Touch If You Dare
by Stephanie Rowe, fantasy (2011)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-4196-3


The title of this book, Touch If You Dare, is a succinct warning to all potential readers who are allergic to hysterical, incompetent, and supremely irritating crybaby heroines. Reina Fleming is completely off the wall and through the roof when it comes to the Please-Die-You-Useless-Wretch meter.

But first, the plot. It's a very convoluted one, which is to be expected given that Stephanie Rowe always plots her fantasy romps like a ten hour long Death Note denouement, so I will try to break down things in a more simple manner. To save the world, our Guardian of Hate, Jarvis Swain, has to locate his brother the Guardian of Love. You see, Jarvis is going to die. He needs to get in touch with Cameron - not in a dirty way, perverts - to make arrangements so that the world doesn't go kaboom from hatred overload once Jarvis expires. However, Cameron is currently serving Death - it's a long story - so Jarvis has to find a way to free Cameron from Death. And then we have Reina, who has failed to save her mother and her eight sisters. Now, she needs to save her last sister, who is barely hanging on to life. All Reina has to do is to seize a soul... and of course she can't do it. She's too busy wailing, crying, and flailing around like a hysterical dingbat to do anything. Still, she tells herself that she needs to learn how to kill, and therefore, she strikes a bargain: she will help Jarvis if he can teach her how to kill. They have to do all this, save everybody, and have great sex as many times as possible before the clock runs out for Jarvis.

On paper, this story is interesting. We have a Guardian of Hate who is not at all hateful, and we also have a Reaper who can't bring herself to take a soul. Both are totally wrong for their jobs, and they have to do what they do for the sake of their loved ones, the world, and what not. But Jarvis, being a man, is allowed to be competent. Reina... ouch. She's useless, a crybaby bimbo who always tries to do things that are way out of her league only to fail and subject me to painful guilt and tears of recrimination. Reina is deliberately written to be Jarvis's adoring groupie who trails after him like a lovestruck puppy, and I guess I'm supposed to love such adorable little darlings like this imbecile.

I'm just tired, I guess, of authors who faithfully obey gender tropes in urban fantasy and fantasy romps, and Ms Rowe isn't even trying to be subtle here. Heroines are not supposed to get their hands dirty, because that will be awful, so Reina here doesn't have to do anything other than to fail. Jarvis will clean up her messes for her, after all. He's a man, so he can kill as long as he keeps whipping that fat thing good. In romance novels, a man can kill and still be the sweetest fun, but heaven forbids that a heroine does anything remotely morally ambiguous because she's supposed to remain pure and pristine like an indigo girl-child to the last page. And then there is a variation of the soul mate trope here with the heroine being magically immune to Jarvis's deadly touch that can kill anyone whom he comes in close contact with, and it of course has something to do with the heroine's child-like state of borderline mental retardation, oops, I mean her generous and abundant capacity to love and what not.

Touch If You Dare is a tired laundry list of clichés, with the most obnoxious ones associated with useless heroines prominently on display in the forefront. The plot is a variation of that in Sex & The Immortal Bad Boy, the characters are familiar as they do not deviate from the author's typical hero and heroine, and the romance is also similar to that in the author's previous books. Therefore, this book is just a slight variation of the author's previous efforts, only, this one is more obnoxious than those books. If you want to try out a book by this author, I'd suggest that you read any of her previous books and give this one a miss. From Reina's useless persona to the celebration of her worthless overly-emotional personality as something beautiful, this book is definitely one to show the middle finger to.

Rating: 42


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