Red Iris Books, $8.99, ISBN 978-1494879198
Despite what the synopsis at the back cover may lead you to believe, SM Reine’s Witch Hunt isn’t a typical urban fantasy romance. Our hero César Hawke’s romance with Isobel Stonecrow takes a far backseat to the urban fantasy mystery elements of this book, so it’s best to view this book as an urban fantasy with some romance and adjust your expectations accordingly. This is also the first book in the Preternatural Affairs series, and this is the start of a series that features the same hero all over each book. Yes, this isn’t another urban fantasy romance despite the author deliberately marketing it to be so. Oh yes, this is an independently released effort, so you can blame the author if you feel misled, heh.
I personally have no problems getting into a story narrated from the first person point of view of the hero, instead of the usual heroine, and in fact, the author did a pretty bang up job in blending a dash of braggadocio with a speck of swagger to create a charming protagonist in César. My issue lies in two things.
First, the plot armor. Oh, I know, the hero and the heroine both sport plot armors – which is to say, we all know the author would move mountains to ensure that they will always live through whatever calamity come what may, and the trick is to make it not so obvious, so that I will still be able to be at the edge of my seat and enjoy the suspense and tension in a taut and masterful fast-paced plot. Here, however, César and his friends seem so much more overpowered compared to their opponents, especially the humans who have no clue that there are spooks in this world, that seeing them in action is like watching a steamroller crush a pancake. It’s unexciting, and if I am at the edge of my seat, it’s because I’m nodding off and will fall of the seat soon. Watching the hero swoop in and get out every time without breaking a sweat can do that to me.
That’s why in comics and cartoons, we always toss use-free twits like Aquaman and the Wonder Twins first at the bad guys and save Superman for last – to generate some suspense in seeing Aquaman being captured by Lex Luthor’s blind one-legged henchman once again and have me wonder whether the superheroes will ever save the day now that the bad guy seems to have the upper hand. In this story, everyone on the good side is Superman and everyone else is either some shadowy menace that never fully materializes as a threat or folks who are clearly unable to stand up to the good guys even a bit.
Speaking of the shadowy menace, that’s my other issue with this story. It starts out as a mystery – César finds a dead woman in his place…. did he kill her? – but for a long time, the author just strings me along without giving me any clear idea that the story is going somewhere. Things just happen when they happen, often when it’s convenient, and I’m expected to be a passive passenger going along and blinking at the scenery. A good story has a foundation, with events slowly building up to a climax, and then the climax happens, followed by the fallout until a reasonable conclusion or an exciting cliffhanger ending closes the whole thing. Here, the author lays down the premise, and then just has the hero run all over the place, dragging me along. There is no build up, because I am never given any clue or sign about the nature or the timing of a climax or denouement. Things just pop out – oh, an incubus! – and the author drops information on me when it’s obviously convenient to do so. Reading the whole story is like being me being dragged by a slow horse all over the country without me having any clue where the horse is going or even where the hell I am at that moment. When what is supposed to be a climax happens, it doesn’t feel like one as it’s just another “Boo! Another abrupt development!” thing tossed at my face.
The author’s style and voice are certainly serviceable, but if Witch Hunt is anything to go by, the author may want to take some time to work on the structure of her story. She comes off like an author who doesn’t try to engage me into the story because she’s too busy being entertained by her own words. When she finally breathes normally, she’d turn to me and ask, “Well, was it as fabulous for you as it was for me?” You can guess what my answer is, I’m sure.