LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52630-1
Fantasy Romance, 2006
Marjorie M Liu’s Shadow Touch sees her returning to her hodge-podge world of shapeshifters, psychics, and other paranormal beings in her Dirk & Steele series. If the first half is anything to go by, I think the paranormal romance scene needs authors like Ms Liu. She doesn’t do that “sex to save the world” thing – her heroines don’t exist solely to reproduce super babies that will make the world a better place. However, Ms Liu has a tendency to overcompensate for her characters when they don’t need any compensation, so the end result is too-perfect superhuman characters who are sometimes too good.
Artur Loginov is a very tortured empath. He is a one-man CSI team in the sense that he can touch people and discern things from their memories. However, he fears that he is slowly going mad due to one too many too-intimate encounters with graphic acts of inhuman cruelty. However, before he can take a nice long vacation, he is kidnapped by a mysterious Consortium who wants to harness the skills of paranormal folks for sinister purposes. Also kidnapped is Artur’s old flame Elena Baxter who is special with a special S. No, she’s SPECIAL, all capital letters, because she can heal people – even drive cancers into submission – with the touch of her hand. Elena’s gift also allows her to heal the very damaged psyche of Artur but they have to escape the Consortium and deal with the aftermath of their kidnapping before they can both find a happily ever after.
The first half of the story bears some similarity to Kelley Armstrong’s Stolen, and it doesn’t help that the heroine here is named Elena as well, heh. However, this first half is a very good read. It has me at the edge of my seat at many moments and I actually shed a tear when Elena slowly heals poor Artur’s damaged psyche. Artur is a very intriguing hero as he’s like a very nice guy who, when he’s backed against the wall, will do some very nasty things to the bad guys, especially when it comes to protecting the ones he loves. Elena is also a pretty interesting heroine despite the author very obviously making her a symbol for all that is good from page one in this story – Elena is smart, she’s good for Artur, and she can take care of herself.
However, once Elena, Artur, and a bunch of sequel-bait paranormal fellows escape from the Consortium, that’s when Shadow Touch stops being so interesting. It’s still a good read from that point onwards, but Ms Liu starts plying on the heroism in her characters until these characters start to become flat. For example, when these people are on the run, they stop at an empty house with clothes that they can change into to help them blend in, so to speak, as they keep running. However, Elena starts going on and on in some bizarre “Oh no, that will be stealing! That’s not nice!” and “Promise me we’ll find a way to pay these people back!” way that I have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. Maybe it’s just me but if I have a bunch of psychotic monsters hot on my heels, I will not be thinking about some poor fellow crying because I stole his pants from his house while he is away. Come on! Scenes such as this one are very jarring and they forcibly prevent me from becoming too engrossed in the story. Elena especially has the tendency to often act like a goody-two-shoes often at the expense of common sense or natural survival instincts.
Nonetheless, I enjoy Ms Liu’s brand of urban fantasy. She doesn’t underestimate her readers – the canon in this story doesn’t comprise dumbed-down concepts and Ms Liu doesn’t rely on campy comedy to carry her story. Many urban fantasy elements in this story go straight for the reader’s jugular. The depictions of psionic skills sound as something one would find in an uncompromising science-fiction story and the horror elements are really scary. Ms Liu comes off like someone who knows what she is doing and she does it really well. If her characters will exhibit a little less unrealistic superhero complex, this book would be a winner for me.