Make You Burn
Before starting this Megan Crane’s Make You Burn, I suspected that I didn’t like motorcycle club romances. Now that I’ve finished it, I know for sure that I don’t, because if I did, this is a book I would love.
Sophie Lombard’s father – ‘Priest’ – led New Orleans’s Deacons of Bourbon Street motorcycle club, but despite not being allowed any role in the club, Sophie’s been running the businesses that let the club go legit. Now, Priest is dead, and four men he sent away under questionable circumstances are coming back to the city to take over the club. First is Ajax, the former vice-president, who is surprised to discover that the off-limits daughter of his club president is the woman in nipple pasties and gold booty shorts that he lusted after on his bike ride back into town.
Ajax appeals to Sophie, too, in a wildly chemical way that is a problem for a woman who wants out of club life – or at least is telling herself she does. Her love of a good bike, her comfort with club rules and rituals, and her own dedication to the club’s Bourbon Street territory make her exit not as natural as she’d like it to be, even before her lust for Ajax comes into play. Their chemistry is terrific, and Crane amps up the tension by incorporating Sophie and Ajax’s power struggle into their bedroom lives as well. Ajax is a very aggressive, take-charge, confident alpha hero and Sophie a woman refusing to be his doormat. These intimate, raw sex scenes are definitely the strongest part of the book.
For a book that was written to be sexually explicit and deal with motorcycle tropes, Make You Burn has an unexpectedly touching exploration of grief, as Sophie and Ajax work through the sudden loss of a father or father figure. Knowing what a motorcycle accident can do to a body, Sophie freezes at going to the morgue to make the identification, and Ajax performs that task for her. It’s moments like these which highlight how a ‘protector’ alpha male can be more than just a chest-thumping caveman.
But yeah, there’s a lot of chest-thumping. This book taught me that for me, at least, the motorcycle club ‘thing’ doesn’t sit well. Club culture misogyny is a huge reason for that. Despite running the businesses, Sophie isn’t even allowed in the bar office, and Priest’s will is predictably devastating (and Ajax’s reaction is disappointing). Ajax criticizes Sophie for having the nerve to speak an opinion about club business in front of other men. There are throwaway groupies giving pathetic blowjobs to bikers watching TV while Sophie minds her manners sitting at another club’s bar. Sophie will always come second to the club for Ajax, and while that seems to be okay with her, it wasn’t what I wanted in a romantic ending.
Even if you want hypermasculine alpha heroes, the motorcycle club manifestation of it is kind of… juvenile? Spies, SEALs, knights, etc. have missions beyond starting fights and making a lot of noise in residential areas. The Deacons have a clubhouse, and hazing rituals, and drinking, and turf, and honestly I liked Ajax less every time the author reminded me that the pinnacle of his purpose in life was loyalty to an overgrown frat. I couldn’t help thinking he’d seem rather pathetic next to, say, a doctor or a teacher. That being said, I acknowledge that it’s not the book’s fault that I ended up in a setting that doesn’t work for me.
I do think it’s legitimate to complain that the novel leaves tons of loose ends for the other books in the series. We don’t learn what happened to Priest, or what’s going to happen with the rival club. I don’t mind a book where the core arc is the characters’ relationship, but starting and then not concluding these other threads was frustrating.
Although she’s been writing for years, Megan Crane is a new-to-me author. I’m delighted that she has a backlist I can get into, and even more delighted that the rest of her books aren’t all about motorcycles!