It's been months since I last blogged, so to make up for it I've invited Ronnie to write a review with me. You may remember Ronnie for such things as being awesome and her reviews at Paranormal Haven. These days you can find her on Twitter and Goodreads. If you don't follow her, you're missing out!
This review doesn't have a conventional structure, so here's the blurb to give you an idea of the plot.
To celebrate the rise of their new queen, three goddesses of the moon created three stars, one of fire, one of ice, one of water. But then they fell from the sky, putting the fate of all worlds in danger. And now three women and three men join forces to pick up the pieces…
Sasha Riggs is a reclusive artist, haunted by dreams and nightmares that she turns into extraordinary paintings. Her visions lead her to the Greek island of Corfu, where five others have been lured to seek the fire star. Sasha recognizes them, because she has drawn them: a magician, an archaeologist, a wanderer, a fighter, a loner. All on a quest. All with secrets.
Sasha is the one who holds them together—the seer. And in the magician, Bran Killian, she sees a man of immense power and compassion. As Sasha struggles with her rare ability, Bran is there to support her, challenge her, and believe in her.
But Sasha and Bran are just two of the six. And they all must all work together as a team to find the fire star in a cradle of land beneath the sea. Over their every attempt at trust, unity, and love, a dark threat looms. And it seeks to corrupt everything that stands in its way of possessing the stars…
Warning: All the spoilers.
Brie: First of all, no, the series isn’t really named “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” although it should be, and we’re about to tell you why. But let’s go back a bit first and talk about our relationship with Roberts’ books. I don’t know about you, Ronnie, but I have been a fan for years. Sure, there have been more than a few disappointments along the way, but I’m always excited about new releases, and Ms. Roberts remains a beloved author. I have, however, lost any type of expectation when it comes to her trilogies/quartets; in fact, the last one I truly enjoyed was Vision in White. But even for someone who has no expectations, this book still managed to surprise, and not in a good way.
Ronnie: I’ve been a fan of Nora Roberts for years. However, truth be told, I haven’t picked up her books in several years. This novel, unfortunately, is an excellent representation of why she’s dropped off my radar, so to speak. Your comment about "everything but the kitchen sink" is just one of the many ways the book goes off the rails. But should you decide that you are interested in reading this book, may I instead recommend her Circle trilogy and/or the Key series? These earlier books include, but are not limited to: gods--both benevolent and evil, vampires, sorcerers, shapeshifters, and a buffy clone. Oh wait, I think I see a pattern!
Brie: Or, if you like Nora Roberts books that have the word “star” in them, you could try the Stars of Mithra series, which is another trilogy about a group of strangers coming together to find magical objects. Actually, I don’t quite remember if the objects were magical, but there was a light paranormal feel to those books, too. And yes, that “too” is deceptive, because there’s nothing light about the paranormal elements in Stars of Fortune. In fact, the most normal element of the story is the heroine who sees the future and is so good at reading emotions that she’s basically a mind reader, a power she doesn’t use on the hero, because she still manages to be super insecure and all “are you taking advantage of me, hunky dude in hot pursuit of my virginity? Because our insta-love makes no sense!”. She’s right, though, the only reason there’s a romance here is because that’s what Nora Roberts writes and people are expecting it. Otherwise, there’s no sense, chemistry or connection between those two. This, by the way, is a running theme among all the sequel-bait characters, whose pairings are so half-assed, that I had to read the next blurb to figure out who was supposed to fall for whom.
The characters might lack chemistry between them, but the fantasy elements abound. This thing has everything: evil gods; dream walkers; time travelers; an immortal with a sword (but alas, no Christopher Lambert); a billionaire magician who owns clubs (but alas, not of the secret BDSM type); a 30-year old treasure-hunter archaeologist werewolf with two, TWO! PhD’s; and a mermaid who is one fork-as-a-comb short of being The Little Mermaid. That’s right, a mermaid. Want to tell us more about her, Ronnie?
Ronnie: I don’t even know where to start, Brie. Except to say that when I came across this character, my brow furrowed. And then my eyebrows shot up. Then I actually said to myself (and later on Twitter), “WHAT THE FUCK AM I READING? WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH NORA ROBERTS?!?!” Because look, I’ll be frank. Nora Roberts has written some problematic characters in the past, but the mermaid takes the cake. For a myriad of reasons.
Aside from the fact that Annika the mermaid quite literally appears out of nowhere, her characterization is problematic from the start. I don’t know if Roberts wanted her to appear in an artless type of manner, but the other characters thought she was either “high” “innocent” or “childlike”. MAYDAY. Red Alert. Back the hell up. Here’s what NOT to do. Don’t portray ESL characters as simple because they have trouble communicating in what is not their native language. Granted, I don’t know what the fuck mermaids speak, but still. There’s also some “purity” b.s. thrown about by one of the men in this troupe of hapless heroes, but I’m a little confused as to why that is. Is it because she’s untroubled by the complicated (I use this term loosely and with a huge helping of sarcasm) thinking and plotting that the other women do? The other characters treat her as if she’s a child because she’s apparently generous and has issues with the English language. YEAH. NO.
Riley gestured to Sasha, walked out of earshot. “Is she, you know, challenged?”Brie: One of them thinks she has a disability because her English isn’t perfect and she’s childlike and innocent, while the other just sees her as pure and special. So we can add stereotypes and ableism to the mix. But the text fully supports this characterization, so is no surprise that all the other characters treat her as they would a little girl, including her future hero, who, I assume, at one point will develop the urge to fuck this woman he sees and treats like a child. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to read that!
“Oh, no, it’s not that. She’s . . . I don’t know how else to describe what I get from her. She’s pure.”
“I like shopping. There are so many pretty things.” She frowned down at her boots as they walked to the car. “The boots are not pretty.”
“Neither is twisting an ankle on a rough trail,” Riley declared, and let out a whoosh of relief when they piled in the jeep with Sasha and Sawyer sandwiching Annika between them in the back.
Bran came out, stowed the bags, dropped into the passenger seat.
“Thank you for all my things, even the boots.”
Ronnie: Bur fear not, dear reader, Annika does not solely exist for the second book in this mediocre, ham-fisted trilogy. She’s also a crack fighter! Wheeee! Because she has to have something else to bring to the table, right? RIGHT? Ostensibly this will be explained in the upcoming book, but if this introduction is all you have, then honestly, I don’t know. The lazy characterization paired with the stereotypes really put me off. Her fighting skills aren’t really explained well until you get closer to the end and by that time, I had lost all patience with the book and ceased to give a shit about any of the characters. Stars of Fortune does suffer from the first book syndrome in that it wastes precious time introducing and setting up the future couples. I have no hope for Annika and Sawyer, who Brie just mentioned before, and by the time the last book comes out, I’m not sure how much I will care about Riley (double PhD’s whoo!) and Doyle (the loner/military fighter guy).
Brie: I’ll give the series this, though: in Ms. Roberts’ books, the feisty, short-haired heroine (in this case future heroine, Riley, aka Doctor Werewolf) is usually paired with a shy, sweet, beta hero (Vision in White, Dance of the Gods), but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. So there is some bending of formula. For the record, I hate using labels like “beta male” and “feisty” to describe characters, but since we’re in the presence of skin-deep characterization, I’m following the lead and using lazy shortcuts to define how the characters are.
This review is all rant and no structure, but that’s a reflection of the disappointment I’m feeling. I adore Nora Roberts; her books are an indelible part of my reading life and history. Her voice and stories feel comforting and familiar. But this? This is cheap narrative shortcuts and superficial characters to an extent I haven’t seen before in a Roberts novel. It’s not terribly offensive (unless you think about it and realize that Roberts’ idea of diversity are Irish people and supernatural creatures) or horribly written, but the book simply doesn’t care, so why should I? If you want to know how aggressive mediocrity looks like, go ahead and read this one.
Ronnie: Aggressive mediocrity is a hell of a term. I like it! This reads like a mash up of previous books with the bare minimum of name and location changing. Actually, I believe the names Sawyer and Doyle have been used before as surnames in previous books (Charmed, Tribute, The Search). Way to change it up, Ms. Roberts! Disappointment, dismay, and quite a lot of WTF really sum up my feelings for her latest book. There’s no more sense of anticipation and fun when it comes to her novels, there’s only ennui. And that right there is my biggest complaint.
Brie: So, 5 stars, right? Ha! I’m feeling mellow, so I’m going with 2. How about you?
Ronnie: You are generous, but I think 2 stars sums it up about right. While it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read, it’s the worst from Roberts I’ve read in a long while (since I don’t read her romantic suspense!).