Of all the interesting paradoxes that exist in genre romance the oddest, or most absurd perhaps, is that paranormal romance has taken the creatures of the night and turned them into heroes and heroines. To be fair, the vampires, witches, and werewolves that once played the roles of monsters have undergone an image makeover that left them not so monstrous, but rather, toothless, without much power, and neutered. It’s understandable really: a hero viewing a heroine as a tasty meal—and not the sexual kind—isn’t too sexy, or a good basis for a love story. Unfortunately, some important elements of these other beings have been lost to the image overhaul. For example, what’s exciting and compelling about werewolves is the classic man against beast conflict which leads so eloquently to man against man conflict. But, in the toothless version that is so often presented in paranormal romance, werewolves are shape-shifters not enslaved to the full moon, not possessed to bite and kill people, and therefore not in danger of being killed themselves. Not only does this watered down version lack inherent conflict, by taking away the gruesome, helpless aspect of lycanthropy the compelling reason for it to exist in a story is also removed. What’s left is a man or woman who can shift into an animal. What is the purpose of that?
Sullivan Quinn is an Irish werewolf sent to New York as a diplomatic representative to the Council of Others. He’s there to suggest that the nonhuman population reveal themselves to the humans of the world and do it soon, in a manner they can control before the decision is made for them. What he isn’t there to do, is become obsessed with the smell of honeysuckle, but he follows the fragrant trail right to Foxwoman Cassidy Poe anyway. Cassidy isn’t at all happy to be caught in the sights of a big wolf and after a chase and a tussle, gives flight. Quinn and Cassie quickly find themselves on opposite ends of a political ideology when the girlfriend of a Russian vampire is kidnapped by a religious sect bent on gathering proof of the Others and then exposing them to the world. Quinn believes they should reveal themselves to humans immediately, Cassie, an anthropologist, believes humans will never be accepting of them and that revelation will be useless. Despite their differing views (and despite a serious lack of motivation), the Council pairs the two to gather information on the religious sect.
The dubious and trumped up reasons Quinn and Cassie have to be together are of little importance as they spend less time working together for a happy ending to a kidnapping half way around the world than they do rehashing their own brief history and filling each other in on what they learn separately. The plot breaks down between Council/kidnapping and Quinn and Cassie’s love story without a feeling of integration between the two.
The inciting incident, the drama that lends the fuel to drive the story (the kidnapping), happens off the page to characters that otherwise have no bearing on story. The problem here is that it’s impossible to be compelled by action and conflict which occur somewhere else. There is no vested interested in the Russian vampire Gregor or his girlfriend Ysabel. At best, her plight elicits some sympathy (who would want to be kidnapped for the purpose of torture?) but it’s simply too far removed from the heart of the story in New York to matter. Had the band of religious zealots begun by kidnapping a character who actually impacted the plot, it would have given the action the weight and importance that is otherwise missing.
Further, the issue of whether the Others should reveal themselves to humans—this issue is central throughout the plot—seems of little consequence. The Others, be they vampires, werepeople (animal forms of these range from rat to bear and all fur covered beings in between), witches, or gargoyles are fully functioning, fully integrated members of society (in Warren’s world even the governor of New York is a wererat). It’s difficult to buy into the threat human discovery poses when 1) the Others are everywhere, including positions of power and 2) the Others don’t pose any threat to humans. Perhaps if Wolf At The Door were set in a heightened environment wherein the Others were on the brink of discovery by an already violent population, this issue of revelation would have resonated.
Wolf At The Door is middle of the road fare, not poorly executed enough to dismiss for its multitude of shortcomings, but neither intriguing enough to hold interest nor fully enjoy. Ultimately, it fails to make the argument that there’s a reason for a hero to shape-shift into a toothless werewolf or a heroine to shift into a fox and even less reason for those creatures to be written about.
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