Dear Ms. Cole:
I 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-.