by Jackie May
Series: Nora Jacobs #1
Publication Date: January 25, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
"Jackie May has created a world of epic proportions that demands complete reader thrall until the very last page." - Melissa Haag, Author of Fury Frayed
Most humans have no idea that a dark and deadly underworld, filled with magic and monsters, exists. They wander through life blissfully ignorant of the supernatural world around them. Nora Jacobs is different. Nora knows exactly what kinds of hellish creatures haunt the streets of Detroit.
Thanks to a unique set of psychic abilities, Nora has managed to steer clear of the underworld most of her life. But all that changes the night the most powerful vampire in the city discovers her gifts and decides to use her as a tool to find one of his missing clan members.
As if that’s not bad enough, Nora believes she’s cursed. All her life, people, especially men, have been drawn to her—some to the point of obsession and violence. Underworlders, it seems, are not immune to this curse, and now she’s caught the attention of some of the most dangerous monsters in the city.
Neck deep in an investigation only she can solve, Nora quickly makes as many new allies as she does enemies. Her biggest problem is staying alive long enough to decide which is which.
*This is a slow burn reverse harem romance.
Trigger warnings: multiple descriptions and recountings of sexual assault, plus the equivalent of mental rape.
Also, while I try to be spoiler free as possible, there are certain scenes and characters I need to discuss, so there will be some spoilers in this review.
The blurb warns that this is a “reverse harem” romance, which I took as multiple men falling for one woman, though I’m not sure that’s the correct definition. It’s apparently pretty popular in Japanese anime and manga, but initially the only thing this made me think of was Anita Blake, after that series went off the rails. So, initially, I was very worried about where the book would go, but I was pleasantly surprised. As a warning from a romance reader, there is no HEA or HFN in this book, and the romance content is minimal. This is more of an old-school urban fantasy (it’s even first person POV) with some romance undertones, though I’m guessing the romantic content will increase as the series goes on.
“People leave behind psychic imprints on the things they touch. Thanks to my gift, I’m able to pick up those imprints. The stronger a person’s emotion at the time they touch an object, the longer the imprint stays, and the more vivid the vision I receive.”
Nora is “gifted” with psychometry – by touching things, she can pick up psychic imprints that she experiences as visions. The stronger the emotion the person was feeling at the time, the strong the imprint. She can also hear people’s thoughts through skin to skin contact. Even worse than that, men are attracted to her, sometimes to the point of obsession. After she was placed in the foster care system after the death of her mother, she was frequently abused and molested by the people who were supposed to protect her. Because of her gift, she knows about the existence of the underworld – vampires, trolls, werewolves and other creatures. She’s very much a loner, and the only person she could call a friend is someone online who occasionally answers her questions about the underworld and its inhabitants.
After a skeevy neighbor becomes the newest man obsessed with her, and she realizes that he intends to rape and assault her (on her birthday, no less), she figures the best chance at avoiding that fate is to try to lose him at an underworld club, where all sorts of dangerous creatures hang out and humans aren’t welcome. While that part of her plan works, she doesn’t anticipate catching the eye of someone investigating the disappearances of underworlders, who soon realizes how helpful Nora’s talents could be.
And then things get problematic. There’s a scene near the beginning of the book that is basically mental rape, and I had to put the book down and walk away. I was conflicted, as I can understand why it happened – the underworlders needed to know about Nora’s talents – but I wish it could have been done another way. I also had issues with the underworlder who basically hand delivers Nora to mental-rape guy becoming a romantic interest later. Nora forgives him for it, but some of his later actions are pushy, and not in the good “encouraging the heroine to push her own boundaries” way (he asks for a kiss in return for a favor, and Nora’s attempt to oblige nearly ends in a panic attack). I was very uncomfortable with that scene, as well. Unfortunately, a large part of Nora’s history involves rape and sexual assault, which smacked of “rape as character development” – like it was a shorthand way of developing a certain backstory. And all this trauma has deeply scarred her. She doesn’t like being touched, and not just because she can hear other peoples’ thoughts – she’s convinced she’s incapable of physical romantic feelings.
Despite all that, there’s something comfy about the book, and about Nora. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself or others. There’s a particular scene I’m thinking of where she basically goes toe to toe with a scary underworlder because he calls out one of her friends as a coward, and she rips him a new one. Even though she doesn’t know the missing underworlders from Adam, she wants to help find them, and by the time she’s used her gift to locate clues to help the investigation, she’s emotionally invested in them (and the reader is, too). I liked the world building and most of the side characters, and found the authors’ spin on the same old paranormal creatures interesting.
This does have a bit of a “first book” feel. Nora goes from pretty much nothing to having a roommate who gives her expensive gifts, multiple friends (some who almost certainly going to be romantic interests later), and a place in underworld society. She’s also got a touch of the Anakin-Skywalker-from-Phantom-Menace specialness – aka “But I’m the only human that can do this!” Usually this is a big turn-off for me, but the authors mostly played it off to comedic effect, so while I rolled my eyes at some things, it didn’t stop my enjoyment of the book. I especially liked Nora’s interactions with “her” troll. I’m a sucker for the “found family” trope, and this book really hits all my boxes for it. I found myself more interested in her relationship with Terrance than the other guys, though I did think Oliver was sweet. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s a bit silly. I mean, honestly, have I read a paranormal where they infiltrate a sorority party before? No, no, I haven’t, and I had no idea how fun that would be.
Minus the problematic sexual assault focus, this is a delightfully charming romp, and I found myself really caring for some of the characters. I want Nora to “overcome” her trauma and have meaningful relationships. I want her to be happy and safe and able to protect herself. I want her to spend lots of time with her new found family eating cheeseburgers and fries and just hanging out.
“’Thought you said you’d stop being an ass.’
He grins at me. ‘I said I’d try. You’re making it too difficult.’
I roll my eyes again. I feel like he makes me do that a lot. And yet…I kind of like the cheeky bastard. ”
I think that excerpt summarizes my feelings for this book. There’s a lot of things in this book that don’t work for me, but there’s also a lot of things that do. Overall, I think it’s a decent first entry in a new series, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next one. While I wish the authors would have toned down the sexual assault themes, I hope the rest of the series will reveal good reasons for why that was necessary.