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REVIEW: Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night by Kresley Cole

Dear Ms. Cole:

Book CoverI am so glad that I read Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night a second time before I wrote this review. My first time through I was so frustrated by the interminable obstacles to Bowen and Mariketa’s relationship that I could barely focus on anything else. But when I went back to the book to refresh my memory for this review, I ended up re-reading it, and felt much more engaged in the story and the characters.

Bowen MacRieve has spent the past 180 years suffering for the death of his mate, Mariah. The circumstances of her death have left him guilt-ridden and angry, and he has entered the Talisman’s Hie in order to win Thrane’s Key, which would allow him to return to the past to recover her. While the Lykae are naturally suspicious of witches, Bowen abhors them because his father had been made victim to the cruel execution of a witch’s spell. So he is particularly unsettled when he reacts with such strong lust to the young witch Mariketa the Awaited, who, at a mere 23, has not yet turned immortal or mastered her potent magick. But he proud, virile, handsome Bowen has a great deal of lust to experience, having remained celibate since Mariah’s death. Mariketa is sassy and curvaceous and altogether magnetic for Bowen, her exuberance a perfect foil for his dour outlook. Although both are incredibly strong in their supernatural gifts, they are virtually powerless in their mutual attraction, and despite the deathly competition of the Hie, they are quickly locked together and lost in passion. Until, that is, the urgency of the Hie intrudes, reigniting the passionate competition between the two, catalyzing a hectic confrontation that leaves Bowen spelled out of his immortality and Mariketa trapped with a handful of her competitors in an incubi-infested Mayan tomb. Bowen must eventually travel back to the tomb to rescue Mari and the others, under orders from the coven to deliver Mariketa safely home from the dangerous Guatemalan jungle before the witches declare all out war on the Lore. As a species of road Romance, Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night definitely contributes to the Immortals After Dark Series, if it could stand further evolution on its own.

If it isn’t already obvious, Bowen and Mariketa both have major trust issues. Bowen mistrusts witches in general, and is especially thrown off balance by the strength of his attraction to Mariketa, because his Instinct tells him that she’s his mate. But for a Lykae to have two mates is unheard of, which Bowen interprets to mean that a) Mariketa is Mariah reincarnated, b) Mariketa has unwittingly enchanted Bowen into believing she’s his mate, or c) Bowen’s horniness is overriding his Instinct. None of these options pleases Bowen (and he’s far too stubborn to contemplate any others). Mari, on the other hand, was abandoned by both of her parents as a teenager, and is desperate to prove her worth to her coven, to move beyond the post-college party years to being a fully mature witch, able to control her magick and sell her spells like other magical mercenaries. On the verge of immortality, Mari can only seem to properly focus her magick on Bowen, which aggravates and empowers her. Mari is also nursing a rejection by her first love, a demon who turned away from her for a mere nymph and made her doubt the constancy of men in general. The attraction between Bowen and Mari is like static electricity from the dryer. Could there ever be a more perfectly opposite – and perfectly matched — couple?

That’s really the question that tripped me up in this book. And it reflects one of the issues I have with paranormals in general, that of the fated to mate concept. When two characters are fated to mate, how does that affect the burden to build the emotional, intellectual, and physical levels of the love relationship? To me, it should not lessen the burden of developing the relationship. I mean, aren’t ALL Romance couples fated to mate, even if the 'fate’ part is managed by the hand of the author? But I find too often that the fated to mate concept can substitute for both character and relationship development. And I think Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night suffered some from that problem.

On the one hand, Bowen’s conviction that he has already found and lost his mate adds a nice twist to the fated to mate storyline, as well as significant tension in the budding relationship. Bowen is conflicted over his lust for Mari, and Mari is suspicious of Bowen’s loyalty, should he not be able to confirm that she is his mate (Lykae can only have children with his mate). That fundamental obstacle to lasting trust and emotional intimacy between them is created very believably. As Lykae, loyalty to one’s mate is instinctive, so Bowen’s fidelity to Mariah is logical. And as a young and somewhat immature witch, Mariketa’s combination of bravado and uncertainty felt both age and stage appropriate. However, both the book and the relationship are dominated by a pattern of one step forward — two steps back. For a while, every single time Mari and Bowen begin to get physical, something happens to rend them apart and angry, followed by lots and lots of 'Why did I do that?” and “Why did he do that” and “Will he ever love me” and “Will I ever know if she’s my mate?” And because Mari and Bowen’s physical relationship begins in Chapter 1, there is A LOT of back and forth, so much that by the time they finally do get to consummate their passion I was almost numb, suspicious myself of what would happen next.

For me, the strength of this series is really the intersecting relationships and engaging characters, especially the women. The smart-talking, ass-kicking, completely out there females work for me because their emotional loyalty to each other is as strong as their quirky perspectives. From witch Carrow’s belief that “laissez les bon temps roulez means plastic beads replace attire” to proto-Valkyrie Nix’s backwards wisdom (and I SO hope she’s going to get her own story at some point – what a challenge THAT one will be), the women have strong, functional communities. With each book, we see more characters and are drawn more into the world of demons, lykae, vamps, valkyrie, and witches, and I happen to love the diversity in the series. I found Bowen less interesting than his cousin Lachlain (from A Hunger Like No Other), but that may be because his dour martyrdom is portrayed so effectively. Here’s a guy who’s sort of a drag, but who’s supposed to be. There is a nice twist to Bowen’s character in the challenge of adapting to a woman who refuses to relinquish her destiny as the “Awaited One” and her growing power as a witch, and he has a few touching moments, like when he describes his desire to take Mari to his home in Scotland, assuring her, “Snow would become you, lass.” And I liked it when Mari called him “wolfy” and teased him about his age, because the sparring loosens them up enough to actually enjoy each other, which in turn brings them closer. We understand why Bowen is drawn to the joyful humor of a younger woman, having missed out on so much happiness over the past two centuries, just as we know why Mari needs the single-minded focus and control of Bowen’s passion and loyalty.

Ultimately, my reading experience was much like Bowen and Mari’s relationship – up and down. When the narrative was grooving along, I was immersed, and when it felt mechanical and manipulated, I was frustrated. Many of my favorite scenes are those with other characters, where we see the different interactions and personalities. I have always appreciated that I can never predict who will be featured in the next book, because characters move in and out of this nicely textured paranormal world, allowing me to enjoy them without feeling sequel-baited. While the love relationship faltered a bit for me, I did find the resolution to the Bowen-Mariah “true mate” mystery well-conceived and rewarding, bringing many thing together I did not anticipate. Had there been a little less two-step drama in Bowen and Mari’s developing relationship, I think I would have been seduced by the book’s strengths much more readily during my first read through. Because it took me two passes to really settle in, I have to give Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night a B-.

~ Janet

This book is available in eform from Simon & Schuster now or in paperback on October 30, 2007.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

18 Comments

  1. anu439
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 18:50:02

    Huh. I’ve never read Cole, but I like what you say about strong heroines with a shared community in each other. Any particular Cole I should start with?

    Re: mated pairs. This is one of my biggest peeves in romance. I used to love this type of story until paranormals took it out behind the shed and mauled it to death. I just read JRW’s Lover Unbound, in which Vishous repetition of “Mine” replaces most (not all) of the development of the romance.

  2. Jane
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 19:20:50

    I just read JRW's Lover Unbound, in which Vishous repetition of “Mine” replaces most (not all) of the development of the romance.

    The shorthand of all shorthands – the mated pair.

  3. Jane A.
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 19:58:54

    I loved this book, I was really anticipating it and I wasn’t disappointed. I do love the heroines in this series and I love the zingers in Cole’s dialogue. And I know that people are tired of the lifemate concept, but I guess I haven’t read enough paranormals that it feels overused to me.

    anu, the first book in the series is A Hunger Like No Other, and though the books probably stand alone just fine there is reference to incidents in other books you can pick up if you read them in order.

  4. Devon
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 20:49:21

    I thought Cole pulled off the mate thing well enough in the first two, so I was looking forward to this one. It’s probably my least favorite device overall.

    P.S. What is with these covers? The guy looks rather goony. I enlarged the image to see if it made him look any better. And doesn’t it look vampire-y?

  5. Kerry Allen
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 21:05:15

    Devon, he looks weird because he’s fully clothed, that’s all.

  6. Ann Aguirre
    Oct 08, 2007 @ 23:32:38

    Haven’t read the book, but just commenting on the cover, he has sort of an anime look / proportion to him. I think that might be it. He’s like a slightly more lifelike version of Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon.

  7. Meriam
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 09:10:30

    I bought If You Desire by Cole on the strength of a review I read here – and HATED it! In the end, I couldn’t even read it properly; I skimmed through it in a weary, uncaring haze. I think it came down to a lack of chemistry. Her writing style didn’t grab me and nor did the characters, so I just couldn’t invest myself in the story. Something about the tone didn’t work for me either. It felt anachronistic, although I’ve certainly read worse offenders and enjoyed them more.

    Re: “soul mates.” I remember the first time I came across this concept (L J Smith’s Night World series, eons ago) I was utterly enthralled. Now it just seems a soul mate can excuse any number of sins, not least inconsistent characterisation and some otherwise really disturbing behaviour.

  8. bam
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 09:56:26

    awww… I thought this one was going to be about the Valkyrie who’s dead inside… :(

  9. Kerry Allen
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 10:17:49

    No Rest for the Wicked was about the dead-inside Valkyrie. Unless there’s one other than Kaderin the Cold Hearted I’m forgetting, which is entirely possible, the way my memory is working (or not) lately…

  10. M.
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 11:30:58

    There are four books so far in this ongoing series, book 1 is a novella in the anthology “Playing Easy to Get”. That one also involves a valkyrie, but the one that is being referred to is the one Kerry mentioned in her reply.

    I love this series, so of course, had to go get the electronic version as soon as I read this entry (didn’t know it was available already!) … I kept having all sorts of problems with the downloads (I am used to epublishers so I was more than just merely aggravated by the experience, as most epublishers have relatively painless checkouts). Finally was able to get it to work in one of my least favored formats (Microsoft’s ereader … yech).

    Anyway, the first two chapters have me hooked, so that bids well, I am the sort that knows almost off the bat if I am going to like a book or not depending on how I like the characters and I am liking the characters.

    As to her historicals, they are hit or miss with me.

    M.

  11. Janet
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 14:54:20

    anu: I wasn’t sure, frankly, if I liked Cole after I read A Hunger Like No Other, until I read more of her books and was sort of sucked into her retro Romance world. But given that Meriam absolutely hated a Cole I enjoyed, I don’t know how to advise you best, actually. Perhaps you could start with the novella from Paying Easy to Get, although MY favorite of this series is the second novel, No Rest For The Wicked. I don’t think you have to have read any others to jump right into that one, and IMO it’s a great introduction to Cole’s paranormal world.

    Jane A.: I was actually thinking that very thing about not having read too many paranormals before I hit the wall with this one, so I guess we all have our breaking point. IMO Cole is too strong of a storyteller to have to rely on the fated to mate concept in the place of real character development, so it was kind of a double disappointment to me.

    Devon: I am not a fan of the covers, either, although I like the No Rest for the Wicked cover the best. Although in part that’s because of Jane and Ned’s video review, lol. A big part of my problem with this one is that 1) Bowen looks more like a vamp than a werewolf and 2) Bowen is described as ENORMOUS, and the guy on this cover looks neither tall enough (especially in comparison to the “wee” Mari) nor broad enough to be a Lykae.

    Meriam: The only part I hate about reviewing is having people hate a book they read on the basis of my review. It actually took me a couple of Cole books to be seduced, so perhaps I’ve entered soul mate territory, too, since I definitely forgive more with her than I would with some other authors, even when she crosses the line (which she has, for me, on more than one occasion).

    M: I find the excesses in her heroes much harder to take in her historicals than in her paranormal books. But since I read her work primarily for the heroines, it’s rarely a make or break thing for me.

  12. Meriam
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 15:34:42

    Robin – I didn’t mean to complain. I recently read the Smoke Thief thanks to you and loved it. I generally really like the books you recommend, so I was mostly just surprised at how underwhelming I found If You Desire. Perhaps I’ll give her another try at some point and see if she can win me over.

    I enjoy your reviews and, really, you can’t please all the people all the time.

  13. Jane A.
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 19:11:57

    I can certainly understand why Kresley Cole’s books would not work for some people. I am rather surprised I like them so much. I think saying the books are fun!fun!fun!fun! is dead on. (I loved that review, BTW) Despite their flaws KC’s books appeal to me on a visceral level and I read them like the candy they are.

  14. Janet
    Oct 09, 2007 @ 21:15:56

    Meriam: I didn’t think you were complaining; I just feel bad when someone dislikes a book I recommend via a review. I don’t know when I turned the corner with Cole, but I think it was the novella in “Playing Easy to Get.” But you may never find that connection with her work. Have you see Jane’s review for No Rest for the Wicked? I don’t know if you’d like the book, but IMO the review is kick ass: http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2006/10/13/no-rest-for-the-wicked-by-kresley-cole/

    Jane A.: I’m glad that review of If You Desire (as well as the book) worked for you. I am also surprised at how much the Cole books work for me, but that’s part of their charm, I guess. I see them as sort of feminist-retro Romance, with the almost barbaric heroes and super-strong, super-sassy heroines. No TSTL females in these books, thank goodness! I also think that her writing has improved immensely over the course of her books, which is something I always love to see in the genre.

  15. Janine B
    Oct 13, 2007 @ 16:40:55

    I’ve really liked all the books in this series. And I agree that while they stand alone just fine, reading them in order always works for me. I’m looking forward to this one. I did notice that cover a few months ago and thought Hoo-boy, that’s a step back. Awful cover, just awful. But I expect to really enjoy what’s written in between!

  16. Meriam
    Oct 13, 2007 @ 19:22:34

    Well, I caved in and bought No Rest for the Wicked after reading these comments and guess what? On the basis of the first 50 pages, I’m going to have to eat my words. It’s … fun. Funny and cute without being annoying. Damnit.

    Slinking back to my hole now!

  17. Janet
    Oct 14, 2007 @ 11:47:35

    LOL, Meriam, don’t be upset! But please do post when you’re finished with NRFTW to let me know how you liked it. I am refraining from commenting more on the book until I know you’re done.

  18. REVIEW: Pleasure of A Dark Prince by Kresley Cole | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 13:01:40

    […] a big fan of your Immortals After Dark series, and I have certainly made no secret of the fact that the Lykae “fated mate” books are not among my favorites. In Pleasure of A Dark Prince, I really enjoyed the way Lucia and Garreth had to work hard to […]

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