Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Retro Review: Windwalker

This review for Windwalker by Natasha Mostert was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2005.  I gave it 1-Heart (F grade) and a MPAA G-rating for sensuality content.


No reviewer associated with TRR ever gives a one-heart review lightly. We agonize over them. Is the book really that bad that it deserves such a harsh review? Is there nothing redeemable? In the case of Windwalker there is something redeemable – this author can write. Mostert also has a real sense of place, and a portion of the story takes place in Africa - an unusual setting by romance standards. Unfortunately Windwalker is also boring, almost completely lacking in dialogue, cluttered with Gothic elements that lack suspense, and worst of all – it breaks the cardinal rule of romance novels. Since this book is published by Tor’s paranormal romance line, it’s a rude little surprise indeed.

Justine Callaway is a photojournalist running from her past. She feels guilty over her role in her beloved brother’s death, has a horrible relationship with her mother, and has even tried to commit suicide. Her solution to her problems is to run away to a mansion in the English countryside, where she takes on the job of caretaker. However once she arrives spooky things begin to happen.

A ghostly wolf-like image begins appearing in her photographs of the house. She ticks off one of the local teenage punks. She garners the attention of the town’s creepy stalker who calls himself The Watcher. Plus, she begins to obsess over the family who previously owned the house – the Buchanans.

Adam Buchanan is living a life of exile in Africa. Nine years earlier he killed his spoiled brother in an altercation. So he runs away from home. While he’s cut himself off from the outside world, Adam does believe in the concept of soul mates, and has been writing letters to a mysterious woman for years. Turns out that mysterious woman is Justine and she’s now living in his abandoned family home.

Now this all sounds interesting right? There’s a great Gothic tone, and Mostert really has a way of painting a setting with words. Unfortunately the whole thing is really bloody boring! There is barely any dialogue to speak of. Chapters go by without any of the characters speaking to anyone. I kept waiting for something to happen, and when it finally does it is extremely anti-climatic.

Several instances that could have been quite suspenseful come off as tedious. The idea of Justine having a stalker could have been exciting – but instead the reader knows immediately the identity of the man. There’s absolutely no mystery to it. There’s also the presence of a villain in Africa, but given that he’s motivated by greed and underworld ties, it’s not a big leap to know exactly where his story arc will go.

The romance here is non-existent. Adam and Justine don’t even meet until the last 100 pages of the book, and when they do they simply declare that they’re “soul mates” and are so in love. Color me skeptical. Given Justine’s questionable mental condition (the girl needs a therapist not a romance) and Adam’s homicidal tendencies, it’s a bit of a leap to buy into a grand cosmic love affair.

However it’s the ending that really sinks the book. Readers tend to clamor for different ideas in their romantic fiction, but something tells me they won’t be prepared for an ending like this one. Mostert breaks the cardinal rule of romance. It's the stuff of women’s fiction, fantasy, and literary circles – not romance.

Ultimately that is what sinks Windwalker into one heart territory. Sure the writing is crisp and I loved Mostert’s descriptive settings. But with virtually no dialogue, a plot that packs no suspenseful punch, a completely unsatisfactory romance, and an ending that has no business being in a novel marketed as romance – Windwalker more than earned this one-heart review.


Original Cover
A Rather Lengthy Note: Given the recent brouhahas about books marketed as romances that feature not-happy endings, I thought it would be fun to revisit this review.  2005 was the height of the paranormal boom and Tor launched a "paranormal romance" line - which is the imprint this book was released under.  It was a disservice to both the author and the reader because when you pick up something published under a "paranormal romance" imprint you kinda, sorta expect to get a romance novel.

Obviously from my review, I had numerous issues with the book - but the final nail in the coffin was that ending.  If you're curious - Spoiler = The details are fuzzy now but I'm positive the hero dies in the end.  I *think* the heroine lives - but damn if I can remember now.  The brain bleach I drank did a halfway decent job of scrubbing my memory. /end Spoiler.

It was also a book in a long parade of paranormal romances I read during those years that made me loathe the "soul mate" theme.  I'm sorry folks, it has and always will smack of a storytelling shortcut to me.

So this is just to say that yep - this kind of nonsense happened 10+ years ago too.  Although I think more so today since we have so many self-published authors clamoring for name recognition and publishers spit-balling outrageous ideas to hit upon The Next Big Thing.  And, you know, generally chasing after the fact that romance readers drop a serious amount of money on our book budgets.

Stay strong Romancelandia.  Stay strong.


azteclady said...

A couple of days ago, I followed a link to a "romantic suspense" author's blog post*, questioning whether readers 'need' the HEA. I'm so tired of that discussion, and I'm particularly fed up with the idea that misery and pain and bitterness are better/more literary (whatever the hell that means)/inherently more important than joy.

No, not ALL readers need the HEA, but you bloody well better believe that self-identified genre romance readers will remember if you sell them a book under that label, and then kill off one of the protagonists.

*I found it particularly telling that the author in question makes a point to finish with a long-ish bio that mentions her happy marriage and family life. One would think a tragic past would server her stated lofty writing goals better.

(Yes, that was catty, but seriously now, can we stop with the BS?)

Mrs Giggles said...

I just finished reading Sinner's Creed by Kim Jones, which I picked up thanks to you highlighting it. Now, I know about the bad ending, and I thought I can overlook that because I can always get into a dark and violent story full of anti-heroes... but oh my god, the author's writing style. The characters all talk like they are composing overwrought Tumblr entries or participating in some kind of "write your worst" contest!

Wendy said...

AL: I saw rumblings about that - but as I've been online so sporadically lately I missed most of that brouhaha.

Sadly, I think we're going to see more of this sort of thing rather than less. I feel like the market is really glutted right now and there's too much temptation to be "shocking" to "get noticed." While this "shock" may be alluring to some readers, I think it will end up backfiring and alienating just as many readers as it entices. Also, I think there's a lot of folks out there who *think* they're writing or reading romance and....they really aren't. Assuming you subscribe to the school of thought (which I do) that Romance = HEA (or at the very least an HFN).

But, what do I know? ::shrug::

Mrs G: I LOVED your review, because it focuses on other elements of the book (that obviously did not work for you!) outside of "that ending." Sort of like this oldie review of mine for Windwalker. I remember at the time thinking this was going to be a "two-hearter" because of all of my issues but then....yeah. That ending. Big ol' can of nope with that one.