Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-3796-5
Sci-fi Romance, 2016
Shadow Falling follows Mercury Striking, which I wasn’t impressed with at all, so I am surprised by how much I like this one. Don’t worry, this one stand alone quite well, although characters from the previous book show up here as well, and both books share a common theme and setting, so references to the previous book are present here too. But the story arc moves so slowly that new readers will have ample time to catch up and get used to the whole thing. Oh yes, this is actually a slow-paced story, despite what the cover may suggest. The action scenes are packed late in the story; the bulk of the story is the standard “man gets hot while hovering over vulnerable damsel” tale that has been done to death already in the whole “alpha male fantasy” genre.
Okay, just a short and simple recap: the world has been demolished by the Scorpius virus, and those infected are called Rippers, because the virus affects their brains and awaken their base impulses, turning them into vicious killers. Those who are still sane are forced to stick together and take up porn star names such as Lynne Harmony, Jax Mercury, and in this one, Vinnie Wellington and Raze Shadow. People, if a virus or zombie apocalypse hits, please remember to call me Jiggly Monsoon, thanks.
Before this story opens, Raze and his buddies rescued Vivienne “Vinnie” Wellington, a former FBI profiler, from the captivity of the President of the United States himself, who had turned into a Ripper. Now, Vinnie is doing that ooh-nightmares can’t-sleep thing while Raze tries to soothe her raw nerves by coming on to her when she has barely stopped shaking. Hey, don’t judge – the world has gone to hell, so those folks probably had no time for foreplay and sensitivity anymore. Besides, it’s an alpha male thing, and if his behavior doesn’t make you all mushy and moist inside, then you will be stricken off the author’s fan club membership list and no alpha male will press you against the wall when you least expect it to hump you like a true hero. Anyway, Raze finds her vulnerability and beauty sexy, so these two spend a lot of time with him doing that “Aww, are you feeling traumatized? Come press your cheeks against my rock hard pecs!” thing and she doing her best to stay strong while at the same time oozing the sexy kind of haplessness that turns him on even more.
I know, I’m being very sarcastic when it comes to the synopsis, but that’s what this story is. For a long time, it’s a rehash of the Alpha Male and the Traumatized Lady story, and readers who are familiar with stories by other authors that write urban fantasy alpha male wish fulfillment stories will find this one pretty predictable, like another go at a favorite meal in a restaurant that one patronizes regularly.
But here’s why this one works for me: the fantasy works. Let me explain. Despite his horrible name and some contrived alpha male pretensions, Raze is actually a pretty well-rounded guy. Sure, he’s overpowered like every other guy of his ilk, but there is an endearing tenderness underneath his protectiveness. Despite his constant claims that he finds Vinnie’s vulnerability sexy (which is icky, if you ask me), he never appear too much of a stalker, creep, or weirdo. It also helps that he’s not some oversexed caricature like some of his fellow alpha males – I find Raze to be more of a reliable action hero whose brooding, protective nature is quite the selling point. Okay, so I found Vin Diesel’s character in Pitch Black sexy – sue me, but Raze has the same effect on me.
As for Vinnie, yes, by all standards she’s that chick that the hero is supposed to get all overprotective over, but I feel that the author succeeds in making her a bit more than that. Vinnie’s trauma may hold her back, understandably, from kicking much ass, but she is still capable enough to contribute to the good guys’ cause in her own way. After all, she has the smarts and the knowledge too, and I also like how she is strong and determined enough to keep heading onwards despite all she has endured in the past. When she claims that she and Raze play on an equal footing, I believe her, because I feel the same way too. Vinnie may be placed in a position of weakness, but she’s by no means weak.
Therefore, I find myself completely absorbed by their interactions for a big chunk of the story. It is later in the story, when both our hero and heroine find that their respective pasts have caught up with them, that the action kicks in, and by then, it’s nice to see how they get to walk to talk. He’s all capable and action hero-y, while she can certainly hold her own even when crap hits the roof. The action-heavy part is also where sequel baiting is the heaviest, but I’m okay with that because the author doesn’t let this overpower the main couple.
Another plus is that, unlike the previous book, the balance of sex and love is just right here, as is the balance of action and quiet moments. Shadow Falling, in other words, is a solid example of an admittedly overdone premise executed in a style that is pure boss.