Book Review!: The Fifty Shades Trilogy, by E L James

[This review is based on the Nook Book editions published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group in 2011 and 2013.]

**Disclaimer: I will try, and probably fail, to avoid filling this review with innuendo.**

(See? I’m already failing.)

Here’s the deal:
Following the boom of the Twilight saga, “Twihards” went crazy, writing lots of fanfiction (or “fanfic”) to share with each other. These stories were created using the characters from the Twilight universe itself or, in other cases, birthed new characters who embodied certain characteristics and/or carried similar plotlines to those in Twi-land. British writer E L James took the latter approach, creating characters Christian Grey and Anastasia “Ana” Steele in the molds of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, and taking her two new leads to a very dark and sexy place. Christian is the 28-year-old CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings, based in Seattle; Ana is a 22-year-old college student at Washington State University. A chance meeting leads to mutual infatuation, which takes a dark turn when Christian asks Ana to become his sexual submissive, but Ana realizes that she wants more. Without giving away too much, Ana and Christian embark on a relationship that is equal parts sordid and sweet; he draws her into the clandestine world of BDSM while she pulls him toward the light and warmth of romantic love. They learn a great deal, about themselves and each other, in the process.

My thoughts:
I’m not going to lie: as someone who had never read erotica (a virgin, so to speak!), my first reading of this trilogy was difficult and surprisingly uncomfortable. (And we’re off and running again!) I originally read the books when the second and third installments were released in January. After closing Fifty Shades Freed, I had to step away for a while to let the gratuitous sex sink in. (What? There was a lot of it, and the BDSM stuff was completely new to me!) Now, I should tell you that film adaptations always capture my interest (note that I didn’t say the film versions are always good, because they’re definitely not!), so when I heard that filming was underway on Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided to return to the books. This time around, I had a much easier time reading them; I knew what to expect, though certain details still shocked me, and I was able to get through them (or, as Christian and Ana might say, blow through them) fairly easily. It also helped to picture the actors portraying the characters as I read — it’s always nice to put faces to names.

This helps:

Casting aside, let’s talk about the books themselves. While I understand that young adults deeply in love with each other may have sex often, and while I also understand that this was written as fanfic which, by definition, follows the rule of “anything goes”, the sheer multitude of sex scenes spread through these books still seemed like too much for me. Sex is a major component of Christian’s life — I know that — and that very component turned this trilogy into “mommy porn”. I’m fully aware of all of that…but still, wow. I was left blushing and, frankly, feeling like a total bedroom amateur when I closed Fifty Shades Freed. The sex scenes in these books are not for the weak, I’ll tell you that.

Now that the “porn” aspect is out of the way, I can talk about the part I really enjoyed: the story itself. I’m so happy that there was some kind of narrative, because I was sincerely worried that it was just going to be one bedroom scene after another. Not only is there a plot, though, but the plot (in my opinion) is halfway decent! There are many readers who think the whole story is just garbage; I read into it and found a rapid-fire yet deeply connected love story between Christian and Ana. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Christian’s childhood was dark and twisted, and he thought himself incapable of real love…and then Ana literally fell into his office and his entire worldview changed. As for Ana, she laid eyes on him and Cupid practically smacked her across the face. This is a clear love-at-first-sight story, and as you move through the story, you’ll find that these two will do virtually anything to protect each other. The love story seems implausible at the beginning of Fifty Shades of Grey, but by the time you get into Fifty Shades Darker it’s obvious that Christian and Ana are in it for the long haul. Of course, the Dominant in Christian makes him utterly controlling, and at times it’s not pretty, but Ana is able to see past that and his negative self-image and slowly transform him into a gentler, kinder, and more open man. The change was fascinating to follow, to say the least.

So would I recommend this book?
This is a tough one. Like I said, the story itself is really good and, in my opinion, it’s worth the read. The problem is that, in order to read the story, you also have to trudge through the sex scenes. You might enjoy them or just find yourself enlightened by them; they could embarrass you or completely turn you off. It could go either way. It depends on how open you are. (Oh, there I go again.) If you think you can handle the sex, give it a try…and make sure to let me know what you think!

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Or order the 50 Shades trilogy via Barnes and Noble here.