by Annaliese Evans, historical/fantasy (2009)
Tor, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6166-0
Annaliese Evans isn't a new author. She has written several titles for Ellora's Cave and Samhain Publishing in the past under the name Anna J Evans. Night's Rose is her debut for Tor and it is also the debut of a genuine series.
One great thing about this book is that it is actually different and interesting - this is not merely another Generic Romantic Urban Fantasy series. This story is set in England in the late 18th century, for example. Unfortunately, this book has such a poor start that I'm not convinced that it manages to overcome that awful start by the last page. First impression can be damning in this case.
Rosemarie Edenberg is known as Briar Rose. She is the genuine Sleeping Beauty - the one who lived the story as recounted in the original folklore, not in the sunnier and more sanitized version passed down to children today. I'll let you discover Rose's past yourself if you choose to read this book, although if you know what went down in the original tale, you have an idea of what happened to Rose. Due to these events that happened to Rose, she was given some unusual powers by the Fey de la Nuit to carry out her heart's desire: to hunt down ogres and make them pay with their lives for the sins they had done on her and humanity in general.
Today, Rose has been so good at what she does for a few hundred years now that she has gained a reputation among ogres as someone to be greatly feared. Rose works with her personal Bosley, a fey named Ambrose Minuit. She also has a new colleague of sorts, a vampire named Gareth Barrows who is also Lord Shenley among the Ton. This book has a pretty simple story that introduces this cast that you will see in future books if you continue following the series - in this one, Rose and her men look into what seems like a nefarious plot by the ogres - who eat humans but can also pass themselves off as humans to mingle with their prey - involving human sacrifices and dark magic. In the meantime, Rose discovers that she is attracted to Gareth and perhaps a little to Ambrose as well. But more importantly, she discovers several key details about the past along with the reader, revelations that will shock her and change drastically her relationship to one of the two men who love her.
Night's Rose is an interesting book because on one hand, it disappoints me when it doesn't live up to my expectations. You see, I am led to believe from the packaging and the first few pages that this story is going to be action-packed to the wazoo with our heroine dismembering monsters in a beautiful blood-soaked stage full of gore. Then Gareth shows up and starts molesting the heroine like a date rapist who ran out of those pills but wanted to get some anyway, and our heroine actually likes it. I guess Rose has more than a bit of a Harlequin Presents American virginal farm girl spirit in her, bless her. Alas, this pawing leads to those two being ambushed by ogres, and this is not the last of the scenes in this story which have me seriously questioning Rose's so-called reputation as being the best ogre-killer in the land. At one point, she gets ambushed and overpowered by ogre kiddies, for heaven's sake, and this is because she is not paying attention. Therefore, my expectations of this book being a solid action-packed story with a kick-ass heroine are dashed by a heroine who comes off more incompetent than incomparable. The octopus with randy tentacles pretending to be a "vampire hero" doesn't help.
On the other hand, this book is a much better soap opera than I expected it to be. Night's Rose is not a good action-packed story due to the clunky action scenes and a heroine that is not exactly inspiring, but the heroine's discovery of several key details of her past makes a compelling read. Ms Evans manages to get me worked up by Rose's often painful journey of emotional and self discovery that my feelings get really worked up as a result. When Rose is hurting, I think I can relate. When she's screaming at that jerk, I can certainly cheer her on even as I feel like bashing my head against the wall the way she must be feeling too at that moment. It is a good thing, therefore, that the bulk of the last third or so of this book is very heavily focused on Rose's internal turmoils because these elements of the story are easily the best thing about this story.
I hope you aren't expecting too much of Rose as a kick-ass heroine, though. She seems way too preoccupied with wanting to have babies and a normal life to do that kick-ass "Ogres can suck my, er, sword" thing convincingly. Then again, if you love that horrible creature from the now canceled TV series, Alias - you know, that so-called agent with raccoon make-up and horrible wigs played by Jennifer Garner, who cries for twenty hours for every high kick she delivers to some bad guy who turns out to be her long-lost brother or something, OH MY DADDY AND BOYFRIEND AND UNUSED OVARIES SOB SOB SOB - you may like Rose as a kick-ass heroine more than me.
I wish the author has been less obvious with Gareth, though. I don't mind Ambrose that much here - it's Gareth that gets on my nerves. Even if I look beyond my impression of him as an undead Pepé le Pew on steroids, he is too obvious as a plot device to create mistrust and romantic angst. The guy shows up when things get sticky only to act like a randy fratboy wanting to get laid by any means necessary - how the heroine doesn't think of him as at the very least a crazy loose cannon doesn't reflect well on her supposed intelligence. There are many moments here when Gareth comes off as very untrustworthy and even shady. And yet Rose is like, he's so hot and they understand each other, ooh baby. If Ms Evans has shown me how Rose can come to that conclusion about Gareth, I may be more understanding even if I think Rose has deplorable tastes in boyfriends. But here, the attraction between all parties in the love triangle is presented almost like fait accompli. If this story focuses on the action, then I can overlook the superficial love thingy. But Rose's relationship with both men plays a pivotal role in the plot. As a result, when it comes to Rose's soap opera with the two men, the result is like a beautiful castle built on quicksand, given how flimsy the foundation of the story is.
Perhaps the next book will live up to the potential of the series. As it is, Night's Rose has some good things in its favor: great integration of a dark and gritty version of a fairy tale into the canon material, some good emotional drama, and all the good things that may arise from all that drama. However, the action scenes blow and the execution of the story doesn't do the premise justice. All in all, this is an interesting, memorable, but rather uneven read.
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