Writing this review, I was reminded of an old Disney song: “For every high, there is a low/For every stop, there is a go.” I find it’s the nature of C grade books that for every Good, there’s a big fat But, and the first installment in Sarah McCarty’s new Shadow Wrangler series is no different.
Allie has had her sights on green-eyed Caleb Johnson for quite a while; he comes into her bakery every morning, downs a coffee and pastry, then disappears until the next morning. She’s tried seducing him to the best of her abilities, but no luck yet. One evening after work, Allie is walking home when she’s attacked by a pack of monstrous, red-eyed, man-eating wolves. To her surprise, a huge grey wolf with green eyes saves her, getting badly injured in the process.
The wolf, of course, is Caleb, who instructs her telepathically to take him to the ranch he shares with his brothers. Of course, once she gets there they reveal that they are actually shape-shifting vampires and, in trying to save Caleb’s life, Allie is turned into a vampire as well. As she tries to adjust to her new life, she becomes caught in a three-sided species war and discovers that she may have acquired some psychic powers, as well as the desire to suck blood.
So let’s deal with the highs first. Allie is a decent heroine, plucky but not dumb, independent but not aggressive. She understandably has difficulties adjusting to her new life, and refuses to knuckle under to a vampire whose gender ideas are firmly entrenched in the 1860 when he was turned. Caleb himself is a rather appealing alpha vampire who has to Protect and Cherish His Woman (grrr), but he does it so respectfully I can’t really argue. And the author has a deft hand with action scenes, ones that actually got my heart pounding.
But then there are the lows. Allie uses humor and sarcasm as defense mechanisms and, while that’s understandable, there are times when it was highly inappropriate and just made her sound like a ditz. And Caleb’s appealing alpha-ness unfortunately remains two-dimensional. Then there is the setting, which is stuck in some nebulously contemporary western American town that is so colorless it could have been in high Tibet for all I know (minus the cowboy hats).
The worst, however, is the book’s perspective on violence. The plot meanders along unevenly until the villain identifies himself and Allie goes to investigate, after which a blood bath ensues. And I’m not exaggerating; this book is the literary equivalent of Kill Bill. What disturbs me isn’t the quantity of violence, but the ease and nonchalance with which it is described; I turn my head, and another vein casually bursts. It doesn’t help that Allie’s flippant commentary seems to translate into an equal flippancy towards the spurting blood and exploding flesh.
Still, Sarah McCarty has an appealing cinematic style that cuts between scenes and dialogue efficiently, and I’d be willing to try her again. The series is by no means over – after all, there are at least three brothers and two werewolves to get through – but if her other books demonstrate the same carelessness towards bloodshed (even the vampiric kind), then I’m done.