I was rather psyched when I found out that my library had a copy of Nightshade. It was even the version with its proper cover, which is more than Wal-Mart could manage. I'd heard good things from friends and was eager to get my hands on it. And now I'm thinking maybe that was the problem. I was expecting a lot from Nightshade, and it left me more ambivalent than anything else.
Other reviews have mentioned being entranced by Nightshade from the first few pages, with the experience headed up- or downhill from there. I kinda had the opposite reaction. With no set-up or introduction, we're dropped into our heroine Calla's world in the very moments in which she's deciding whether or not to save the life of lost hiker and eventual love interest, Shay Doran. He's somehow managed to get himself attacked by a bear, and Calla is concerned that saving him will violate her laws. Somehow. But she's inexplicably compelled; she can't leave this "beautiful boy" in such danger, so she proceeds to not only go out of her way to fend off the bear in her wolf form, but then transform into a human right in front of Shay and give him a drink of her healing blood. In the space of about five pages, Calla has broken at least three of her world's most sacred laws, punishable by death, for the sake of some guy she literally has never seen before.
And I'm sitting there at the end of all this like, "Okay:
Since when do werewolves have healing blood? I thought that was vampires.
How in God's name did Shay manage to get himself attacked by a bear in the first place? How does someone do that, especially someone who later insists that those kinds of bears aren't native to this area? What did he stumble upon apparently the only bear in Colorado and then steal its honeypot? No seriously though, this is relevant information, I want to know what kind of stupidity or bad luck got Shay in a such a bad tangle with a bear that he needed to be rescued by Calla.
What? Why the Hell did Calla just do that? She doesn't even know this guy?"
Nightshade's very introduction was just incomprehensible to me. Calla, as we come to learn, plays by the rules. She's down with it. For all of her life until Shay's intervention, she's done as others tell her. She may not like it, she may grumble about it, but she does it. I mean, Christ, in the very next chapter we see her grudgingly agree to wear a prettier clothes to school because her mother tells her to. Her mother. So why exactly in the first few pages does she make what is likely her first act of rebellion one punishable by death for a guy she doesn't know?
This is a legitimate issue, and it really undermined Calla's relationship with Shay as well as her behavior throughout the book. Personally, I just didn't see the emotional genesis for Calla and Shay's relationship. Most paranormal romance books go out of their way to excuse a couple's attraction - it's destiny or fate or Reincarnated Love or some feature they possess that makes them unique. Cliches, yes, and no substitute for good old fashioned relationship development, but it's something. Nightshade offers no explanation for Calla's compulsion to risk her life and ignore everything she's ever been taught to save Shay. She just thinks he's beautiful. And you don't get the feeling that she'd do it for just anyone. There's something ~special~ about Shay; they're only together for a few moments and he's bleeding out for most of them, but his touch makes her ladyparts happy, and also her heart, and afterwards, she can't stop thinking him.
WHYYYYYYY? He's done and said nothing! Why?
Call me too literal, unromantic, picky, but this bugs. I can't buy absent motivation like this. Not when the entire conflict occurs as a direct result of it.
But I'll be honest, the whole first quarter or the book struck a sour note with me. We're introduced to Calla's life - her family, her friends, her predicament, and her world - and the gist of it is that the werewolves, or "Guardians", and are subject to an oppressive and oddly selectively sexist culture imposed on them by their Masters, the Keepers. The Keepers are magic-wielders who have total control over the Guardian's lives, and use the werewolves for whatever they see fit. In Calla's case, the Keepers have decided that, as Alpha of the teenagers within her pack, the Nightshades, she must marry Ren, Alpha of the teens within their rival pack, the Banes. Together, the teens will form a new pack, to be put under the control of the Bane's Master's son, as a gift for his eighteenth birthday. Yeah. A gift.
At any rate, the set-up and conflicts, while interesting, are presented pretty clunkily, and largely without subtlety. Characters show up for literally no other reason than to justify awkward, stilted expository conversations. Numerous times. Characters are characterized before we ever get to meet them - *cough*Ren*cough* - and we're beaten over the head with how awful and/or facilitating nearly every single adult in Calla's world is, just in case we didn't get that werewolf society is sexist and horrible.
I get that this is something we need to understand in order for Nightshade to work, but it comes off a bit heavy-handed....
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