Syncopation: Review and Giveaway
m/m, bisexual, pansexual, aromantic, BDSM
There’s one overarching question to ask when an author pens a rock star book: Can they describe music well? The answer here is yes:
“Domino started, ripping out a low chord and working it upward. Bathed in red light, with his spiked hair, leather pants, and tattooed glory, he looked entirely a rock god. The crowd nearest to the stage cheered and clapped. Then Mish joined in. A sultry and low bass line, blending in with Domino’s jamming, lights shining on her now, too. Their combined notes screamed through the air and floated high, then dropped down and faded as the crowd got louder.”
Syncopation avoids lots of things I don’t like about some m/m books: It has great women characters, and the first-person male narrators feel like actual men, rather than flimsy fantasies of men. Zavier and Ray both had "hard" narrative voices that I find are rare but enjoyable in romances (lots of swearing, not particularly sentimental, etc.).
True fact: When I read this book the first time through, I skipped all of the sex scenes, because I read it at work and felt icky reading smut in the office. I still loved it. There’s so much more to this book than the sex scenes (although those are sizzling and wonderfully written as well). Let’s start with the prose quality. Here’s a description from the first chapter that made me, someone new to Anna Zabo’s work, sit up and take notice:
“Ray had taken that mostly empty bottle of Jack and thrown it at the wall behind Kevin. Felt so good, the crash and splash, the shimmer as glass and golden liquid burst against the concrete wall. Like razor-edged confetti.”
Razor-edged confetti. A+ prose right there.
There’s also the characters’ intricate backstories and chemistry, masterfully. Ray, Dom, and Zavier have a lot of history with each other, and Zabo manages to convey this without over-explaining or dragging us into flashbacks. This book is a great writing lesson.
I loved the band so much that I would have read this book even if it had had no love story. The antagonist of the book was weak and poorly-developed, a caricatural archetype I think the romance genre is slowly growing out of but hasn’t fully left behind. I wish the silly band manager hadn’t been in the book at all; Ray’s self-doubt and musical drive could have propelled the band drama on its own, without a little cartoon villain forcing a predictable subplot.
I also feel kind of meh about the aromantic representation. Since certain events in m/m, I’ve decided to write fully honest reviews even if it seems to go against what other people are saying. Zavier identifies as aromantic, and every time he thinks about romantic love, he ties it to Western, consumerist concepts of romantic gestures. For example:
“[A past partner had] expected wine and flowers and a long-term commitment.”
“He wasn’t ever going to fall in love or go out on dates or send him heart-shaped boxes of chocolates…”
“‘He would have showered you with gifts and flowers.’
‘You know exactly how much that means to me.” Not a damn thing. He didn’t comprehend that kind of love—or the trappings of it. So much of romance seemed downright silly.”
“But his aromanticism? That had been harder to find words to describe. He’d never particularly understood the trappings of romance, from the diamond engagement commercials to why people found giving flowers some holy romantic gesture.”
His definition of romance is so narrow and childish that I couldn’t stop myself from rolling my eyes. Lots of people would be aromantic if they defined romance as two people feeding each other cotton candy at a carnival. And in the end, the way he feels about Ray sounds a whole lot like romance to me: A person who fulfills more of your needs than a platonic friend or a one night stand could; a person who you care about and are willing to make sacrifices for. I don’t know if the publisher pressured Anna Zabo to make Zavier and Ray’s relationship seem as mainstream as possible while still tacking on the label “aromantic,” but I’m suspicious. It’s pretty easy for arophobic people to just pretend Zavier isn’t aromantic, and while that might be more marketable, I’m not down with that.
It says a lot that I have critiques regarding the book but still thoroughly enjoyed it. I read it in a day, and I’ll absolutely read the next book in the series (I really want a Mish f/f, but I doubt I’ll get it. I can always hope.). I haven’t enjoyed a band book so much since Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps. Syncopation is highly recommended.