REVIEW: Strays by A.J. Thomas
Orphaned at a young age and raised in the foster system, Jory Smith has no idea he’s half incubus. He only knows he has the power to heal people, making himself sick in the process. Exploited by a crooked faith healer who sells his abilities and his life to the highest bidder and then left for dead, Jory flees, falling into a job at a small-town café where he can put his lifelong obsession with baking to good use.
But the minister who exploited him wants him back.
Exiled hellhound-turned–bounty hunter Malpheus Pelle has no idea why his human client wants him to track down an incubus. Jory is traumatized and afraid to touch anyone, an emotional handicap that could prove fatal for a demon who requires physical contact. Needing answers, Mal concocts a disastrous plan: pretend to date Jory to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, his plan never included dealing with an ancient demon assassin, Jory’s orgasmic pumpkin cookies, or losing his heart to the incubus he’s supposed to be hunting….
I really liked all the books by this writer that I have read previously ( I read two or three), but this was a strange reading experience to say the least. I had to sit on this review for several days because the more I was thinking about this story, the more issues I was having.
My first thought after I finished was that I really loved the characters, but the structure of the story was somewhat off, however, very soon “somewhat off” became “very much off”. My good friend with whom I talked about the story called the narrative “not emotionally cohesive,” and I asked her permission to steal that expression, because I think it is spot on.
The blurb gives you a very good initial set up for the book and it starts really well. Jory, who was forced by a so-called “faith healer” to do his bidding and participate in his schemes for very long time, pretty much forced to do the healing which almost kills him and instead of helping him, the preacher and somebody else leave Jory for dead.
Jory survives and ends up elsewhere working in the café as a cook/server. Malpheus a/k/a Mal finds him but realizes that he does not know enough to hand Jory to the people who asked Mal to locate him and bring him back. So far so good. I even understood Mal’s desire to get closer to Jory. Okay fake dating may not have been his brightest idea, but it was clear even to him that his attraction was real so it did not bother me.
What did bother me? The paranormal aspect of all of this was just confusing and I love paranormal romance/adventure. The blurb mentions that Mal is hellhound and I am going to go ahead and tell you that he had to leave the place called Hel because reasons, but we only hear this from Mal. We never get to observe Hel first hand and boy does the author talk about this Hel *a lot*. The demonic power structures, what are the issues the people living there have and what do some other villains who came from there and who were after Jory really wanted. It was all so bizarre. We had to learn about the place which never actually appears as a setting in the book and I wondered why we needed to know all that.
And the other issue that bothered me was the fact that Jory obviously was not aware about his true nature and for that reason he did not know how to use some awesome skills that he had – not consciously and not even subconsciously . Jory loves baking desserts and the only way he got to use some of his powers was through baking. His love of baking really shone through. Anyway, Jory does not know what he actually can do and NOBODY tells him till the story progressed a long way I have to say and that was kind of annoying too. I mean I get that this is a balance between keeping the reader in suspense and not making the characters sound silly, but the balance tipped too much for me when Mal wondered why Jory did not use his abilities and could not be bothered to ask him .
I don’t know. I really loved Jory and Mal and several secondary characters, but they got a bit lost in all of this narration about Hel in the most unfortunate places, when I wanted to see the relationship to become more visible or for the action to make more sense.
Gah. I am going to speculate that since in the previous books by this author the worldbuilding and research was so good, she tried to do it here too ( to worldbuild I mean), but since it is her first paranormal and she was building a new world maybe it all did not come out as intended.