Crystal Gardens
by Amanda Quick, historical/paranormal (2013, reissue)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-515-15299-9


Crystal Gardens is the start of a new series called Ladies Of Lantern Street. That sounded at first like a novel of kick-ass prostitutes to me. The title of this book has me thinking of the other more famous Garden in London, hmm. And then, the back cover says, "They are the Ladies of Lantern Street - women of dubious breeding and background."

No synopsis of the plot is given, as nothing must distract from the unnerving death glare of the author in that back cover. After all, when you are a big bestseller, you get to have your own The Walking Dead headshot pasted on the back covers of all your mass market paperbacks.

So, thinking that this must be a book about kick-ass prostitutes, and seeing this book going for cheap in a used bookstore - ahem - I decided to give this book a try.

Dang it, when will I ever learn?

The heroine, Evangeline Ames, is a paid companion. Yes, she's another respectable if untitled heroine that the author has written in her last few books, and as always, she is not conventionally beautiful, but the hero Lucas Sebastian - my goodness, isn't that the first names of two of the author's previous heroes just tossed together? - thinks that she's so hot. He's yet another brooding misunderstood fellow, thought to be cold and emotionless and dangerous but oh, he's all protective of the heroine. He also has a silent and loyal assistant who doesn't seem to complain when the hero - who considers Stone his friend - has him staying up all night keeping watch on the heroine before having to tend to Lucas's own stuff come the next day. Yeah, nice friendship there, really.

And while the Arcane Society may have boarded the giant mothership back to Planet Gobbledygook, the author's beautiful blimp of mystickal gas continues to float. Lucas is the new owner of the Crystal Gardens, the only notable landmark in Little Dixby for all the wrong reasons. Lucas's late uncle was said to have conducted all kinds of experiments on the plants there, resulting in all kinds of carnivorous plants hungry for meat. Lucas is only there to investigate the death of his uncle.

Evangeline is a companion who is also an aspiring author with a touch of woo-woo ability. Or something. She's easily one of the weakest heroines the author has ever thrown at me, like a boring Frankenstein's monster made up of body parts and back stories of previous heroines of this author, but somehow her personality was vaporized the moment the author threw on the switch. She finds the Crystal Gardens exciting enough to get her creative juices running - she is, naturally, writing sensational stories, the only kind of stories romance heroines write these days - but when the story opens, she runs into the Gardens to escape a killer who has broken into her place just to stab her to death.

Lucas saves her, naturally, but why she is targeted for murder and the mystery of his uncle's murder can't be tied together... right? Right? Meanwhile, Lucas is attracted to her at first sight, going all violent and protective to the point that you can't even suggest that she gets paid to work on her back without him going all werewolf-angry on you. Family members aren't spared. The whole romance is built on this "love at first feel (he just knew)" thing, and it follows the tedious "talk... talk... that kiss... ooh, maybe it's love!" formula of the author. Long-time readers will know what I am saying here. Much of the emotional bond is based off the fact that their woo-woo complements one another and using the woo-woo makes them all hot and randy. Again, the author has gone down this path many, many times before, going back all the way to Crystal Flame published in the last century.

Like Evangeline, Lucas is a weak hero. He too is a Frankenstein's monster of the author's previous heroes, with a personality that is only a weak echo of the better heroes in the past. Weak main characters, a lackluster romance... the love story is not the main attraction here, that's for sure.

So what is the main attraction? I'm tempted to say the creepy plants, but... See, here's the thing. When we have a garden full of such plants, and the book still turns out a flat bore of a read, something is really seriously wrong here. The problem here is that the author just throws in a bunch of words to pass them off as lore building. What was Lucas's uncle doing in the Gardens? "Paranormal botanical experiments". Well, duh! But what kind of experiments, you ask? Well, there are those plants that can eat rats and such, others will send tendrils to go around one's knee, but the big picture is never given. The author just gives scraps of little details here and there, buried under meaningless buzz words like "paranormal" and "psychickal" that tell me nothing. OF COURSE everything is paranormal in a paranormal romance, how banal can we get? That's like someone asking me to describe the culture of the ancient Mesopotamians and I say, "Well, their culture was cultural! Anthropologically cultural!"

The mystery is not a selling point, because these characters just talk and talk and talk and talk. They talk about what they want to do and why they want to do what they do. Villains narrate out loud what they are doing, to be conveniently overheard by the good guys who are hiding nearby. Secondary characters talk to the main characters or to one another about how it is so obvious that Lucas is crazy for Evangeline. Why is everyone talking when there are a bunch of hungry plants just beyond that wall? Why can't an Audrey II show up to eat these boring wretches up?

As for the plot, it turns and turns on itself, and yet, so absurdly dumb thanks to the author's inability to do away even once with her formula for romantic suspense: imbecile villains that are more of a threat to themselves than anything else, who blab out everything about their plot without much prompting; a hero and his loyal assistant that can do everything and anything amazingly; and revelations that show up just when it's convenient.

I was bored when I started reading this book, and when I finally reached the last page, I was honestly certain that I would expire from boredom. Maybe that fellow that did the packaging and convinced me that this book is about kick-ass prostitutes should write a book. His or her fiction seems far more interesting than what the author is capable of delivering these days.

Rating: 49


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