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Book Review: “Lone” by Rowan McBride

September 17, 2010

Author: Rowan McBride
Pages: 174
Synopsis: Professor Seth Anderson has finally found sanctuary in Brier, Iowa. Even better, he’s found Raphael ‘Rafe’ Dirisio, a strong, giant of a man who owns the town pool hall, and Seth has never felt so comfortable, safe, or close to anyone. When Seth is asked to give a series of lectures in Washington, DC, it seems only natural that Rafe come along. But in a few surreal days, Seth’s true nature is exposed and he brings both their lives crashing down around them. Because Seth is not only a werewolf, he’s also something much, much worse…

My Rating: 2 stars out of 5

First, the good. The writing is, for the most part, stellar, both in a technical sense and an artistic one. There are some particular exceptions — lazy description of the fight scene as “like The Matrix“, forced and stilted dialogues to facilitate infodumps, and frequently confusing pronoun use — but in general, the emotions come through strongly, and the narrative is cohesive. I would definitely look for more selections from this author.

Now, that said, I did not like this book. For one thing, the character of Seth never clicked with me. For all his advanced learning, he repeatedly demonstrates the emotional maturity of a child. There is an attempt made at explaining it, but it rang hollow with me because it was incongruous with everything we’re shown of Seth up to that point. It’s difficult for me to imagine someone that self-deprecating with that low a self-esteem achieving all the things that Seth has achieved. While I can appreciate a less than confident lead in a m/m romance, it does become tedious when the character hates themselves all the time and allows themselves to be constantly used as a door-mat.

On the other hand, I wasn’t that crazy about Rafe’s character, either. As the story moves on, his discomfort at the situation simply grows and grows, yet he continues to accede to Seth’s wishes. He never seems to come to a satisfactory place mentally with that, either, so I simply see a desperately unhappy man in a codependent relationship with a growing resentment over his situation. And that is not, to me, a satisfying place to leave a romantic lead at the end of a story. (Frankly, my favorite character in the entire book was Dorian, but that may just be because I have a soft spot for witty, sarcastic vampires.)

The sex scenes were another place of discomfort. Anal sex without proper lubricants never fails to take me right out of the story. (And no, saliva does not count as a proper lubricant.) Beyond the mechanics, though, there was an element of uncertain — if not outright withdrawn — consent that peppered the scenes, and that also pushes buttons for me. Sex should not be used as a replacement for love and want and reassurance, and yet in this story, it seems to be used that way repeatedly.

Finally, the worldbuilding on the whole left something to be desired. We’re told all about Ravagers and how horribly mindless and vicious they are, but we never actually see any evidence of this, and that makes the whole thing fall flat. The only Ravager in the story is Seth, and he is somehow a Special Snowflake thanks to the power of “twoo wuv” such that we only see him lashing out in self defense, which belies the mindlessness we’re led to picture. As a result, how he managed to survive for so long prior to meeting Rafe is questionable at best, and the explanation for that is similarly insufficient. Much of the Nightkin society we’re told about is introduced far too late into the narrative to have any real impact. There are many places in the story where the plot drags in order to achieve maximum angst which could have been tightened up to make room for additional plot points to allow the more dynamic worldbuilding to have become relevant.

I wonder if this book is intended to be the first in a series of Nightkin books. I would actually be in favor of this because it would give a chance for the worldbuilding to really shine as long as the author focuses tightly on one particular aspect at a time and delves deeply, instead of glossing over too much all at once, as was done in this book. For instance, was it really necessary to explain that Ravager warlock babies explode? It contributed nothing to the storyline, but did make me giggle madly at the image. (I’m… not sure I should have admitted to that.) There is definitely potential in the world for some really excellent stories, though, and I hope the author explores those in the future.

Unfortunately, for this book, the things I did like were overshadowed by the things I didn’t. But that may have simply been this story, because as I stated, the author’s writing style was very good overall. I will definitely be taking notice of his future releases, though, and I do hope we haven’t seen the last of the Nightkin world.

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