So… this was awful.To say that I didn’t like “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the understatement of the year. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read – a sexist, woman shaming badly written fan-fiction that romanticised an abusive jerk, made “Twilight” look like Dostoyevsky and left us all a little relieved that our own pornographic fan-fiction wasn’t so terrible in comparison. For some reason I have yet to figure out, the series has become wildly popular, with all three books occupy spaces in the top five biggest selling Kindle books of all time, and has led to a smorgasbord of self-published erotica sensations filling the bestseller lists. The big 5 publishers, suffering greatly from the rise of the e-book and seeing their importance in the industry diminish, are scrambling to survive and throwing big advances at self-published big sellers as if it’s going out of business, and one of the biggest books to profit from this has been Scottish author Samantha Young and her Edinburgh set contemporary romance “On Dublin Street”. If I were the publisher, I’d be asking for my money back.Contrary to popular belief, I actually love romance novels. The romance genre is one of the hardest to do well, although I’d argue that most genre fiction is far tougher to write than the literary establishment gives it credit for. However, there are many elements in the genre that have become very popular recently as “Fifty Shades” continues to dominate the industry, no pun intended, and most of them are my personal form of literary hell. Unfortunately, “On Dublin Street” ticks off almost every single square on my bingo card, from the prose to the characters to the ridiculous plot and the so-called romance. Let’s start with the general quality of the writing. This book supposedly had two editors. I can only assume that both of them are prone to frequent bouts of unconsciousness. From the far too frequent misuse of punctuation to the simplest of spelling errors (there were at least three instances of you’re/your mix-ups that I can remember), the book fails on the basic literary level. I don’t care if a book’s self-published or done through the traditional manner. If it’s being sold and marketed as a novel, I expect it to meet the simplest of standards, particularly now that a big publisher has showered this with money and doesn’t seem to care about the quality. Then again, if you’re going to attempt to make a fast buck then perhaps there isn’t time for a quick spell-check. The book is also about a third too long, with massive contrivances, leaps of logic, and just straight-up stupidity from the characters occurring just to get the plot moving. For what is supposedly a relatively simple contemporary romance, there’s a lot in the book that doesn’t make sense. The final quarter of the novel is a jumbled up mess of cheap emotional punches, emotional and illogical flip-flopping, and forced drama, all in the name of dragging the action out a few more pages. It’s unnecessary and in the end just plain boring.There’s no easy way to say this, but the protagonist is irritating beyond belief. She’s so derivative of the genre that I can still see the serial numbers from the assembly line. Joss (renamed Jocelyn by the romantic hero despite her repeated protests – because lack of respect is sexy) is the proto-typical messed up perfect girl – beautiful, snarky but only when convenient, with a traumatic past that conveniently keeps the family out of the scene (Disappearing Parent Syndrome strikes even in adult romance) and absolutely no financial worries. We frequently hear about her big breasts and panic attacks but that is the extent of her characterisation. The dead family is a very convenient plot device to use in fiction because it’s assumed that it will automatically give the character some depth. It doesn’t. It’s just lazy, and in “On Dublin Street” it serves no purpose other than to occasionally move the plot forward and add more angst. Joss frequently goes to therapy to provide some handy summaries of events we’ve just read about (much in the same way fan-fiction does, but this book is 100% original, from what I’ve been told), but the therapy itself does nothing to advance Joss’s character. These scenes also felt slapdash at best. I’ve been to counselling for something similar to what Joss has, but on a much milder level, and it mainly involves crying and spewing out your problems whilst someone listens and hands you tissues. It’s cathartic and incredibly boring to everyone not directly involved. Here, it just doesn’t achieve its intended purpose. Joss is also an incredibly judgemental character, particularly in regards to other women. When I say other women, I mean anyone that’s vaguely considered a threat to her burgeoning relationship with Fifty Shades Alpha Douche Model #3217, Braden. Fortunately for Joss, the author is equally as judgemental towards these women, who are all automatically characterised as gold-digging selfish whores. Joss and Braden happen to be very wealthy, but of course they’re good, generous people. In contrast, every woman who’s interested in Braden seems driven by money. The class element of this really got to me – Dublin Street is part of a rather wealthy area of Edinburgh, and Joss works in the nearby George Street. I’m fine with the typical rich guy romance, even though it’s not my thing, but I truly resented the elitism on display here. Of course, pretty much everything bad that happens in the novel is the result of a woman, because that stereotype’s apparently still fresh for reuse.Braden is a nasty piece of work. Once again we have the wealthy, entitled, extremely handsome and slightly older alpha male imposing himself on the heroine despite her repeated protests, with a conveniently angst-filled back-story packed full of mummy issues, drug-addicted rape victim girlfriends and beating someone to within an inch of their life because it’s the “honourable” thing to do. Braden, of course, has frequent bouts of temper that manifest as violence, and these are far too quickly swept under the carpet for my liking. Violence is not acceptable in these circumstances, particularly when it’s part of the “Get your hands off my woman!” plot strand. Of course (there’s a phrase I’m going to be using a lot), he has absolutely no respect for the heroine’s boundaries, despite her repeated demands. Pretty much every conversation they have follows the same pattern of him imposing himself on Joss, only to be met with protests, then Braden’s smarmy smugness that he knows best and will fuck her until she can’t walk. Once again (OF COURSE!), we have the love interest making possessive demands of the heroine, which include, but are not limited to, walking into her flat without permission, making demands of her choice of clothing and how she does her hair, beating the crap out of another man for approaching her then making veiled threats about how he doesn’t like to share, stealing and destroying her property, initiates sexual encounters with her while she’s sleeping (no discussion of consent, by the way), and, solely to get a reaction from her, tells her she’s a cold, manipulative bitch and says he slept with someone else. None of those things are okay. None of them have a place in a trusting relationship. None of these things are “hot” or “sexy” and none of them are excused or justified by the character’s pitiful backstory. The “messed up bad boy” trope is not a blanket cover for justifying possessive, borderline abusive traits of a relationship. I don’t care how good the sex is (and really, you can read better stuff on Archive of our Own). Telling a woman, after you’ve tricked her into going on a date with you, that if “you try to leave, I’ll tackle you”, is not acceptable. The fact that we continue to normalise such things as romantic terrifies me. At the end of the day, “On Dublin Street” is nothing new. It’s derivative, sloppily written, poorly plotted, dull, full of women shaming, thinly veiled elitism, and the alpha jerk dynamic that we’ve become sadly all too used to in the genre. If the publisher hopes to make a quick buck from this then good luck to them, and hopefully they’ll forget it as quickly as I did. It’s awful, but luckily entirely frivolous and easy to push from your mind. We must take these small pleasures where we can.1/5. My thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC.