Writing this review makes me sad because I really wanted to love this book for several reasons. One, because I'm friends with the author on Goodreads, have chatted with her, and really like her as a person; she seems really kind, laid-back, and funny. Two, because I am in love with that cover. It seems to be paying homage to the bodice-rippers of the 1980s and 90s, which I am all for, as you probably know, being the self-professed Bodice Ripper Kahleesi. And three, the idea of a paranormal romance involving the four Horsemen of the apocalypse was a really unique idea and I wanted to support it, was hoping for something like J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood meets R. Lee Smith's Last Hour of Gann.
Instead I got, TWILIGHT meets the apocalypse.
The beginning and ending are unarguably the best parts of this book. Sara Burns, the heroine, is a firefighter who has literally drawn the short stick to stay behind and protect her town at all costs. When she sees Pestilence riding his horse, she shoots him and then lights his body on fire. To her horror, he comes for her, half-rotting and dead, and makes her his prisoner, vowing to her that as soon as he's fully healed, he intends to make her suffer. His treatment of her is so cruel, and the story plays out across all these abandoned households and ghost-towns filled with the dead. It's creepy AF.
The problem occurs with what I think of as insta-love, even though it doesn't happen instantly - Sara's attraction to Pestilence happens much too fast. I saw it coming because the descriptions of his angelic beauty were far too numerous to ignore the warning signs looming on the horizons. I certainly wasn't happy about it, though, especially since she forgives his abusive treatment of her - shooting her in the back with arrows, dragging her bound down a tarmac road while he's on horseback, etc. - remarkably quickly. One of the thing I love about R. Lee Smith's work, who also specializes in immortal love stories, is that 1) she isn't afraid to make her heroes repulsive or at least inhuman and 2) the connections that are forged between her characters unravel gradually, amidst much emotional strife. I kept thinking how much better this story might have played out in the hands of an author like that.
I did like how the apocalyptic setting brought out the worst in people, although there were several scenes that were almost identical in how they played out. These scenes gave me a taste of the grim setting I was expecting. I also liked the old couple they might at one point, and was quite moved by their story. That was one of the saddest parts of the book. As I said, the ending was also great and brought up some very interesting moral dilemmas; it also felt like a very different book from the first. It was like the author had 2 disparate ideas: one about a messed-up romance between a monster and an ordinary human girl (R. Lee Smith) and the other about a tender romance between a misunderstood and tragic figure who must be redeemed by an ordinary human girl (Stephenie Meyer). They really didn't mesh for me.
Also, Pestilence says some pretty creepy things to Sara about her not being a virgin. I quoted the thing he said in one of my status updates, but that made me really not like him, and that's supposedly after he's started to fall for her. What the hell, Pestilence? Sure, he redeemed himself in the end, but there's a pattern of creep behavior here that was never sufficiently addressed or talked through.
Overall, I found myself sadly disappointed by this book because so many people were giving it high ratings and I really wanted to enjoy it too. I can't help but feel that they read a different book than I did, as seems to be the case for a lot of these YA/NA new releases lately. I do have other books by this author on my Kindle, so I'm hoping that they might be better for me than this one. I also saw that the second book in this series is about War, so maybe a character who deals in battles will be more appealing to me than one who deals in fevers and plagues.
Thank you, Heather, for buddy-reading this with me!
2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars