In the mashup-crazed world of publishing, cowboy vampires were bound to happen. It seems like a worthy premise — romance-hero cowboys and romance-hero vampires both tend to be alluring outsiders whose rebelliousness and sensuality is irresistible to heroines of all stripes.
I know from McCarty’s earlier novels that she can make erotic Western historicals work. That could be why I’m so baffled that Jared is such an unfortunate trainwreck of a book. Given the premise, I figured this would be the kind of book I’d pass around as a more adult antidote to the Twilight saga. It’s not.
There’s no real sense of time or place here. It’s vaguely futuristic, but that could be the SF/fantasy elements in the story. It could be 1989, it could be last Thursday, it could be 2074. Setting-wise, it’s probably the western United States, since Jared is ostensibly a cowboy, but then again, I’m basing that assumption on the look of the cover model and on McCarty’s earlier novels.
We first meet Jared and Raisa in the woods. Raisa is being pursued for reasons unknown. Jared saves her from some evil vampires, and he soon discovers that she is the sickliest vampire he’s ever seen in his two-hundred-odd years of vampiredom. It turns out that she’s allergic to blood and can’t feed. Since the two are deep in enemy territory, they are forced to hide together in very close quarters. Even though Raisa’s not his usual type, Jared finds her irresistible, and within a few hours, he’s become a possessive monster.
I mean that semi-literally — Jared growls. A lot. Every other page, the man is growling over something (usually another man looking sideways at Raisa). I kept waiting for Raisa to step up and show some moxie — to mouth off or rebel or to just tell Jared to stop growling and try being a more reasonable cowboy vampire. She never does. She just continues her limp-dishrag-with-secrets routine.
After the first couple of chapters with the pursuit through the woods, there’s not much plot. What’s there is mostly propping up a few mediocre and not particularly erotic sex scenes. There’s one big reveal and a “climactic” final battle, but in between it’s a lot of growling and jealousy and appearances by random, seemingly minor characters. The best part of the book is one of those minor characters -a cowboy vampire scientist. He’s like the ultimate outsider: A cowboy and a vampire who is also a nerd! And he’s not a jerk! Hooray for a little bit of book learning!
I don’t expect to have my hand held when I read the second book in the series without reading the first. Nobody likes a gigantic info-dump. However, I do expect authors to clue me in on the bigger picture in some subtle way. At the end of the novel, I still didn’t know what the purpose of the two warring vampire factions was or why they were fighting. I didn’t know why vampires and weres have such a strained relationship. I didn’t know why Jared only communicates in grunts, or if the enemy device/bomb implanted in Raisa’s spine was responsible for making her, well, spineless.
I’ve read Sarah McCarty before. I’ve enjoyed her Hell’s Eight novels. I know she can do better than this. When the heroine refuses to show any spunk and revels in her weakness, and the hero’s main contribution is growling like an angry pit bull at anyone who dares show “his woman” the slightest bit of care or compassion, it’s not romantic. Describing Jared’s appalling behavior towards Raisa as a product of the chauvinistic cowboy vampire society is a cop-out. There has to be some give-and-take; that’s what makes this kind of love story work. The heroine softens the domineering, jerky alpha hero and helps him understand that it’s okay to have feelings and to be tender, and the hero helps the woman discover her strength, confidence, and sexuality. That doesn’t happen in Jared. At the end, we’re left with two characters who are still the same miserable people they were at the beginning, only now they’re married to each other. Ain’t cowboy vampire love grand?