Shadowdance: Did Not Finish

Shadowdance by Kristen CallihanShadowdance by Kristen Callihan

Let me start this DNF review by saying that I have not read the previous books in Kristen Callihan’s DARKEST LONDON romance series. The books, which are set in a paranormal Victorian London, have overlapping characters, but each focuses on a different couple. My failure to enjoy Shadowdance has nothing to do with my unfamiliarity with the world or characters — I was able to pick up on those things well enough. My issues are with this particular story. I wouldn’t be surprised if I liked other DARKEST LONDON books a lot better (Kelly  likes the first one). Shadowdance gets great reviews at Amazon, Goodreads and Audible. The audio version is produced by Hachette Audio and features one of my newest favorite readers, British actress Moira Quirk. She’s phenomenal, as always, and is perfect in this role.

I read 70% of Shadowdance in audio format before giving up. This story is about Mary Chase and Jack Talent, two regulators for the SOS (The Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals). These characters were minor characters in the previous novels, Moonglow and Winterblaze where, we learned, they hate each other. In Shadowdance we find out why they hate each other and, of course, there’s a romance.

The basic reason that I didn’t like Shadowdance is because it’s one of those typical paranormal romance novels in which characterization, plot, and dialogue bow down to the demands of the tense steamy romance. This means that all that’s required of the characters is that they be beautiful and passionate. All the plot has to do is to get these beautiful passionate people alone together as often as possible, even if that’s at the expense of logic and common sense. The main job description for the dialogue is to get across Mary and Jack’s hatred and hotness for each other.

There’s more to Shadowdance than this, of course — Mary and Jack have to team up to catch a serial killer, Jack’s hiding a couple of big secrets from everyone and he learns about his own supernatural abilities, and the couple needs to deal with the past events that made them hate each other. (And here’s a glaring example of the plot problem: this hatred doesn’t really make sense at all. I’m thinking “that’s why they hate each other??? That’s ridiculous!”). But, generally, the romance is the focus of this story.

The setting is also a problem. It feels like a cliché version of Victorian London — it feels recognizable, but not authentic. So, for example, Jack’s eating rashers and bangers and uses words like “rotter” and “bugger.” Phrases such as “More’s the pity” make Mary sound like she lives in the 19th century but she has incongruously enlightened ideas about women’s roles and sex. The whole thing feels like a modern American woman writing a romance novel set in Victorian London… which of course is what it actually is.

But my biggest issue with Shadowdance is that I just didn’t believe in their hatred for each other and I didn’t understand the romance. It’s all physical. She’s beautiful (“body like a venus” blah blah blah) and he’s aggressive and manly (he towers, looms, grabs and yells). That’s all. They have no other interests, hobbies, or … personality traits. They’re just big beautiful bundles of passion. Most of their conversations are hostile and abusive. They say horrible things to each other. They have nothing to talk about except the case they’re working on and how much they hate each other. I couldn’t stand to be around them, so I don’t know how they could stand it either. Falling in love seemed an unlikely reaction.

So, it was the romance that killed Shadowdance for me. I never bought in to the setting or the plot, but maybe I could have overlooked that if I could have bought into the romance.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

View all posts by Kat Hooper

4 comments

  1. I think we could have some fun with that cover, though.

    In the Connie Willis novel Bellwether, I remember how refreshing it was that the romantic couple… liked each other! I think you could write a fine steamy romance with two intelligent characters, who have integrity, who are attracted to each other, even respect each other (shocking!) and still have some realistic obstacle to their relationship.

  2. I enjoyed the first one, barely made it through the second book and gave up on the whole series. The series went from an interesting premise to “one of those typical paranormal romance novels in which characterization, plot, and dialogue bow down to the demands of the tense steamy romance”. And I’m not sure I’d call it romance so much as sexual encounters. There wasn’t much romantic about it.

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