Blood of the Wicked by Karina Cooper
I can be a sap sometimes, and I confess that a good love story can move me to tears. Blood of the Wicked, however, made me cry for all the wrong reasons.
Blood of the Wicked is the first in the Dark Mission paranormal romance series by debut author Karina Cooper. It appears that each installment will be self-contained and focus on a different couple. The setting is an alternate future: witches existed and were known to exist in the story’s past, and then when disasters struck the world’s cities, the witches were blamed for the cataclysms and are now hunted and burned. In New Seattle, built on the ruins of today’s Seattle, we meet our hero and heroine.
Silas is a witch hunter on the trail of a violent coven. To that end, he seeks out Jessie, the sister of one of the coven’s witches, Caleb. He finds her tending bar in a strip club and, to make a long story short, the two end up hunting Caleb together. Silas intends to capture Caleb and have him executed, while Jessie believes her brother is innocent and plans to save him instead. But Jessie has a secret: she is also a witch, and if Silas finds out, it will mean a death sentence.
Cooper’s writing is for the most part very good. New Seattle and the alternate history are interesting, and Cooper skillfully depicts the wet, cold, bleak, chaotic world her characters live in. You don’t even realize how well she describes it until the characters reach a beautiful, wholesome sanctuary that is the polar opposite of the city, and until they are thrust back into New Seattle after that brief idyll. Some of the geographic descriptions and fight scenes can get a little confusing, and Cooper has a few “pet words” that she overuses (“roil” comes to mind), but overall the prose works well.
The problem with Blood of the Wicked is the romance — and as this is a romance novel, that’s not a good thing. Silas is a bigot. I understand that he has a traumatic past involving some evil witches. When being a witch is known with 100% certainty to be genetic, though, and when Silas persists in believing everyone with that genetic marker is irredeemable, that’s bigotry in my book. Even before he finds out Jessie is a witch, he doesn’t always treat her well; he’s troublingly rough with her on several occasions and shames her for the strip-club job. After he finds out — well, that’s where a lot of the crying comes in. The way he treats her (and allows her to be treated by others) after that revelation is extremely upsetting.
All of this would be easier to swallow if Blood of the Wicked weren’t a romance. I can read about all sorts of twisted people in fantasy or general fiction. But when I read romance, I want to root for a couple to get together, and I want to turn the last page thinking they will be happier now that they’ve found each other. When it comes to Silas and Jessie, I have trouble believing it. Silas’ change of heart about witches seems born of panic, or simply put in because it’s necessary to the plot, rather than deeply felt. Even if he means it, though, I’m still not convinced he won’t trot out the strip-club jeers the first time they have an ordinary domestic argument.
Or maybe it would work if it were a stronger romance. The relationship between Silas and Jessie develops over just a few days and consists largely of the two repeatedly getting into danger and then having sex afterward. The connection feels too superficial. Love may conquer many things, but I have less faith in the power of lust and adrenaline.
I can’t deny that Blood of the Wicked took my emotions on an intense roller-coaster ride — and there’s some evocative writing here, especially in the “sanctuary” scenes — but in the end it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Dark Mission — (2011-2013) Publisher: When the world went straight to hell, humanity needed a scapegoat to judge, to blame… to burn. As an independent witch living off the grid, Jessie Leigh has spent her life running, trying to blend in among the faceless drudges in the rebuilt city. She thought she was finally safe, but now she’s been found in a New Seattle strip club—by a hard-eyed man on a mission to destroy her kind. A soldier of the Holy Order, Silas Smith believes in the cause: trawling the fringes of society for the murderous witches who threaten what’s left of the world. Forced into a twisting web of half-truths and lies, he has to stay close to the most sensuous and electrifying woman he has ever seen and manipulate her into leading him to the witch he has to kill: her brother. Silas doesn’t know that Jessie’s his enemy, only that he wants her, needs her, even as he lies to her… and must protect her until his final breath.
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