Once in a while, I dip my toe in the paranormal pool. The temperature is never right, and I always regret it.
Plot: Jillian Ramsay is a human anthropologist working for a secretive organization called the League for Interspecies Cooperation. Her first job is supposed to send her to the jungle, but last minute, she’s given the task of developing a comprehensive study on the one town in the world where humans and the magie live peacefully, as a blueprint for other places, since the cat is imminently going to be out of the bag. Unfortunately, things are not as they seem in the town of Mystic Bayou, and Sheriff Boone wants her and the League far away until they sort things out. Then the murders start. Shenanigans ensue.
I truly appreciate Harper’s effect to create robust, believable canon for why things are the way they are. There aren’t the same tropes that I find tedious in paranormals like fated mates, or insta-love which inevitably also become the trope of a powerful creature forcing themselves on a weaker one because they’re just so in love they can’t stop themselves but it’s fine, because they’re just that good at The Sex. There’s no Chosen One nonsense either. It’s just a bunch of people who are very different trying to figure out how to live together and a researcher coming in and genuinely wanting to learn from them.
The murder mystery too is quite well done. Harper leaves enough crumbs for you to feel stupid not to have solved the mystery yourself, but they are also subtle enough that you aren’t beating yourself up too hard. The mystery progresses logically and ties well into the heart of the story. The conflicts are believable, the tension is palpable, and the investigation is competent.
Then there’s the romance, which despite being the core of the story, feels tacked on at best. Like Harper would have preferred to write a straight forward murder mystery with werewolves and mermaids and they wouldn’t let her write something without sex in it. I think that would have been a much better book.
Jillian and Bael clash from the start, despite the fact that Jillian is established as a kind, generous, shy, and deferential person aware of her awkward role as outsider and determined to earn the respect and trust of the people she is here to study. Why does she get all snippy with Bael? From minute one! Well, the romance requires that they have some kind of instant connection, and if she was just nice to him the way she is to everyone else, then he wouldn’t feel put out, and they wouldn’t argue more, and if they didn’t argue, then you would literally not have a romance in this book. Because that’s all they do. They argue, argue some more, argue again, and then suddenly they’re fucking. And when I say “suddenly”, I mean I had to reread the chapter before it to double check that I didn’t miss anything. I literally thought I accidentally scrolled through some pages without reading them. Literally they went from being colleagues having a casual, maybe even amicable conversation about the lives of dragons to full on, unprotected sex, mid-conversation. Also noteworthy is that their characters are both established as very resistant to casual hook ups, with Jillian having the trauma of an abusive ex who still won’t leave her alone. None of which matters, because we’re at 50% of the book, and so they must bone. Like, if they’d been at a murder scene, or a birthday party, or a colonoscopy, when that 50% mark hit, they’re getting down. I have notes in the book like “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED??” and “WHERE DID THIS COME FROM???” Following this completely random boning, they are now in love. When did this happen? I couldn’t tell you. Then there’s the unnecessary conflict at the 80% mark where they break up, and everything is coming up roses by the end.
No part of this relationship, from the weird hostility (at least from Jillian) at the outset, to the complete pivot midway, to the resolution, none of it was earned.
But hey, Talia Hibbert just confirmed that she’s going to do a paranormal series, so I guess I’m reading more paranormal.