According to the blurb on the cover, Krassi Zourkova’s Wildalone has everything I’m looking for in a romance novel: magic, music, angst, and lots of sex. A young woman travels to America and Princeton, tries to solve a mystery, ends up in a whirlwind romance with a handsome, mysterious fellow, and is tempted by his equally handsome and mysterious brother. I figured it’d be a fun read, nothing too serious, just lots of fantasy and passion.
I was wrong. It’s a ridiculously infuriating book.
(Look, writing ugly reviews is tricky because at the end of the day the authors are real people with real feelings who’ve gone to the effort to write a book and actually get it published, which is more than I’ve ever done. I have issues with this book that I want to discuss, but I’m sure Zourkova is a lovely, talented person who’ll go on to write a lot more books and I have nothing against her personally.)
Zourkova is not a native English speaker, and her descriptive language is jarring. No one speaks even slightly realistically so every conversation sounds awfully stiff and uncomfortable, and every description is much too flowery. A few examples:
And each tree appeared distant, then suddenly turned up next to us – a deformed giant, locked against the unending black of sky.
The pine tree stood by the gravel path – almost collapsing, weighed down with rain, its ragged bark exposed in the daylight like the wrinkled skin of a man already too old to die.
The night had burst, ruptured like a black pomegranate, and it bled silence.
“I never knew stars could be this color.” Nor eyes. Your eyes, the blue universe of their silence.
But that’s my own personal taste, some readers like that kind of overwrought prose. If you think of this book as a very long poem, you might like it.
It was the romance that was so awful.
Thea sees a shadowy stranger who gives her a flower and whispers to her in the dark. She eventually meets Rhys, who she thinks is the same man. It turns out the man she first saw was Rhys’ brother Jake, but by the time she figures that out she’s already dating Rhys. And by then she believes it’s “too late” to fix it. She thinks Jake is probably her soul mate, but she’s with Rhys now so she can’t betray him.
That’s a terribly flimsy excuse all on its own, but it’s even worse when you realize she’s miserable with Rhys. At least, that’s how the author describes it. Rhys is overbearing and secretive, and Thea’s confused and always pining away for Jake. But she never leaves.
I think the author wants us to sympathize with Thea, because a lot of us have been in relationships that we knew were bad for us, but we couldn’t seem to get out of them.
But instead of sympathizing with Thea, I started to despise her. The only time she’s happy is when she and Rhys are having some vigorous almost-sex (gotta keep her a virgin, don’tcha know, wouldn’t want her to be sexually active for real, she’s the main character and the sex can only happen in the last few chapters) and the rest of the book are these endless, internal monologues of how she loves Jake, but she comes up with these tissue-paper excuses to stay with the brother that she doesn’t like or trust.
It turns out Jake won’t have her anyway. He’ll hang around and moon after her and sigh, but he loves his brother and wants Rhys to be happy, so he’ll confuse her completely but that’s as far as he’ll go.
So, I ask, why does she have to be with either of them? Couldn’t she just tell both of them to go to hell?
But no, apparently being on her own isn’t an option. If Jake won’t be with her then she just has to be with Rhys. I hoped for the entire book it’d turn out that Rhys had cast a spell on her, to explain her vapid, spineless behavior. But it turns out the only draw he has over her is that he’s good looking, rich, and a hopeless romantic.
Except he isn’t. Romantic, I mean. There’s plenty of bad boys in fiction who can turn on the romance, but not Rhys. Because let me tell you, when he keeps secrets from you, high-handedly tells you you’re skipping class to come with him, disappears on you, ditches you in the woods when you refuse to have sex with him, hires prostitutes, allows his friends to be rude to you, says you shouldn’t spend the holidays with your family because you need to spend it with him, and then when you decide to get away from him and take a trip with a friend out of town, he tracks you down and tells you to pack your things and get in the car…that guy is not romantic. That guy is a jerk.
But it’s okay! He’s the victim of terrible circumstances! Something awful happened to him years ago and he uses alcohol and women to feel better! But he won’t tell Thea that, and we spend three quarters of the book watching him be vague and secretive and eviscerate her feelings, because the truth would kill her!
It doesn’t though. She learns the truth and everything is (almost) fine, and then she has sex with him. He’s the victim, you know, so she needs to make him feel better. One character even tells her:
Do you love him? Because if you can break his heart to spare your own a complication, then you don’t love him. And you probably never will.
I almost threw the book across the room. Is she supposed to feel GUILTY if she DUMPS HIM? Are you kidding me?
Once I realized she wasn’t spellbound I started hoping it was just a heavy-handed message and she’d learn about demanding respect for herself. But no. She learned that she needed to be the “bigger person” and stay with Rhys because of all the tragedy in his life.
I once heard an advice columnist say “Bad things happen to good people. But bad things also happen to bad people, and that doesn’t automatically make them good people.” Thea could stand to remember that.
I’ve read romances before where men act badly and women forgive them; they’re not my favorite kind of romance but they can be done well, if we’re given enough reasons to like the guy. But we’re not given those reasons.
The fact that she loves Jake, who aside from near-terminal-wishy-washyness seems like a decent person, isn’t important. Rhys can do whatever he wants because he’s a tragic figure, and he never meant to hurt her by sleeping with all these other woman. It was just in his nature and the way he copes.
(Mind you, he was fooling around with several of these women long after he’d started dating Thea. He loves her and she’s the woman of his dreams, but he’s still “coping?” I guess old habits die hard.)
And then she only has sex with him after she’s tried to push his hands away several times but he “can’t fight it anymore” and we’re meant to think it’s sex, but it’s so badly described I’d think it was rape if she wasn’t so happy.
I swear, between 50 Shades, Twilight and now this book, I feel we’re seeing a disturbing trend, where a guy can be a stalker, overbearing, cold, secretive, and verbally or physically abusive and it’s okay as long as he’s really sorry afterwards.
I could get past the overblown, self-indulgent descriptions and constant internal moping. It’s a style that doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s not badly done. Overdone, maybe, but some people do like that kind of writing.
But I can’t get past a storyline that’s meant to be romantic and instead comes off as pointless, irritating, and honestly creepy. By the end of the book I still had no idea why she cared for Rhys; he’d done nothing to deserve it except say passionate things and spend a lot of money on her.
It was bad enough that I disliked him and his brother so much; by the end of the book I’d lost all respect for Thea as well. The ending seemed to be setting up for a sequel. I think a lot of people are looking forward to it, but I’m going to pretend that in the next book Thea gets a clue and tells both of them to take a hike.