I just finished reading the second book in the Bekka Cooper series:
It was a fun, fast read, as we've all come to expect from Pierce. I love Bekka's character, the insight into old Tortall (and into George Cooper's family!), and the supporting cast was great, especially Goodwin and Achoo.
My one big complaint is one that I've always had about Pierce, ever since I started reading her way back in 7th grade. Pierce seems to have this uncontrollable urge to throw at least ONE gratuitous Birth Control reference into every book, and make sure that her heroines come across as sexually 'liberated.'
The problem is, these encounters rarely advance the plot. Why on EARTH did Alanna need to sleep with Liam? (Jonathon I can kind of see, as sort of an ancient form of sexual harassment...). Why do all the girls run out and get magical 100% effective birth control the moment they hit adolescence? It was so jarringly obvious when I was in Jr. High that one of my friends, who loved the series, took to calling Alanna the "Magical whore!"
Meanwhile, the birth control/sex is just a tangent to the plot. The actual act never changes the characters' relationship to each other, and after the story moves on, the characters just 'get over' any disappointment or hurt feelings and agree to be friends.
So, in Pierce's world, pre-marital sex is always physically and psychologically hygienic. It's healthy and normal. Avoiding it is a sign of instability.
BUT --if that really IS how her characters view sex, why include it at all? It effects the story no more than a quick trip to the restroom, or an uninteresting, routine meal.
As far as I can tell, Pierce, who is otherwise an EXCELLENT writer---seriously, I love her stuff, which is why I still devour her new books, twenty years later, also has an agenda. She wants to push her view of sexual relations onto her characters and readers, even when it's got nothing to do with the story. And, as with any authorial agenda, it ends up taking away from the book.
Most young girls don't view sex through a hygienic lens--they view it through a romantic one. And teens who have sex don't just move on like nothing happened. There are emotional and physical consequences, even when no one gets pregnant. And since, in this world at least, there is no "Magic Birth control," some girls DO end up pregnant, even the responsible hygienic ones.
Since Pierce's view of sex is so out of step with her readers, I think it ends up taking us out of the story for a moment. It's like your gym teacher popped up in the middle of Top Gun to give you a lecture on Tom Cruise and Kelly McGinnis's precautions. (Yes, at the age I started reading Pierce, I also swooned over Maverick.... honestly, didn't we all?)
I know at this point in her career, she's unlikely to change. And I still love her worlds, her characters, and her plots. So, like the teen I once was, I just roll my eyes at the scenes. But I wish they weren't there, so I could just drown in the stories......