Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Wicked As They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

Note: This book is *not* YA.

There is a certain feeling I get sometimes, when I know I have a story I need to tell, or that a song is going to be one that I need to learn how to sing, or that I might just win something before names are drawn in a raffle. I am not going to go so far as to suggest that I am psychic, but I think that anyone, if they have the courage to listen to their own inner voice, can pick up certain things.

I had that feeling when I first saw Wicked As They Come over at Xpresso Reads last weekend as part of Fresh Batch. I knew I had to read it. And it was a stubborn book that wouldn't leave me alone until I downloaded it to my Kindle, and zipped through its pages from start to finish.

I am happy to tell you that, as often seems to occur, my intuition (at least for me) was dead on. Wicked As They Come is an absolutely fabulous read that kept my attention from the first page to the last. I'm not sure how much this is going to be like a review and how much it is simply going to seem like a gushing river of praise, but as always I will do my best to tell you *why* I thought it was so good so that I can hopefully help you know whether this book would be right for you as well.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Have you ever heard of a Bludman? They’re rather like you and me—only more fabulous, immortal, and mostly indestructible. (They’re also very good kissers.)

Delilah S. Dawson’s darkly tempting debut drops her unsuspecting heroine into a strange faraway land for a romantic adventure that’s part paranormal, part steampunk . . . and completely irresistible.

When Tish Everett forces open the ruby locket she finds at an estate sale, she has no idea that a deliciously rakish Bludman has cast a spell just for her. She wakes up in a surreal world, where Criminy Stain, the dashing proprietor of a magical traveling circus, curiously awaits. At Criminy’s electric touch, Tish glimpses a tantalizing future, but she also foresees her ultimate doom. Before she can decide whether to risk her fate with the charming daredevil, the locket disappears, and with it, her only chance to return home. Tish and Criminy battle roaring sea monsters and thundering bludmares, vengeful ghosts and crooked Coppers in a treacherous race to recover the necklace from the evil Blud-hating Magistrate. But if they succeed, will Tish forsake her fanged suitor and return to her normal life, or will she take a chance on an unpredictable but dangerous destiny with the Bludman she’s coming to love?

Imagine a world that is just like ours ... except its not. The way that I heard people talking about the world of Sang, the land where the majority of the events of Wicked As They Come to place, was what began to increase my excitement when I started to dig around for information. When I got my hands on the book and started reading, this world building totally *did not* disappoint. I think that it is brilliant how Delilah mixed so many interesting concepts together to create a whole that is unique, fresh, interesting and yet completely easy to follow and get sucked into. Sang was both magical and believable to me at the same time, and pulling that off is no small feat. 

Even better is the variety of creatures and species that filled this absolutely wonderful world. When I first heard the word Bludman I literally cringed. "Oh, God." I thought, "What a totally stupid name for a vampire!". But it's actually pronounced "blood-mun" and as I read the book I was impressed with how carefully Delilah took advantage of the average paranormal / fantasy reader's conceptions of the Vampire, threw them back at us and then showed us (and I do mean *show*, not *tell*) what the rules of Her universe were. Tip: Don't call a bludman a vampire. First, he won't understand what you're talking about. And second, he'll laugh -- a lot -- when you try to explain.

I have heard some people say that the story started out too slow, but since this is the first in a series and Delilah clearly had a totally fabulous world she wanted us to discover, the pacing did not bother me at all. I was intrigued as Letitia to get to know Criminy, explore the Caravan, learn about her abilities as a glancer, and come to understand the ways that Sang was different from Earth. I feel that a great deal would have been lost, in richness, character, substance and style, had the story not been told the way that it was. There is an epic quest awaiting you in the pages, I promise. But first, take the time to readjust your senses, and explore the world around you. Oh, and do mind the bludbunnies. They bite.

The dangers facing Sang, both from its environment and from its people, are real, interesting and well thought out. I love the fact that the story starts out giving our heroine, Letitia, just what she can barely handle, and then how it ratchets up the difficulty, the danger and the stakes to a point where I was gripping my Kindle for dear life. All the while, the book mixed this fabulous world building and steadily building danger with these awesome dashes of humor that had me laughing so hard that there were times I had tears in my eyes. It was a perfect combination that really fit the mood of the world and the nature of the characters I met there and I loved it.

The Characters: 

Letitia was a heroine that I enjoyed getting to know, and through whose eyes I had a wonderful time exploring the fabulous world of Sang. Between the great world building I talked about earlier, and Letitia's mix of humor, good intentions and spunk, the narrative held my interest without effort. Considering her background, having recently left an abusive relationship, I found the issues that she struggled with real and interesting. I did have a little trouble when she would put her guard up around Criminy, but I would pause for a moment and have to realize that I needed to separate her and me. As far as the minor love triangle (which really isn't so much a love triangle as a road not taken deal) the only response I have (or had, during the book) is "Pffft!" I was rooting for her to be with Criminy from the first time she met him.

Oh, Criminy. I love, love, loved him! And before you guys laugh at the name (which I totally did) I am pleased to tell you that Delilah addressed the fact that it made me think of Jiminy Cricket. The fact that she realized this might happen and acknowledged it, much like with the Bludman thing, somehow made me totally able to accept it and take the character seriously. Which could be really hard some times, because Criminy Stain can be absolutely hilarious, both in his dialogue and in the wonderful magic tricks he can do. He was a delight as a romance hero, a refreshing change from most characters that I have read about in paranormal or fantasy romance. Whether he was being funny or totally serious, tender of ruthless to the core, I always found him interesting, likable and consistent. He walks a line between being a predator and a gentlemen, and he walks it very well. 

The rest of the cast is equally interesting, though very large. Each character who did pop up had something interesting to do, but since the story moved with Letitia and Criminy and the other characters generally didn't, they definitely got the spotlight. The two characters I will say anything else in detail about are Casper (I hope he gets his own book) and the villain, Jonah Goodwill, who is a fine example of the idea that we humans will potentially destroy the world, no matter what world we happen to be in. He was chilling, cruel and utterly repulsive in his actions. I despised him with a passion. (I think that what happens to him by the end was absolutely genius, paralleled with everything Letitia was learning in Sang, and I did not feel one ounce of sympathy for him. At all. You'll need to read to find out what I'm talking about, though. ;) )

The Romance: 

From their first meeting, I felt that Letitia and Criminy had totally awesome chemistry. But what happens between them goes so much deeper and is so much more interesting then that. As I said earlier, Letitia has been through an abusive, pushy, crappy relationship. She isn't looking for love. At the same time, Criminy is totally overjoyed, because Letitia showing up because of the locket means she is meant to be with him. Anyone else get the feeling that they're like two trains, heading in different directions, that somehow wound up on the same track? The question of whether, and how, these two would end up together was interesting and kept me on my toes, which isn't easy for a love story to do.

I think that one of the things that I really enjoyed about Wicked As They Come is how the theme of predator v.s. prey carries through as a theme on so many levels, and thanks to the situation I just described above the romance was no exception to this. It's an idea that has been done before, both the predator / prey theme, and the emotionally timid heroine who finds out she is 'destined' for someone who seems powerful and otherworldly. But I think that the way Delilah handles this in Wicked As They Come is refreshing. Instead of being some kind of caveman who drags Letitia places against her will, he quickly seems to catch on to what she needs and the two work as allies rather then being at each other's throats for the majority of the book. (So glad! That crap can get so old.)

I like the fact that Letitia needs to accept Criminy for the bludman he is and he needs to accept her need to stay connected to her human life. The whole thing does not end with a perfect red bow -- I love how that is handled, though you're not going to find out the details from me. Each of these characters grows stronger, more complete and whole, by being with the other. Its reciprocal, in no way a one way street, and I really appreciated that. 

There are a few love scenes in this novel, hence my note at the top of the review. These were all well handled and each added something important to plot or character growth. They were tastefully sexy, detailed enough that I wouldn't count them as a black out but also not of the sort where I'd advise you to grab a fan, either. Personally, I liked them and they fit the story well. (The fact that I read them rather then skipping or skimming them should speak for itself; pointless sex bores me and what happened here definitely did not fit that category.) 

In General: 

If you are looking for a love story filled with memorable characters, magic, a fascinating world and terrific witty dialog, look no further. Wicked As They Come is like a fine wine, sweet, spicy and satisfying from the first sip to the last drop. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Honestly, if anything I'm almost afraid that my rabid enthusiasm for it threatens my credibility. 

If I've grabbed your interest, if you've taken a look at it and think this could be for you.. run, don't walk, and get your hands on a copy of this absolutely amazing book. Wicked As They Come is an epic adventure, a touching romance and overall a rare treat for lovers of great storytelling everywhere. 

Fifth Recipient Of...

1. Amazing world building that had me so enthralled that I just wanted to keep exploring.

2. A fascinating hero who had my interest from the moment he appeared and who retained my sympathy -- and my heart -- through any situation. 

3. An interesting heroine who is likable and strong despite a difficult past. Compassionate, yet a fighter, once she knows what she wants she's willing to do whatever it takes to be happy.

4. Wonderfully witty dialog that had me laughing out loud, mixed with romantic moments that made me smile and want a charming bludman like Criminy of my own.

5. A successful start to a new series. Wicked As They Come succeeds both a a complete novel with its own story, and as an introduction to a new world that I will be eagerly waiting to visit again. 


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