Recently I started reading both the After series by Anna Todd and the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout at the same time. Initially, I was struck by a number of similarities in the tropes and story-lines followed, but where the After series became an obsession and I couldn’t put it down, the Lux series quickly became a disappointment and I struggled to finish it. It got me thinking… how did one get it so right while one got it so wrong?
First, a Warning About “After”
If you haven’t already read it, fair warning that “After” is a difficult story and deals with disturbing triggers of toxic relationships and emotional manipulation / abuse. I am a grown woman, with two young daughters and I would be very concerned if they were as obsessed with the book series as I was. It’s fine for me to be in love with the damaged boy that is Hardin Scott, but I come from it with an emotionally-mature and self-confident point of view. I would never encourage an impressionable young girl to read this and I can very much understand that for someone who went through that type of abuse, seeing glamourized in print is truly disgusting. It made me question writing this blog, but at the end of the day, I’m not responsible for everyone else’s emotional health and I truly enjoyed the series, so I am unapologetically supporting the crazy, wild and passionate love affair.
After vs. Lux – Story Overview (FYI – spoiler alert)
After is the story of Tessa, a university freshman, away from home for the first time in her life, who meets Hardin, a “rough-around-the-edges” boy. Throughout the series, we see their relationship fluctuate again and again from hot-and-steamy coming of age, to an unforgivable betrayal, to hateful, hurtful screaming matches, to pleading and pledges of redemption and back to hot-and steamy. Pretty much the entire series involves Tessa trying to break free from Hardin’s grasp, only to have him dig his claws into her and then break her heart and her spirit.
Lux is the story of Katy (who is frequently referred to as “Kat” or “Kitten”), who moves to a new town, which is, unbeknownst to her, inhabited by aliens. One of these aliens quickly befriends her and Katy inevitably falls in love with her best friend’s alien twin brother, Daemon. The story of the entire series revolves around Katy becoming a “hybrid”, and involves various forces and factions trying to contain them, use their mystical connection to their own purposes, and a war between alien / hybrid / human beings.
The Female Leads – Tessa vs. Katy
Tessa starts out just like almost any other YA heroine. She is a book-smart, organized “good girl”, innocent beyond anything you would expect of a first-year university student (I mean seriously? doesn’t anybody ever have sex with their high-school boyfriend or was that just me?). Tessa’s greatest qualities are that she loves so deeply that she can forgive just about anything and will do anything to help those she cares about and that she is resilient and somehow bounces back from the terrible, terrible hand life gives her at times. Tessa’s lesser qualities are that she is a doormat and repeatedly allows people to walk all over her and impose undue influence over her decisions. It starts with her mother, then Hardin, then her roommate, then her dad, then this guy she sort of sees in the middle. Tessa is never quite able to say “No” very convincingly. By the end of the series, Tessa’s world has basically imploded and although she goes on to make a life out of it, I would say that the foreshadowed concept that Hardin would “ruin” her is pretty on-point.
Katy pretty much stays status quo throughout the series. She’s very much portrayed as an average girl, just trying to do right by her mom, her man and her friends. She’s steadfast and consistent. Although she arguably becomes stronger throughout the series and certainly shows her own measure of resiliency, basically, she’s the same character at the end of the book series as she was at the beginning, just improved. Unfortunately, this makes Katy pretty forgettable.
The nod in this category does go to Lux, because although there’s not a ton of substance to Katy’s personality, at least she doesn’t throw everything away and at the end of the series, she is at least as well off as she was at the beginning, if not more powerful and stable.
The Male Lead – Hardin vs. Daemon
Anna Todd does a fabulous job of describing Hardin in a way that exudes sex, confidence and vulnerability – a potent cocktail indeed. Hardin is the prototypical contrast between that Uber-sexy, hot guy with all the right moves and lines and the broken, damaged boy who is needy, insecure and very, very vulnerable. He has clung to Tessa as his life-line and there are many times in the story where she is the only thing holding him afloat.
Daemon is portrayed as this sexy, powerful person… I say person, because the descriptions of him and his role in the Lux (alien) society suggest that he is a fully-mature, man while he also is a high-school student and falling in love for the first time… so it’s difficult to type either “Boy” or “man” when talking about him. Like Katy, Daemon is much more consistent a personality than his comparator. He is steady and stead-fast in his love for Katy, but he is not in any way “needy” or dependent on her.
I’m not sure which male lead has a more desirable personality, but for sure the nod goes to Hardin for the writer’s description of him and the many layers of his persona.
The Key Relationship
Tessa and Hardin are on-again / off-again so many times it’s enough to make you dizzy, but the very best parts of their relationship seem to be the in-between. I’ve always been a sucker for will-they / won’t-they (mostly when it ends up that they will) and this book series certainly delivers in that regard. Their relationship is smoking-hot, both in a literary way of describing their early encounters and Tessa’s introduction into various physical activities to the burning down of Hardin’s childhood home in a fit of anger. Is their relationship totally toxic and absolutely doomed? Yes… But something about them and their pure desire / need for each other just has me rooting for them all the more.
Katy and Daemon have a number of ups and downs in their relationship as well, as they fumble towards true love. But there’s a level of inevitability in this love story that makes it certain right from the beginning that these two will end up together. They take two steps forward and one step back for the entire series, but overall the conflicts between them quite frankly just become annoying, since they seem so petty in the overall scope of what they’re dealing with.
One of the interesting perspectives of reading the first book of each of these series at the same time was the parallels… Where both female leads were talking about what a jerk their male counter was and how what he had done was unforgivable and irreversible. But where Tessa’s complaints against Hardin seemed absolutely legitimate and warranted, Katy’s came of insincere and whiny. The only thing that Daemon did was be rude to her one time when she knocked on his door. One time… In the entire series… As far as I can see that’s the only thing he did to push her away and man, oh man, did he ever pay for that one. Hardin did so many terrible things to sabotage his relationship with Tessa.
In fairness, the Lux series has a lot more going on than the After series did in terms of dealing with alien / human / hybrid / origin beings, all of which are in conflict with each other and all leading up to a major battle over world supremacy. But in my reading, the core relationship is always key and the After series just truly captivated me more than the Lux series.
One of the parallel features of the first book in each series is the concept of an inappropriate “bet” wagered regarding affairs of the heart between the main characters.
In “After”, the final chapter (seriously, last chance spoiler alert), the “bet” is revealed that Hardin and his friends had a bet, as part of a game of Truth or Dare (of all crazy things), that he would take her virginity. It is a vulgar concept and truly horrifying, especially the details in the book (which aren’t divulged in the movie) about the “bloody sheets”… eeeeeewwwww!
In “Obsidian” (Lux #1), Daemon makes a bet with Katy that she would declare that she is “irrevocably in love” with him by New Years. Pretty tame and innocent stuff compared to the “After” bet. But this bet has two things working against it… 1. the “irrevocably in love” just SCREAMS “Twilight” to me, where I know the line is featured in the movie, even if I can’t quite remember if it’s word-for-word in the book. 2. It just doesn’t have the jaw-dropping, compelling “hand-me-over-the-next-book-in-the-series” drama to it.
Quotable Quotes and Cheesy Lines
The number 1, King of the Ring, terrible cheesy line comes from all the Lux novels, written possibly a thousand times through the series. And that is Daemon calling Katy “Kitten”… OMG! I get that it is sort of a term of endearment as kittens are cute and cuddly, but it is so demeaning… (although maybe not as demeaning as betting to take someone’s virginity – just sayin’). But it grated on my soul time and time again throughout the entire series… I almost giggled every time I saw it and if I had liked Katy as a main character any more than I did or if I had wanted to see her develop into a strong, independent woman, I would have been horrified.
The second cheesiest thing in the first instalment of Lux was Daemon bringing Katy a rose to school… I get that this is a pretty high school calibre move (and maybe I would have swooned over a guy doing it in high school if I could ever stop my cheeks from flaming in embarrassment). But Katy’s response “A fucking rose? really?” killed me…
The last cheese-worthy quote from Obsidian also comes from our heroine, Katy: “Daemon had to prove his feelings for me were real and he did… finally. He hadn’t been the nicest person when we first met and he had to really make up for that. Momma didn’t raise a pushover”… Once again, this had me screaming into my e-reader that he was slightly rude answering the door to a stranger… get over it!
On the other hand, as much as After did have some pretty lame foundations, two quotes I found actually compelling:
“It’s ironic really: the man who hates the world the mot is most loved by it”.
I LOVE this quote… It’s so sweet and poignant. And I do feel that it is a pretty true statement of the way the world works.
“He prays that she will take every single word to heart, and that maybe, just maybe, she will still love him after everything they have gone through. He hopes that she will be able to remember why she loved him, why she fought so hard for him”.
This quote just broke my heart for Hardin. It is a good representation of why even though he is a terrible person and the most horrible boyfriend, I can still hope that it all works out for him in the end.
In case I haven’t been abundantly clear, I LOVED the After Series, even though it is definitely problematic and damaged. The Lux Series was well hyped and has lots of books, but the overall characters were mostly cookie-cutter and for all the terrible things happening in their world, they were just too stable and consistent.
If you have read either of these or both of these series, let me know your thoughts… Also, always looking to add to my quotable quotes section. Thanks for reading!