by Jennifer Cloud, paranormal (2007)
Liquid Silver Books, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-59578-339-4
In Search Of Flesh features the story of Alard Harkin, who you may remember as the brother of the heroine of the related book In The Flesh if you have read that book. If you have, you may also recall that Alard is born without a body. He is alive but poor Alard doesn't have a physical form. He's a like a ghost.
The heroine of this book also made her first appearance in In The Flesh. Raya is a spider-like creature who has assumed human form in this book, looking like, in her own words, "a Goth Barbie with her pink and white hair and strange tattoo-looking marks". Currently she is living with her new vampire friends, fully intending to experience what it is like to be human. This also includes sex, but unfortunately, the man she is falling in love with will never be able to touch her unless something fantastic can happen to allow Alard to become, er, solidified. I'm sorry, I don't know what other word to use in this instance.
The hero, the heroine, and several secondary characters all show up first in In The Flesh, so I strongly suggest that anyone wanting to read this book read that book first before starting with this one. Some of the workings behind Alard's physiology will be baffling if you haven't read In The Flesh or don't remember every detail of it because this book doesn't clarify things as comprehensively as it should have.
Back to the story, conveniently enough, one of the elder vampires informs Alard that there is a way for him to gain a human body. The vampire Conrad and his companion Angel even offer to help him prepare the ceremony. Raya and Alard are so excited, thinking of the non-stop boinkathon that they will get into the first thing after Alard gets a body, but alas, things don't always turn out as simple as one would like them to be.
There are some pretty glaring inconsistencies in this story if you haven't read In The Flesh, such as Alard being unable to sit down but he can take up a dildo to put it to good use on Raya. Readers unfamiliar with that book will most likely go "Huh?" at that scene. There is also a problem with Ms Cloud often writing an exciting scene - such as the death of a vampire at the hands of a vampire hunter in an unexpected moment, the explosion of a vampire club thanks to a bomb - in the same manner as she'd write a scene of lesser urgency. The result of this is that In Search Of Flesh doesn't fully engage my emotions since the lack of changes in tone and pacing means that there is no build-up of scenes towards a climatic moment. A little bit more details in the scenes in this book would have helped, I think.
Having said that, In Search Of Flesh is a very nicely self-contained story. Unlike many shorter stories, this one ends most satisfyingly without making me feel as if I've been shortchanged in the story or characterization department. Alard and Raya have a pretty credible relationship - it isn't deep, but there is enough depth nonetheless to give their relationship a poignant tinge. After all, we have a heroine who is just learning how to be human and a hero who wants badly to have a physical form. The couple in the movie Ladyhawke would feel that they have it easier because they can at least meet during an eclipse while poor Alard and Raya can't even touch even other even when they are side by side. Except for that moment when he for some reason manages to pick up that dildo, ugh. See, people? Things that come off as annoyingly obvious inconsistencies if I don't remember every detail about Alard in his previous story can really ruin my mood.
The technical flaws in this book dampen my enjoyment slightly but on the whole, I am pretty pleased with In Search Of Flesh. I don't think this is the best the author can do, but it has enough horror and fantastic elements that reassure me that Ms Cloud still hasn't lost her touch when it comes to story with a fantastic bent that feels different and new compared to what is being offered by most other urban fantasy and paranormal romances out there. It will be nice if she writes a longer story one of these days, though, because as short as it is, In Search Of Flesh feels like a meal of too-small helping. I'm done with it before I can feel really good about it.
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