Come To Me
by Lisa Cach, fantasy (2004)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52520-8

Several well-meaning readers have written in to prepare me for the fact that unlike the dark and fabulous Dream Of Me, Come To Me is a little, shall we say, conventional and I would most likely be disappointed with it. Or more specifically, with the heroine, the succubus Samira. I thank them and I do appreciate their thoughts but the contrary reader that I tend to be, I end up being quite fond of Samira but am ultimately disappointed with the hero, Nicolae of Moldavia.

While this book is published one month before Dream Of Me, the story here takes place at the same time as that in the other book. These two books stand alone and there are some scenes that overlap, but in each book these scenes unfold from different points of view. That means readers who have read both books will have two points of view (Theron's and Samira's) to give them a better appreciation of the storyarc taking place in the two books.

The story is like this: the incubus Theron is tired of spending his immortal life servicing women in their dreams and he wants to be king of mortals. He enlists his friend, the female sex-demon counterpart succubus Samira, to send a nightmare into the ruler of the kingdom of Maramures that will lead Prince Dragosh to break the engagement of his sister Lucia to Nicolae of the neighboring kingdom of Moldavia. All this is to allow Lucia, reputed to be with powerful oracle skills, to be betrothed to the bloodthirsty Vlad of yet another neighboring kingdom Wallachia. Vlad wants to rule the four kingdoms of Wallachia, Maramures, Moldavia, and Transylvania like the fifteenth century Genghis Khan that he aspires to be, and he wants Theron to give him Lucia. Theron, in return, will get to spend three days in Vlad's body. Theron and Vlad have full intention of betraying each other but that story is covered in Dream Of Me.

In Come To Me, Samira realizes the full extent of the damage she caused by helping Theron on that fateful night when, six years later, Nicolae accidentally summons her via studying some book of dark magic and she learns that in the six years since she helped Theron start a war between Vlad and his neighbors, Nicolae has been scarred, injured, and has lost family members to the war. Nicolae has retreated into a deserted monastery and with only a few men to call his followers, set out to brood and sulk, planning revenge using dark arts if he has to. He decides to use Samira to kill Dragosh, whom he blames for his loss and troubles, but things don't go as planned. Samira ends up in mortal form on his doorstep. He isn't happy at first as she is of no use to him in human form, but Samira is set on making reparations and eventually emotions complicate both their lives.

Ah yes, Romance Novel Land conventions. Bad boys can be bad but bad girls have to go at great lengths to save the world. But in this case, Samira's actions on Nicolae do have serious and near unforgivable consequences so it is fine with me if she wants to save the boy. I'm sure I've made clear my dislike of heroines going out of their ways to martyr themselves for the flimsiest of reasons, but here, Samira isn't making a martyr out of herself as much as she is out to make reparations for the man she has grievously wronged. So, in this case, Samira is okay with me. No, make it more than okay, I like her because Ms Cach takes the trouble to give her depths. Samira could have been just another Woman Out To Change Her Man like so many heroines out there, but she is also more than that in that while she is a succubus with a vast knowledge of a what makes a man's dong goes doing or something like that, she knows little about actual physical intimacy (she only seduces men in dreams, not in real life) and even less about emotions.

Of course, I do wish that Ms Cach has explored Samira's personality more. When she first appears in the story, Samira specializes in tormenting men with sexual dreams that often bleed into nightmare territory. She exhibits some acute cynicism about men in general. But when Samira turns into a human, she morphs at the same time into a more conventional heroine who is (a) a sexually ignorant virgin, in a sense, (b) out to make things better for the world, and (c) sometimes confusing obligation with love (or so it seems to me). Where is that initially cynical woman? There are shades of the old Samira in the mortal Samira but for the most part, readers familiar with the same old goody-woody heroines with a cause with recognize Samira for what she is. Many of Samira's actions are straight out of the Goody Two-Shoes Heroine Behavioral Guidebook 101, so this also leads to some predictability in Come To Me.

But I do like Samira even if I can't help viewing her as an unfulfilled potential. But Nicolae is the person who loses me. I do understand his viewpoint and I do try to emphatize, but his repetitious push-and-pull merry-go-round with Samira becomes tedious fast. There is only so much "I want her but I must not go soft as she is a succubus and hence evil and not that innocent so I must not soften (yeah, yeah, snigger all you want, people) towards her" yammerings from him before I wish that he will find another song to sing as I'm sure he has broken that particular record by then. Because he is so intent on acting like some brooding bad boy that sometimes he behaves thoughtlessly and even cruelly towards Samira and because she is so determined to make reparations to him even if he pushes her away, the sexual chemistry isn't quite there. I often find myself wondering what it is that Samira sees in that grouchy Nicolae. I can't help thinking that she's making the same mistake as so many misguided heroines out there in confusing guilt and obligation with love. Sometimes you don't have to force yourself to love the man you wronged, I'm sure. Some people find a pity shag for the sad boy will be more than adequate.

Before I sit down to write this review, I consider what grade I should give this book. On one hand, I really have a great time reading this book despite the sagging middle and Nicolae's one-dimensional broodfest. The storyline is interesting and while there is the whole Love Is All We Need schtick in the resolution of the storyline, the story never turns into an overly sentimental pap or sacrifices substance for some melodramatic love-saves-the-world message. On the other hand, I read Dream Of Me before this book (yeah, that will teach me to read books out of sequence) and this book lacks the character scope, emotional complexity, and satisfying drama of that book. This is mainly due to fact that Samira's character is handicapped by the limitations imposed on her by romance novel conventions and Nicolae lacks a much-needed boost of levity or roguishness to make his perpetual gloominess bearable.

In a way, comparing Come To Me to Dream Of Me is like comparing apples to oranges. Just because the main character of each book is a sex-demon and the stories take place concurrently, that doesn't mean that the two books are similar in atmosphere and the issues explored in the book. Dream Of Me is like Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah while Come To Me is the original Leonard Cohen version. The song compares love to a religious experience but Jeff Buckley sings as if he's dying of a bleeding heart, just like how Theron dies because of love and finds salvation in the act. On the other hand, like Leonard Cohen's version where it's more of a straightforward song of love, Samira is a more conventional heroine and her story is just as conventional. Some people prefer Buckley's darkly overwrought Hallelujah to Cohen's more straightforward but still enjoyable version, some readers love Theron's dark moral ambiguity and his subsequent redemption. Some readers prefer Samira's more straightforward "good heroine, guilt-ridden by her past sins, decides to make amends with or without the hero's consent" personality. And some readers can take either one and enjoy them all.

So I guess the fairest thing I can say for this book is this. I like it, warts and all. I would probably like it more if I haven't read Come To Me. But I do like it for the fact that it tries to be a little different from the typical romance novel in terms of plot and setting and for the fact that the author allows Samira to be a little different from the template she's molded from. But I also wish that Nicolae takes much less time to realize his feelings for Samira or that I have a clearer picture of his emotional ties with Samira.

Still, I'm glad that authors like Lisa Cach who don't follow fads-of-the-moment blindly manage to survive in this business. Of course, her career could have been so much more successful but it isn't, which should come as no surprise to anyone who's grown used to the way the creative business works. At this point in time I'm just grateful to come across an enjoyable book who stays true to what it wants to be instead of making a zillion concessions to what the public is supposed to want, and while Come To Me isn't entirely free of such concessions, it is different enough and enjoyable enough to give me a few hours of pleasure. Samira and Nicolae could have been so much more, but there's a part of me that wonders whether I'm asking too much of any author at this point in time. So what can I say? Go buy this book. Authors like Lisa Cach need all the support they can get and if you don't like this book, hey, it's only $6.99. You're paying $7.99 for a Christine Feehan book.

Rating: 81

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