Jack-of-ThornsRating: 3 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Bambi Laurence Riley is struggling to keep it together. His tenuous grasp on sobriety is just enough for him to function well enough to hold a job at his mother’s flower shop, but not much more. Years of bouncing in and out of rehab after one relapse after another has saddled him with an immense sense of guilt. Not to mention the ex-boyfriend who refuses to take no for an answer and knows how to manipulate people with the best of them. To top it all off, although he shares his mother’s psychic abilities to see the future, they never manifest for him in any useful way whatsoever. His circumstances are hardly ideal and even Laurence knows it’s only a matter of time before the siren song of heroin sucks him back in for another round of rehab.

Until one day, Lawrence encounters a mysterious British man who is as aloof as Laurence is troubled. Initially only introducing himself as “Banbury,” a quick Google search reveals the man is an Earl to the Banbury state and his name is actually Quentin. And he has been estranged from his family since the passing of his mother, whose very funeral was marked by strange weather phenomenon.

The two strike up an unlikely, tenuous friendship—one the pesky ex-boyfriend nearly manages to spoil before it’s even begun. Yet the more time they spend in one another’s company, the more their guard lowers and true friendship begins to take root.

But things take a turn for the worse when Laurence, praying at the little altar in his room to any of the Pagan gods who might listen, manages to call forth a god named Jack. What started as a simple tit-for-tat—Jack teaches Laurence how to control his psychic gifts and Laurence, through sexual conquests, is supposed to feed Jack—turns deadly. Suddenly, Laurence is wrapped up in an epic battle to defend life and limb and the secret love he bears for Quentin when Jack himself is hellbent on ruining everything.

This book started out with such potential. A god asking a sex fiend to get laid practically just when said sex fiend finds The One. With a premise like that, I was sure I’d be drowning in the angst and misconceptions and hard truths and redemption. Overall, it pretty much embodied “fine” to me. The will-they-or-won’t-they aspect was interesting enough to keep me mildly entertained and the god character was a big dose of supernatural what-the-fuckery to set is a bit apart. Unfortunately, there are several very big issues with the book that really curbed my admittedly reserved enthusiasm for the story.

To start with, the characters Laurence and Quentin are, individually at least, reasonably complex. Between the two of them, there’s enough backstory to fuel a few a book apiece at least. Yet for all their backstory fleshes them out, I never felt like anything on-page helped substantiate their attraction to one another. Fuckboy Laurence doesn’t immediately register Quentin as his next conquest and Quentin seems utterly disenchanted with crass Americans and literally abhors the very idea of sexual intimacy. Yet for SOME reason, they wind up making the effort to be in the same place at the same time. So the impression I got was rather that they develop “feelings” for one another due to physical PROXIMITY rather than emotional CONNECTION. By the time any of the emotional connecting takes place, they’re already established as being quasi-together (confoundingly, they aren’t even together together at the conclusion of the book…they’re in the quagmire of the friend zone, and part of that is purely down to Quentin’s damn thick skull and complete inability to, as the Japanese say, “read the air” or in English “pick up on the subtext.” Yeah. Laurence is DTF and Quentin’s still getting amused then confused by thoughts like “Gee, Laurence is rather attractive” that start to cross his mind.)

Key points about the presentation of the material rubbed me absolutely the wrong way, also. Though I don’t recall if this is explicitly stated, the implication is that Laurence is currently “sober.” How this can possibly be true is beyond me, though, because he is clearly substituting marijuana for his drug of choice—heroine—and the fact that he has no quibbles about getting super smashed with Quentin at a flash party had me floored. (Side note: I realize there are ways to treat substance abuse; it’s not always just therapy or maintenance drugs). What turned me off was how the author makes no effort to flesh out these critical particulars, despite their weighty impact on Laurence’s self-image. To be fair, there were passing mentions of him attending NA (but it’s never on-page and seems relegated to the past), he laments how much cold hard cash his mother has poured into rehab, but his actions demonstrate zero effort or struggle or real desire on his part to stay true to whatever kind of therapy he’s apparently been through. I just felt emotionally manipulated by the author when his history of addiction is trotted out at choice moment to highlight Laurence as a pathetic figure: his fears Quentin won’t want to continue their association once he knows about the track marks; after getting completely smashed on alcohol, he has a nightmare about his father dying and wakes up with a huge heroine craving; the fact he gets shit-faced and only THE DAY AFTER does he remember that’s a trigger. What the actual fuck?

Delving into the plot…this is another one of those books where there is A LOT going on. As I understand it, this is the first book in a series. As far as I can tell, the author is trying to lay ALL THE GROUNDWORK for future books in this one book. Unlike finely finessed foreshadowing, however, I felt like I was being hit over the head with a clue-by-four. That primed me to expect more from the story than I actually got. Laurence’s legacy, for example. Not only can he summon a god, see into the future/past, and manipulate plants…he’s this book’s version of a Chosen One. Both Jack and Laurence’s own mother very clearly state words to this effect to Laurence himself, yet nothing comes of that revelation. Another example is Quentin’s family issues. The guy has been estranged from his family for years and the reader is constantly reminded of just how bad it would be if Quentin’s father ever found out his whereabouts, but there is not even the slightest inkling as to what actually caused this estrangement or why the world would come to a grinding halt if Quentin’s father found him. For all that these points are belabored at various points in the book, there’s little to expound on them. They just are. (To be fair, the epilogue acts as a cliffhanger type teaser on the Laurence-as-the-Chosen-One front, but at that point, I was so done.)

Then there’s the whole Jack guy. He’s a character you can love to hate. He definitely reinforces the “paranormal” element but I thought there was plenty of paranormal AND plenty of angsty action between the two MCs and their powers. I can’t say he’s just PADDING because he does feature prominently in the story, but he could have been left out entirely and I probably would have enjoyed the story 50% more. Maybe later installments in the series will explain the import of gods among mortals, but in this book…it just felt his arc was exasperatingly over the top. Not to mention that Jack is kind of mirrored in the character Dan—they’re both manipulative assholes out to use Laurence, except one is a god and one is a mortal.

Although I didn’t hate this book, I certainly thought its demerits far outshone its merits. The characters, interesting as they may be, acted with mind-blowing naivety. There was so much included in the plot, it felt like just as I was getting into the drama of one thread, another came back to reassert its ugly head—the net result being I sort of forgot the other threads when they came back (especially the Jack thread, there were long spells with no Jack).

I’d only recommend this book if you’re really keen on special power type stories or you like the idea of the tropes these characters represent (and have no quibbles over how its presented on the page).

Wendy sig

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