Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-6374-3
Fantasy Romance, 2012
Kristine Grayson returns with her latest fairy tale caper, and Charming Blue sees her taking a rather interesting route rarely traveled by other authors on a similar bent: she decides to interpret the tale of Bluebeard into a romantic yarn. Yes, Bluebeard, that guy who kills his wives and keeps their bodies on hooks in his special room. That is the hero of this book.
Don’t worry, this is not some gruesome tale more appropriate for the horror genre. What happens here is that Bluebeard Charming, our hero, has for a long time took to drinking and dousing himself with Aqua Velva in an effort to keep women away from him. You see, as a Charming, he is irresistible to women as this is his gift. Having killed those women that caught his fancy, however, takes the fun out of the whole thing, heh. Now he’s pretty much a loner, with Tinker Belle’s older, meaner cousin Cantankerous “Tanker” Belle as his only friend in the world.
When someone claiming to be Blue starts showing up in women’s bedroom, threatening to do bad things to them before magically vanishing, Tanker knows that Blue can’t be behind the incidents as he’s in rehab. She asks our heroine Jodi Walters, agent and fixer-upper for the fairy tale folks in LA, to look into the matter. Jodi has two abilities: she can read magical auras and she is also gifted with organizational magic, which makes her very good at managing things and walking the diplomatic tightrope. Will these abilities help her resist the charms of Blue while she’s looking into the mystery?
This one starts out pretty promisingly. Jodi finds herself attracted to Blue and is immediately terrified, as she knows that his victims found him attractive too. She tries to take precautions against him, and I like that. I also enjoy the Silent of the Lambs vibe at this stage of the story, as Jodi (heh, the name) is trying to get information from a supposed serial killer to nab what seems like a copycat in action.
But I think I won’t be spoiling anything if I say that Blue is not really a serial killer here. It’s all the fault of a curse cast by a villain, of course, and our good guys will have to stop the curse before it strikes again. And this is where the story starts to lose steam where I am concerned. It’s probably my fault – I was hoping for something different, and the initial set-up of the story suggested that this would be different. But once it is established that Blue is cursed, things become ordinary in comparison. Blue is all of a sudden the good guy and Jodi seems to lose her initial distrust of him. The rest story is practically a clue-chasing romp with the subtle romance between Blue and Jodi flickering in and out in the background.
Yes, the romance is subtle. The author is more focused on the investigation and fantasy aspects of the story, with the occasional soapbox dry-humping now and then, but still, I find that this subtlety works. If Jodi and Blue start going at it like bunnies in heat, that would be unbelievable considering that the hero is cursed and there is a history of dead women in his wake. Jodi would look really stupid then, so I’m glad Ms Grayson didn’t go there.
While the investigative romp is readable, the motives of the villain has me scratching my head. That is the reason why this fellow went through all the trouble? But the author makes no pretense of the fact that this fellow is written to be a Disney villain, so I guess that particularly aspect of the story is part of the master plan.
But I don’t know what to make of Blue. At the start, when he believes that he is really a serial killer, I can understand his emo passive stance. But once he is given an opportunity to actively help in destroying his curse, he keeps being this passive whiner who actually refuses to put himself in the hot seat to get things done. Oh, it’s too traumatic, he can’t subject himself to such painful measures even if it means saving other women – including the woman he professes to love – from getting killed, boo-hoo-hoo. I’d be more sympathetic if he hadn’t been so gung-ho at the start about ending the curse. Blue’s all talk but little bite.
Still, the whole thing is a pleasant and occasionally amusing romp as long as I don’t mind that this romance novel is actually more fantasy with some mild romance than anything else. The hero is a bit of a disappointment, but more disappointing, I find, is how the story seemed to be all dark and perverse only to turn out to be a straightforward paranormal caper instead. Oh well.