REVIEW: Touch of Crimson by Sylvia Day
Dear Ms. Day:
I felt like that there was a kernel of a really great story here but the story I wanted to read and the story I read were at such odds with each other. The story that I felt was trying to be told was of a man who had an enduring love which he pursued despite all of the rules of his world and despite the fact that it might bring about his ruin. Unfortunately, the story I read was about a man who had strong feelings for someone for which he broke all the rules while he ruined the lives of others around him for breaking those same rules he refused to live by. The story I wanted to read was about a man who was struggling with the edicts that had formed the basis of all his actions in the past, the rules which demanded he hunt down his fellow angels, rip off their wings, and strip them of their souls. The story I read was about a man who shrugged off the hypocrisy of his actions and enforced a cruel rule upon his fellow angels without any real thought to why. My take away was that this story was about a raging hypocrite who was more villain than hero. But, unfortunately, that was only the beginning of my challenges with this book.
“Touch of Crimson” has confusing world building. There is a huge cast of paranormal beings. This is epitome of the “No Paranormal Left Behind.” The book opens with a glossary and contains these two definitions (among others):
FALLEN—the Watchers after the fall from grace. They have been stripped of their wings and their souls, leaving them as immortal blood drinkers who cannot procreate.
WATCHERS—two hundred seraphim angels sent to earth at the beginning of time to observe mortals. They violated the laws by taking mortals as mates and were punished with an eternity on earth as vampires with no possibility of forgiveness.
The Fallen and Watchers are the same group of people but it took me 8 chapters to figure this out because in this book you have good angels, bad angels, vampires (which are angels), human vampires, lycans, reincarnated humans, demons, and dragons, werewolves that are demons but different than lycans although both were made from demon blood, and zombies.
The “hero” is Adrian, the head of the Sentinels who are angels sent to Earth to watch the Fallen/Watcher group and ensure that they …. don’t do anything? And to make sure that the other Sentinels who are sent to watch also don’t fall in love with humans and mate with them. The punishment, meted out by Adrian, is to hunt down the fallen Sentinels (who are a different bunch of angels than the Watchers but who then become the Fallen) and rip off their wings and strip them of their souls. These angels then become the Fallen, vampires who cannot procreate and have no souls. What the “no soul” means is not articulated in the text. It sounds ominous but the Fallen seemed like a group no different than the Sentinels other than the fact that they drank blood and liked to have sex with mortals. They could still feel and they didn’t act amoral. If there was any villain in the story, it was Adrian.
Adrian falls in love with the daughter of the head dude of the Fallen, soulless vampires. Adrian has sex with her which should mean Adrian is hunted down and stripped of his wings. The head “bad” tries to turn his daughter, Shadoe, into a vampire so she will be immortal but Adrian prevents it by killing her. Unfortunately, he killed her too late and her soul became immortal. She reincarnates at intermittent periods. Adrian lives for those moments that he has with her, sometimes it is 20 minutes, sometimes it is 20 years. She never remembers, but he always finds her. Destiny brings them together. I’m not sure if he kills her every time, but she dies every time although it’s not explained why. Or it was and I totally missed it.
I want to emphasize this. ADRIAN LIVES FOR THE MOMENTS SHE IS REINCARNATED. Everything he does between the periods of dormancy is await her return.
Two hundred damned years. She’d been gone long enough to make him dangerous. A seraph whose heart was encased in ice was a hazard to everyone and everything around him. He was a danger to her, because his hunger for her was so voracious he questioned his ability to restrain it. When she was gone, the world was dead to him. The silence within was deafening. Then she returned, and the rush of sensation exploded around him—the pounding of his heart, the heat of her touch, the force of his need. Life. Which was lost to him when she was.
Unfortunately, her soul is gaining dominance and this time, she is exhibiting very real supernatural abilities. In her latest incarnation, Shadoe is sharing a soul with a red haired, fair skinned woman named Lauren. She senses “otherness” about people. She has been killing vamps and demons for 10 years. She senses that this guy named Adrien she meets at an airport is an “other” and Adrien recognizes immediately it is “Shadoe”. She agrees to go with this “other” to his highly reclusive compound and eat dinner with him. She doesn’t drive herself. She leaves the airport to go with someone she recognizes as “other” (and thus ordinarily will kill) to their private compound in his car. This is not classic TSTL behavior?
When she gets to his compound she is amazed by its beauty and wealth:
She kept her bag close to her side and faced him. “What’s not to like?”
“Good.” He gave a regal nod. “You’ll be staying here indefinitely.”
His imperiousness was stunning. “Excuse me?”
“I need to keep you where I know you’ll be safe.”
I need to keep you . . . As if he had the right. “Maybe I don’t want to be kept.”
Where’s her fear, outrage? Why this meh acceptance of being held captive in some strange “other” compound?
Adrien can’t wait to have sex with Lindsey/Shadoe despite the fact that he was CREATED to administer punishment to those angels who decide to mate with humans. When questioned about this he responds:
“They are responsible for what they are. They made the choices that led to their fall.” He studied her with those fathomless eyes. “Yes, I administered the punishment. I stripped the Watchers of their wings. Wings and souls are connected, and the loss of their souls led to their blood drinking. But I’m not accountable for their mistakes, any more than a police officer is responsible for the crimes committed by offenders.”
At one point in the book, one of the sentinels came to him, confesses she loves her lycan guard and asks for mercy. Adrian gives her one hour lead before he hunts her down and kills her lycan and if she has had smex with him, he will rip off her wings and she will become a watcher. This is, of course, minutes after he has had smex with the heroine. He regrets his hypocrisy but this is his charge. Agghhh!
If an author sets up two factions and has one faction standing on the neck of the other “for the good of the world”, the author is asking the reader to make a qualitative judgment about who is standing on the right side of the line. When the head guy standing on the right side of the line is doing everything he can to violate the line but still maintains the need for the suppression of an entire set of beings, how can you make that qualitative judgment?
I’m not saying that a book needs to be all black and white, but if the author is exploring gray areas, then that exposition should be in the book. Why is Adrian not grappling with this? Why is it okay for him to fuck the brains out of the heroine but he’ll ruin any one else who takes the same liberties? Why doesn’t he question the rightness of his position? Instead, this is what he says:
“You and Helena can’t be the only ones to form attachments,” Jason said.
“No.” Everything seemed to be coming to a head at once. Or maybe it felt that way because he was still reeling from Lindsay’s decision to leave him. She was being selfless for him. He had to try to be the same for her, which might mean letting her go.
“You can’t be surprised,” Jason went on. “We’ve been on this mission forever.”
“I’m only surprised it took this long.” Adrian looked at Damien, who lifted both shoulders in an offhand shrug that neither confirmed nor denied whether his opinion aligned. “But what are the alternatives? Dereliction of duty? The forfeiture of our wings? Preying on the mortals we were created to protect? Who the fuck wants to live that life?”
But but but. He is living that life. He is engaged in doing exactly what he despises in others and has so little remorse for it. Why does he have anyone who obeys him? Who follows him?
What possibly makes this book even more wall banging is the resolution of the reincarnated soul issue. I’ll say obliquely that if an author chooses to end the story in this fashion, then why the hell is there a reincarnated storyline in the first place. Why make such a huge friggin’ deal about how Adrien cannot live during the periods Shadoe is not reincarnated?
Toward the end of the book, there appears to be a fracturing of the world that has been in existence for thousands and thousands of years. The lycan, who are under control of the Sentinels are rebelling. There are groups who do not want to be under the thumb of the Sentinels (and frankly who can blame them?). There is a discovery about the Sentinel blood that will turn them into hunted instead of the hunters. That this discovery has just now occurred makes me think that these are the dumbest paranormal beings ever.
Finally, I’m going to talk about the racial depictions in this book. I want to state at the outset that I don’t think that what was shown in this book was in any way intentional but the way in which race was portrayed made me uncomfortable. I also want to note that I believe that you are half Japanese and I only state that because I suspect someone in the comments will say “Day can’t be racist, she’s half Japanese”. And I am not making a claim that you are racist, only that the depictions of race in this book seemed to elevate blue eyed, classically featured characters over “exotic” or people of color.
Let’s start with the heroine. She was once the spitting image of her Asian mommy. Now she has red hair blue eyes and fair skin. This is an authorial choice. The reincarnated soul has no rules in this world. She did not need to start out Asian and then, through reincarnation, become more and more Western in coloring. This is a paranormal story. These characters could be anything, any color, any race. But for some reason the heroine started out as Asian and when she became the true and forever love of Adrien, she was red haired and fair skinned.
Now his daughter was stripped of her genes along with her memories. Once the spitting image of her mother, her incarnations bore the trademarks of someone else’s lineage.
All the Sentinels and I believe the original Watchers are blue eyed although the hero has “olive toned” skin. When the Seraph “fall”, they change from blue eyed gods to “amber” (I’m not sure whether this is a result of blood drinking or not as it is never expressed).
Jason: “Despite the roar of the aircraft’s engines, Jason didn’t need to raise his voice to be heard. He also didn’t cover his seraph blue eyes, despite the pair of designer shades perched atop his golden head.”
Adrian: “His eyes were the most unusual shade of blue. Like the vivid cerulean at the heart of a flame. Set within olive skin and framed by thick dark lashes, they were mesmerizing.”
Damien: “Damien’s seraph blue eyes returned to her. He was gorgeous: long and sculpted, with his dark brown hair cut short, and sleek, framing eyes nearly as blue as Adrian’s.”
Helena: “He knew what the hostess saw—a stunning, statuesque, radiantly beautiful woman with waist-length blond hair and seraph blue eyes.
Salem: “He’s young,” Salem said beside her, momentarily distracting her with his latest blinding hair color of primary blue. It was fortunate for him that he possessed classical bone structure; there was a regal quality to his handsome face that transcended whatever crayon hue adorned his head.”
All the Sentinels had the same flame blue eyes, although only Adrian’s ever gave off heat. The Sentinels were works of art, really. It was rather intimidating being surrounded by dozens of perfect, gorgeous beings.
Fallen (who were all Angels at one point):
Vashti: “Hello, Adrian,” she muttered, her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Sunlight fell over her pale bare arms and chocolate-colored hair. Her amber eyes glittered like tiger’s-eye, but he remembered when they’d been blue like his own.
Shadoe, the daughter of a fallen angel and a human: An exotic and breathtaking woman.
Shadoe’s brother, Torque: “His brutally short hair stuck straight up in opposing directions, the thick Asian locks bleached nearly white at the tips. It was a style that suited both the exotic features he’d inherited from his mother and his sharp-edged lifestyle.”
Another guy but with questionable alliances, not a Sentinel:
Raguel: “The archangel hesitated a moment, then dipped his head with the expected deference. His smile was dazzlingly white within the framework of skin as smooth and rich as the finest milk chocolate. There was a smattering of tight gray curls at Raguel’s temples, but that telltale sign of aging was an affectation to disguise his immortality.”
Lycan (set up to be a bad guy although may be a good guy in future books):
“It was a quiet surety inside her. She knew the fallen angel who stood across the room from her, looking far too young to be her father. He was gorgeous. Tall and elegant, like a Sentinel, but much darker. Definitely dangerous. Not just in his looks, although those were dark and dangerous, too. His black hair and caramel-hued skin were paired with eyes the color of toffee, making him stunning in a wholly exotic way.”
So why is it that all the “good” angels have blue eyes, classical features and most have golden hair? Why not a huge variation of racial features on the “good” angels. Why are the “good” angels and the “bad” guys in the stories differentiated by phenotype? It’s noteable that the only time skin color is mentioned is when it references a non white person. The default then is that the characters are white if not “olive skinned, caramel hued, milk chocolate” colored. Maybe individually, these things wouldn’t have rung my bell, but with the heroine’s ethnicity “stripped away” through reincarnation (not to mention what happens in the spoiler) along with how all the Sentinels are blue eyed, classically featured, then yes, it all becomes very uncomfortable for me. If they are of different skin color, different races, why wasn’t that described? Why was the heroine’s ethnicity erased so that by the time she gets her HEA she is no longer an “exotic” beauty (as she was described in the book). Overall, this book disappointed me on many levels but having the heroine’s ethnicity erased was the topper. D