Review: Romancing the Null
Let’s call this whole series my summer guilty pleasure. Maybe it will be yours for the fall season. Guilt and surprised delight were some of the many emotions I migrated through while reading most of The Outlier Prophesies, but for more than the first half of ROMANCING THE NULL, I’d say impatience was the primary. If I had not felt obligated to give it a go, per the contest, I think I would have abandoned this urban fantasy/romance/crime novel long before the two-thirds point, but that’s when things started to get interesting. By the end, I was hooked… though I dreaded what was to come in the follow-ups. I needn’t have worried.
Set in a quiet northern California city in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Kate Hale is an actuary for a government-organized group of clairvoyants called Oracles. It is assumed that most people’s futures can be read, except for certain ones called Nulls whose future is a big blank. Kate is one of these and she keeps that fact under wraps for various reasons including social stigma and job security. In this first volume, an oracle receives an impossible death prediction and takes it to Kate just before the weekend. Her job entails taking the visions of oracles and assessing the risk of death to different individuals, using statistics, then deciding whether to initiate an alert or file it away. This is a touchy case, and Kate is eager to prove herself in her newly acquired position, so she seeks to solve it on her own both because of the urgency and the fact that there seems to be a leak in the office.
Though futuristic, there is virtually no advanced technology. Maybe magic is suppressing innovation, but it is not discussed. The magical creatures are all descended from mostly European mythological beings like fairies, witches, even leprechauns, and many humans have a mix of these in their heritage. Pure bloods of any type are rare, but stronger in their native magic. Also suffering more from inherent consequences, especially werewolves. Especially hunky, broody, conflicted werewolves like her police liaison, Becker. Uh huh.
Talky talky, explainy explainy, on and on… and I was not tracking with any of these characters or their relationships until suddenly everything began to gel. And then it was somehow quite good.
Writing: Sometimes juvenile with hints of promise and good flow, even some brilliance, especially in the often-witty dialogue. Tina Gower’s humorous, self-deprecating scenes are her best. The first-person present tense perspective is fresh and mostly consistent. World-building: Mediocre at best. The consequences of a society that depends so heavily on knowing what is likely to happen next, that avoids peril and the inherent lessons from trial and error, are not explored. The magical creatures and human hybrids seem sometimes awkward, though there were interesting cultural biases explored. Pacing: Dreadful, almost no action, and way, way too much telling-rather-than-showing. The few action scenes worked for me, not too long or short. This early work is choppy and uneven like many of my favorite authors’ initial offerings, but not as bad in each book in the series. For Chicks Mostly: The romance was the exception… and I mean real romance, not the usual best seller excuse for relationship-building. As in sex first, relationship… whatever. If you like a really, REALLY slow build and need a short beach read, or four, and you don’t mind endless talking a la the worst of Jane Austen, then by all means download this today! The price is right. Dialogue: The very best part of this book, although sometimes lacking in sophistication. Characterization: This grows toward the end. I found myself rather attached to all characters, even Kate, eventually. Grammar Girl Says: Oh, holy cow, what? Are you kidding me? Proofreader, please.
The good news is that once the world is built and the rules and characters established, Ms. Gower blossoms as a writer in subsequent books. True page-turners, though the romance drags endlessly. For some, deliciously, but for me there was definite eye-rolling, which put the guilt in “guilty pleasure.” All storytelling aspects improve, especially new character development, and there is more and better action. Heads-up: The novella BIG BAD BECKER is a retelling of the same story as RtN through the werewolf’s eyes. Will read the next installment, probably on a beach blanket or in a pool chair, next summer if available! After reading something more cerebral like THE LAST KINGDOM (EBR review). Definitely.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Pretty strong throughout
- Violence: Light for crime genre
- Sex: Frequent limited scenes and imaginings with some detail, but funny and well-written: these get better and more frequent as the series progresses