REVIEW: Mona Lisa Awakening by Sunny
Ordinarily I wouldn’t address my letter so familiarly given the fact we don’t know each other but your nom de plume is just one word: Sunny. Apparently, you are the wife of big name author, Da Chen. I assume the connection should be mentioned in the review because it is mentioned a number of times (4?) in the accompanying promotional literature. I would have probably bought this book because of its smoking cover and the cover quote by Patricia Briggs along with the Publisher’s Weekly review that says “Mona Lisa shares many traits with LKH’s heroines, including having lots of hot sex for good causes, but mercifully without their kvetching and self-doubt.”
However, a friend of mine who does not read books in the first person sent it to me because she knows I really enjoy the Merry Gentry series by Laurell K Hamilton. The Merry Gentry series is a story about a mixed race member of the Sidhe who is destined to be the one who ultimately brings life, fertility, and future back to the Sidhe. The stories mostly revolve around court intrigue and the fact that some in the Court want Merry to die. Her life is fraught with danger, particularly from her crazy Aunt who is the Queen of the Unseelie court. To protect herself, she is given the choice of handsome Guards with whom she must sleep. Many of the Guards joined her because she was a) willing to have sex with them and b) because the Queen is crazy and mistreats her guards often. As a result, Merry has a whole coterie of gentlemen whom she enjoys on a regular basis. When they join, their bodies glow and their powers are enhanced. This series, unlike the Anita Blake series, is still an autobuy because LKH writes good erotica in this series (as opposed to the terrible erotica in the Blake series). But of course, I am guessing that you know all this since your story reads like an ode to Merry Gentry.
Mona Lisa is a nurse in Manhatten. She has a special gift in that she can lay hands on a patient and sense their true ailment. One night she feels an inexplicably drawn to one patient. A gorgeous pale, male specimen by the name of Gryphon is laying in her hospital with a terrible wound to his stomach. The two of them are drawn to each other. It is determined that Mona Lisa, an orphan, is found to be one of the rare Queens of Monere. Monere are a people whose existence is owed to the moon. It was an interesting take on the vampire theme. Monere’s live in the night when the Moon is out. Their powers are derived from the Moon through Basking. A Queen is the only member of the Monere who can call down the Moon’s rays and through them, the entire people of Monere gain power and extended life. They are extremely pale, living solely under the moon, and enjoy the taste of other Monere’s blood (although blood drinking is not their source of nutrition). The Queens are not very nice people and they abuse the men and women who are subservient to them, particularly the men. But the men are drawn to the Queen’s because it is part of their genetic heritage to be beholden to a Queen.
The world building is unique, but the writing was clunky, the characters inconsistent, the villians overt, and the similarities to Merry Gentry’s series distracting (mixed race heroine to save the magical race, the bad Queens, the guards, the way their bodies illuminate during sex, the increase of power through sex, the fact that all guards want to copulate with the heroine, the importance of fertility, the danger from the Court). The initial chapter was filled with significant info dumping. The entire myth is laid out to Mona Lisa by Gryphon in their first meeting. There were a few too many shortcuts that cut into the plausibility of the story. For example, Mona Lisa knows she is different but hasn’t had any contact with anyone else who is different. When told the story by Gryphon of this fantastic race of beings, she goes from believing Gryphon to be mad to actually believing Gryphon in the space of about three paragraphs.
I had further problems with the book in that Mona Lisa is portrayed as a politically savvy individual as she attempts to navigate her way through powers of the existing Queens. There was no background given which would convince the reader that Mona Lisa had the capability of holding her own. Unlike Merry Gentry, who was raised in under the shadows of Court intrigue and was taught how to handle herself in those situations, Mona Lisa had no such background (again, seemed like a shortcut). This is an important point because much of the conflict arose from intrigue amongst the Queens.
Mona Lisa borders on a Mary Sue. Everyone loves her (even a male character who hasn’t loved in centuries). The only men who do not want to be in her service are the bad guys but they still want to fuck her. She is all good in a world that is virtually all evil. I found the immediacy in which the characters fell in love to lack believability.
The one other thing that bothered me throughout the story was the inconsistency in language. On one page you would have Mona Lisa speaking and thinking formally and the next she would be talking in vernacular. It appears you understood the difference in how the characters’ patterns of speech were significant because Mona Lisa mentions that she can tell the difference between the guards who have lived a long time because of the way they talk. I wish you had employed the same attention to detail in the pattern of speech of Mona Lisa.
I am sure that you got the “erotic” tag because it features a number of sex scenes, but the scenes were not innovative and at times were mechanical. Some of the words used to describe the sex scenes bordered on purpley. I was ever so grateful, though, that you refrained from using the word “spill” (an overused LKH adjective).
I am interested in the series because of the uniqueness of the worldbuilding and I honestly don’t mind that it has close parallels with the Merry Gentry series but the heroine’s inconsistent characterization (one minute extremely bold and another very traditional) and the clunky writing is keeping me from being really excited. To further hamper the story for me is the multiple “loves” that you are developing for the heroine. That’s not really what I am looking for these days in a book, but I can see its appeal to others. C-