by KJ Gillenwater, paranormal (2009)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-502-3
The Ninth Curse is definitely an interesting story no matter whether you end up liking it or hating it. A romantic paranormal thriller, this one is unlike any other paranormal romances I've come across.
Joel Hatcher is suffering from a dire predicament. He was the next in line to bear a family legacy that he didn't know existed until he received an anonymous parcel full of dire warnings, books on the legacy, and a protective amulet. He tossed the books away the next day... an act he still regrets today when he shortly after showed signs of bearing the curses that plagued members of his family. The first curse had passed, causing him to lose his job, and the second curse burned down his house and everything he had inside. When the story opens, the third curse had taken effect, causing his body to break out in painful bleeding sores. Desperate - the ninth curse that would befall him six weeks from now would mean his death - he turns to Madame Eugenie, a self-proclaimed "curse remover", palm reader, and spiritual guide, for help.
Gen, our heroine, is actually a more genuine paranormal spook reader that she'd like to admit. Her late husband's ghost Adam is in constant contact with her, and she wants nothing more than to bring him back to life and have him in her life again. When Adam says that Joel's blood is the key to this, she doesn't hesitate to aid Joel while waiting for Adam to tell her what she must do next. As she travels with Joel and his brother to seek out his relatives and discover a way to break his curse, she will have to ask herself some uncomfortable questions. Is she able to betray Joel's trust for Adam's sake? Which man will she choose in the end? And what exactly is going on with Joel? You know what they say: read this book to find out, heh.
Let me get this out of the way first. My biggest issue with this story is how the author sets things up so that Gen is constantly explaining what she does and Joel, in turn, always has something to say to Gen in response. Here's an example:
"So what should we be looking for?" Joel asked.
He held the door open for her. She smiled and ducked under his arm. "The obituaries. That's the best place to look for the kind of information we need."
Although a bit macabre, he could see her point. If the curses took down the DeVries family, it would stand to reason there might be some mention of unusual causes of death.
"Since your great-grandfather managed to make it out of Calvin City alive, I would say we could limit our research to 1918 to 1938."
"Twenty years of obituaries? That will take us forever."
Gen headed toward an open computer near the front of the library. Two teenage kids huddled around one. An older man looked up books on another. "You forget, Calvin City was pretty small back then. It was a lumber town, but a boomtown. Still developing. It looks like most of the buildings downtown date from the 1920s." She typed in a search. "Which means probably only a weekly paper and not a whole lot of deaths to report."
"I hope you’re right."
Doesn't Joel come off like a silly student who needs to be told about everything? And then he always has something in response, even if it's pointless "cracks" that make him come off like a whining smartass. Imagine scenes like this multiplied and placed consecutively on every page. That's The Ninth Curse in a nutshell - too much of Gen playing the patient teacher lecturing to a student who needs to be told about everything. Then there are odd moments when Gen, after lecturing Joel, will then uncharacteristically don't know what to do, and Joel, who until then needs to be told what is happening, suddenly has to solution and begins lecturing Gen about it. The whole story is in need of some... realistic, let's just say, rapport between the two main characters. This one feels way too much like the work of someone who is trying too hard to get her characters to emulate the way FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully talk to each other, only to somehow miss the bullseye by a considerable margin.
This problem won't be so noticeable if the story wasn't so intensely dialog-driven. And then there is the occasional problem with the author having her characters repeat what they have undergone to another character in scenes that cause the story to come to a screeching halt as a result.
It also doesn't help that Joel is not the smartest man ever, not even by a long shot. Late in the story, he will turn into an accusatory mess. Given that for a long time in this story Gen has to explain to him about everything, even obvious things, I am already wondering whether the curse on him isn't called "natural selection" in scientific circles. So when he starts turning into a hot-tempered dumb ass, I can only wonder why I should care whether he lives or dies. As for poor Gen, for so long she is acting under Adam's orders, she barely has any personality in this story as a result. As for the brother, Matt, his main role in the story is to be the author's voice and point out to Joel what a stupid fool he can be toward Gen. I appreciate that, I do, or else Joel will be an even more insufferable character, but I do feel sorry for Matt because he's nothing more than a very obvious plot device here.
Until Joel starts turning into a majorly annoying dumb ass in the last third of the story, I'm inclined to be generous toward this book. After all, the flaws are mostly technical in nature and I suppose a debut author can be forgiven to a degree for such flaws. But yikes, then Joel starts see-sawing between extreme moods as if he's a Harlequin Presents Greek tycoon experiencing roid rage and I can't feeling some some regret that he ends up getting a happy ending by the last page. It's the Darwinist in me - I really don't think stupid people in fiction deserve to be happy.
I find the story intriguing and as a result, I keep turning the pages to find out what will happen next. But as much as I find this story an interesting and refreshing read, I regret to say that I don't find it a particularly good read.
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