LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52647-6
Fantasy Romance, 2005
Patti O’Shea’s contribution to the Crimson City series, Through a Crimson Veil, is like the odd stepsister of the previous two books (Liz Maverick’s Crimson City and Marjorie M Liu’s excellent A Taste of Crimson). While the other two books aim to be action-driven stories featuring strong heroes and heroines with a plot that is more action-oriented and encompasses a scope wider than that special moment when the hero mightily deflowers his destined mate, this book comes off like a very typical romantic paranormal story where all the wrong matters (the heroine’s sexual inexperience and her virtue) are often pushed to the forefront at the expense of a kickass action-driven plot. Readers who prefer stories of mournful paranormal Kens and Barbies spending pages looking at each other with intense brooding longing will enjoy this book but I suspect that readers who are expecting something like the stories and characters of the previous two books will be quite disappointed.
The story starts bewilderingly with this woman who spends nearly all the time telling herself and me that the world is so jealous of her before she gets killed by demons in a summoning session gone awry. Er, I’m supposed to cheer or something, I guess. Our heroine Mika is a half-demon from the realm of Orcus who is in Crimson City on a Very Important Mission, although her subject matter, the half-demon demonslayer hero Connor McCabe (try saying “half-demon demonslayer Connor McCabe” as quickly as you can), is also conveniently her destined soulmate. Will Mika and Connor manage to reconcile over the simplistic fact that their half-human genetic make-up somehow makes them so much better than purebred demons and shag without qualms in the dozens after dozens of pages where they pretty much brood over each other? Ms O’Shea somehow doesn’t succeed in making her action scenes dramatic enough so the overall impression I get of this story is Mika and Connor sighing heavily for that moment when Ms O’Shea will finally quit making them psychobabble like amateur shrinks and get down to business.
Also, Ms O’Shea doesn’t end up writing a formula “paranormal creatures brood and brood and oh my God” story, she makes sure that I am aware of it. Maybe she wants a medal or something, I don’t know, but after a while I can practically feel Ms O’Shea standing over my shoulders. When Mika is bent on seduction, for example, Ms O’Shea will quickly let me know that Mika really isn’t that sexually experienced. Now, I’m not a reader who opens a romance novel and thinks at once, “That heroine has better be a virgin or I’ll gather my congregation of church ladies to sing songs of salvation at the author’s doorstep.” Seriously, who cares whether the heroine is sexually experienced or not? She wants to get laid so let her get laid, by Jove, without the author splashing cold water at my face by telling me that Mika isn’t some slut who has had sex with one or two men before (SLUT! BURN HER DEAD!) so I shouldn’t hate Mika. Likewise, when the story threatens to slip into grey territory, as it rightfully should since our main characters are supposed to be kickass heroes, Ms O’Shea pulls off the weirdest stunts to make sure that I remember her characters aren’t evil, often at the expense of the credibility of her story. For example, early in the story Connor will go, oh Mika isn’t evil, she only kills in self-defense, he’s sure of that. And I would go, “Who cares? Look, she’s a demon. I don’t expect her to be Mother Theresa. Can we just get on with the story, please?” And since Connor is supposed to be suspicious of Mika, the fact that he starts to waver about Mika just because she is half-human makes him come off like a silly guy who is slowly letting his pee-pee take over his brain.
Ms O’Shea pulls this kind of stunt on me in her story often, to the point that I am often jolted from a scene because of that. After a while, I want to scream, “I GET IT! I GET IT! THOSE TWO AREN’T SLUTS OR SINNERS AND YOU’D RATHER BE WRITING ABOUT BLUESTOCKING VIRGINS AND RAKES BUT OH – MY – GOD – PLEASE, MS O’SHEA, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, LET ME FINISH THE STORY IN PEACE!”
There is plenty of opportunity for Ms O’Shea to introduce the demons of the realm of Orcus and enrich the canon of Crimson City further, but Patti O’Shea instead seems unwilling to even try to step outside the restricting formula of putting the heroine’s nether and moral purity over anything else. It is very possible to create characters that are clearly the guys to root for without deliberately and obviously trying to hammer the plot to fit what Ms O’Shea believes is the rigid template of characters that her readers will only accept – just see Marjorie M Liu’s contribution to this series for a good example. Ms O’Shea however seems too afraid of being rapped on the knuckles if she steps foot into unchartered waters even a little. In the context of a series meant to explore unchartered waters and introduce readers to something a little different from the usual fare of oversexed brooding vampires and werewolves in the paranormal romance subgenre, I am even tempted to question why Ms O’Shea wants to be a part of Crimson City if she’s going to do nothing more than to produce some tepid Christine Feehan-wannabe book for the readers of the series.