Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wickedly Dangerous (Baba Yaga #1) by Deborah Blake

Three children have gone missing from the little town of Clearwater.  Sheriff Liam McClellan has been searching for some kind of clue as to who took the children and if the kids are dead or alive but no matter where he looks, he finds no answers.  When Mary Elizabeth Shields goes missing, her desperate grandparents send for the Baba Yaga.  Barbara Yager arrives in her Airstream, with her companion dog/dragon Chudo-Yudo.  After making a the typical request that Mary Elizabeth's mother perform the three impossible tasks required for the aid of the Baba Yaga, Baba gets to work on the case.  Baba quickly finds herself drawn to Liam, even as she does battle with an Otherworldly creature to save the town of Clearwater from environmental damage, the Otherworld from destruction, and to save the missing children.

I began the Baba Yaga series with Wickedly Magical, which has absolutely no hint of romance.  It is on the strength of that book that I decided to read Wickedly Dangerous.  Had I known that Blake would turn the Baba Yaga into a love story, I never would have picked up Wickedly Dangerous.  It feels quite a bit like a bait and switch.  I went into Wickedly Dangerous expecting a wilily protagonist, who is grumpy, awkward but yet extremely powerful.  What I got is a Baba Yaga who spends much of her time lamenting the fact that she doesn't possess good social skills, doesn't fit in because she isn't quite human and is obsessed with Liam.  Baba is barely competent in the investigation. Despite all of Baba's whining about not fitting in, the people of Clearwater take to her immediately, which is weird because small town people are normally a little resistant to strangers.  It's only when some of Baba's herbal medication backfires due to interference of the evil protagonist  that they become suspicious. 

I quickly became frustrated with Baba mooning over Liam.  Despite the fact that her life is in danger, he seems to be all she can focus on.  I had trouble believing at times that she is supposedly a very long lived supernatural.  I couldn't stop my frustration at the repeated commentary about how good Liam's T-shirt looks on him or the brown flecks in his eyes. Yes, focus on the hot guy while your life is in danger, that's just the most appropriate way to handle things. If this had just been Baba, it would have been bad enough but Blake includes Liam's perspective, so there is a ton of internal monologue about how frustrating Baba Yaga is and his fascination with her amber eyes and long dark hair. This naturally leads to the will they or won't they be a couple scenario because Baba Yaga's life is one where she travels around when called and Liam, having lived in Clearwater all of his life, is reluctant to leave.

Other than Baba, the character the most disappointing is easily Chudo-Yudo, who is an immortal dragon masquerading as a dog.  Other than having the ability to speak, there really isn't anything unique about Chudo.  For the most part, he acts exactly like you would expect a dog to, even at times when it is just him and Baba.  Chudo slobbers, eats bones and loves to be petted.  He could have been a really interesting character but he simply fell flat. Blake reminds us repeatedly that Chudo is an immortal dragon and this is absolutely necessary because at not time does he act like it.

Similarly, all of the other characters are flat and not well fleshed out.  The antagonist is simply bad because she seeks power, though her motivation is retribution for the human destruction of water - her natural habitat. There is absolutely no nuance to her.  The Queen of the Otherworld is angry, which irritates me because a woman in power need not be a shrew.  The rest of the characters all seem to blend together with no distinction.  I cannot even remember their names, which should indicate the degree to which they interested me.

Blake's Baba Yaga series is a twist on the Baba Yaga folkore.  She movs the story from Russia, converts the mortar and pestle into a BMW motorcycle and the chicken hut into an Airstream.  With all of these changes, you would think that Blake would have gotten around to adding a little bit of diversity to her story but alas, that is not to be the case.  All of the characters in the novel are straight, White and able bodied.  It is about as exciting and diverse as a loaf of wonder bread.

I went into Wickedly Dangerous with such hope.  It's not often the Baba Yaga makes an appearance in urban fantasy, and even less often that her folklore is reworked to fit a modern world.  What I got is a sappy erased romance which worked its way to the big HEA, with a bit of a mystery thrown in for the pretense of a plot.  Instead of getting a highly competent, smart and even dark protagonist, I got a sappy lovestruck bore.  By the time I was 1/3 of the way through Wickedly Dangerous, I wasn't even sure I would finish.  With each page that I read, my hopes got dashed and I realised there's nothing new, or exciting about this series.  Read at your own risk.