I was suckered. There they were, two grown women, giggling like twelve-year old girls who’d seen their first half-naked man on a book cover, and still I walked up to them. I should have been wary – they were holding matching books and offered me one. Instead I picked up Jaid Black’s Deep, Dark, & Dangerous. It was like they’d planned for me to do that all along; the hers-and-hers books were a diversion. I said, sure, I’ll read it for review. And I did, all because they looked so sweet and innocent.
The story, more or less: mega-superstar actress Madalyn Simon is fed up with the shallowness of Hollywood and runs away to Alaska (the really cold part where they apparently wear polar bear fur). One afternoon, she and her sister are out observing whales when they encounter a band of Vikings who have emerged from their hidden underworld. One thing leads to another, and the women are kidnapped and brought back to the Viking lair…just in time to witness the Viking, uh, Revolution.
Now, I’m not a huge stickler for accuracy and research as long as the story is compelling. Let’s just say that I started picking, picking, picking right away. People, please, if you’re going to write about Hollywood, get a clue. Madalyn didn’t come off as an experienced $20 million-a-picture star, which is fine because the movies she apparently starred in sounded like costume dramas from the time before movies had sound. Everything about her suggested someone’s misconceptions of the Hollywood system rather than actual knowledge.
Maybe it was the fact that the piña colada was Madalyn’s drink of choice?
Madalyn, who spends a lot of time tucking her (reddish-gold) curls behind her ears, doesn’t appear to have any real goals in this story. Except to transport her “Arabian princess haremesque” bed to Alaska (notable only because the bed is prominently mentioned twice in a manner that makes it seem important; it’s a red herring). This means that when she finally decides she’s found true love in the form of underground-dwelling Viking Otar, that seems to be the achievement of all she wants.
Being taken care of by a big, strong man is probably the best thing for a woman who can’t discern the difference between male and female goats – someone didn’t realize that she was milking the wrong thing. Black managed to write Madalyn as the type of character for whom another brain would be lonely. If she hadn’t been kidnapped, she would have fallen through an iceberg. I guarantee it.
Otar, by the way, is a big, strong man of the faux-alpha mold (also tan, remarkable given that he pretty much lives underground in Alaska). He’s lost his status due to some poorly explained machinations by the evil Toki, against whom the Revolution (yes, it is capitalized every time) will be unleashed. Otar eagerly claims his right to marry the wench he kidnaps because he just happens to be a big fan of Madalyn’s movies. Imagine the coincidence of your favorite star and lust object coming close enough to be captured.
Otar protects his mother and sister – who, like all the women of New Sweden, wear provocative, see-through dresses – while working days at the grindstone (and somehow functioning as a warrior on the side). Madelyn immediately (of course) bonds with the women and falls in love with Otar pretty quickly. Her resistance and desire to escape are no more than token efforts.
Also kidnapped is Madalyn’s sister, Drake, who is apparently a survivalist. I didn’t buy into that characterization at all. She’s anti-government and thinks aliens are walking the Earth. Despite her stated credentials, she has no real skills to speak of, is easily tracked by Otar’s accomplice, Iiro, after she escapes, and before that, nearly dies by freezing. She’s not bright enough to realize that the goats she’s dragged on her journey (is there any animal less effective in an escape situation than a goat? Except maybe a koala bear?) might be good for body heat. She belongs to some sort of shadowy group – and they’re apparently as incompetent when it comes to actual survival tactics as she is.
This only matters because Black half-heartedly thrusts a secondary romance between Drake and Iiro into the story. This, uh, romantic diversion is as useful as the prologue. Have I mentioned that prologues should only be used when they add to the story? I thought so.
Because the characters are so lightly developed, this is one of the least emotionally compelling books I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t feel Madalyn’s urgency to leave Hollywood, I never related to Otar’s desire to Revolt, and certainly couldn’t channel the natural fear a woman experiences when she’s kidnapped. Even when the women are starving (due to the men going off to the Revolution), I didn’t get a sense of their hunger and desperation, which, of course, made their solution to their problem come off as silly (yeah, let’s put on a strip show in front of dozens of horny men). Likewise, when it came to battle and treachery, I was uninvolved with what happened on the page.
This lack of emotional depth, by the way, is pretty devastating when it comes to creating riveting or even believable romance. Rather than delving deep into her characters, Black paints-by-numbers, meaning no real conflict here. Seriously. No. Conflict.
Let’s recall that Madalyn was kidnapped. Otar is going off to fight the Revolution. He forces her to marry him (hey, it’s for her own protection!). This is the sort of stuff that simmers under the surface of novels until it boils over. Yes, I’m still waiting for sizzle and splatters to indicate the heat of conflict.
Black puts less effort into plot development than she does character development. Assuming I can accept that an entire society known as New Sweden is capable of surviving undetected under the Alaskan wilderness, I then need to accept the idea that this secret culture has penciled a Revolution on its calendar (said, Revolution, by the way, isn’t a secret from Toki). The reasons for the Revolution are sketchy and not particularly compelling. I don’t know enough about this society – make that I don’t learn enough about this society – to give me an investment in the outcome of the Revolution.
Another plot element revolves around the fact that the Vikings believe the Earth will soon be devoid of women – there’s some religious mumbo-jumbo and such – which is why it’s so important to kidnap women from above. It also explains why Madalyn and Drake can’t just go home and keep their mouths shut. Again, not terribly clear and not terribly interesting. I think it also explains why the women dress like sex kittens and are subject to a humiliating marriage auction type event (Black, ever the helpful author, skates past this apparently horrific event, hinting, never elucidating).
These underground dwellers speak alarmingly good English (perhaps learned from the movies?), though Black describes it as archaic Old English. Yes, in other words, lots of ‘tis and wench. Otherwise the phrasing is pretty much your standard modern-day English, sometimes awkwardly rendered. Black’s insistence on pretending there was something odd about the speech was distracting because I kept flipping back through the pages to see what I’d missed.
There’s also a rather bizarre side journey taken by Drake, which, considering the amount of time and energy Black expends upon it, should have been more than it was. Our Big Brother-fearing character chances upon evidence that indicates governmental interference of sorts – confirmation of all her supposed fears! She even prints out an electronic journal kept by a scientist (said journal faithfully reproduced by Black) and reports her findings to her big sister.
So what happens with this apparent sub-plot? If you guessed absolutely nothing, it’s pointless, and serves page filler, you win.
Okay, we don’t have great characters and we have little in the way of compelling plot. That leaves, hmmm, well, the cover suggests a lot of sex; some of the set-ups suggest a lot of sex, maybe even kinky stuff. Let’s just say we struck out there, too. The sex scenes weren’t particularly inventive, interesting, or integral to the plot. Unless you buy into the “sex equals love” myth. Black also has a tick that really irritated me: each time a nipple is released from the hero’s mouth, it’s accompanied by a popping sound. Yeah, that’s how I felt about it.
I don’t know what sub-genre this book fits. Imagine, if you will a road leading toward “Erotica”. You see all the signs, yet miss the actual turn-off. So, okay, you turn around and finally make it to town. Only it’s a ghost town. Everyone’s moved out. That’s how this book felt. Frankly, straight ahead erotica would have been preferable. Then, at least, I’d be able to forgive character and plot weakness.
Deep, Dark, & Dangerous is one of those books that makes you wonder how it got published. Black’s voice isn’t particularly compelling, and her craft isn’t strong. The characters are lightly sketched, and the plot barely holds together. There are nods toward the erotica genre, but they’re like wading ankle-deep in the ocean. This reads like a first attempt at writing a novel rather than the work of an accomplished writer.
So the part where I was suckered? I paid $14.00 plus tax for it. And the giggling women who stood by and let me buy it? I’m not one to name names, but one goes by Wendy and the other goes by HelenKay. You can guess their real identities.