Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James | Rating: ★★★☆☆ (2.5)
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit: I was not a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey and the entire romance that followed. But the problem with me is, even if I wasn’t a fan of a series I [almost] always convince myself to read through the entire set of books (in this case, the trilogy and an upcoming retelling of the first story from Christian’s POV) because I always long to know how it ends even if I’m not particularly attached to the characters. In the case of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, it was like watching something so horrible that I couldn’t look away.
I found myself picking up Fifty Shades Darker with very little expectations and read the novel here and there in the weeks that followed. It wasn’t something I wanted to read in one sitting, mainly because it didn’t intrigue me enough. I suppose me reading this installment and sticking with the series so far is more curiosity than desire. And while Fifty Shades Darker was by no means a good novel, it certainly was an improvement to the previous installment.
We saw the romance between Christian Grey and Anastasia fizzle out quicker than either had planned by the final pages of Fifty Shades of Grey. After Ana, our narrator, decides she deserves better than what her lover deserves and makes a quick exit; leaving a crushed Christian in the background after finally deciding she had enough of our dark love interests self proclaimed ‘kinky fuckery’ – just as quickly as this twisted love story formed, it seemed to fall to dust.
At this point, in our timeline, the divide between its audience is right down the middle. I cheered on Anastasia for attempting to leave this toxic relationship she’d found herself in while others cried out in anguish to seeing their beloved couple fall apart. Which I get, regardless of how I feel about the franchise itself. No one ever wants to see their favorite fictional relationship fall apart.
Anastasia, though irritating at times, is genuinely a sweet and strong woman who grows in many ways while compared to the start; innocent and naive but not so much to the point where she doesn’t realize this isn’t the right fit for her for the time being. I applaud her for having left the moment she felt more uncomfortable and confused than all the good she’d felt.
In that moment, Anastasia becomes something far more likeable than she had been at the start of the novel and throughout the duration of round one of her relationship with Christian Grey. Still, he has some sort of hold on her that is dark, mysterious and often intriguing to her as well as fans of this trilogy. It’s obvious before you even begin Fifty Shades Darker that both are extremely devastated by their unexpected romance and breakup, so much that you cannot help but to cringe over how dependent they had gotten towards one another in such a short amount of time.
Which sets the proper tone for the audience, for the fans, to shout about how much they are meant to be.
While I do not condone this relationship in the least, Anastasia and Christian are obviously distressed beyond belief over the end of their relationship. You feel almost sympathetic towards the two of them. Although their breakup doesn’t last long, they are both very mopey and the absolute definition of pining over one another. It’s like the two are no longer adults, but teenagers sulking for each other; which is rather normal for an all consuming relationship taking a break.
I guess you could say that E.L. James creates something more realistic with their emotions once they are apart but sadly, to be expected, quickly throws them back together because of their unhealthy desire to constantly be with each other and a promise that this time they will find ways to make it work, to compromise with each other to fulfill their needs. I get it – everyone enjoys a good love story, extra points for the soap opera dramatics but I just can’t get past some elements of their relationship.
And by some I mean most.
That being said, Fifty Shades Darker seems to have more of a plot flow going to it than the previous book. There has been some major adjustments on both of the main pairings part to make their so-called romance work. And while some changes are made, a lot of things still stay the same in ways that make me sigh and cringe and shake my head. It’s by no means an engaging OMG, make readers think, sorta novel (and so it shouldn’t be) but it isn’t as stiff and boring as the other; all the while maintaining that smut that fans of James’ trilogy salivate for.
As its title leads you to suggest, it is darker than Grey and shockingly this isn’t always because of the relationship that Ana and Christian pursue with one another. We find out quite a bit more about Christian’s life before he was adopted, the previous relationship he held with ‘Mrs. Robinson’ (Elena) as well as the reappearance of a very ill, very upsetting young woman named Leila who was once upon a time one of Christian’s submissive and the addition of Anastasia’s very creepy, lawsuit waiting to happen boss.
The unthinkable happens twice in a whirlwind of soap opera dramatics. One involving a gun, the obviously ill Leila and another potential tragedy strikes the moment Christian’s beloved Charlie Tango goes missing. It’s like watching a soap opera unfold in all the cringe worthy ways that make soap operas equal parts intriguing and uncomfortable.
Disturbingly, as well, we learn just why Christian is attracted to women with a certain appearance and just how fucked up he really is. I mean no harm by calling him fucked up. There’s a reason why he stated he is fifty shades of fucked up, and we dive deeper into the history of Christian Grey and what makes him tick.
Readers get to see a glimpses of a different side to Christian Grey as well in the downtime between plots; vulnerable and scared and while it fleshes him out more, there are many things about him as a romantic lead that make my skin crawl. And more importantly, we see a different side to Anastasia as well – she certainly stands up for herself more, puts her foot down often, in this one and that’s rather nice to see. If there’s one thing that improves this series, saves it from itself, it is how much she learns to grow.
Overall Fifty Shades Darker is much better than the first book and while it’s not my favorite read, at least this one was more intriguing. This trilogy still isn’t my cup of tea and frankly sounded better as a twisted fan fiction. Something about it flows awkwardly to me as a story, as a universe, of its own and while I can’t say I’ll be reading this one again after finishing the remainder of the trilogy I can see why it’s as popular as it is because of the sex, the lies, the drama and the easy way it flows.