My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Format: Audio (CDs)
Narrated By: Eric G. Dove
Original Publication Year: 2009
Genre(s): Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy
Series: Fallen Angels (#1)
I’m a bit bemused by this one and I will attempt to explain why. It is the first J.R. Ward book I’ve read, so perhaps I’m just late to the game but this book seemed to challenge, ever so slightly, some traditional romance conventions. This is not at all a bad thing and while in the end it did not work for me, others may find it a refreshing read.
And that was how I started out – refreshed and pleasantly surprised that the book didn’t jump right into the romance. It actually took some time to develop a story (gasp!) and do some world building and introduce a whole cast of characters. In the romance I’m used to plot is a somewhat vague frame for the romance to fill, so it was somewhat refreshing to jump into a story first and a story that will carry through all the books of this series.
Jim Heron, a construction worker with a shady past, gets drafted as a quarterback in the final conflict between heaven and hell. We are told that The Powers That Be have gotten bored with the never-ending struggle between good and evil and have decided to make it a best out of seven. There are 7 souls in the balance and whichever side gets to four first is the winner. Jim has been agreed upon by both sides to essentially be a wild card in the field of battle because he is sufficiently ambiguous in his nature that he could be playing for either team. Apparently Heaven won the coin toss so they get to have a little more influence with him and he has been directed that he must help seven people make the right decisions and therefore win the world for the good guys.
It’s an interesting set up with Jim being this potentially intriguingly conflicted character as a through line to a number of romantic pairings which have the added excitement of deciding the world’s fate. And there are demons and other angels also on the playing field. In this first book, Jim must help Vin DiPietro commit himself to the right woman. Interestingly Jim gets it all wrong at first and actually doesn’t seem to play much of a role until the end. Vin is an avaricious and cold man with a violent childhood. He’s pulled himself up and become very rich through mostly legitimate but morally bankrupt ways. He can also see visions of the future. When we meet Vin he is buying a $2 million ring for his beautiful girlfriend Davina. Throw in Marie Therese, a hooker with a heart of gold and a lot of secrets, her oddly humanitarian pimp who may be an angel and a mysterious guy who appears to be stalking Marie Therese and things begin to roll.
As you can see there is a lot going on and I definitely appreciated this. I also appreciated Ward’s attention to detail and the inclusion of an adorable dog that appears singlehandedly responsible for acquainting Jim with his heart again. ‘Cause that’s what dogs do!
But this is where the bemusement comes in. This is a seriously macho book. The book spends most of the time in the guy’s perspective, Jim, Vin, Marie Therese’s stalker. And these are some over-the top Macho guys – the type who drive Harleys, would sooner punch you as look at you and seem unable to utter a sentence without a swear word thrown for no good reason and use faux gangsta slang. I found this an interesting choice, since the majority of readers are likely to be female, to spend all this time in the male perspective. And not just any male’s perspective, but the uber males featured here, overflowing with testosterone to a seriously ridiculous degree. And that was the problem for me. I find guys like this ridiculous rather than sexy and I spent most of the book giggling at the silly or rolling my eyes. Obviously though this criticism is mostly to do with my taste so it may not apply to everyone. If the type of guy I describe above appeals to you, you may very well like this book very much.
However there were also some other problems. Despite a strong beginning plot wise, it kind of fizzles as the book goes on and the conclusion to one storyline (that of the stalker) was particularly anti-climactic. I found the female protagonist pretty colorless and bland for some reason (though I am glad that she was portrayed as being resistant to being rescued by anyone and felt very strongly about being self-sufficient). There is a bad case of the insta-love followed by an even worse case of insta-personality/temperament turn-around. The change in personality does have some legitimate explanation but it still felt silly.
In the end I’m not sure whether I will continue with the series or not. I didn’t love or even particularly like this one, mostly because the main characters just weren’t my type, but I am intrigued by the idea of a traveling Jim tackling a new case. I’m also interested in how Ward is going to keep the suspense going with the whole best of seven souls idea. Is Jim going to fail in some of the books? How will that work out and be satisfying? I also noticed on Goodreads that the subsequent four books in this series all get significantly higher ratings then this first one. So maybe some of the things that diminished my enjoyment here aren’t as prevalent in later volumes?
PS – After writing this review and saying how contemptuous I am of the uber-macho dude, I realized that there is at least one exception to this rule. One of my most favorite guilty pleasures is Supernatural. Maybe if I had just pictured Jim Heron as portrayed by Jensen Ackles I would have been a little more swayed?
I do have to say however, that as much as I love Sam and Dean I sometimes really prefer Castiel :0)
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