When I picked up the advanced reader’s copy of Delilah S. Dawson’s new trilogy-starter “Wicked As They Come,” I was wary. Paranormal romance is a genre that has become a widespread, nearly household term, and as exciting as it is to see the supernatural, spooky and steamy on bookshelves everywhere, it’s also a little overwhelming at times. And while paranormal romance isn’t my first and foremost choice of material, within the first few pages of “Wicked” I knew I had found something different.
Dawson’s heroine, Tish Everett, is a nurse whose last relationship was a doozy. Her ex was verbally and physically abusive and manipulative, and now Tish spends her time and energy taking care of her ailing grandmother, as a distraction from the fact that she has lost love for herself and needs time to recover. After finding a peculiar locket at an estate sale one day, Tish wears the bauble to bed and wakes up — stark naked — in a strange, dark land where rabbits have fangs and nothing is what it seems. The person who rescues her from the moors that night is a Bludman named Criminy Stain – essentially a vampire, but with a number of variations on the usual theme
. He is the leader of a band of carnival people parked nearby, and seems totally at ease with Tish’s presence — no doubt because he is the one who magically summoned Tish to this new world, Sang, via the locket. Soon Tish discovers that when she comes into skin-to-skin contact with someone, she can glimpse that person’s future. This is a rare gift, and unusual, as pretty much everyone in Sang is covered with clothes from the chin down. The more skin shows, the more likely one is to get bit by a bludbunny or worse. So Tish is installed into the carnival as a fortune-teller and Criminy continues to be mysterious about why he summoned her across the worlds to be with him. When the locket is subsequently stolen from her neck one night at the carnival, Criminy and Tish set out across Sang to retrieve it, and uncover a plot of destruction and intrigue that could threaten the Bludmen’s entire existence. And it seems that this is just the beginning of Sang’s problems.
As the self-
deprecating but wildly witty heroine, Tish is a refreshing first-person narrator whose skepticism is matched by her amazement throughout the story. Although she’s still emotionally bruised from her last brush with intimacy, she ‘s somehow still entranced by the idea that Criminy used magic to call to her — his perfect love — from across space and time to bring her to Sang. The idea is definitely romantic. But her continual yearning to return to her own world and care for her grandmother coupled with her lingering insecurities about her own worth are anchors to her old life , and build conflict, in addition to proving Tish’s humanity. She ‘s no wilting flower whisked off to a magical land of vampy guys and magic lockets. It’s a struggle for her to believe herself worthy of love, which for a paranormal romance is unusual and refreshing, but never overbearing or counterproductive for the story that Dawson is telling.
The world of Sang starts off spooky and a little weird, but as Tish comes to know Criminy and the world of Pinkies and Bludmen, the reader is drawn in and by the end of the story I found myself wholeheartedly rooting for them. I am very excited to read the next novel in what I understand will be a trilogy from Dawson. It is a tricky business selling the “alternate worlds” idea, but Dawson does well by not forcing the Steampunk aspects and letting them come naturally to the storyline. And as the “extra-naughty Mr. Darcy” of the tale, Criminy Stain is both mysterious and enticing;
although he’s got dark secrets like everyone in Sang, he is honest with Tish and there is a powerful bond between them that satisfies the story as well as the reader.
“Wicked As They Come” surprised me wholly. It was a fun read in a unique world as told by a witty but nicely imperfect narrator. I look forward very much to the next installment and recommend “Wicked” to anyone who likes a bit of bite and sass — not to mention a dash of passion! — with their cogs and gears.