Never Let Me Fall
(This book contains descriptions of child abuse, rape, prison rape, sexual slavery and childhood sexual abuse.)
This third installment of Abbie Roads’ Fatal Dreams series of dark paranormal romances brings together former prison inmate Helena Grayse and police consultant Thomas Brown, whose empathic skills and colorblindness shape-shift thanks to her presence.
Helena Grayse was wrongly incarcerated following an erroneous murder conviction when she was eighteen, and has recently been released from Fairson Reformatory for Women, where she has endured years of abuse, ordered and paid for by her ‘victim’s’ mother. Life on the outside is a struggle, and she finds herself living in a tent on what used to be her grandmother’s property while trying to rebuild her life, and soon begins having prophetic dreams featuring booming voices that tell her she is a warrior and that it is “her destiny to teach others how to survive”, presenting her with ugly scenarios in which her dream-self manages to survive and thrive – mostly by kicking or punching people in their balls. This is The White Room, a state of existence between planes of reality, where people like her (mainly other heroes and heroines of this series) can save the downtrodden and victimized in their dream states. It’s like A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, only unlike Nancy, Helena manages not to get herself and her friends mostly murdered before the end.
Thomas Brown has been colorblind ever since his abusive stepfather kicked him in the face, an assault that also left him with the power to feel the thoughts and feelings of murder victims by touching them between the eyes – which is the only time his colorblindness is ever relieved but also gives him intense burning sensations and pains in his body. Thomas’ headaches are just the crappy icing on the compost cake of his life, but they make him a valuable asset to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which uses his powers to suss out murderers. Otherwise, to live – for Thomas – is to suffer. His stepfather is a corrupt murderer on top of being a child abuser, and his dead stepbrother sexually molested his sister. Thomas’ stepfather has used his influence to cover up his crimes and still works as the town sheriff. The only good person in Thomas’ life is Pastor Audie, a kind clergyman who’s been there for him every step of the way.
Continuing the conga line of angst that is his life, Thomas’ mother has just passed away, and at her burial he sees Helena, crying at the grave of her murdered friend. It’s a momentary encounter, but a life-changing one. For when Thomas sees Helena at a distance, the world suddenly winks out – then explodes back to life in color, and Helena’s body is mysteriously un-haloed by the shadow of death he sees surrounding every other person he encounters. He’s immediately stricken by the intense need to be with and touch Helena but she slips away – and he quickly learns his mother has written a deathbed confession of her husband’s crimes that exposes his physical and sexual abuse, and adds that he had killed Thomas’ biological father. Until the investigation into the allegations is over, Thomas’ job – and only reason for living – is going to be put on hold. Thomas stomps away from his mother’s funeral, goes home to sulk, and the morning after, finds Helena camping in his woods, and their immediate connection becomes evident. But Helena is shot on the morning after their first night together, revealing both Thomas’ healing powers and the truth behind her prison torture. It soon becomes apparent that Helena is still being stalked by dark forces, and that she will need to harness her Inner Warrior to have Thomas and survive. Can she? Will she?
Ooo-err. Never Let Me Fall is one of the strangest reading experiences I’ve had this year.
There is not a single person with a healthy background, personality or perspective in the entire novel. Thomas is a Manly Man who tries to get through his softer feelings for Helena by calling them ‘pansy ass’ and punching things. He’s the kind of man who punches his mother’s coffin out of anger. He, in short, does not feel like a real person. And he’s a terrible cop who contaminates crime scenes, to boot.
Helena is a cardboard cutout with no interest beyond survival and no personality beyond ‘good’ and ‘feral’; for half the book she doesn’t pass the Sexy Lamp Test. It’s nice to have a mute character who’s allowed to be in a romantic relationship, but the author has made her the kind of ‘strong’ that lets the hero do all of the heavy lifting while she stumbles around stubbornly in snowstorms. Helena eventually fulfills her destiny – to embody the waif-fu/Born Sexy trope, going from a whimpering victim to a kung-fu-kicking badass thanks to Sooper Special Dream Training. Now, we’re told she occasionally kicked butt in prison – but her post-release behavior doesn’t reflect that at all.
Their love is – well, kinda creepy, as they waddle beneath the weight of their extreme personal traumas and grab onto each other like driftwood as the only Pure Good Fated Thing Ever. There is no tension within the relationship at all; they have an instant mental link that gets rid of that pesky need-to-get-to-know-you stage, and means there is no need for conversation or foreplay during sex. Clearly, soulmating means never having to say you’re sorry, finger your partner or go out for coffee. Thomas is told (and the narrative seems to think this is incredibly sexy): You want your woman safe? You want her unharmed and healthy? You don’t fucking leave her side. You keep touching her at all times. Thus, for most of the book they literally cannot function without being near each other; this is a theme that runs throughout the series with all of its heroes and heroines, and I can’t tell you how unfathomably creepy I find it. This is likely no one’s idea of a nice relationship; there’s true love and there’s the ability to take a hot bubble bath alone without having to worry about your beloved’s whining. The overall tone kept giving me a case of the giggles because it was so over the top and so dark it crossed the line into parody instead. Also, I would’ve enjoyed their love scenes and the true-love-heals part of the plot so much more if the hero hadn’t healed the heroine’s muteness and her physical scars by licking her. Literally licking her. LIKE CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG.
And then there’s the plot. Remember how Thomas called his soft feelings ‘pansy ass’? Well, his stepfather – who turns out to be the only queer character with a speaking role in the entire novel – raped Thomas’ father and then murdered him, the “only man he truly loved”, for falling in love with Thomas’ mother, and now his dream is to imprison and rape Thomas forever so he can turn Thomas into his dad. Holy nasty undercurrents of narrative homophobia, Batman! There’s also a whiff of ableism porn here, though the author clearly is trying to use folkloric and fairytale tropes about true love healing a tale’s protagonists and means well; either way, a colorblind hero and a mute heroine being healed by True Love and extreme attachment disorders isn’t a very interesting or progressive plotline.
On top of it all – the little lawn flamingos pecking away at the grass growing on top of the fertilizer that is Never Let Me Fall – is that the writing is pretty atrocious, littered with goofy-isms. Take Thomas on Helena before he’s even met her, for instance:
He needed to swallow her, surround her, take her into himself and keep her there.
Sadly, I could not banish the picture of Our Hero as The Blob, voring Our Heroine into a permanent state of gelationous wedded bliss. Then there’s stuff like:
His voice sounded like Determined and Obstinate got together to make a baby named That’s-a-Promise.
But her girlie parts went rah-rah-sis-boom-bah.
Never Let Me Fall is The Venom of this season’s romance novels; it’s objectively bad, one of the worst novels I’ve read all year, but I admit I had a heck of a time getting through it, in the manner of something so bad it’s almost good. (But not really).
Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo
Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier