, the birth control. Everything. Finnie gets angry, and calls out Frey in the middle of the court yard, giving him the verbal lashing of his life and I’m there thinking ‘YES THIS IS IT’.
And then he’s shot by an arrow mid-argument and ‘dies’. The city is suddenly under attack, the culmination of the consequences that Frey would have faced are now null and void
Finnie, captured by the enemy and being told that Frey is dead, immediately thinks, ‘I was wrong in my anger’.
‘I was wrong in my anger’. This is a direct quote. I about died. This is the point in the book where I lost all hope that it would get better. I now knew that everything up to this point, all the unhealthiness, all the manipulation, would be spun in a positive way.
It didn’t matter to her anymore that he was a manipulative bastard that forced her to have a child and trapped her there forever. He was dead, so she decided she was wrong to call him out on that stuff.
AND THEN TURNS OUT HE WASN’T REALLY DEAD. EFFING SHOCKER. During the month he was ‘dead’, nobody had ever found a body and nobody ever looked for it. They just thought ‘oh he’s dead’. Nobody ever even questioned it. It was just a plot device used to wave away all the awfulness that Frey is so he and Finnie could have a ‘happy ending’ without having to actually deal with the deceit in their relationship. It was just lazy writing.
So they reunite, Frey tries a half-assed apology, saying ‘I wronged you, but I only did it because I love you so much’ and do you know what Finnie says? She cuts him off and says ‘Oh no don’t apologize, it’s my fault, I shouldn’t have said those mean things to you’. And then the witch comes up to Finnie and apologizes for telling her about Frey’s lies and putting doubt in their relationship. At that point I just slammed my head down on the book and sighed.
And that was it. They lived happily ever after.
PS. Also at one point it was thrown in there that Finnie’s pregnancy was going much better than other pregnancies. #Notlikeotherpregnancies.
This book had so much potential. If Frey would have turned into the bad guy, I could have really liked this book. But he didn’t, he was still able to do all lying and manipulation and abuse and then say he did it out of love and then Finnie went ‘Oh all this stuff is ok’.
Do you know what kind of message this sends? It says ‘Abuse is ok as long as the person abusing you tells you they love you’. It’s unhealthy and perpetuates the ‘If he’s mean to you it means he likes you’ awfulness that is still mentioned in the modern dating world. No, if someone is mean to you, they’re an asshole. Nobody who loves someone else will manipulate them. Holy moly. Ho boy. Holy cow.
The only reason I didn’t DNF the book was the writing. Ho boys and holy molys aside, it was written in a way that I could binge, even if I was filling myself with hate-fuel as I did it. So because the writing wasn’t mediocre, it get a half star bump.
Rating: 1.5 stars