I do not normally read paranormal romance. In fact, I’ll openly admit that if a friend at Tor hadn’t highly recommended Beth Bernobich’s Passion Play to me—out tomorrow, October 12th—I most likely wouldn’t have read it. (Well, highly recommended it and given me an advance reading copy.) Boy, would I have been missing out. The romance of the novel is definitely there, and it is very well written and enjoyable. But what hooked me was that there is any entire epic fantasy starting to unfold at the exact same time.
And that is what really surprised me. Perhaps I have just listened to the bad rap that romance gets in general from other sections of the fandom, but I was genuinely, and delightfully, surprised at how prominently the “non-romance” parts of the story stand up on their own. In fact, for a while I thought I was reading a political intrigue with some action thrown in. It reminded me of something I once heard in a writing track, only turned on its head. The factoid was that romance is the most common sub-plot for a reason: it is the most common subplot in real life. Turning that on its head is that, even in a romance novel, there is going to be other stuff going on because no one’s life is strictly a romance.
There is actually a whole bunch I’d love to talk about and go in-depth on, but that would kind of break my no-spoilers promise, so instead allow me to be vague about what I liked: the magic system is retro but well pulled off, and the learning curve exhibited in the book is satisfying. No one got away from the “How do I shot web” trope. The politics and world are complex and well thought out, and I honestly did not see the ending coming, which was satisfying.
On the vague “not so much” side of the house: the romance was a little slowly paced, but I’m not entirely sure that was a bad thing for me. Perhaps it felt natural when I was expecting something fast or over-the-top. Or perhaps it was the fact that Ilse had other things on her mind than getting her libido on (even if understandable so). But I do know that it doesn’t help that I had a bit of a hard time seeing the male romantic lead as truly being the lead for various reasons.
On the whole, though, this was an enjoyable book. What the bigger question I have now, though, is “How have I missed this?” Not Passion Play, as I didn’t miss it, but that paranormal romance novels can be more than two people dancing around each other in awkward situations until they are doing it in sheets? In all truth, I’ve read novels with this same mixture of romance and “other story,” examples being Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden in mainstream and Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore in genre. What else is out there? Where should I look? I’ll likely be reading the forthcoming sequels to Passion Play, but what should I dabble with in the meantime? You know, between all the other books I’m buried under. Suggestions?
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and probably not a blind incestuous zombie god. To get that reference, read the book or Beth’s short story, “River of Souls.” You can read more of Richard’s ramblings and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.