Malcolm McKittack knows he isn’t worth much. His mother cared more about drugs than him and he grew up less than poor. Now Malcolm follows his corrupt and cold father around like a hound, determined never to be hungry or impoverished again. Malcolm is an incubus and he feeds off many, but attaches himself to no one. It’s simpler that way, if also lonelier. But when a handsome bartender at a local club rejects him, Malcolm is stunned. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Malcolm doesn’t have time to worry about it though when he is brutally kidnapped.
As a siren, Kostas avoids entanglements. Social by nature, his people can also be violent and to risk bringing danger to others with his voice, Kostas keeps to himself. And when he rejects the advances of an arrogant incubus, he enjoys the other man’s shock. But when Kostas sees the same man abducted, he’s compelled to help. With the police and Malcolm’s own father seeming disinterested in Malcolm’s situation, Kostas strikes out on his own. Even if he rescues Malcolm, breaking through the incubus’ tough exterior might be the hardest task of all.
Hardwood is the third in the Poisonwood and Lyric series and technically can be read as a stand alone. The other books focus on Malcolm’s half brothers, who are mentioned by name in Hardwood, but don’t play an integral part.
Like the others in the Poisonwood and Lyric series, Hardwood is light on characterizations and plot. It ends up being a quick and somewhat enjoyable read, but suffers from shallow characters and a storyline that never evolves beyond the basic.
Malcolm is an outwardly surly and priggish, but it’s evident almost from the start that it’s all act and underneath he’s desperate for affection and for someone to recognize his worth. He offers the book a measure of angst that never gets too heavy, but it gives his character slightly more depth than any other. Kostas is sweet and protective and that’s about it. He never reads as fully developed and, as a result, the relationship between him and Malcolm is uneven and rushed. And when I say rushed, I mean zero to love in two days. No real romance occurs here and instead superficial sex is all we get. I didn’t dislike Kostas and Malcolm — far from it, but I wanted more from their relationship and to see it evolve more naturally.
The sketch of a plot is present in Hardwood, but it lacks much life. It sort of limps along, but there are various questions that never get fully answered and the reasons for Malcolm’s kidnapping aren’t fully explored. As an antagonist, Malcolm’s father is hum-drum; he’s bluster and obnoxiousness, but I think we’re supposed to believe he’s more evil than we’re shown. He just doesn’t work as a bad guy because we don’t understand his motivations or what his endgame actually is.
While a part of me enjoyed Hardwood for what it was, my biggest frustration with this series is that it lacks substance. The characters all fail to move beyond shallow, tepid interactions and the storyline reads as truncated and somewhat empty. I wanted to like Hardwood, but this one ended up as a shrug for me.