Ariana Golde may be known for breaking and entering but she’s no thief, she’ s a returner. She retrieves stolen objects and gives them back to their rightful owners. Her latest job: retrieving a statue from the Medveds. But Ari is having an off night, and she’s caught red-handed by the three brothers, who don’t just get mad—they turn into bears.
Maksim Medved is outraged—the statue belongs to his parents. But Ari’s returner magick doesn’t lie: the heirloom has a new rightful owner. Ari is drawn to the surly, handsome Maks—maybe because he possesses the same chaos magick she does. But while Ariana enjoys a touch of chaos, Maks hates its destructive power.
When Ari and Maks team up to find her mystery client, their chaos magicks ignite even faster than their attraction. Can Maks learn to love a little chaos, or will the havoc they cause among the faebled creatures drive him away for good?
Does Carina ever publish anything good? No, of course not. It’s all dreck in there, isn’t it. Romance presses, there you go. At least this book doesn’t contain gross rapist logic presented as loving kindness from your one true love–we just get racial exotification instead!
Inari’s softly accented voice rang sweet as tinkling bells and struck like a hammer.
Ari nearly laughed. Inari excelled at passive aggression; one of the top ten wielders in the land. “Yep, Okaasan, you guessed it. I plan on letting my nether regions wither and blow away. Talk about a dry spell. I can see it now—‘Ariana Anase Kitsu Golde, the cause of a dust storm unparalleled since the 1930s dust bowl. Click here for the full story.’” She clucked her tongue in an imitation of a mouse clicking the imagined link. “Poor you and poor Baba. No little Faeble scions to carry on your legacy.”
For the record, Ariana here is the daughter of Inari and Anansi. Why does she have a name with Greco-Roman origins? Your guess is as good as mine. Does the author know Japanese people don’t have middle names? Likely not. Why do her parents live in the US? Probably because the author thought American Gods was really clever and she can’t imagine writing anything outside her immediate comfort zone (though having said that, that’s probably a good thing; can you imagine someone this ignorant trying to tackle a novel set in–say–Mexico without exoticizing the shit out of it and spurting racism everywhere? Exactly).
Ari spun around so quickly the satiny coils of her golden dreadlocks hit her in the face. Ow. The combination of her Japanese and West African heritages made for a solid grade of hair.
I know what this means, but I really don’t think “the combination of Japanese and West African heritage” results in golden dreadlocks.
What made her hesitate was how much the man resembled another—the Eastern European bone structure tempered by the exotic, the swarthy olive skin, and most of all the bearing. But this man’s hair was much too long, his features too refined, almost pretty
Suddenly, racism! “Exotic swarthy skin” is the kind of description you expect in… 20th-century fiction? 19th? At first I didn’t know what is meant by “Eastern European bone structure” exactly, but–
Their features and coloring were so alike, from the chiseled slash of high cheekbones to the strong Slavic jaw lines, on to the Gypsy brown skin and hair of ebon curls. While these were classic trademarks of the Bolshebnukh Roma, the magical sect of the Roma Ruska Gypsies, Maks had to note his brother’s slimmer build and much longer hair to be sure he wasn’t looking at his own reflection.
NO NO NO NO
Literal magical gypsies. I ask you. His mother, by the way, is a dancer and a thief. She’s just missing a foretuneteller gig. “Cross my palm with silver!”
Ari sipped her hojicha green tea. Placing the cup on the table, she paused, looked to see if anyone watched, and surreptitiously munched a stolen cookie. Sweet baby Buddha.
This is how you know the author is American. “Sweet baby Buddha” is only authentic when pronounced while chewing glass and swallowing a chainsaw, please.
“What are you? A fortune cookie? Way to be stereotypical, Mommy. And he’s an ogre not a goblin.”
“I am Japanese, so no, not a fortune cookie. And yes, this is what I have said.”
This is neither funny nor clever. The author is not East Asian.
“Let us go there,” he said, pointing to a business down the block and across the street. “Do you know karaoke?”
“I’m half Japanese.”
He raised both brows. “Is this meant to be an answer?”
She tried again, putting extra stress on the last word and holding her arms out to her sides. “I’m Japanese.”
In mock frustration Maks looked away and back. “So you would like me to stereotype you?”
“Fine. Sing.” She sat. “But I’ll pick the song.”
“You may choose. There is no song I do not know.”
“You really sing that well?”
“I am part Gypsy, part boyar and Faebled.”
“Gotcha. I’ll stereotype you now.”
This is also not funny. I’m not sure who finds this clever or funny.
The image of his lean muscular legs stretched into the aisle of the train car, his bearing and appearance caught somewhere between Russian aristocracy and Gypsy—odd, incongruent. Enthralling.
EXOTIC GYPSIES what the fuck stop it already.
Black-tie Armani, before it had become passé, tailored impeccably with a red cravat to illustrate personal flare. The man was a thing of epic pulchritude.
It’s a bit like “a chivalrous knight of archaic proportions.”
How dapper her lover looked. His new striped scarf giving him the air of a mushroom-colored, blond-haired Doctor Who. Dearest snuggums.
Can anyone picture this? How does this work? What does this mean? Ia, ia, Dr Who ftagn!
A funky guitar lick kicked things off. Followed by a shimmy-inducing groove—sultry and bright. The performer in Maks transformed his posture. He sneered, pinning Ari with a rock star glare.
Gulp. He’d always been graceful but this was…he swiveled his hips and…and…she didn’t have enough synapses to process such pulchritude.
Her middleman strummed an air guitar, launching into the opening verse of “She’s Always In My Hair” by Prince. As a result, Ari lost her fragile little mind.
He gave her no quarter as he strutted through and wailed on two more verses. Hand to the heavens, if they’d been in a stadium she’d have thrown her panties at his feet while still wearing them.
What the fuck. Anyway, come to think of it, this is one of those books where the dude is a manly man’s man–a bear shapeshifter even!–and the woman is a tiny, delicate waif, kind of like in the author’s other title Dreams’ Dark Kiss. But at least the guy doesn’t exploit her emotional vulnerability for sex in this one, so hooray for low bars.
“We cannot happen.” He pointed from her to him, then back into the karaoke parlor. “Did you not see them? They were taken by a frenzy.” He cursed. “I am hoping those paired off at least like one another.”
Ari threw her hands into the air. “They looked happy to me, Maks, and not everyone took part. Some folks walked out. Others seemed to be dreaming.”
“We have no idea what they feel. Our energies are too strong together. This will not happen again.”
When they make out they produce magic that drives everyone else in the building have sex. Maks raises the concern that that is kind of fucking rapey and reprehensible, you know, we can’t make out anymore. No worries, by author fiat Ariana is exactly right that it’s all true love:
Rose-colored lights danced throughout the karaoke parlor and the storied folks made love. Couples on the verge finally came together in crashing passion; unspoken devotion poured from throats. Long-time lovers sparked anew while relationships hanging by the barest clinch of a fingernail lost their holds as new ones, true loves, cemented. The entire building blossomed into an anarchy of lovemaking.
Haha we don’t want any moral dilemma here, and also magical true love pink crystal power make-up!!! Apologies to Naoko Takeuchi, I don’t think Sailor Moon goes around causing rape orgies.
“I am not liking this ‘middleman’ you keep calling me,” he shouted over roaring air. “I am Maksim Mikhail Valentin Skazkakh Bolshebnukh Medved.”
“Fabulous. You Russians really pile on the monikers, huh?”
“My brothers and I are of the Bolshebnukh Roma, Faebled Gypsies, on my mother’s side. The lengths of our names come primarily from them.”
“That’s a serious inheritance to lay on a kid.” She repeated his full name, mimicking his accent. From behind, she noticed his cheekbones rise, becoming more defined. He smiles?
“When you have a son, vixen-vorovka, mine will be his name too,” he said, his tone feral.
NO NO NO NO
I’ve been given to understand that “Skazkakh” is not a name and “Bolshebnukh” is not a word, and that nobody strings up a bunch of first names together like “Maksim Mikhail Valentin.” EXOTIC!!! What is research, mommy?
Bear ignored him. The hunt within them saw no problem with deception. In the forest they called it survival. Outsmarting others kept you alive. Stealing didn’t matter either. Their ancestors stole honey and thievery made it sweeter. Bear did not care about chaos. Not when the returner’s body should be underneath him; he knew how wonderful her moans would sound in the hush of a forest, and he already dreamt of the good strong cubs she would bear him. Against desire and the hunt, trepidations about chaos were lame. With these things in mind, Bear calmly invited Maks to kiss his furry brown ass.
Oh, did I say no rapist logic? He has a separate furry alter-ego in his head and it wants to rape her. Cool.
Anyway, like Dreams’ Dark Kiss this dicks around with most of the same paranormal bullshit tropes: the fated mate, the hulking manly man with his manly hugeness (hur hur) paired with the tiny waif of a woman (who unlike him isn’t very good with physical violence), and–
“Do not cry, vorovka. I beg you.”
Her footsteps whispered across the sand, stopping a few feet from him. “I’m not going to cry, Maksim.” There was a sob embedded in the words. He’d seen the way she clutched the staff when Bear scared her in the fields. It had made her feel safe. Now she was injured and vulnerable, and her vulnerability whipped his chaos magicks into a furor. He breathed deep and slow.
–blah, blah, vulnerable woman and manly invulnerable man. What is it with this shitty sub-genre? The obsession with referring to sex as “mating” too, because hey, animals. A lot of it goes fantastically well with misogynistic biotruths, now that I think about it.
The way it is written I can tell that it’s meant to be light-hearted fluff, which is fair enough, whatever; it at least isn’t weighed down by the galloping rapist logic/abuse conga line that makes up the crux of Dreams’ Dark Kiss, but even as light-hearted (if hideously written, with a peculiar, overexcited teenage voice and prose that looks like it’s fresh out of NaNoWriMo school) fluff it’s tough to overlook the random bursts of racialized exotification. The Russian characters speak broken English of course and don’t use contractions while dropping in the two-three Russian words the author googled up, which is again how you know the author is American through and through: non-Anglophones are othered by their foreign accent, cultural details are used as flavor (badly and wrongly), and obviously fuck-all research was done. It’s written with the sure, absolute ignorance of someone whose sole exposure to cultures not her own are through the stereotypes and misinformation of the US media.
The “ohhh, exotic gypsies!” shit is something else again. It’s the trend with romance writers to use racialized descriptions to increase the (perceived) appeal of a love interest–and while I don’t give a shit about women objectifying men, it’s pretty skeevy to go “ohhhh exotic” over “swarthy olive brown gypsy skin.” I would even say it is gross. In case you think it’s an isolated thing, from one of the author’s other works (though romance writers in general love to do this) we’ve got–
The features of his face told of an Asian heritage, which made perfect sense for his kind. Dark luxurious lashes framed almond shaped eyes and—if she had seen them correctly through her sunglasses—liquid copper irises. [...] The platinum hair streaking the inky black at his temples combined with his defined cheekbones bore evidence of a distant Scandinavian heritage. This upped his appeal, making him an exotic among exotics.
–Shirin Dubbin, Keeper of the Way