Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

After the death of his friend and mentor, Drake lost interest in painting and hopes retreating to a secluded home in a picturesque town will awaken his muse. From the moment Drake saw the ad for the rental home, something about it called to him; upon arriving and finding the townspeople so welcoming and helpful, his optimism is cemented. The feeling of rightness quickly begins to wane as Drake is warned to leave by a hauntingly beautiful man in a portrait. When the man begins to communicate with Drake and then leave his portrait, Drake feels an instant connection and protectiveness towards the bewildered young man named Nate.

As they unravel the mystery of Nate’s circumstances, the pair quickly fall in love, resigned to losing one another if Drake can free Nate’s trapped soul. Discovering that Nate isn’t a ghost provides a tenuous hope for a future, but reveals that Nate’s entrapment has an extremely evil and dangerous origin that’s targeted Drake as its next victim. With the clock running down to Drake’s own imprisonment, he and his allies must find a way to defeat a centuries-old entity or become its artwork.

The Painting is a pleasant and short urban fantasy that breezes through its plot elements and romantic relationship development like a rider in a Grand Prix race. Nate and Drake are given just enough personality to add life to the story. They are very likable and so engrossed in each other from the moment they interact, I couldn’t help but say aww. Nate’s distress and confusion are conveyed well, as is his sweet nature, so it’s no wonder Drake falls so hard so fast. Drake is kind, a fierce protector and eager to free Nate, even if it means helping the man he loves pass to the after-life. After an off-page day of getting to know one another, they are completely in love. Even when the pair are outside their bubble and discussing Nate’s captivity, the single-minded ‘love shall conquer all’ vibes emphasize the sugariness and undermine the sense of peril.

This is a surprisingly tonally lighthearted and fluffy urban fantasy romance given the premise and the atmosphere it appears to want to convey in the beginning. It’s stated many times that the house is extremely gothic—a large isolated mansion and so, so much crimson velvet. However, this atmospheric set up is quickly swamped by the general warmth that infuses much of the tone, so there is none of the unsettling feel, eeriness, and sense of isolation inherent in the gothic style. The stakes also don’t feel high; even when events start to get “creepy,” the mood is not tense or menacing. This is reinforced by the limited emotional range, which makes the dialogue repetitious, and there is so much focus on Nate, the story doesn’t feel like it remembers Drake is in danger too until the climb to the climax.

While both characters are embodiments of their function in the story, Nate has a small emotional arc. He begins as the wide-eyed damsel in distress who borders on being a “born sexy yesterday” character due to his lack of memory and the horrifying situation only Drake can rectify. He begins as insubstantial and ephemeral as his ghostly form, but becomes more confident and self-reliant towards the end. On the other hand, Drake gets a speed run version of an arc. He rents the house to overcome his grief; a grief strong enough to stop him from getting on with his life. Yet beyond those few sentences, Drake is sunshine and wonder without a grief cloud in sight. Within two days, Nate fills Drake’s purported void. Drake is soon locked into the courtly knight role, and his love for and protectiveness of Nate become his whole personality.

For me, lack of character development can be overlooked if the story is compelling in some way, but The Painting is pretty standard and the plot structure and tonal shifts less than smooth. The narrative shifts from a relatively quiet and potentially unsettling situation to a League of Extraordinary Preternaturals situation. As rapid as the pace is, it hits speed bumps when introducing and incorporating this coalition, which is distracting. Drake’s friend is part of a team of supernaturals that works with other teams, all comprised of multiple fated mates with many snippets of backstory. There is so much ‘I’m this type of being, mated to this being, a part of this team that’s under the umbrella of this being,’ as well as the POV of one of the couples, it almost swallows the conversations about Nate. I was unsurprised to learn The Painting is the tenth book in the Demonica Universe.

The story is like a late season episode of Supernatural—the mundane characters are confronted with a paranormal situation, then teams of angels, demons, hunters, popcorn vendors, and kitchen sinks jump in. However, I’m a fan of procedural paranormal shows, so I could enjoy it for what it is. The Painting is a nice, quick way to pass the time and will probably be the most entertaining for fans of the Demonica Universe and those who like fated mates urban fantasy romances light on grit and lore.