It’s time for another Kpopalypse book review! Hang onto your hats as Kpopalypse dives into the heady world of self-published k-pop fanfiction!
Author: Jennie Bennett
Amazon CreateSpace, 188 pages, softcover, 202mm x 128mm
e-book ISBN: n/a
RRP: not specified
I’m always open to being sent items by blog readers, and books are good because they make my frequent public transport rides feel nice and short, plus if they are k-pop related, I will write reviews of them! Thanks to the kind caonima who sent me a copy of “Kidnapped Idol” and know that I’m always open to submissions of any type (just use the mailing address in the “about” section of my site, just don’t send anything that would bother a radio station secretary or it might not actually get to me). However, upon receiving “Kidnapped Idol” and looking at the back cover, I hesitated, as I wasn’t even completely sure that it was a k-pop related book at all:
I wondered if I had been sent a Chinese pop fanfiction by mistake. However I was reassured by the reader who sent me this that the book was billed as “a k-pop romance book” so I started reading anyway, and sure enough the k-pop link did reveal itself – just as well the author didn’t get the memo about the Chinese Hallyu ban. So, what’s “Kidnapped Idol” about?
The book starts with our Asian-American protagonist Jenica (I’m sure the similarity to the author’s name is just coincidence and not indicative of a self-insert ahem) and her friend Blain (these names, really) sightseeing at the Great Wall Of China when they should be at their dorms studying like mad, the first obvious clue that the author is a westerner writing about Asians and has no Asian heritage. Our two leading international student ladies get into a bit of trouble climbing too far or whatever and are rescued-ish from a not-really-that-big-a-deal-but-big-enough-to-fulfil-rescue-fantasy-requirements predicament by Woon, a mysterious young male figure who Jenica notices is very hot. Naturally, Jenica starts falling for Woon immediately purely based on his appearance, despite knowing absolutely nothing about him, which is a nice little analogy for every k-pop fan ever, isn’t it. Later on back at the dorm Jenica and Blain study up, not on their bookwork (heaven forbid) but on Woon himself and discover that he was in a k-pop group called Speeders (presumably the author hasn’t heard of Speed, or maybe she has and “Woon” is a knowing nod to Speed’s Taewoon?) but has now signed a new solo deal with a sinister Chinese idol agency called C-Star. Then Jenica by chance sees Woon again, this time being chased by some thug guys and decides to… hey, wait – isn’t this supposed to be a romance novel? The first interesting revelation about “Kidnapped Idol” is that despite the constant drooling over Woon’s face/eyes/chest/abs/arms/shoulders/[insert random body part here] the book follows an arc which has much more in common with the “romantic action” genre than the strict romance genre:
Typical romance novel arc: girl meets boy > girl crushes on boy because he’s hot even though she also realises he’s a dickhead > girl gets to know boy deep down and he’s really alright underneath the 57 layers of fuckwit > shit looks like it’s about to happen between them but then it doesn’t for some trivial bullshit reasons > eventually everyone changes their smelly tampons and everything is okay
Typical romantic action novel arc: girl meets boy > boy saves girl from mildly dangerous situation > deep secrets revealed > girl returns the favour and saves boy from much more dangerous situation, usually by doing something blundering and stupid that just happens to work out anyway > deeper secrets revealed > getting to know the other person better in a more lighthearted way interlude, with optional romance/sex > now completely emotionally invested in each other, the “big baddies” are tackled, partial success but ultimately failure > consequences of failure administered > recoup and agonising heart-wrenching moment that galvanises the main characters’ determination to win at all costs > big baddies confronted again this time successfully > implied romance/sex/good fortune forever after as a reward for defeating the big evil and restoring the balance of the universe
As a result of following the “romantic action arc”, “Kidnapped Idol” isn’t really a romance novel in the traditional sense. There’s no three-way jealous spat between Blair, Jenica and Woon that you would typically expect to see in a romance novel, instead everyone is all buddy-buddy looking out for each other through good times and bad times, like in an action story, even when it’s time for romance. There’s no minor misunderstanding between the two leading characters that gets blown out of all proportion and takes half the fucking book to clear up, instead people just get kidnapped and chased around. The book still feels like a pure romance novel to some degree anyway just because of the sheer frequency of Jenica’s infatuated drooling (and it is frequent), but it’s not quite the syrupy mush that one would probably expect from reading the promotional blurb and observing the font and graphic design choices. Whether that’s a strength or not is of course pretty subjective, after all it’s just swapping out one fairly cliched template for another, but personally I enjoyed that the romance was kept fairly superficial and free of the usual Mills & Boon backstabbing skullduggery-by-numbers.
This brings us to our second point which is the superficiality in general – the book doesn’t really get very in-depth with… well, anything, not even the k-pop romance that you presumably bought the book for. This is no doubt partly due to the book’s length, 188 smallish pages of fairly large and widely-spaced text really isn’t that much, I spent less than two hours reading it cover to cover and I’m no speed-reader. The author is clearly trying to cram a lot of story content into those pages, and it comes at the expense of a fair bit of descriptive detail. In some ways this is an asset, as it means that the book is quite fast-moving and gets to the point quickly, and there’s certainly something to be said for not getting too bogged down in needless descriptive bullshit. However it’s also possible to be too brief, and there are times when certain story details become somewhat glossed over as a result. A few times I had to backtrack through the text to double check that I hadn’t missed something because the story seemed to have jumped a step ahead of where the reader was at. I actually had to reread a section three times over because Jenica was spazzing about having kissed Woon’s chest for the first time and I kept missing the part where it had happened. Not to say that it wasn’t there, but usually a moment like that gets a bit more text devoted to it. At one point in the book a character is even arrested, they go to the lock up and have their one phone-a-friend, and I’m thinking “oh boy, they’re really fucked now”… and then they just get to go home straight away, like, hey no big deal. Good to know that getting arrested in fun-loving China is a pretty chilled-out affair, but a few scene-setting details here and there about the process they underwent wouldn’t have hurt. Probably the biggest punch in the guts here though is for the k-pop fans, as k-pop is really just an incidental and superficial detail in this story much like everything else is, and it’s the thing that you as a k-pop loving reader are probably going to be itching for the author to give you some details about. There’s no real exploration of anything k-pop related, so if you’re hoping for a fiction that goes deep inside the machinations of a big k-pop agency or the mind of a fangirl, then forget it. The bad guys from the big, bad agency are certainly bad, but they could be any bad guys from anywhere, and behave in much the same way as cookie-cutter James Bond villains. Your mileage here will vary – whether this bothers you will depend a lot on what sort of expectations you might have of k-pop related fiction. If you want a brisk story that’s sort of k-pop related with some quick drooling at man-meat and a bit of female camaraderie, this book delivers. If you’re looking for a wild multi-dimensional ride into the inner workings of the hidden k-pop machine, look elsewhere, this book isn’t for you.
Let’s be completely fair however – it would be silly to expect anything too deep from this. “Kidnapped Idol” started life as a k-pop fanfiction and it shows in the writing style, which is fine. It’s fairly obvious that the author doesn’t have any kind of professional writing background before starting her k-pop novel gig but is just doing it because she loves to write. This might bother some people but for me that’s a big positive, and it’s reflected in the text which is fairly “unschooled”. There’s a few proofing errors (example: “Mandarins” with a capital when talking about the fruit, oops) and general grammatical fuck-ups that probably aren’t conscious but do still serve to position the reader in the head of the main character. I can relate because I do the same thing with my own writing, and write with flagrant disregard for grammar rules, albeit more consciously. Grammar was really just a way for the ruling classes to “lock off” language from the plebian heathen scum back in the day, so a bit of reclaiming is a good thing, and I’m all for people giving it a go with self-publishing especially if it’s k-pop related and doesn’t suck.
If it sounds like I’m being generally complimentary about this book, it’s because I am. It’s short and ditzy with no real content or depth but still breezy lighthearted fun, like AOA’s Jimin in a history class. It’s just a pity that the promise of “k-pop romance” is only very superficially delivered on both the “k-pop” and the “romance” fronts. I’m giving this book 2.5 AOA Jimins in history class out of 5:
But add an extra very devout AOA Jimin in history class if like me you’re not religious and you really appreciated that the author is religious but kept her fucking religion completely 100% out of the book at all times, not even dropping a subtle hint of god-bothering bullshit anywhere in its 188 pages until the acknowledgements at the very end, now that’s very much appreciated Jennie, good work.