MaryJanice Davidson is one of the reasons why I love vampires so much. Shaped by Tokimeki Tonight first and
completely ruined captured by Buffy the Vampire Slayer next, a quick google search was all it took me to find her amazingly funny Undead series. The world was a dark place back then, one where Amazon didn’t deliver American books on my front door, so I used to buy her novels on eBay, pay ridiculously high shipping fees, and then wait for a good month before being able to read them.
It was my very own pilgrimage, a vampire-friendly version of the Way of St. James. Waiting was excruciatingly painful, but it did my impatient self good. And her books were good too, in that lighthearted, funny way a 20 years old girl would love. They made me want to read more about vamps, and that curiosity gave me the chance to discover masterpieces such as The Hollows –I know, I’m obsessed and I mention it in every review. It is great, read it–.
So, let’s fast-forward to 16 years later. Imagine my happiness when I spotted her new novel on NetGalley. I kept all my fingers crossed in hope they’d give me the chance to read it, and I felt blessed enough when they did. As soon as I got the notification, I downloaded the book and began reading, but after the first couple of pages I could already see that I was off to a rocky start.
Disclaimer: I’m going to review A Wolf After My Own Heart, by MaryJanice Davidson. This is book two of the BeWere My Heart series, but it can be read as a standalone. As a general rule I try to keep spoilers safely hidden behind white text, but some spoilers might be inferred anyway, so read at your own peril.
And now, on with my thoughts.
The truth is that, despite how much I wanted to love this book, I didn’t like it. It felt unfinished. Since the main characters go through a lot throughout the story, I expected some growth from them, and yet they were unchanged, with the sole exception of being in love. And yes, we could argue that Lila spent her life moving from one place to another and this time decides to stay, but that’s exactly what she wanted to do in the first place: she had already chosen to settle and even talked (offstage) to her landlord about buying the house. Same for Oz’s arc: when we meet him he is on his first case as an IPA agent –basically social workers for shifter kids, also known as cubs– and that’s exactly where his story ends. Sure, Oz is handsome, super nice and rich, but he is also boring. Nobody is perfect, so where are the flaws that make him, and these characters in general, relatable for the reader? Where are all the emotions?
Yes, I know this is a paranormal romance story. I know the genre is what it is, and let’s be honest, we love it anyway. I tend to look for these kinds of stories when I’m in need of something light, cheesy and generally heartwarming. And it is also true that all the great romance stories have a lot of conflict in them, which makes them automatically interesting. There’s something incredibly attractive to characters experiencing conflict, am I right?
So, I started this book having already figured out Oz –like the werewolf from Buffy! I keep finding Buffy references lately– was going to be Lila’s romantic interest, and I expected a lot of drama given the fact that she, a human, just moved in in a neighborhood completely populated by shifters. Or that he’d been assigned his first cub to protect. Or the fact that when he broke into her house to find the aforementioned cub she pushed him down the stairs, locked him in her basement and then left for a whole day without even calling the police. A human would have been seriously injured, and yet Lila, who doesn’t suspect he is a shifter, just doesn’t care. At this point, instead of hating her guts, Oz is madly in love with her, but he asks her out for lunch in order for his sister to search her house. A little conflict ensues at this point, but it leads nowhere. Every attempt at being apart is only shown as a passing thought, because they love each other and that’s the way it is. Possibly because they’re both lonely, or perhaps because they are soulmates according to a shifter myth.
Some things are easy to believe, but others like this one require a lot of effort, because they’re counterintuitive. I’ve never bought into the soulmates trope, but I’m ok with reading about it if the characters don’t just accept it. As I said, this is not the case, and as a consequence I didn’t find Oz and Lila’s relationship steamy at all. It felt like they didn’t even know why they liked each other, which is incredibly sad.
Another issue I had is how the POVs were handled. We have both Lila and Oz as narrators, but toward the end of the story another (secondary) character becomes a narrator in order to give the readers some background information on a battle that took place ten years before. Was it really necessary? Honestly I’m not really sure. I’m generally okay with multiPOV stories (ASOIAF anyone?), as long as they are balanced: every character, every chapter, needs to move the story forward. Backstories? I’d rather have the main characters discover what happened on their own instead of having a not-so-relevant character explain it. In this specific case, I feel it took the focus away from a story that would have worked perfectly if only the narration had been less fragmented. The plot was interesting, and I’m sure it would have made a really fun and compelling read because all the right elements were there.
Since we are talking about fragmentation, I need to point out that the formatting of this book made it really hard for me to read it –it took me five days to finish it. Five! Go ask Tissie how much it bugged me that I had to constantly stop and reread!–.
Quite often, perfectly linear sentences were interrupted midway through only to
(why are you doing this to me?)
start a new line
(why why why why?)
to include thoughts. Lots of thoughts. Often puntuactionless thoughts.
I found it annoying. Most importantly, I noticed it broke the flow of the story. I kept getting confused and distracted, and I had to go back a few sentences and reread to find the strength to move forward. Such a pity, if you ask me: the parts where this weird formatting doesn’t occur are super easy to read and very engaging. While Tissie suggests this narrative expedient is often used in fan fictions, I just can’t deal with the lack of proper formatting. Call me old all you want, but punctuation exists to make reading easier, not harder. I get the need to express feelings, I love feelings, but I feel it could have been done in a less obtrusive way.
All these elements ruined my book experience, and it is incredibly sad. I wanted to love Lila, to ship her and Oz. I wanted to feel concerned for Sally, or scared for her future, but it never happened. As you might have noticed so far, I’m what I’d call an emotional reader. I need to jump into a story and run toward the end, letting every scene, every plot twist, every feeling hit me in the gut. Sadly, when I have to start, stop, then start again, then pause and so on, it is incredibly difficult for me to empathize with the characters.
And all these points are exactly why I feel this book would have benefitted of a little more polishing.
In conclusion, I really wish I had liked this book more and I feel crushed I didn’t. I was hoping for a quick and fun read; instead I almost felt like when I was five and I’d discovered Santa wasn’t real. It could have been a solid 7, but as it is I don’t think I can rate this book more than 5/10. I hope I’ll like the next one MaryJanice Davidson writes more.