Crimson & Steam
by Liz Maverick, fantasy (2009)
LoveSpell, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52779-0
In Liz Maverick's Crimson & Steam is part of the Crimson City series and it features a couple who were secondary characters in previous books, but the story line is simple and self-contained enough to make this one a pretty decent standalone story.
We are back in Crimson City, a futuristic version of Los Angeles where humans, vampires, and werewolves live together, the current state of peace very fragile and definitely volatile. The vampires sip champagne and pretend to be French at the highest levels of the skyscrapers, the humans live above the ground and dominate the "middle" parts of the city, while the werewolves form powerful packs in the tunnels beneath the city. To cut the long story in the previous books short, we have fragile peace in Crimson City at last, and Marius Dumont, the current boss of the vampires, is willing to do the previously unthinkable and take a werewolf bride, Tatiana of the powerful Asprey family, in order to cement an alliance between Team Edward and Team Jacob. Unfortunately, Marius and the human Jillian Cooper fancy themselves the Edward and Bella in this story.
In a story where a couple are cheating on a third person, someone is bound to become very hurt, and that person is me. No, I'm not joking. My heart is completely shattered by the last page and I am actually gaping at the book in shock because Ms Maverick does what many romance authors will not dare to do. And my goodness, when she does just that, I am horrified. [spoiler starts] Ms Maverick builds poor Tatiana up as a character in her own right, only to have her die while she is pleading for her life in front of a horrified audience, which includes Marius and Jill fresh from a bout of illicit sex. Worse, her killer is a charming acquaintance of Jill. The whole plot is mastered by another charming acquaintance of Jill. And Marius lets all of those involved in Tatiana's death go in a fit of self-righteous high before happily making Jill his beloved ever after when poor Tatiana's corpse is not even cold yet! [spoiler ends]
It doesn't help that both Marius and Jill are so unlikable here. If they want to play the adulterous pair, Ms Maverick should have made them a little bit more sympathetic, but no. Jill is horrifying as this pathetic spineless wretch who thinks of absolutely nothing but Marius every time she is in the story. She is obsessed, and not only that, she's weak and even at the penultimate moment when she is trying to save Marius, she flops miserably at it. [spoiler starts] She doesn't even feel a shred of shame for having sex with Marius shortly before Tatiana dies, because she's so obsessed with Marius that he consumes her entire existence. Pathetic. [spoiler ends] The only thing she is good for is to keep calling and begging Marius to shag her one last time. And another one last time. And another. And another. Marius! Marius! MAAAA-AAAA-AAA-RIUS! It's like one long Les Misérables nightmare.
As for Marius, he's not as pathetically weak as Jill, but he's pretty pathetic all the same as this man doesn't have the decency to break it off for good with Jill. Yes, I know they want to shag each other ten thousand ways to Sunday. But sometimes, circumstances demand that we act like adults instead of selfish hormonal brats, you know? If these two actually stop seeing each other and instead resign themselves to giving each other mournful looks across the room, only to reunite in the end, I may actually respect them more and wish them well.
Because in this story Marius and Jill come off as the villains in the love triangle rather than sympathetic star-crossed lovers, my heart goes out to Tatiana who, no matter what her flaws may be, does not deserve to be the Princess Diana to our main characters' Prince Charles and Lady Camilla Parker-Bowles. And because I feel sorry for Tatiana, I close the book feeling as if I'd stepped onto a land mine.
Still, I can't give this book a low grade out of spite, because that will be petty. Crimson & Steam is well-written enough to get me worked up like this, so in the end, I am worked up in a good way, if I am making sense here. Therefore, I'm giving this book a grade that will more fairly represent my feelings about this book, one that tells you that I like this book in a way, but I can't really love it for one reason or another. So yes, I would recommend Crimson & Steam as a pretty decent read from a technical point of view, but you're on your own when it comes to the romance. I hope you find Marius and Jill more sympathetic than I do, because otherwise, reading this story is going to hurt by the last page.
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