Holly Carver is a witch on the rise. Despite a freak childhood accident that rendered her unable to perform “Big M” magic, she and her business partner, the lethally handsome and chronically undead Alessandro, have managed to eek out a nice living exorcising haunted houses and helping people find lost objects. She has a great boyfriend, lives in a house that has belonged to her family for generations, and is eager to start business school in the hopes of one day expanding her business.
But when dead bodies start popping up all over campus, Holly has to put her life on hold. Called in to help with the investigation, Holly and Alessandro can tell these are more than just run of the mill sorcerer or vampire attacks. Someone is trying to start a war, and it’s up to them to find out who. But, it’ll take more than “little m” magic to find the culprit…or for Holly to resist Alessandro’s charms.
I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but I picked up Sharon Ashwood’s Ravenous, the first book in the Dark Forgotten series, because it sounded more action adventure, urban fantasy-esque than paranormal romance.
And, yes, I admit it, I liked the cover art. Pretty, leather-clad chick crouching against an urban landscape dangling a dagger from her hand? What’s not to like? In his fiction writing guide, Cunning & Craft, author Peter Selgin wrote, “What readers of fiction most want to learn about is people,” and that is definitely true for me. I picked up Ravenous because I wanted to learn more about the woman on the cover; wanted to reach below the surface and see what kind of woman lived beneath that outer vestige.
Ravenous turned out to be a good reminder of why one should never judge a book by its cover. Ashwood has populated the world of the Dark Forgotten with flat characters. Not one of them possesses even an ounce of personality. Holly is a witch who comes from a long line of powerful witches, and hopes to become a successful paranormal investigator. In 334 pages that’s all we find out about her. Ashwood does not bother to give her interests outside of those related to her magical abilities. Holly has no hobbies, no individual quirks, and no friends aside from those she accumulates through the murder investigation.
The same is true of the hero, Alessandro. He is draped in vampire cliché from the moment he steps foot on the page; he’s foreign, lethal, breath-takingly gorgeous, and covered from head to toe in black leather. That’s as deep as his character ever gets. About half way through the novel we learn Alessandro is a musician, that he plays numerous instruments and can sing in seven different languages. But, we never get to observe him enjoying a piece of music, playing a guitar, or singing a song. We never so much as hear him hum a tune under his breath. If Ashwood had bothered to bring this aspect of his personality to life through action it would have done wonders to flesh out his character. As is, they’re nothing but words on a page, as flat and featureless as Alessandro himself.
It’s a shame the people who populate the realm of the Dark Forgotten are so, well, forgettable, because Ashwood has actually succeeded in creating a compelling world. In it, vampires, werewolves, and supernaturals of all stripes have been integrated into human society. They own homes, have respectable jobs, and are issued social security numbers. While there are definite advantages to fitting in to human society, like not having to hide or pretend to be something they are not, supernaturals must also deal with the discrimination leveled at them by prejudiced humans. Additionally, supernaturals strive to preserve their own ancient traditions and customs in a modern world. It’s a scenario ripe with conflict, and I hope Ashwood will explore some of the more explosive possibilities as the series moves forward.
But, is having an interest in the world itself enough to make me continue on to the next book in the series? Probably not. I need to have people, people who captivate and surprise me, who I can relate to and sympathize with, and the world of the Dark Forgotten just doesn’t have them. Ashwood’s prose may be solid, she may be a talented writer, but without three dimensional characters she’s got no moral and emotional center for the reader to latch on to. Strong characters are what breathe life into a written work, and Ravenous is, like the murder victims chronicled within, dead on arrival.