Ah paranormal romance! It’s a meal plan that should allow for a wide range of cuisines, story combinations that can plumb the darkest depths and brightest lights of the imagination. However, like many popular genres, so many chefs fall into tried-and-true recipes, digging a creative rut in the road so deep that it seems inescapable. Does Tainted Energy, with its promise of reincarnation and alien worlds, break out of the rut?
Before we find out, let’s remind ourselves of the Starving Review bylines, passed down to us from the Starving Reviews LLC corporate tower:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
I’m going to be upfront on this one. The answer to that initial question is a solid ‘maaaaaaybe?’. Before you throw discarded cupcake wrappers at me in protest, let me explain!
There are certainly some new and creative flavors Ms. Vroman introduces into the paranormal romance pot. Indeed, there are some interesting concepts involving evolution, alternate dimensions, and what serial immortality might do to a person emotionally and spiritually. When Energy delves into this creative new world, it is generally at its best in terms of world building.
Also, Energy is written a cut above the median level of the romance chefs. Generally quick pacing, smart writing, and overall solid style give the meal a good backing in the fundamentals department. If I have any stylistic quibble, it’s the chef’s strange decision to move to the third-person in any chapter told from the point of view of the main male lead, while retaining the first person for the female lead. It isn’t a meal-breaking issue, but it always struck me as a bit strange every time it happened.
The core characterization is well-done also … with a few small provisos. I liked our main protagonists and I especially liked Wilma, the lunch lady. The secondary characters were only lightly fleshed out, but serviceable. The main issues were with the antagonists. Though not completely cardboard, they were never truly fleshed out, especially the final antagonist. I will certainly grant they had motivations for their actions, but they were poorly utilized in the book itself, leaving the dramatic tension uneven at times, save for the drunken father. Despite being the most cardboard cutout of the antagonists, the realistic portrayal of his abuse made his scenes the most tense and chilling of them all.
So why the maybe? Things are looking good so far, right? Well, there is one major issue and that comes down to the plot. Energy, despite its creative jumps and solid writing, winds up following the YA paranormal romance recipe in most aspects of the plot. We have a love triangle, a mysterious and compelling male lead, an abusive home life, a hidden other world more important than our own, a mystery antagonist that doesn’t get shown in the flesh until the tail-end of the book, and, in my opinion the two big offenders, ‘love-at-first-sight’ and ‘female-lead-is-damseled’.
The first may be forgivable with the backstory of reincarnations and past lives but it still rang a little hollow. That could still be made up for with solid writing through the rest of the series, so that’s only a minor ding. The second, the classic Damsel/Dude in Distress, hurts. It especially hurts because the female lead showed a good deal of agency at various points in the book … not perfect, but certainly a step above the paranormal romance norm. It’s sad the see that deflate like a poorly cooked souffle at the end when she is SPOILERED SPOILER SPOILERS. Crap, I can’t say, but you can probably figure it out. Suffice it to say that for the climax of the book, all previous agency has been pretty much shorn away and it hurts that the chef felt the need to add that final deadly dash of romance spice to this mix.
So where does that leave us? Tainted Energy is a mix of both innovative new spices and tired flavors from the paranormal romance kitchen, waffling between excellent and stale. The rest of the series might be able to make up for those missteps in the first book and, regardless, Energy still has its solid parts and is well-written on a technical level. If you love romance novels, it’s a good representative of the genre and you’d enjoy it. If you don’t, there isn’t enough new spice here to be worth your money.
FINAL VERDICT: *** (A mix of innovative spices and tired flavors from the paranormal romance kitchen, waffling between excellent and stale!)