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REVIEW: My Forbidden Desire by Carolyn Jewel

Dear Ms. Jewel,

book review It isn’t easy to summarize the plot of your newest book, the paranormal My Forbidden Desire, and doing so necessitates giving away some spoilers for the first book in the series, My Wicked Enemy. That’s because the series is set against a backdrop of a complex battle between paranormal beings known as demons or fiends and humans who possess magic, called mages or witches.

It’s established in both books that centuries ago, fiends sometimes took advantage of normal, “vanilla” humans using their powers, whereupon some humans developed magical abilities that they used to keep the fiends in check. By the time the series begins, though, mages and witches have long been abusing their power over the fiends by killing some of them to increase their own lifespans, and taking others “mageheld,” a practice which allows a powerful mage to control nearly every action of the fiend in his possession.

In the first book in this series, My Wicked Enemy, Xia was one such mageheld fiend. He was controlled by the mage Rasmus Kessler, who commanded him to commit terrible crimes, up to and including murder. Xia could do nothing about that, but now he is free, and wants nothing more than to kill mages and witches in revenge, starting with Rasmus if at all possible.

Alexandrine Marit is Rasmus’s biological daughter, though she was raised by adoptive parents, along with her brother Harsh, who as it turns out (unbeknownst to Alexandrine) is a fiend. Alexandrine possesses some of the magic that her biological father passed on to her, but her magic is mostly stunted and inept, and she is far from powerful.

Alexandrine’s brother Harsh disappeared for years and was presumed dead, and while he was missing, Alexandrine went looking for her biological father and found out his identity at the same time she came into possession of an amulet. She sent off an email to Rasmus, who is an expert on such artifacts, partly hoping for information on the object and partly hoping to rekindle a father-daughter relationship with him.

Not long after that Harsh reappears in Alexandrine’s life, with a warning that she is in danger. Her biological father could care less about her, but he wants the amulet and is willing to kill her for it.

This is where the story begins. Harsh is insistent that Alexandrine needs protection, and he has brought Xia along to act as her bodyguard since he himself must accompany Nikodemus, the warlord he has sworn fealty to, and Carson, Nikodemus’s mate, on an important mission in Paris.

To say that Xia is less than thrilled to learn that he will be protecting a witch, and Rasmus Kessler’s biological daughter at that, is quite an understatement. It was a witch who entrapped Xia and turned him over to Rasmus. But even loathing witches as he does, Xia is determined to protect Alexandrine since he too is sworn to Nikodemus. That’s not to say that he keeps his prejudices against all witches to himself — and of course, Alexandrine doesn’t appreciate his attitude.

Fortunately, Xia and Alexandrine stop sniping at each other long enough to defend their lives when Rasmus’s mageheld fiends attack them, and they begin to see each other with new eyes. Complicating things is the powerful attraction between them, and Alexandrine’s attachment to her amulet, which she compares to Gollum’s attachment to the ring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Despite the initial animosity between them, Xia and Alexandrine want badly to jump each other’s bones. But Xia isn’t willing to put himself at risk of being taken mageheld ever again, and will only do the deed if Alexandrine agrees to give him total control over her magic while they have sex. Alexandrine thinks Xia is beyond gorgeous, and sympathizes with his needs, but that doesn’t make her willing to be that vulnerable with him.

Eventually, Xia and Alexandrine have to make a getaway, and when they find a safe place, they decide it is time to try to separate Alexandrine from her talisman, which holds the spirit of a murdered fiend within it. That’s when things get even more complicated….

My Forbidden Desire is a sexy, engrossing read, one that I really enjoyed. The action is fast at times but not so fast that there aren’t also some wonderful slower moments in which Xia and Alexandrine become intimate, and I don’t mean just physically.

I could find nits to pick in this book, such as that we are never shown Alexandrine’s reaction to realizing that her brother Harsh is a demon, or that Xia’s past actions in the previous book, which include murder that Rasmus coerced him to commit, are never really dealt with head on. Some of the magical stuff involving Xia and Alexandrine’s abilities is a bit confusing, too. I could also wish for less slang in this book, and in many other paranormals. I don’t find it believable that so many immortal or millennia-old beings speak like eighteen year olds.

But the truth is that I was thoroughly entertained by My Forbidden Desire nonetheless. Xia is an immensely appealing hero, dangerous yet vulnerable at the same time. His “I don’t give a fuck” attitude makes his slow awakening to his feelings of admiration for Alexandrine and ultimately, caring for her, both touching and deliciously sexy.

Alexandrine took a little longer to win me over, since she started the book feeling sorry for herself and trying to lie to Harsh and Xia about her amulet, but I later came to see her through Xia’s eyes and admire all that she had overcome in her past. She undervalued herself more than she should have, in my opinion, and took a little too long to acknowledge Xia’s feelings for her and believe in them, but that made the moment when she realized just how much she meant to Xia wonderfully romantic.

The secondary characters also intrigued me, especially the fiend Kynan and Alexandrine’s friend Maddy, a witch who knows how to use her magic. If there is a book in the works about Maddy, I will definitely look for it when it comes out.

My Forbidden Desire reminded me a bit of the earlier books in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, those in which there was a strong focus on the main couple’s romance. Whereas the first book in your paranormal series, My Wicked Enemy, felt like it was midway between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, this one feels more firmly in the paranormal romance terrain to me. I like the greater focus on the hero and heroine’s relationship. I like a lot of things about this book, and Xia especially. B+.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore. No ebook format.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

17 Comments

  1. RStewie
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 16:24:44

    I read the first in the series, and was not completely taken in by the premise but this one sounds more like something I’d enjoy. Can I get a hint as to whether the certain un-vanilla aspects of the previous story’s intimate moments follow the same lines?

    I really hate to be so vague, but I don’t want the first post to be all spoilery, and I really WOULD like to follow through with this series, if it’s different.

  2. Janine
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 17:18:34

    SPOILER

    I will be vague too, but I’m putting the spoiler warnings in for those who have read the first book. I’m pretty sure know what you’re referring to, RStewie, and no, that doesn’t happen in this book — there are hints that it might, but then it doesn’t come to pass.

    I was pretty surprised by that scene in book 1 (My Wicked Enemy) — very edgy, and as you say, un-vanilla, for a mainstream romance that isn’t labeled erotic. I enjoyed it but I can understand why you prefer something different.

  3. Jane A
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 17:56:47

    Can one read this book without reading My Wicked Enemy first? Does the book have an open ending with more between Xia and Alexandrine yet to come? I’m not really interested in starting a new paranormal series, but this book sounds pretty good!

  4. Jennie
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 18:34:29

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been meaning to give this series a try, since I enjoyed Jewel’s Scandal so much. I’m curious as well about whether the second book can be read without reading the first, though I do usually like to read series in order when possible.

  5. May B.
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 19:35:19

    I love Ms. Jewel’s historical and decided to give her paranormal a try. I have a difficulty when reading the first book but I love this one. I think you opinion that the first book is cross between paranormal romance and urban fantasy is right to the point. This one feels more romance.

    I love the characters especially Xia. He is so interesting that I did not have the question about his reaction to his past deeds, which you pointed out (a very good one). I did not really think about that at all.

  6. Janine
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 19:39:28

    Jane A & Jennie – Hm, it’s tough to answer that. The romance between Xia and Alexandrine is self-contained. I’m sure we’ll see more of them in future books, but my sense is that they will appear as side characters rather than as the main characters. I would say that enough of Xia’s background is given in My Forbidden Desire that you don’t have to read My Wicked Enemy first to understand where he is coming from.

    But I do think that the references to Carson and Nikodemus (the hero and heroine of My Wicked Enemy) and the appearances of some of the side characters may be more confusing if you haven’t read the first book. For example, in My Forbidden Desire, we never learn why Harsh, Alexandrine’s brother, was missing and presumed dead for all these years, but if you’ve read My Wicked Enemy, then you will know why.

    It would be a little like starting the BDB series with the second book, and then you wouldn’t know what happened to Darius, and how that impacts on John Matthew and Beth. These books also begin with a glossary of terms, it’s that kind of mythology.

    So I guess I’d say that it’s possible to read My Forbiddden Desire on its own, but you will probably get more out of it if you read My Wicked Enemy first. And I thought My Wicked Enemy was worth reading — I think I gave it a B, whereas My Forbidden Desire was a B+.

    Sorry for the lengthy answer!

    Jennie — I loved Scandal too. Jewel’s writing style is very different in these books than in Scandal. You can find an excerpt from My Forbidden Desire here.

  7. SonomaLass
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 23:19:18

    I’m picky about paranormals. I mostly don’t read them, difficult as that is in the current state of the genre. Too many times I have hated what others raved about, and I am just sick of vampires and were-things. I’m big on fantasy, but most of paranormal romance doesn’t push either my fantasy buttons or my romance buttons.

    I’m not sick of mages and witches, though, and I’m definitely not sick of Carolyn Jewel. I’ve decided to give these books a whirl, because if anyone can make paranormal work for me, it’ll be Carolyn.

  8. Janine
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 23:22:59

    I hope you enjoy My Wicked Enemy and My Forbidden Desire, SonomaLass. I would love to hear your thoughts when you’ve read them.

    Also, have you tried the Shana Abe series starting with The Smoke Thief? Those paranormals have a stronger fantasy flavor than most, IMO.

  9. Janine
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 17:17:18

    May B., I missed your comment earlier. I’m glad you enjoyed this book too. I so agree about Xia — intellectually I think his past actions should have been addressed more than they were but emotionally I enjoyed him so much that it didn’t bother me a lot.

  10. May B.
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 07:38:58

    Janine, I did not really expect to enjoy this book but since the first page this book just take me in so I do not question much.

    As for Shana Abe, I read this first two books in the Drakon series but have problem with the pace of the story. Somehow I found it went so slow and dream-like. Maybe because of the fantasy favor in the story?

  11. Janine
    Jun 03, 2009 @ 12:08:28

    May, it sounds like My Forbidden Desire was as compulsively readable for you as it was for me.

    Re. the Shana Abe books — they are very different but it is actually that dreamlike quality that made me think they might appeal to SonomaLass (since she prefers fantasy to paranormals).

  12. SonomaLass
    Jun 05, 2009 @ 12:32:13

    Thanks for the rec, Janine. I have added Shana Abe to my list. I have a lot more reading time in the summer. I’ll let you know what I think of both sets of books.

  13. SonomaLass
    Jun 05, 2009 @ 12:39:52

    Ooops, editing time elapsed.

    I can get my hands on a copy of The Dream Thief, but The Smoke Thief has to be ordered. Is this a “read them in order” series, or are the books loosely enough linked that I can start with the second one?

  14. Janine
    Jun 05, 2009 @ 15:01:08

    SonomaLass — I think it is probably better to read them in order because Zane, the hero of The Dream Thief, plays a significant role in The Smoke Thief as a young boy. Also, the fantasy flavor feels stronger to me in The Smoke Thief.

  15. SonomaLass
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 13:39:45

    Janine — my daughter bought me The Smoke Thief for my birthday, and so far you are absolutely right. I’m really enjoying it — I’m savoring it over a few days’ reading, because the last historical fantasy I read (while excellent) was very dark and hard to read in large chunks. In the end I enjoyed it more for having taken my time, and I decided Abé deserved the same treatment.

    Thanks so much for recommending it!

  16. Janine
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 17:11:00

    You’re welcome. I’m so glad you are enjoying the books! They are worth savoring IMO. I hope you enjoy the Jewel series too — it is quite different from the Abe one.

  17. RITA Open Thread | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 14:53:35

    […] Jewel’s historicals (Scandal is reviewed here and here) and I think her paranormals have a certain cracktastic element, but the worldbuilding is often far too confusing for me to follow.  I looked up For the […]

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