Series: The Gray Court, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 200 Pages, 3764 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Misses The Mark
For a good portion of his nearly century-long existence, Leo Dunne has been waiting and hoping to catch that one elusive scent that would bring love and joy to his life, the scent of the one person born just for him. When he caught scent of Ruby Halloway, saw her bent over a file cabinet in his company, he knew he wanted her desperately and thought she may be the one. Ruby, who has had a crush on Leo for ages, did what any shy girl would do when the object of her deepest desire focused on them...she ran away and hid.
For a year she's avoided him. For a year he's watched her and tried to get close. Finally, with the help of her best friend and all the charm he can muster, the alleged playboy gets Ruby right where he wants her, and when he tastes her lips for the first time he knows he was right. She's his. And there will be no more hiding or running.
Unfortunately, just finding his true mate isn't enough. He's still got to tell her he's fae, explain to her his Sidhe mother and leprechaun father. Gently introduce her into a world she couldn't possibly even dream about and explain the benefits and consequences. Before he can even get close to approaching that daunting task, however, his father calls with somber news. A rival family has kidnapped his brother and is holding him ransom. Leo doesn't need to ask what ransom they're asking for his brother's release. He already knows.
They want him.
Dana Marie Bell has kicked off this new series with a lot of potential and the backbone of an intriguing world and fun mythos, populating it with personable characters and a couple of neat plot twists. I've long been a fan of Bell and have read and enjoyed her Halle Pumas and Halle Shifters (looking for more of that one!) series, and am familiar with her writing style and characterizations. I particularly enjoy the humor that she injects and how adeptly she partners humor with stressful, sometimes threatening situations, to the benefit of the story as a whole.
She's done that here in Dare to Believe: The Gray Court, Book 1. I enjoyed Leo and was charmed by Ruby, who, despite her shyness and some issues with body image, was an appealingly silver-tongued quipster who was good for a cute, humorous line. Some of Bell's greatest strengths as an author lay in her abilities to write fun, bantering dialogue and provide appealing and individual character definition around a solid story concept or idea.
The depth and breadth of the plot suffers, though, by this book's shorter length. The narrative doesn't do much to flesh out the developing story and too much of it remains bare-boned to the point of emaciation. The pacing is disjointed, coming in forced fits and starts, not always clearly defined and suffering from several awkward transitions. Creating the world for the series, then stuffing a satisfying romance and a dangerous family threat together is a good idea in theory, but that's a lot of story and there just wasn't room to tell it all fully - to the detriment of the whole thing. Bell has the skill to tell a fully developed story that satisfies on all levels. She's done it before. Had she taken another 100 or so pages to fill out this story, she could have done so here.
Unfortunately, as it stands, the romantic couple comes together far too quickly for my personal tastes, Ruby accepts her new world and gets over a lifetime of insecurities far too quickly for my tastes, and the kidnapping plot thread starts, and ends, with far too little development and depth. What's most disappointing is that with the appeal of the characters, I wanted much more of them and was doubly disappointed for not getting it.
And then there's the sex.
I vacillated on how to classify the genre of this book. Technically, there's too much plot and story development for me to consider it erotica in the manner in which I normally make that determination. There are also, however, sex scenes far too graphic and unconventional to fit into a mainstream paranormal romance - or even an edgy paranormal romance. I don't mind that - I like erotica. The problem is, though, that in this book there is a sex scene that is so egregiously out of place and disparate from the tone of the romantic relationship, the character development, and the plot at the point it was introduced, that I found it jarring and distasteful when read in context.
~* Warning! There be Spoilers Ahead! *~
Consider the following: Ruby is very, very shy and sexually inexperienced. Leo has convinced her to go with him across the country because his brother has been kidnapped and he needs to be with his family. He's desperate for her as his mate but desperate to help his brother. He's nervous about telling Ruby he's not human and knows he still needs to do that. Ruby gets to his parent's house and not only is completely overwhelmed by the choices she made to get her to that point, but nearly has a fit when his parents put her in the same room with Leo. She's accosted by the family who kidnapped his brother and Leo bonds with her. The bonding knocks her out for two days and Leo is terrified for her. When she finally wakes up Leo is so relieved that he...grabs the small, sex toy-filled suitcase he brought with him (packing sex toys is, of course, the first thing I think about when I learn my brother has been kidnapped and know it's because of me), unpacks an alarming number of them, blindfolds and handcuffs Ruby to the bed, uses a feather duster, rabbit ear vibrator, and anal plug on her, then proceeds to introduce her to...enthusiastic anal sex in concert with the other toys.
Um...yeah...that didn't really work for me. On any level. At all.
Had it been a different couple, in a different scenario, at a different time, with a different story going on around them, it would have been a sexy good time had by all. Bell writes sizzling fun sex scenes. There were just way too many things that made that scene inappropriate for this book. When I combine that with the anemic plot development and disjointed pacing of the narrative, the potential of the book went unrealized and I ended up not caring for it. I liked the characters very much...but unfortunately it wasn't quite enough.