If you asked who the breakout star of 2004 was for me, I’d say MaryJanice Davidson. And if you asked me which book was the biggest disappointment, I’d tell you it was Derik’s Bane. When I read Undead and Unwed I raved. The book was funny and witty and fresh. Same went, to a slightly lesser extent, for the sequel Undead and Unemployed and the offbeat Royal Treatment. Then I read the anthologies. All had the same rapid-fire dialogue, snarky heroines, and hot heroes. And I enjoyed them. But I didn’t feel them. And now comes Ms. Davidson’s latest, a full-length novel set in a universe created in one of those anthologies (Secrets, volumes 6 and 8, both reviewed at AAR). Finally I realized what was beginning to wear on me.Though the snark is ever present, there’s no emotional center and the plot gets lost somewhere amongst all the one-liners and zingers.
Derik Gardner has just begun to realize he’s an alpha werewolf in a pack that already has an alpha. If he doesn’t get out of the household in which he’s living, he’s going to do serious injury or maybe kill that alpha, his best friend Michael Wyndham. Derik is offered a chance to get out gracefully when another member of his pack foretells the end of the world. Derik steps up and offers to save it. His mission is to find and “take care of” Dr. Sara Gunn, a reincarnated Morgan Le Fay. There’s one big problem with that scenario; the minute he sets eyes on Sara, Derik’s plan falls apart. She’s hot and he wants her. After an admittedly half-hearted attempt to kill Sara, Derik decides to join forces with her instead and try to save the world some other way.
Sara hasn’t a clue that she’s the powerful sorceress once more brought to life. Sure she has the luck of the devil, but that’s just her life. When a gang of men in red robes tries to kill her, she thinks they’re just a bunch of crazies who can’t shoot straight. The appearance of the handsome, but seemingly dumb, Derik is just another fluke in a life that is full of them. Though Sara is skeptical about Derik’s story and the plan he concocts, she is wildly attracted to the man (werewolf) and is willing to travel across country to settle the matter.
What follows is basically a road romance. Derik and Sara decide to travel by car in hopes of avoiding detection, both from the Wyndham Pack and Sara’s enemies. The men looking for Sara want to use the reincarnation of Morgan Le Fay to bring back the glory of King Arthur and Camelot. It’s never very clear how any of this is supposed to occur, but it’s very clear that the author intended it that way. Her focus is on the sizzling dialogue and pop-culture references.
In my glom of everything Davidson, I’ve learned that dialogue is key. And that’s a good thing. Ms. Davidson has a knack for funny, fast-paced conversations that remind me of those comedies of the 1940s like The Philadelphia Story. Stop paying attention for a minute and you’ll miss a killingly funny comment. See or read it again and you’ll find clever references you missed the first time around.
But dialogue isn’t everything. And though I enjoyed the banter between Derik and Sara I wanted something more from their story. I wanted to feel something stronger than amusement. They banter, kiss, have sex, kill the bad guys, save the world and banter some more. All very enjoyable in its way, but about as emotionally filling as popcorn. In fact by the time the duo gets to the bad guys I didn’t much care anymore. There’s very little suspense in the build-up to the battle and it ends with a whimper rather then a bang.
My wish for the next book by this author (and yes – I’ll definitely be picking it up) is that she slow it down a little and fill in the pages with something more then clever, zany characters. Make those characters and the reader feel something. Whether she writes it that way or not, I’ll be there. But if the trend continues I might not pick up the books quite as eagerly.