Enemy Lover
by Karin Harlow, fantasy (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-0982-3


Karin Harlow is the author formerly known as Karin Tabke, so she is technically not a new author. Enemy Lover is however the first book in a series revolving around the super-secret Last Option Special Team (LOST). I think we can kiss goodbye to Ms Tabke's historical Blood Sword Legacy series because old series are usually collateral damages when an author undergoes a name change.

Blink and you will miss the romance in Enemy Lover. I'm not joking - the romance obviously takes a back seat to the political thriller taking place in this story. Jax Cassidy is the newest member of LOST, having been thrown to the wolves by her bosses at the Baltimore City Police Department to face life imprisonment after she'd taken down one of the consecutive parade of nasty villains populating this book. If you think that you have heard this story before, you're right: on her way to her new home, she is taken on a detour, let's just say, to the LOST HQ when she is given a choice to join LOST.

Later, on her first assignment, she will meet Marcus Cross, which is nice because he's hot... except that he's a vampire serving his boss Lazarus who has designs on the seat in the White House. Indeed, this story is all about Lazarus's plots, the betrayals, and stuff. And I will say this again: the thriller elements are far more prominent than the romance. If I am to compare this book to something out there in the market, it'd be the later works of Suzanne Brockmann, only Ms Harlow's men are exaggerated versions of the snarling alpha men as opposed to Ms Brockmann's exaggerated versions of the sensitive men in uniform who blubber and weep at the drop of the hat.

The very subtle romance is fine with me, since I've been known to enjoy a political thriller or two in the past. Alas, Enemy Lover isn't gripping or thriller as much as it is a compendium of B-action movie clichés. Of course Jax, the tough gal, has a history of abuse and rape because, you know, you can't be a tough gal unless you're damaged inside. She gets toughened up, all ready to do high kicks and take down Chun Li in a fight, but the moment she meets the hero, she succumbs and compromises her mission as if he's the hot knife to her block of butter. Jax is actually a pretty decent heroine who can walk the walk, but at the same time she's also such a cliché. Marcus is also in a way a cliché, but this story focuses more on Jax than he - he's almost a secondary character to Jax in this one. On the bright side, these two characters do display some really sizzling chemistry when they are together. It's a shame that they don't really kick rear ends together in this story because they do seem to have that great synergy when they are together.

The plot development is quite clichéd too, from the way the heroine is recruited to some of the twists. Maybe I've been watching too many B-movies and TV series, but much of this story resembles tropes present in the "secret organization that kicks rear ends" type of shows, from Nikita to Mission: Impossible to even The A-Team. Ms Harlow could have done more to improvise on the more familiar tropes in her stories and make them less clichéd.

I am also amused by the stark black and white lines in this story. Funny how Jax and Marcus have to take down their targets and kill them - after all, that's what they do - but hey, look, their targets all turn out to be the embodiment of the worst sins you can think of! Not only is this a cheap, easy, and overused contrivance to make our hero and heroine "likable", it's also an unrealistic contrivance that damages the believability of the story. This is a shame, because our characters having to wrestle with difficult moral choices would have livened up an otherwise familiar story.

Enemy Lover is not a bad read. It's interesting, at the very least, because there aren't many stories like this out there at the moment. It's just too bad that it also reminds me heavily of much more superior takes on the many tropes present in this book. Hey, is it time for Nikita to come on yet?

Rating: 74


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