by Liz Maverick, fantasy (2005)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52622-0
Crimson City is the start of another romantic fantasy series from Dorchester, this time around centered around an alternate Earth where there are werewolves, vampires, and humans living together in Los Angeles, now called Crimson City on the account of the blood shed during the wars that occured when the three species first clashed. The vampires live in skyscrapers, pretty much forming their own colony high in the skies. They are aristocratic, sometimes at the cost of pragmatism, and they are on the pacifist side, or at least it seems from this book. In a typical fantasy series, they would be the elves, I suppose. The humans live on the ground level. The werewolves form a subterranean colony below the ground. Therefore, humans are like reluctant emissaries of sorts between the werewolves and the vampires who hate each other's guts.
In this book, someone from either one of the three species are sending mechanically enhanced humans (or mechs) to kill off vampires. Vampires are dying too with all signs pointing to the killers as werewolves as well. The fragile peace between the three species are in danger of being destroyed if this is allowed to continue.
Our heroine, Fleur Dumont, is the black sheep of her family, one of the most powerful ruling clans of the vampires in Crimson City. She happens to witness a mech murdering her two brothers and now she finds herself representing her family and leading her people in these troubled times. She is inexperienced despite having learned how to do some fancy somersaults and kicking thingies but she will have to learn fast. Our hero, Dain Reston, is human. He has no memory regarding the past that takes place before the murder of his wife by vampires. As a Battlefield Operations operative, one of the many with the responsibility of maintaining the peace between the humans and the other two species by hook or by crook, he and his partner Cydney "Cyd" Brighton are the ones who first tracked the mech that ended up killing Fleur's brothers. Because of them being at the wrong place and at the wrong time, Dain and Cyd are approached by Fleur and her people to help them look into this murder. Dain and Fleur naturally see sparks crackling in the air between them.
There are many great concepts in this book. It is the execution of these concepts that are on the disappointing side. On one hand, Dain is an interesting character, especially when he tries to remember his wife Serena and anguishes over what kind of man he must be to be unable to remember a wife that he supposedly cherished totally. I like him and he deserves a better heroine than Fleur, who is out of her league here and remains so until the last page. Despite jumping around once or twice pretending to be some vampiric kung-fu lady, Fleur never actually delivers. Even at the penultimate showdown with the bad guy, she ends up frozen at a crucial moment and Dain has to be the one to save her. Fleur's personality as a "Damsel needs guidance/needs rescuing at the end" character pales in comparison to Dain's more complicated baggages. Because of this, Fleur never truly challenges Dain as a character and they both don't really come off as a credible couple, not when Dain seems older by Fleur, emotionally, by a few hundred years. Come to think of it, Dain and Cyd have a more interesting platonic but symbiotic relationship that would have made some good story but I believe there are plans for Cyd to have her own story with another guy later down the road.
An uninteresting couple that comes off, to me, as rather mismatched aside, the story has plenty of promise and the effort put into world-building is impressive. Unfortunately, the plot of Crimson City eventually peters out to a very derivative outcome, with the identity of the villain and this person's motivations being those that I've come across so many times in other books and movies of this kind. It is also disappointing that Fleur, who fell from grace because she impulsively turned her first human boyfriend into a vampire, faces instead a welcoming reception when it comes to her relationship with Dain. I guess it's okay if we're talking about true love, I suppose, although how these vampires know that Dain is Fleur's true love and not mistake number two is beyond me. That, in a nutshell, sums up how this book eventually sinks into mundanity: Ms Maverick ends up taking the simplest resolution for her subplots even if this resolution will end up working against the rest of her story. When a story that has a lot of work put into the premise and the storyarc ends up with a contrived, overly-simplistic, and dumbed down even resolution for every problem and conflict, I can't help but to be disappointed by the story.
While I have an enjoyable time in my introduction to Crimson City, the main characters and the storyline in this book fail to live up to the build-up Ms Maverick herself puts in the story. By the time the story ends, I find myself thinking, "Is that it? After all that angst and (admittedly behind-the-scenes and therefore not as compelling as they would have been if the author develops them on the stage) racial politics, the story boils down to... that formulaic ending?"
It's not a bad book, but Crimson City could have been a so much better book that it is a pity that this book ends up being what it is, just an ordinary and forgettable paranormal romance despite the work done into the world-building. Hopefully future books in this series will deliver better.
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