Monday, September 9, 2013

WisCon Rapidfire Book Reviews #3: Edge of Oblivion by J.T. Geissinger

15763831

Among the delights of WisCon was the cardboard box of free review copies in the lobby. Diving in among them, I read the back cover copy of this ARC and snagged it, always one to enjoy the occasional romance. I was expecting fantasy in a historical setting, only to find paranormal romance instead. Paranormals aren't usually my thing, but I figured I'd give it a shot.

I sat up late reading it and carried it around the next day to browse in between panels. I did set it down once the panels began, but that is more a testament to the quality of WisCon's panels than the book's inability to hold my attention. There's plenty of suspense, given it starts off with the heroine being sentenced to death for betraying her people--a sentence the hero is meant to carry out, if she isn't able to use the grace period she's been provided to uncover the secret enemy who intends to destroy them all.

This is a very sensuous book--not just in the obvious sense of its steaming sexuality, although there was that, too, but in the sumptuous descriptions of Rome--and it's food (I love it when heroines indulge themselves, and the scene where Morgan has a run for freedom that incorporates going for gelato won my heart over) as the characters explore the city in search for a hidden society that intends to destroy their hidden civilization of shapeshifers. Specifically, these are cat/panther shifters, not werewolves, although similar dynamics seem to prevail--by which I mean, Alpha Male syndrome rears its needy head. I'm not a fan of these particular sorts of dominance dynamics and likely I never will be. Especially when it's Alpha Male syndrome. The women in this story do stand up for themselves--sometimes.

SPOILER for the climax: there is a test for female characters, the "sexy lamp test," which poses the question: Would an attractive lamp have fulfilled the same purpose as the character in this scene? The climax strongly fails the sexy chained-up lamp test. While the heroine gets the chance to exert her genuinely cool shapeshifting and mind-control powers at other points in the story, at the climax she just dangles there. I kept waiting for her to break free and unleash holy hell and...she didn't. That was a strong strike against this book for me.

The hero of this story, for all he's got the dominant vibes, has a crushing backstory as a trained assassin that made me want to get him a warm blanket and hot soup. He has a support structure of sorts from his friends--and then terrible things happen to some of those friends. The heroine, Morgan, has a twisted past based in her rebellion against the genuinely oppressive 'shifter society, obsessed with its own safety to the point of crushing individual freedoms. Secondary characters are well-developed, at least one couple because they're being prepared for starring role in the concluding book of this trilogy. But, despite that and despite a moderately interesting revelation about the villain-behind-the-villain, I don't think I'll read on. Delicious as the description is, and sympathetic as the character's hopes and dreams (as they're caught up in) when it's gilding on some extremely tired gender dynamics I just can't be that engaged. If this was the historical I at first thought it was I might at least excuse it on grounds of time period accuracy. Might. But, no, I really wouldn't have; I'm picky like that, wanting female characters to have agency and male characters to not be domineering assholes (the hero of this story was both, but not at the same time, I'll give him that; and the assholedom is something he's been pushed into and is actively trying to change from. The villain was both at the same time and so gross because of it that I had trouble reading about him, and that makes me only more disappointed that Morgan wasn't able to whup his sorry ass to the curb during the climax).

I haven't yet been converted to paranormal romance. For those of you who are into it, and who don't mind the gender dynamics so much (given how much of this sells like hotcakes I'm clearly more sensitive to it than many), would probably enjoy the travelogue of Rome, the sizzling emotional and sexual tension between the protagonists, and the genuinely sympathetic side characters.

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