It’s really not the men on the covers that catch my eye–overly defined muscles gross me out sometimes…most times–it’s the composition and the atmosphere. For book 1, I liked the lighting and the fact that the cover reminded me of a character poster for an ensemble superhero flick. If I take special note of the typography, then it leans more in the direction of a modern take on old school mythology, like Immortals. The book 2 cover didn’t garner the same reaction. It seems more like a bootleg version.
Anyway, More than Friends is the story of Eric and Clint. Clint was raised to be a soldier and Eric was raised to be himself. For the past three years, from high school to university, turning their duet into a trio was Clint’s on again off again girlfriend, Claire. Eric and Claire have somehow worked out a timeshare with Clint. She plays the girlfriend and the damsel in distress and when she’s done, she return hims to Eric who takes on the role of best friend and Clint’s caretaker and occasional partner in crime. All that changes when Clint returns from a year away in ROTC.
After a night of partying, Claire escorts Clint to Eric’s dorm room for him to take over. When Eric goes to sleep, Clint is sleeping off the drink on the place Eric set up for him on the floor next to his bed, but when he wakes Clint is in his bed, wrapped around him, and Claire’s taking pictures. Once Claire leaves after an unexpected threat from Eric, Clint stops pretending that he’s asleep and steers Eric into a conversation he never saw coming.
Sans his usual joking and bravado, Clint lays out their story for Eric: They’ve been friends since their early teens and have most likely been in love with each other for just as long. Clint sees no reason why they should deny it and he’s serious about making it happen, making them a thing.
It comes as something of a shock to Eric because he never realized that either of them were gay or bi. Though, after a brief deliberation, he was completely on-board.
Now all this seems like a reasonably decent set up for a friends to lovers story, but rather than run with it, Jerry Cole advanced sometimes disappointingly, but most often awkwardly to the end. For starters, Claire is a mess and her characterization does not speak well of Cole’s opinion of women in general or more specifically, Cole’s views on their function in M/M fiction. For the greater part of book 1, Claire is the only female. I certainly do not believe that women in fiction have to fill the innocuous role of Strong Female Character, because that pigeonhole isn’t really doing anything for representation or diversity. Women are human, so they can falter and fail. They can be corrupt and heartless. Aimless, stupid, petty, catty, manipulative, self-serving, and even, to their very core, irredeemably evil. But when that characterization is the only or primary female representation in a story, it doesn’t play off so well. Even less so in M/M fiction. There is no counterpoint.
On the coattails of that is how the story’s non-female characters view women. Eric was worrying about something and he brings himself back to sanity by saying, “God I’m turning into a chick.” Why is worrying about the state of your relationship something only a chick would do? I tried to figure out whether or not these depictions of womanhood were intentional or not. I didn’t settle on much until I reached the second book.
Next is Cole’s choice of wording. Some books are just raunchy, smut-filled escapades and some are just cheesier than Wisconsin and Europe combined, but you can always tell these apart from the more plot- or character-driven stories the same way you can tell the difference between an intro for a porn flick and that of a non-porn flick. The ability to tell these apart sets up your expectation for customary phrasing. So it’s always, for me at least, somewhat distracting when I encounter things like come spelled cum, and lines like “his semi-hard joystick”, “slowly, I slide my pole deep inside his body”, “one-eyed monster”, or “swollen johnson” in what is an otherwise plot-driven drama.
Following is Cole’s inconsistent choice of point of view. Abruptly in chapter 6, the pov changed from third-person to first-person. That was annoying. I figured, maybe that sort of slipped by in editing. It was jarring, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t get over. Well, I settled to soon because it returned to third-person in chapter 11, switched again in chapter 18, back again in chapter 19, and then again from chapter 20 until the end. Why? If there was a pattern, a rhyme or reason, I totally missed it.
And finally–not that my points are exhaustive or anything–the latter half of the book came full circle, proving to me, once again, that Cole is not a fan of women, or at least women in M/M fiction. We get a bit of victim-blaming and that whole I’m-not-like-other-girls thing also makes an appearance. Earlier in the story, after Claire gets drunk at a party, she falls in some guy’s lap. He helps her up and you kind of get this feeling that his courtesies are misleading. He sees her off and then she gets followed by some other guy and she ends up walking into a store to get away from him. The second guy won’t let up and in swoops the first guy to play boyfriend and shoo away the pest. Turns out the first guy, Ali, is actually a pretty decent human being and isn’t up to anything funny.
He walks her back to her dorm and on the way she catches their reflection and is made uncomfortable by the sight. Here’s a guy treating her like “a nice young lady” and here she sees herself looking like a broad. Next time we see Claire, she’s changed the way she dresses and changed her hair because she’s tired of looking like an easy woman and wants to look like “a nice young lady.” Obviously so that she doesn’t look out of place next to Ali. I’m going to avoid sinking into a terrible mood by letting you all fill in the blanks on what I have to say about such a gross characterization. Just know that I really hate that.
Now, the story isn’t completely horrible; in more capable, less narrow-minded hands, it could be really good. That said, there was one part that I was particularly fond of. Clint and Eric broke up and I can’t remember precisely how at this point–it was something that was not at all easy to come back from–but it isn’t integral to what I’m getting to. So, at the end of chapter 17, Clint approaches Eric in the library where he works and corners him. He kisses Eric and they exchange words in which Clint says that he misses him and then Eric calls Clint out on his betrayal and Clint acknowledges it and then Eric says that he misses him too. More kissing and then the chapter ends.
Because I am me, I am always in the mood for people being put in their place; I was suspicious and guessing at the next scene. I figured, Eric would allow Clint to kiss him and then he’d drop down to give Clint a blowjob, but I didn’t think the scene would end the way I really wanted it to. I thought to myself, you know what would be great? If the blowjob happened and Eric swallowed and then they traded places and then Eric came all over Clint’s face and then ditched him. That’s exactly how I would write it, because that level of humiliation was the least that he deserved. And that’s exactly what happened! Goodness, I laughed so hard.