Review of Thrust by Rachel Spangler
Women with swords, do I need to say more? Probably not but I do have a lot to say about this book. I think Thrust was written for me. I love sports romances, any sports, even sports I don’t know (read my review of Catch and Cradle for my thoughts on Lacrosse). But fencing? Probably my favourite.
At thirteen, Jess is already a fencing prodigy. She’s also queer and has the biggest crush on her eighteen-year-old team captain Lauren. Lauren is not only brilliant, she’s also kind, and doesn’t tease or make fun of the younger athlete when she tries to kiss her. She lets her down ever so gently and even agrees to go out on a date with her in the future, when Jess is on her first run to the Olympics. Ten years later, Jess comes back to Buffalo a couple of months before the Tokyo Olympics and the chemistry between them, now that they’re women and not a child and a young adult anymore, is stronger than ever. Palpable in every word, every look, every breath. The connection, the inevitability only gets more obvious when Jess convinces Lauren to coach her until she has to leave for Japan.
My child took fencing classes for a few years. I have a lot of reasons to be proud of her, from who she is to various achievements over the years. But there’s something special, a different taste of sort to the pride of seeing your child take their mask off after a hard-won point, there’s beauty in the sweat sticking their hair to their face, the breathlessness, the look of determination. Like all sports, fencing is demanding, it takes discipline and will, but it’s also graceful, almost ethereal despite the undeniable strength and sometimes brutal effort. Can you tell fencing is one of my favourite sports to watch? In that regard, the final scenes before the epilogue (yes, there’s an epilogue) are pure joy. Because if a child’s sweaty face becomes a thing of beauty, can you imagine what it must feel like when it’s the woman you love on the strip?
The reasons for which characters refuse to give in to the attraction often feel artificial to me, contrived. That’s not the case here at all. On the contrary, they have a completely valid reason: Jess needs to focus on the Olympics and Lauren doesn’t want anything that could happen between them to interfere. To quote Jess, “I’m focusing on the steak and not the peas”: Olympics first, romance second.
What makes it even more plausible is that it’s a temporary reason. They’re not taking chastity vows with no real hope of respecting them. Resisting for a couple of months should be manageable, right? Yeah, think again. I have to say, I admire their sense of ethic. That said, how many athletes marry their coach? Then again, in their case, the wariness makes total sense. All the more so as trauma in Lauren’s past has taught her to protect herself, to avoid opening herself up.
I love Lauren. I love both MCs, really, but Lauren is the one my heart went for. I love that she can disagree yet understand and vice versa. Sometimes I fall in love with characters, but in this book, I fell in love with the way Jess loves Lauren, the way she sees her, all of her. And my heart broke for Lauren, for all the times she couldn’t see herself in the same way.
It’s not news but man, Rachel Spangler writes chemistry so well. Sure, this book is about fencing, it’s about training, it’s about the Olympics. But the story it tells is one of chemistry. The first kiss is sweet, the second one is a revelation, the third one is oh so hot. I’m not even going to go into the sex scenes. Read the book.
Among the secondary characters, I’ll mention three, starting with the best friends: Kristie, Lauren’s best friend, is the best friend I’d want. She’s inappropriate and supportive and a breath of fresh air. Haley is Jess’s teammate but also her competition, which doesn’t always make being supportive easy. At first, I wasn’t going to mention the last one, Enrico, the owner of the club where Jess and Lauren met and where Lauren coaches now. But who would have thought he’d be the one to make me cry? Not just once but twice? The character turns out to have a lot more depth than it seems in the beginning.
As I wrote above, I love sports romance novels so much. Sports and food. They’re the two topics that imply passion as well as, for the former, intensity and, for the latter, sensuality. In real life, music can evoke strong emotions too, or arts or movies or so many other things. But it’s more difficult to imagine music you’ve never heard, or a painting you’ve never seen. Imagining food made with ingredients you’ve come across or the excitement of a close game comes more naturally, at least to me. When you add that intensity, that sensuality to romance, things can get explosive. Like in Thrust. When I reviewed Modern English a few months ago, I wrote that it was probably my new favourite book by Spangler. Not anymore.