Book Reviews

Review: Ensnared by Rita Stradling

While I greatly enjoyed the artificial intelligence, the ‘villain’, and the evolution of the retelling in Ensnared, the fundamental premise of their relationship kept me from connecting with their romance.

Summary

When Alainn’s father agrees to build Rose, Alainn is already wary. After Rose is complete, it is abundantly clear that she is unfit to suit the specifications of the man who commissioned her, an elusive Mr. Garbhan. Stuck in an impossible situation, Alainn volunteers to replace Rose in Mr. Garbhan’s tower and save her father from prison. However, what Alainn finds is not what she expects and what she uncovers is a plot that not only involves the people she loves, but the future of their society as well.

Review

Let’s start with the positives shall we? In terms of this story as a retelling, I loved that Ensnared is a departure from the original. It not only take the elements of Beauty and the Beast and twists them, but it evolves them, not only into the future, but also in every aspect. For example, Alainn in the original is willing to sacrifice for her father, but in the retelling, not only does that character trait remain, but Alainn herself has a much more complicated backstory. Her relationship with her father is more convoluted instead tied up with guilt and blame. Because of that, I found that Alainn was one of my favorite characters, second to the ‘villain’ of course, due to the unraveling of her past.

My Fave Character

That brings me to my favorite character, the ‘villain’. There is little I can say here that would not give away the plot. I loved the evolution of the ‘villains’ storyline. I put villain into quotations, because one of the strongest features of that character, is the debate about whether or not they are, indeed, a villain. Those with questionable morals, perhaps motivated by a desire to do good, are my absolute favorite. Because of this, and the sneaky convoluted way their plot is revealed to us, is why I enjoyed that character the most.

Artificial Intelligence and Robots

Robots and artificial intelligence are a huge part of this story. The whole premise is that Alainn must masquerade as a robot. The entire discussion surrounding this aspect was incredibly fascinating. It became more so, when the question of nature versus nurture was brought up. There is one programmer who believes that robots cannot do ‘evil’, because they are much like a toaster. Another brings up that robots have far more advanced programming and have a ‘choice’ to do evil, unlike a toaster. Then they discuss, only for a mere second unfortunately, whether by nature robots are capable of those actions, or if by nurture and their surrounding human influence, they become capable. Incredibly interesting point, in my opinion.

Additionally, the artificial intelligence characters and robots were among my favorite characters. Even though they were robots, they gained such a life of their own. Rose, the robot Alainn is taking the place of, immediately took on a personality of her own and only became more fascinating as the story continues. That was the way all of my relationships with the robots were. Whether they had human characteristics or motivations, they were lifelike and compelling in a way that I found most of Alainn’s family not to be. It was extremely hard for me to empathize with her father because of his indecisiveness. Additionally, until I found out more about their family history, I really did not like her brother (although this changed once their pasts are revealed).

Drawbacks

Now, I do have two major complaints. Firstly, their discussion of mental illness. Lorccan, the millionaire who has commissioned the robot, suffers from hypochondria. He is never actually diagnosed as such, but he refuses to leave the house because he is afraid of ‘contamination’ from the outside world. What strikes me the wrong way, is that this is never dealt with and the explanation for it is quite sinister.

But to me it feels like a plot device, an explanation for his reclusiveness and scars and that does not sit well with me. It would have been much better, if, by the end, there was a discussion of it. Additionally, he calls other people suffering from hypochondria ‘insane’ which merely damages the stigma surrounding mental health. (I do not want to spoil the plot, so I will not comment on their actions here, but I do feel that there needed to be more intervention sooner and merely displays the dangers of transferring your own fears to your children).

The Main Relationship

What impacts the plot entirely are my feelings regarding their relationship: Alainn and Lorccan. It gave me all sorts of strange feelings. First of all, I think from the early onset you can see, knowing the story it is retelling, that there will be a romance between them. Lorccan thinks that she is a robot, even though I think Alainn does an awful job of concealing this. While I have nothing against relations with a robot, from their conversations you can see that it’s not accepted by society. So even though we’re in the future, where robots are everywhere, even robot policemen, relations with robots are still taboo.

But it’s not even the nature of their relationship, robot and human, it’s the premise. First off, Alainn can only wear dresses around the house and that seems, to me, like sexualization of the robot. Especially since Alainn is not there for cleaning, but for company. Since Lorccan has never been outside, he is not aware of how to interact with humans or society conventions, like dinners. So Alainn is more or less there, as a robot, to teach him how to interact with humans. If that wasn’t backwards enough, she definitely seems like a training ground, a tester, and because of that, their relationship power dynamics seems unequal.

Essentially that is what it is. Lorccan, at any time, can have her removed or decommissioned. He can take all of the knowledge he has learned and use it however he wants. By not celebrating their relationship, it feels very much to me like the woman in the attic trope (she seems hidden away, a disposable secret of his). All in all, their relationship felt unequal while he believes that she is a robot.

In Conclusion,

In the end, I enjoyed reading this from an artificial intelligence stand point, and that area of the plot was increasingly interesting. But from a relationship perspective, I could not really buy into it. It felt unsettling and if there is going to be a relationship between them, I wanted it to be transparent and more equal (not that I’ve really read a story like this, because, some would argue, there is a fundamental inequality that exists there, but I’ll leave that discussion for later).

You can pick up Ensnared on Amazon(US) or add it to Goodreads.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.

Discussion

What’s your favorite robot?

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2 thoughts on “Review: Ensnared by Rita Stradling

  1. Hmm. I have this from NetGalley too (I’m so behind, again…) but the reviews I’ve seen have been underwhelming so far. Sigh. I was hopng for a really cool new take on the fairytale.

    1. Yeah I think the main relationship just sits a little wrong with me. I did enjoy some aspects, but the overall impression I was left with was underwhelming.

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