Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wilder, by Christina Dodd - Review

Title: Wilder
Author: Christina Dodd
Publisher: Penguin
Imprint: Signet
Series Name: The Chosen Ones
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by publisher (please note that the quotes I have pulled may differ from those in the final edition)  

Reason for Reading:
Have really enjoyed the series so far.  The characters are really diverse and I think the world-building is quite unique. I can't NOT read the series capper! 

Series Handicap: 4 on a Scale of 1 to 5
While the story makes sense on its own, it IS the series finale, and you will get much more out of it if you read at least a couple of the previous books.

My Thoughts
Dodd is hardly the first romance writer to take on the Beauty and the Beast theme (is it a theme? a trope? a fable? moral? pattern? retelling? Sigh.  I'm overthinking again, aren't I?).  And it doesn't take a genius to make the connection -- it's right there in the blurb.

Image from IMDB
However, it might be a sub-group of readers who are like me, of a certain age, and will be reminded very strongly of the 1987 TV show, Beauty and the Beast. There's a subterranean world under New York City (check); a half-man, half-beast hero (check); a guardian role for the hero (check); and of course,  the beauty who shows up to change his life.  Dodd's beast is lupine, rather than feline, but his default state of living physically somewhere between the man and beast form sets it apart from today's typical shifter/werewolf Urban Fantasy and is also similar to the TV show.

I always found the TV character a little creepy, and I think that was actually intentional on the part of the show's creators.  They wanted to show characters rising above physical looks, and that is a hollow victory if the physical oddity is a thinly-disguised other kind of beauty.

Wilder doesn't carry quite the same lofty message - Charisma, the heroine, finds Aleksandr pretty hot despite- or maybe because of- his beastly aspect.  If shifter sex scenes squick you out a little, you may want to give this one a pass, or at least skim past the scenes in question.  It didn't bug me, but Dodd's considerable skill did not quite manage to convince me of the hero's half-beast hottness.

I think the story does a good job of making the devil extremely, shudderingly slimy and awful, making us feel the magnitude of his evil - the kind where it just oozes from him and contaminates everything around him.  There's a little sidebar scene or two with one of his unwitting employees that creeped me right out (deliciously).  Aleksandr's backstory and nemesis are also deeply horrifying.  I have a particular squeamishness around medical horror and I had to sort of skim it because UGH.

This story carries the reader much further into the paranormal/unreal than we have gone before, with a side trip through the metaphysical.   Dodd makes the unusual choice of perching the devil at the top of the tallest skyscraper in the city, and the secondary critical battle actually happens in mid-air.  Meanwhile, significant transformations for the protagonists take place underground, which I think is a metaphor for the internal battles that the main characters go through.  Although there are a couple of big showy fight scenes, the important theme is finding strength from within.

"The earth cradles us, and to you she has given great gifts." Davidov's voice grew deep and lyrical. "A mere week ago you burrowed into her and she saved your life. What do you think will happen if you ignore the call? She is the goddess earth. She is powerful."

"I know. I know I should obey. I know I'm needed." Charisma whispered. "But I'm afraid."

Her hand on the Guardian's arm trembled. "Afraid of what?" he asked.

Her eyes lost their focus, and she seemed almost to be talking to herself. "It's so deep. The passages are dark and dangerous, and at the end... what is within is beautiful and terrible."

Side note: I think we really, really need a novella about Davidov. Neeeeeeeeed.

Bottom Line
This book is the series finale, and as such needed to resolve a pretty major series arc.  I think it managed that, but as sometimes happens with Dodd and other PNR writers, the romance takes a bit of a backseat to the tying up of the series.  To accomplish that, Dodd takes us pretty far over to the metaphysical, which some may find a little disorienting, or in more technical terms, a little too woo-woo.  I felt that it worked for the series setup, but some may be expecting a more corporeal story.  Even if this isn't the strongest romance in the series, if you're like me you won't be able to resist finding out how The Chosen Ones triumph over tremendous odds stacked against them.

Oh, and don't miss Dodd's current gift to fans of The Chosen Ones, a freebie Wilder epilogue.

Around the Blogosphere  
Smexy Books
The Book Pushers
Fiction Vixen
Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatales, and Fantasy  (oo, a new blog to check out)
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread

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