Lucinda Betts
June 2008, Fantasy Romance
Aphrodisia, $12.95, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758222157

Grade: D+
Sensuality: Hot

Shape-shifting unicorns, virgin wizards, and over-sexed fairies...welcome to Pennsylvania. I’ve never read anything like She and that’s the greatest strength of this novel – an original concept. Unfortunately it’s a fresh idea not fully fleshed out and throughout the novel I found myself saying who, what, where, why, how and finally, help! Betts may be working with a complete and detailed world in her mind but that clarity doesn’t make it onto the page. Too many seemingly illogical actions and not enough world building or back-story exposition make this one wearisome when it could have been intriguing.

Blaze is a powerful wizard and Ivy is a unicorn who protects the flora and fauna of Pennsylvanian forests. They’d been attracted to each other as teenagers before learning of their powers, but Blaze’s father moved him to New York before they could cross third base and they haven’t spoken since. When the book begins, Blaze’s father has recently passed away and left him in charge of guarding a centuries-old magical book – a book that’s gone missing. While Blaze wonders what to do about this, the ghost of his father appears. He is not surprised at the apparition so at this point, I realize this book is going to be stranger than the average paranormal. Blaze’s father tells him that he must use his powers to, basically, save the world and that to succeed. he will need Ivy’s help, but this help will only have effect if 30-something Blaze remains a virgin.

The problem is, unicorns are sensual slaves to the call of virgins (particularly warrior virgins), and Blaze seems to be the most potent warrior virgin between New York and Pennsylvania. Blaze is a virgin by obligation; he’s been trained to hone his wizard powers, which are strongest when he remains untouched. He’s managed well till now, and he hopes he can keep things on lockdown, but Ivy is his childhood sweetheart.

Ivy doesn’t realise that Blaze is either a wizard or a warrior but both realities are clear when he comes near her and she feels a desperate urge to supplicate before him. Her craving for the warrior virgin is at its strongest in unicorn form, which lends a squick factor to the story. Ivy spends much of the novel as a unicorn because unlike other paranormal romance shape-shifters, it seems to be her natural state. But whether she’s unicorn or woman, her lusting for Blaze is unabated. I felt uncomfortable with this aspect of their attraction but their attraction surpassed the physical, which eased my discomfort.

What I couldn’t get over was the book's ridiculous villain. The thief of the magic book is Kellogg Brownroot (Ha ha...only it’s not supposed to be funny) and he’s been brutally hacking off the horns and skin of unicorns for their cleansing properties. Brownroot is a coal magnate and his plants in Indiana "make buckets of money while dumping shitloads of mercury into the air." According to him, his grandchildren will be living in a world where everything is toxic. "Every fish, every crab. Everything that eats a fish or a crab. Every pure mountain stream will be dirty. But the Brownroot clan will be healthy - not to mention filthy rich - because they’ll have a monopoly on the cleansing unicorn skin.

I have never read of a more lame-brained villain. His plan for world domination is as lack-witted as Lex Luthor’s project to replace the earth’s landmass with spiky and uninhabitable real estate. Every time Brownroot mentioned his plans, I laughed. If a reader laughs at a villain's plan, it becomes extremely difficult to appreciate sincere and heroic attempts to save the world.

Another source of humor/disbelief came from illogical and disjointed conversation between characters, particularly Blaze and Brownroot. Early on, Blaze doesn’t want Brownroot to know that he’s a wizard, so when the man insists that fairies and unicorns exist, Blaze, accordingly, acts skeptical. Despite this, as part of a scheme to lure Brownroot to a place where he can vanquish him, Blaze captures Ivy in her unicorn state and shows her to the madman. When his captive asks for him to bring a fairy as well, Blaze continues to play dumb and taunts, “what kind of drugs you doing?” Okay, Blaze, umm, you brought him a lassoed unicorn.

And speaking of "umm,", they all say it and it’s, umm, annoying.

An aspect of the book that had great potential but failed to deliver was Blaze’s virginity. Ivy is a sensual being and has enjoyed herself with fairies as well as in the dreams of countless male virgins while Blaze remained untouched since their teenage fumblings. I anticipated a sex scene role reversal where the woman is the tutor, but Betts make Blaze a perfectly suave lover. Even worse, she crafted the scene from Ivy’s point of view, wasting the perfect opportunity to delve into Blaze's emotions.

She read more like a rough draft than anything else. The author tried to build a fantasy world but failed to create enough detail for it to come together. Instead she wrote superfluous scenes and a laughable villain. Good idea, horrible execution.

-- Abi Bishop

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