by Melanie Jackson, fantasy (2009)
LoveSpell, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52803-2
I don't know what happened to Melanie Jackson, but if she continues the path she has taken with her last few books in her Divine series, all I can say is that LoveSpell is doing her a serious disservice if they keep marketing her books as romance. Her last few books have been very heavy on exposition and personal soapbox rambling, and Divine Fantasy is no different. It is as if the author has read too many books by Dan Brown or something. I believe Ms Jackson may find a more appreciative audience if these books are marketed at the same folks who enjoy reading books by the above mentioned Dan Brown.
This time around, the author's victim is Ambrose Bierce, who may be unfamiliar to folks outside the USA. Don't worry, the author will tell you all there is to know about him and then some more when you read this book. He is an immortal after an ill-advised bargain with the Dark Man, and not only that, he managed to contract lycanthropy on top of having superhuman abilities. He's like the ugly mutant played by Scott Speedman in Underworld, come to think of it, only hotter.
Our heroine Joyous Jones is a writer who makes it her specialty to write biographies of little known to outright obscure folks in history. After subjecting me to chapters after chapters of blistering whining about her loveless lonesome self as if I'm some unfortunate person forced to stick next to her in a bar one night, she decides to pay a visit to Dolphin Island, Fiji around Christmas. She soon meets Ambrose, the owner of the island. While she initially believes that he's just playing at being the long-dead writer whom he was named after, she soon changes her mind when zombies show up in the island to say hello.
Sounds exciting? Actually, this story is one long boring exposition served with a huge slice of disjointed connection between the reader - me - and the narrator - the heroine. The problem here is that Joy is in the dark when it comes to the setting and the villain, even more so than readers who have read the previous few books in the series, so every time something happens, the story proceeds to screech to a halt as Ambrose begins lecturing Joyous on the 101s of the setting. When every action scene is followed by pages after pages of Ambrose explaining things in detail to Joy, this story becomes as slow as a three-legged tortoise.
Even worse is the huge emotional disconnect between Joyous and me. Joyous breaks the fourth wall here, even addressing me, the reader, many times in this story, but I still have no idea what is going on in her head. She's really weird. After she witnesses Ambrose going hee-haw die ai-yoo ha on a zombie, she displays nothing but polite curiosity to the point that even Ambrose remarks on it. And she actually gets sleepy while listening to him! Sure, he's a boring rambler, but if I know that zombies are real and they may be after my brain next, you bet I'd be wide awake and eager to learn of ways to defend myself from them. Even better, the heroine oversleeps that night and wakes up the morning before sneaking with Ambrose to take a peek at shadows, where Joyous actually gets more agitated over the possibility seeing a crocodile than another zombie. Joyous exhibits no emotion that seems appropriate for a situation here. She's flat, exhibiting nothing more than mild curiosity about her environment because she's too busy worshiping Ambrose, whining about her sad lonesome life, or giving the obligatory left wing philosophical yammering that this author is fond of incorporating in her stories.
To top it off, this story feels as if it's taking place in the 1950s or 1960s. These characters speak in very careful English, as if they're in an Agatha Christie novel. Joyous doesn't seem that old, but her idea of pop culture references include John Wayne who had not been on the radar of popular culture for at least 20 years now. That's not even taking into account how devoid of personality Ambrose is here. His marriage back in those days was from all accounts an unhappy one, but here Ms Jackson has him claiming that he is just misunderstood - his wife spread some vicious rumors that he didn't bother to correct for the sake of the kids back in those days, you see, although he generously admitted as an afterthought that maybe he wasn't that good a husband back then. Not that Joyous cares. She exists in this story as a recipient of Ambrose's dry lectures - she's his starry-eyed groupie, in other words. When she's left alone without Ambrose around to focus her self-absorption on, she'd go back to delivering a bitter monologue about her life, where nothing has gone right and she'd like me to experience every painful moment in her life with her.
This is a story about a supposedly dead author who had a bullet lodged in his head throughout his life, who was said to be a wit and who also suffered from asthma. And he's now a werewolf with super powers! Ms Jackson has definitely taken a wrong turn somewhere when a story of this nature turns out to be this dry and boring.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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