REVIEW: From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper
Wild child Isidora Avramov is a thrill chaser, adept demon summoner, and—despite the whole sexy-evil-sorceress vibe—also a cuddly animal lover. When she’s not designing costumes and new storylines for the Arcane Emporium’s haunted house, Issa’s nursing a secret, conflicted dream of ditching her family’s witchy business to become an indie fashion designer in her own right.
But when someone starts sabotaging the celebrations leading up to this year’s Beltane festival with dark, dangerous magic, a member of the rival Thorn family gets badly hurt—throwing immediate suspicion on the Avramovs. To clear the Avramov name and step up for her family when they need her the most, Issa agrees to serve as a co-investigator, helping none other than Rowan Thorn get to the bottom of things.
Rowan is the very definition of lawful good, so tragically noble and by-the-book he makes Issa’s teeth hurt. In accordance with their families’ complicated history, he and Issa have been archenemies for years and have grown to heartily loathe each other. But as the unlikely duo follow a perplexing trail of clues to a stunning conclusion, Issa and Rowan discover how little they really know each other… and stumble upon a maddening attraction that becomes harder to ignore by the day.
Dear Lana Harper,
I was a huge fan of your first novel in the Witches of Thistle Grove Series, Payback’s a Witch, you can read my enthusiastic review here. I eagerly awaited this second book in the series set in the fictional town of Thistle Grove. The town of Thistle Grove is comprised of magical families–the Thorns, the Blackmoores, the Harlowes and the Avramovs—who each have a magical affinities and areas of power. The Avramovs are necromancers, the Thorns have green magic and affinities for earth and nature, etc.
The rivalries between the families provide the fuel for the conflict that animates the plots of both books in the series. From Bad to Cursed is about Isidora Avramov, the younger sister of Talia Avramov the love interest in Payback’s a Witch. Isadora, also known as Issa, is a badass necromancer witch who resurrects demons for fun, dreams of being a fashion designer, loves to rescue animals and is extremely loyal to her family. She is also her mother’s right hand and is responsible for helping her mother with the Arcane Emporium, the family’s occult megastore. Issa is the artistic director of the Emporium’s haunted house. She described herself as a funhouse mirror version of her mother Elena—”we were [both] impulsive risk takers with a mile wide stubborn streak, allergic to convention.” Issa was a very charming character. Her narrative voice is fresh and funny. She’s a cross between Strawberry Shortcake and Morgan le Fay.
Her arch enemy is Rowan Thorn, a green witch from a rival family. At heart the story is an enemies to lovers romance, between Isadora aka Issa and Rowan Thorn. Rowan is a very sexy hero (also side note I LOVE his name and his physical description was HOT!). At one point Talia describes Rowan as “definitely less Thanos and more Killmonger.” Issa refers to him in her head as “Rowan Thorn, Wildlife Hero.” He’s a do-gooder superhero type who also happens to be very sexy. “He’s too busy delivering quintuplets foals all by himself, or saving a blind kitten from mortal peril,” Issa notes nastily while also admiring his hot body and his heavy-lidded hazel eyes. I don’t want to spoil the romantic and intimate scenes, but Rowan’s magic and his propensity for healing, nurturing and warmth, come very in handy during sexy times and intimacy. There was one scene in particular, involving hot baths, that was extremely sensual.
Because we don’t get any scenes from his perspective, and also because I felt the book didn’t give us enough of their romance, I felt that I didn’t really get to know Rowan all that well. What I did see and read made me like him a lot, and he is very much a fantasy boyfriend—-strong and nurturing and of course, very sexy. His magic is also very lovely and elegant and original–he talks to trees and animates flowers and helps things grow.
I should take a minute to note that this is a book with an interracial romance. Rowan is biracial, and Issa is white. That aspect is addressed in the book in a very sensitive and thoughtful way. The biases and stereotypes that Rowan and Issa have about each other are more to do with their families—-and their families’ reputations and magical affinities-—than any other category (like race). This was a very good move on your part, because I just felt totally and completely that this couple was good together and their race was incidental to that. It was a more Pride and Prejudice like misunderstanding with a dash of Romeo and Juliet–families at odds that kept the lovers apart. To me that is a sign of progress socially and also within the genre–in this universe, it’s also as commonplace to read a love story between two women (as in Payback’s a Witch) as it is between an interracial couple (From Bad to Cursed). You do a fantastic job depicting a non-white hero in sexy and non essentializing or racially charged terms.
The big conflict between them–between Rowan and Issa–is revealed right away and as far as conflicts that build enmity go, I thought it was pretty flat and minor. It was clear that you needed a conflict, something to hang the “hatred turns to lust” trope that helps the story along, but the conflict is resolved between them very easily and quickly, and their enmity is revealed as insubstantial. Rowan, who was the vet in training at an animal shelter where Issa volunteered, always picked on her and got her “fired” from the position. In retaliation, Issa unleashed a squirrel hex on him (it’s very clever and funny but you have to read the book to get the details!).
Of the two of them, Rowan was more judgmental of Issa and, I felt, sometimes a little bit thoughtless. I would have really loved to have more scenes between Issa and Rowan, and also to see their romance develop and play out. There is so much action involved and so few love scenes, and there is no big declaration of love. In the end while I loved the idea of them together, like all good couples, I wanted to see them happy together too. I wanted to hear Rowan say out loud particulars of why he liked Issa or what ideas he had to overcome to be with her. I wanted them to say they were falling in love with each other, or at least that they could be.
The book is very funny with irreverent asides and witty references to pop culture (a reference to the final scene of the iconic young adult novel that everyone in 4th grade in the US read, The Giver, made me laugh out loud, as well as a funny joke about HBO’s True Blood and horror films like Carrie). The world building is extraordinary—vivid and elaborate and the spells and hexes and Grimoire and demons were all fantastic and three dimensional. It’s like an adult better version of Harry Potter–with witches at the center instead of magical wizards. The language is also beautifully clear and the plot is fast paced. I was surprised at the denouement–I had not guessed villain’s identity. The mystery is compelling and the love story is sexy and fun.