Christine Feehan must face an interesting set of challenges when she sits down to write a book. On the one hand, as the author of the extremely popular Carpathian series, she is surely under a great deal of pressure to continue writing the same best-selling formula. On the other hand, she undoubtedly wants to branch out – and there are plenty of readers, like me, who think the Carpathian thing has gotten a little stale and want to see her try new things. Shadow Game is a contemporary romantic suspense novel with military leanings and a paranormal twist. It looks like a big departure for the author – and yet, it’s also quite familiar.
Captain Ryland Miller of the U.S. Army Special Forces is the leader of a band of men especially chosen for an experimental mission. They are from all walks of the military (and some are civilian policemen), but they all test high for natural clairvoyance. A brilliant and wealthy scientist, Dr. Peter Whitney, has attempted to mold them into a supreme secret weapon by enhancing their natural paranormal skills. Now these GhostWalkers can communicate telepathically and influence the minds of others around them, and a few of them have even more exotic talents like telekinesis as well. But something has gone terribly wrong with the experiment. The men have experienced migraines and seizures, and some have died. They have been locked into separate cells and are denied contact with one another or anyone else. Ryland is convinced that the experiment has been sabotaged and that someone has murdered his men. He is desperate to find a way out.
Dr. Lily Whitney is the daughter of Peter Whitney. She has strong telepathic powers of her own. Just as she is beginning to learn about Ryland and his men, her father is murdered, probably by whoever sabotaged the experiment. Lily is determined to find out who killed him, and that means she needs to spend more time with Ryland. It also means that she herself could be in danger.
The first time Lily and Ryland lay eyes on one another, the world moves. They experience an instant, profound psychic connection, and an intense need to express this connection sexually as often as possible. Lily resists a bit at first, but not much and not for long, while Ryland relentlessly pursues her. If you’ve read any of Feehan’s Carpathian novels, Lily and Ryland’s relationship will give you a serious case of déjà-vu.
The love story to this book is quite romantic, tender, and fun to read – even if it is familiar. Ryland is very likable; he’s a rough-and-ready guy who is exceptionally tender with Lily. He talks like an alpha hero, but he’s obviously putty in her hands. Lily too is likable as a vulnerable and principled young woman who finds her wild side with Ryland. However, because they share souls from the very beginning of the book, and because there’s obviously no insurmountable barriers to their relationship, they don’t have much conflict. Feehan writes very spicy love scenes, and she gets pretty creative with them in this book, but when they’re not in bed, Lily and Ryland are not terribly interesting.
This paranormal romantic suspense novel doesn’t fully succeed as a thriller either. A thriller needn’t feature a lot of convoluted twists and turns to be exciting, but this one is pared down too far to provide much suspense. Ryland and his men escape from their cells and thereafter Ryland and Lily try to discover who murdered her father and betrayed the project. The bad guys are so obvious, their greed and evilness broadcast so early, that there’s not much suspense there.
As always, I have issues with Feehan’s purple prose. Unlike most offenders, she doesn’t really overdo it in the love scenes, which are for the most part rendered explicitly and without fancy metaphors. Feehan tends to use purple prose to describe just about everything else. In my opinion no one can get away with sentences like this: “His gray eyes were turbulent, angry, storm clouds betraying the violent emotions swirling beneath his expressionless mask,” or, “The wind howled and moaned as if alive and protesting the unnaturalness of what they were doing.”
My biggest problem with the book is that I was very disappointed in the way the potentially-fascinating paranormal subplot is handled. There’s way too much telling and not enough showing, and what is shown is so confusing that one comes away with the idea that the team’s psychic abilities are whatever Feehan needs them to be at any given time.
For instance, there’s a scene in which a man named Gator uses his powers to deflect the attention of a pack of dogs from the team. We’re in Gator’s POV while he gets ready to do this; then suddenly we switch to Ryland’s POV as he sees the dogs run off in the opposite direction. This scene would have been more effective if we’d stayed in Gator’s head and saw how he communicated with the dogs. Another problem: we know that any big expenditure of psychic energy causes the men intense pain (this happens to Gator in the dog scene). And yet, midway through the book, Ryland and Lily dance together in the middle of a crowded ballroom, with Ryland and perhaps his team using their powers to make sure that no one can see them. Talk about an unnecessary expenditure of energy! They all should have had crippling headaches, but didn’t. We are told that the men can and do walk like ghosts through crowds, but we never really see how it’s accomplished. We are also told that Lily gives them exercises to help them better cope with psychic input, but we never see what these exercises are or what they cost the men. All the men and their abilities seem so depersonalized and distant that it’s difficult to be interested in them. With such great potential in this paranormal aspect, that the author doesn’t do more with it is frustrating.
There are thumbnail sketches of each man, but they’re so interchangeably dangerous and handsome that I found it impossible to keep them all straight – I don’t even know how many of them there are. Another symptom of the telling-not-showing thing is Lily’s profession. What is it? I don’t know. She’s either an MD or a PhD, and when she works she wears a white lab coat. That’s all I can tell you. I find it incredibly frustrating that Feehan will spend two paragraphs describing a storm but can’t even tell us what kind of work the heroine does.
If it seems as though I’ve loaded on the criticisms, don’t get me wrong – at the heart of Shadow Game is a fabulous idea. The elite psychic military squadron has loads of romantic and suspense potential, but the author flubs the details and squanders some of the potential. It’s a rather nice romance, with an enjoyable hero and heroine and some sexy love scenes, but it’s not as good as it could have been. The good news is that it seems to open a new series. In my opinion, this book is worth reading, mostly in hopes that the series will be better than its first installment.