fantasy and science fiction book reviewsShadowdance by Kristen CallihanShadowdance by Kristen Callihan

Let me start this DNF review by saying that I have not read the previous books in Kristen Callihan’s DARKEST LONDON romance series. The books, which are set in a paranormal Victorian London, have overlapping characters, but each focuses on a different couple. My failure to enjoy Shadowdance has nothing to do with my unfamiliarity with the world or characters — I was able to pick up on those things well enough. My issues are with this particular story. I wouldn’t be surprised if I liked other DARKEST LONDON books a lot better (Kelly  likes the first one). Shadowdance gets great reviews at Amazon, Goodreads and Audible. The audio version is produced by Hachette Audio and features one of my newest favorite readers, British actress Moira Quirk. She’s phenomenal, as always, and is perfect in this role.

I read 70% of Shadowdance in audio format before giving up. This story is about Mary Chase and Jack Talent, two regulators for the SOS (The Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals). These characters were minor characters in the previous novels, Moonglow and Winterblaze where, we learned, they hate each other. In Shadowdance we find out why they hate each other and, of course, there’s a romance.

The basic reason that I didn’t like Shadowdance is because it’s one of those typical paranormal romance novels in which characterization, plot, and dialogue bow down to the demands of the tense steamy romance. This means that all that’s required of the characters is that they be beautiful and passionate. All the plot has to do is to get these beautiful passionate people alone together as often as possible, even if that’s at the expense of logic and common sense. The main job description for the dialogue is to get across Mary and Jack’s hatred and hotness for each other.

There’s more to Shadowdance than this, of course — Mary and Jack have to team up to catch a serial killer, Jack’s hiding a couple of big secrets from everyone and he learns about his own supernatural abilities, and the couple needs to deal with the past events that made them hate each other. (And here’s a glaring example of the plot problem: this hatred doesn’t really make sense at all. I’m thinking “that’s why they hate each other??? That’s ridiculous!”). But, generally, the romance is the focus of this story.

The setting is also a problem. It feels like a cliché version of Victorian London — it feels recognizable, but not authentic. So, for example, Jack’s eating rashers and bangers and uses words like “rotter” and “bugger.” Phrases such as “More’s the pity” make Mary sound like she lives in the 19th century but she has incongruously enlightened ideas about women’s roles and sex. The whole thing feels like a modern American woman writing a romance novel set in Victorian London… which of course is what it actually is.

But my biggest issue with Shadowdance is that I just didn’t believe in their hatred for each other and I didn’t understand the romance. It’s all physical. She’s beautiful (“body like a venus” blah blah blah) and he’s aggressive and manly (he towers, looms, grabs and yells). That’s all. They have no other interests, hobbies, or … personality traits. They’re just big beautiful bundles of passion. Most of their conversations are hostile and abusive. They say horrible things to each other. They have nothing to talk about except the case they’re working on and how much they hate each other. I couldn’t stand to be around them, so I don’t know how they could stand it either. Falling in love seemed an unlikely reaction.

So, it was the romance that killed Shadowdance for me. I never bought in to the setting or the plot, but maybe I could have overlooked that if I could have bought into the romance.

Darkest London — (2012-2016) Ember is a prequel. London, 1881. Once the flames are ignited . . . Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman. They will burn for eternity . . . Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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