It almost pains me not to be able to give Lori Devoti’s Unbound a higher grade than the one you see above. It’s so sharply written that I actually sat up a little straighter while reading the first few pages, excited to see a series romance with such crisp prose. In addition, the author introduces the reader to a vivid paranormal world that’s imaginative and interesting. Grading such a book as merely “above average” doesn’t quite seem right. And yet, I don’t know how else to grade a paranormal romance when it also features characters I never cared about and a romance I never believed.
Risk Leidolf is a hellhound, a half-human, half-canine creature that hunts witches. For several centuries he has been bound in the service of the powerful witch Lusse, who uses him to capture other witches so that she may drain their power and make it her own. His latest assignment is to retrieve Kara Shane, a young woman who has no idea of the power she possesses. But when he learns she has a twin sister, his mission takes on a greater significance. The combined power of twin witches may be able to free him from Lusse’s control.
One week earlier, Kara’s twin sister Kelly disappeared without a word. After leaving a bar where she’d hoped to find answers, she instead is cornered by a dog, only to have another appear on the scene and fight off the first one. Having been attacked by a dog as a child, Kara is terrified and passes out. She awakens to find herself at the home of the mysterious Risk. He offers her help while providing far too few answers about himself, but despite her wariness, she is increasingly drawn to him.
The story works best as a straight paranormal tale. As mentioned, the writing is sharp and the plot is consistently interesting. The author has devised an inventive universe, Lusse is a suitably evil villainess, and there are some nicely played moments. But as the story went along, I had the unmistakable impression I should be enjoying it more than I was. The largest problem was that neither character engaged me very much. Risk himself is too opaque for the reader to really know personally. He’s a tortured character, but mostly in theory. The author relates the actions committed against and by him in his past, so the reader can infer that he’s tortured. He certainly has reason to be. Yet those emotions never come across on the page for the reader to experience as well, so it was difficult to care or feel for him as much as I should have for someone with his history.
Kara seems weak and not all that bright. It doesn’t help that a key plot point involves her willfully blundering into a situation where she has no idea what she’ll face, which struck me as just plain stupid. I know we’re meant to think she’s so desperate to find her sister that she’s willing to do anything, but throwing herself in probable danger and a situation completely out of her control hardly seemed as though it would help her or her sister.
The romance never moves past the lust stage. Though the author delivers some moments of potent attraction, the characters spend much, if not the majority, of the book apart (especially since Risk has to keep running back to Lusse to report on what he’s doing, which quickly grew repetitive). The moments they did spend together weren’t enough to make the relationship convincing. Then there’s the ending, which was too rushed and left me thinking, “That’s it?”
Unbound is a better-than-average book mostly for the quality of the writing and the paranormal aspect, not the romance. If only the characters had been as developed as much as the plot and the supernatural elements, the story might have lived up to its potential.