14 March, 2012
Review: Third Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones
I'm so incredibly disappointed by this that I can't think how to begin. I've been cheerleading the Charley Davidson series as the best thing to happen to light and ridiculous paranormal since Sookie Stackhouse. Third Grave Dead Ahead has me wondering if I will ever read another volume. Remember that moment in the Harper Connelly series where you realized Harris really was going all in on the pseudo incest? It's sort of like that. The abuse dynamics in Third Grave are turned way, way up. Intolerably hot. It's not even the sort of abuse dynamic where you can say "But he doesn't hit her!" because he does. He absolutely does. Then there's the painful info dumping. (If you want to hear 23 times that Charley bound Reyes into his corporeal form, then be my guest. Walk right past this review and get to reading.)
Everything you'd need to know for a book four can be extracted from book three and summarized into two sentences. The overall plot gets two sentences of advancement. Possibly one if I chose my words carefully. From the opening chapter to the last third of the book the story drags it's heels. Opening with a clown named Ronald (classic Charley but not an attention grabber) the reader is bogged down in multiple and lengthy asides recapping the prior two books. This is not an author who has grasped the delicate art of giving just enough to keep the new reader engaged without destroying the very soul of the established fan. Not even a little bit. So, strike one for Holy Info Dump, strike two for plodding pace (for the first 2/3) and strike three for abuse dynamics. Adding insult to injury is the final plot reveal.
Charley gets off on Reyes being the super bad boy son of Satan guy. Attempts are made at establishing triangles but it's always been clear that Charley is as hung up on Reyes as Bella is on Edward. He is the one boy in all the world for her. While Reyes was in a coma all the dire warnings from people that knew him better fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, Charley had crazy incorporeal sex or was saved from imminent harm by her dark lover. (Can we take a second here for a PSA? I don't care how great the guy is in the sack, if people are telling you that you don't know him, that he isn't the guy you think he is, that he is bad news and the ultimate destroyer you better wake up to face some reality. Every damn time the news story starts with "She thought she understood his soul" and ends with caskets.) Ok, so Charley, banging Reyes. Reyes so misunderstood. Reyes so damaged. In this book Reyes is awake and angry at Charley. If she tries to sleep for even a second, she is instantly having "angry sex" or as I like to call it, rape. Her enjoyment is not her consent. If she was consenting, she'd be sleeping. Mainlining coffee for 14 days is not consent. Reyes claims she is raping him, as he cannot stop his actions. According to Reyes, Charley is totally asking for it, controlling his actions, and forcing him to come to her when she slumbers. He is angry at her for her actions in waking life, for her lack of knowledge of her supernatural side and her having nonconsensual sex with him. All of this is deeply problematic. Then he starts hurting her. Which she punishes him for by kissing someone else. FFS, really? He kidnaps her, threatens to kill her family (oh, but he doesn't MEAN it), knocks her out, blackens her eye, duct tapes her mouth, ties her, handcuffs her, sets her up to be stalked and tortured by a crazed killer and tells her she brought it on herself. She's too attractive. She's too independent. She forces him to hurt her. The author tries to offset this by showing Reyes being horribly abused in childhood (after coming to earth seeking out Charley) and being badly injured when Charley naps (forcing him asleep as well). So when he is injured, it is her fault. When she is injured, it is her fault. Things are Charley's fault. All the time. How hot is that?
Right. Not at all.
Charley's response is to get angry and ... not much else. She still cries over him, she still obsesses over him, cusses him out and kisses a biker. She's so independent and self actualized! Charley has gone from interesting character to absolute victim. As always, Jones telegraphs her plot moves. Given that the Davidson books are WTF popcorn reads, I can't really fault her for that. I can fault her that one of those moves had me silently begging her to stop. I absolutely never use the phrase "jump the shark". I hate it. I hated the Happy Days episode it's based on, I hate the way it's used like salt on the salad of internet conversations. I loathe it. You know what I loathe more? The spoiler I'm about to reveal. Charley picks up a guardian. The angels of Heaven have sent her a Caretaker for protection against non-living beings. Yes, Charley gets a dead dog. A Rottweiler to be precise. Consider that shark well and truly jumped.