by Liz Maverick, fantasy (2006)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52625-5
Liz Maverick closes the Crimson City series with Crimson Rogue, although there are a few notable loose ends here that I presume will be settled in an upcoming anthology. What I really appreciate about this book is how it actually tries to capture the epic magnitude of a battle between two factions that are common in the fantasy and science fiction genre but rarely in the romance genre. Also, the romance in this story is, to me, nearly perfect in its depiction of two really lost souls struggling to hold on their humanity even as they learn their apparently predestined roles in the greater scheme of things. In short, Crimson Rogue is a very nice way to close an otherwise uneven series.
This story really takes off if you have read the first entry into the series, Crimson City because this story features two main characters whose stories continue from that book. This story also takes place due to an incident in the previous book, Jade Lee's Seduced By Crimson, but you don't have to read that book to understand this story. And, frankly, I wouldn't encourage anyone to read that horrible book by Jade Lee because unlike the other books in the Crimson City series, Jade Lee's entry is all about the heroine having to make magic babies with the hero to save the world, an annoying "Shag For World Peace" affair that everything the other books in this series are not. I'd prefer to imagine that Jade Lee's book is like situation similar to the dream in Dallas or the lottery win in Roseanne with a few adaptations, Mrs Giggles style, of course - one flush of the toilet and oh how nice, everything is just a dream, phew.
Ah yes, back to Crimson Rogue. It concerns two people, apparently small players in Crimson City who turn out to be much bigger players in the scheme of things than one would expect. Brittle Cydney Brighton, most remembered for the violent circumstances of her mysterious disappearance in Crimson City, manages to return to her world after being kidnapped by a demon in Crimson City. A former B-Ops, she is now trying to pick up the pieces of her life but she doesn't know where to start. She ends up joining the rogues, a bunch of folks of both vampire, werewolves, and human species banding together to live at the fringes of society as mercenaries and what not. Also a newcomer to the rogues is the mysterious Finn, a mech - half-human, half-machine - who was last seen in Crimson Rogue going MIA after a killing spree in the vampire territory. Finn is short for "Made In Finland", believe it or not, but there's very little that is amusing or comical about poor Finn, whose greatest wish is to become a normal human. Cydney tries to make a living as a rogue but because the others are suspicious about the circumstances behind her disappearance (especially when there are rumors that she had gone to the demon realm, rumors that make folks living in a place that was recently Nagashima-ed by demons understandably uneasy), she needs to work with Finn and get him to vouch for her reliability and trustworthiness.
The above is an overly-simplified synopsis of this story. There are much more to the story in Crimson Rogue as events with build up towards the grand event: the final battle of all three species of creatures coexisting uneasily together in the same city with the invading demons.
A story of a cyborg wanting to be human or a woman learning that she may not be entirely human is nothing new in the fantasy or science-fiction genre but Liz Maverick's Crimson Rogue is a refreshing anomaly of sorts in the fantasy genre of sorts because nothing is magically solved at the end of the day by the hero's inserting Tab A into Slot B, so to speak, to hit the Magic Baby jackpot. Nothing is miraculously cured by the fact that the hero and the heroine love each other and Ms Maverick's address of issues of alienation and loneliness along with more significant issues like racial tensions is pretty pragmatic and real in the sense that no happy hugs can erase the dark stains from Crimson City completely. There is a very nice build-up and atmosphere-building to complement the characters.
The characters are very well-drawn. They are good people, yes, but there are several times in this story when their actions aren't pretty - Cydney and Finn commit at least one major act of violence each that may shock some readers. Then again, if you readers are still following the series after Caroline Jewel's fabulous A Darker Crimson that breaks nearly every convention of the fantasy romance subgenre, these scenes shouldn't be much of an issue, I think. As for myself, I love those scenes, they only drive home the darker aspects of the nature of the mech programmed to kill as well as... well, I'll not reveal the nature of Cydney's darker side here but let's just say that she isn't the sweet and sunny person one would expect a romance heroine to be when her dark side is triggered. Anyway, what I'm saying is that these scenes drive home the darker aspects of the characters, making them more real as a result. Kudos to Ms Maverick and her editor for not sugarcoating these characters.
Finn's desire to be human is tinged with desperation and even madness and he is a very nice antihero here in the sense that his actions aren't sweet or sunny and he doesn't want to save the world, but eventually he loves the heroine enough to even put her above his desire to be human. Finn is tortured but he never crosses the line to being whiny or pathetic. He's vulnerable but he's not petty, weak, boorish, or self-absorbed. Instead, he's a reliable hero in troubled times and his vulnerability only makes his eventual letting of Cydney's love take priority over his own dreams even more heroic and romantic and even sweet to me.
Cydney is also struggling with her own dilemma, which is a reversal of Finn's: as she discovers more and more how inhuman she could be, she clings to her humanity until she realizes that she have to embrace her inhuman side in order to stop the demons. She is a capable heroine in her own right - she is clearly scared at times about things she cannot comprehend or control, which makes her human, but when push comes to shove, she'll do her best to kick the problem in the nuts.
Ms Maverick manages to depict the duality of the heroism and the darkness in her main characters very well - I can't help feeling these characters' feeling of isolation from the people around them even as I just have to root for them.
Pacing is well-done too. The book doesn't feel slow to me at any moment - I just keep turning the pages in one sitting, engrossed completely in the story. I really love the premise and the plot of this story. There are many familiar elements in this story that can be found in many fantasy and science-fiction books, especially since they made that movie out of Philip K Dick's short story, are Ms Maverick's treatment of these elements are unabashedly in the vein of those stories from those genres. Love isn't everything and it won't save the day, but it can motivate antiheroes to be brave and noble. The heroine's magical pregnancy won't save the day - hey, there is even no mention of a pregnancy or a need for the heroine to be pregnant to save the day. Just love making heroes out of people at the end of the day. This makes the story grounded on earth, so to speak, because issues with more gravity like the fate of Crimson City and the issues of racial tension and a life after the invasion are given a stark, realistic, and, to me, appropriate treatment.
If the author tells me that the heroine getting pregnant with a magic baby will magically unite people of all race and creed under the rule of a hero with a mighty dipstick, I'd snort and say, "Oh pul-leese!" Ms Maverick says that love changes two people for the better but live still has to go on and the fight for a better life continues. This kind of ending makes more sense to me. This ending doesn't make a mockery of issues presented by the author, it doesn't pretend that wars and evil are magically washed away the moment the hero's magical fluids flood the heroine's fecund eggs and complete some hogwash prophecy about making babies. This ending doesn't make me howl with derisive laughter and wish that there are more paranormal stories out there that aren't merely softporn stories where the otherworldly build-up is nothing more than an excuse for barbarian-princess shagpile marathons.
Okay, you know this is coming, so let's talk about the problems with this story. There is only one thing that strikes me as a problem: the last few chapters where revelations upon revelations are revealed out of the blue, making these revelations being nothing more than deus ex machina plot devices, and a very rushed climax that doesn't do justice to the build-up in the story. In fact, given this book's refreshing leanings to credible science-fiction and fantasy elements that may alienate readers more comfortable with the whole "love will move mountains and save the world come what may" axiom that the entire paranormal romance subgenre apparently revolves around, this book could very well expanded into a trilogy in its own right with Cydney's role as the uniter of all three species, her interactions with the leaders of all three factions expanded, and the origins and genesis of Cydney's powers all expanded and fleshed out to a more satisfactory degree. There is a very strong epic feel in this story that deserves more pages in order for it to be treated with justice. This story needs a dramatic showdown, I feel, rather than a rushed denouement. Perhaps a greater villain with more importance and powers rather the one that showed up here would have given this story a better sense of urgency.
That doesn't mean Crimson Rogue is a bad read to me. I love it. I love the main characters who are dark and noble all at once and who do things that are both wonderful and terrible in this story. I adore the way Ms Maverick keeps it real with the plot and premise without resorting to ridiculous formulaic conventions that emphasizes the heroine's breeding capabilities or innocence to the exclusion of everything else about the heroine. I love the way the story doesn't pretend that life isn't always black and white or how love doesn't change the entire world as much as it changes two people's world. I only wish this story is longer so that I can learn more about the characters as well as Crimson City as its current length and very rushed last few chapters really don't provide a payoff that I feel would match the rest of this story. The last flaw is why this book doesn't rank any higher with me.
I don't know how this book will fare with fans of Dara Joy, Robin D Owens, Christine Feehan, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. But I suspect that fans that love genre TV and movies (for example, Dark Angel, Buffy, and, obviously, Terminator) but normally avoid all those "magic babies, world-saving hymens, and shagpiles for world peace" books that make up the majority of the paranormal romance novels in the market may like this one, just as fans of more romantic books in the fantasy and science-fiction genre would most likely appreciate what Ms Maverick is trying to do in Crimson Rogue. At least, I do!
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