Second subtitle of this post: Or the shirtless dude. Really. Just get over it. Dudes can be shirtless in the presence of other dudes.
I am going to be completely honest right now. I would never, ever have found this book in a real live meatspace bookstore. Never. And it’s a damn shame.
The power of twitter compels me! Wicked as They Come by Delilah S Dawson came across my Nook because of twitter. Dawson is hilarious on twitter. She’s twitter buddies with a bunch of other authors I like a lot. A Chuck Wendig – Delilah Dawson – Sam Sykes trifecta is one of the best parts of my twitter feed. Chuck Wendig in particular talked up Wicked. That was enough to get my attention. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how I get a lot of my reading material from other authors I like. “Steampunk traveling sideshow, parallel dimentions, bunnies that drink blood!” Sounded pretty damn awesome.
I was surprised to find that the book was marketed as romance, not SF. Huh. There’s that reason I’d never find it in a bookstore. That’s kind of odd, though. Sounded pretty SF to me. Well whatev. My Nook doesn’t segregate books by marketing terms.
Back of the book… er… blurb from my Nook time!
When nurse Tish Everett forced open the pesky but lovely locket she found at an estate sale, she had no idea she was answering the call of Criminy Stain, from the far off land of Sang. He’d cast a spell for her, but when she’s transported right to him, she’s not so sure she’s ready to be under the spell of another man. (It didn’t go so well last time with controlling, abusive, domineering Jeff.) If only Criminy wasn’t so deliciously rakish….
Half the inhabitants of Sang are Pinkies—human—and the other half are Bludmen, who in Tish’s world would be called vampires. But they don’t mess with any of the bat/coffin/no sunlight nonsense. They’re rather like you and me, just more fabulous, long living, and mostly indestructible. (They’re also very good kissers.) But when the evil Mayor of Manchester (formerly Bludchester) redoubles his efforts to rid Sang of the Bludmen once and for all, stealing Tish’s locket in hopes of traveling back to her world himself for reinforcements, Criminy and Tish must battle ghosts, sea monsters, wayward submarines, a secret cabal, and thundering Bludmares to get the locket back and allow Tish to return home…but has she found love with Criminy? Could she stay in Sang forever?
Copying that back cover summary is actually the first time I read it. Aside from that parenthetical remark about kissing, still sounds more SF than romance. I feel like I could spend the whole post just talking about how Wicked should be shelved with SF. There’s a Jules Verne-ish submarine. airships, and clockwork carriages straight out of steampunk. Hauntings and the bludmen (much classier versions of modern vampires) bring in the horror. Blinking between worlds evokes a classic sci-fi feel. Mixing and blending genres, I love that stuff. Dawson takes all these different parts and purees it into a seamless world full of color.
My favorite part of the world building is the ecosystem of Sang. It starts with bludbunnies. They’re hilarious. All the prey creatures of Sang evolved to become predators. Bludbunnies will gang up on you and eat the flesh right off your bones while being fuzzy and adorable. They’re so ubiquitous, Tish will just punt them absentmindedly as she’s walking around. Bigger blud animals get a lot meaner. Bludstags are bad ass and will kill you eight ways from Sunday. Kind of sucks to be a straight up human in Sang so they oppress the b’jebus out of the bludmen.
So what about the romance things that scare people so much? Seriously just deal with it. Get over it. A relationship between two characters is conflict. Conflict is the basis of all good stories. Relationship conflicts are filled with emotions and the things that really let you know who a character is. In the journey of their relationship, you really get to see Tish and Criminy bared raw. As the POV character, you follow Tish’s evolution and see the determination to her mindset. She’s not in a good place really at the start of the book. I never felt her character arc was forced or ever dependent on Criminy. They were intertwined, as they should be what with the relationship between them central to the story, but they each had their own separate arc to build upon.
“Oh but vampires and smooching and blah blah blah.” People hear romance and vampires and automatically gag on Twilight. Sparkly little toolbags, this is not. Move on. Criminy is more of a dapper sideshow barker than an emo sparkle fest. Because that’s what he is. He’s the lead guy in an otherworldly sideshow. Who does magic. Fucking magic man! That’s awesome. He just happens to drink blood too. Criminy is the kind of character that would be awesome to hang out with and have a beer.
The potatoes of the story that goes with the meat of the relationship side of the tale is all about that dastardly Mayor of Manchester. (I really like any excuse to use the word dastardly) He’s got some grandiose destroy the world as we know it kind of plans. Blinking back and forth between worlds to take over is pretty damn awesome. There’s some weight and heft to these evil plans. There’s nothing worse when the antagonist’s raison d’etre falls with a dud. Along with the gravitas (also another world I like any excuse to use) of the antagonist’s plot, there is an immediency. Things have to move now. Tish and Criminy are rushing at a breakneck speed because they have to. They’re not running for the sake of running. Everything in Wicked has a purpose and a meaning pressing the story forward. It’s one of those rare kinds of novel where I never felt there was a wasted word.
I enjoyed the hell out of Wicked as They Come because I listened to people who talked up a great book and not some marketing department and what shelf they decide books should be on.