This was, without a doubt, my first reverse harem read. Most female protagonists receive at least passing interest from other male characters. They also usually choose one and get on with their lives, or if it’s not a romance, simply move on. Most female protagonists are NOT descended from a fertility goddess, however, which immediately puts our dear Merry Gentry in a different category.
Merry is young by sidhe standards, in her thirties with a successful career as a (surprise!) private investigator. After 3 years on the lamb from her immortal royal relatives, who by all accounts want her dead, her past catches up with her and drags her back to the sidhe court, where verbal and mental abuse, torture, and S&M-like obedience aren’t just normal, they’re expected. Despite that, everyone who’s had a taste wants to go back, for some reason, including Merry, who reluctantly/longingly returns to face the music. Being part fertility goddess, almost every male she meets is painfully handsome, each bigger and more muscled than the last, until my imagination could no longer keep up with how unimaginably gorgeous they were. To Laurell’s credit, she did a good job of varying their personalities so I wasn’t stranded in a sea of stoic, brooding-male sameness. That said, the alpha-male contention felt over-the-top at times, which made me want to shout at the book for them to just get over themselves so we could get on with the story.
Characters in every scene are drawn in painstaking detail, from the color, texture, and style of their hair to each layer of their multi-colored eyes to each article of clothing they wear and how it accentuates their manhood. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like laundry-list-style descriptions, you can pretty much read the first sentence of each character introduction and skip the rest of the (long) paragraph that follows. I’m not knocking the author at all; the descriptions are vivid and creative, and if that’s your thing, A Kiss of Shadows will definitely satisfy.
The plot moves slowly, with much time spent on each new male Merry encounters, how much they want her, why they can’t have her, why she wants them to have her, and why sex is the only answer to whatever mystical problem they happen to be facing at the time. Since Merry is descended from a fertility goddess, much of this does make sense in context of the story. The worst part of the slowness, unfortunately, was in what felt like an unnaturally lengthy reveal of key plot elements in the form of, “Here’s someone who could tell you everything, but they’re not going to because… reasons.” If they were good reasons, they could have been forgiven, but too often they felt artificial, which made the experience frustrating instead of engaging. The author tried to make up for it by having Merry ask again. And again. And again. But the plot wall always held firm, and Merry was denied. I was less frustrated with Merry’s realistic, “Look, I need to know this s%*t, so just f$*^ng tell me!” than her subjects’, “Of course I know, but I’m not going to tell you, even though I like you and not telling you may get you killed,” attitude.
In fact, my only gripe with Merry was that, for some reason, we were repeatedly told what Merry thought, and then Merry would go ahead and say the same thing, sometimes verbatim, and often in adjacent sentences. I’m all for reinforcing important facts in a story, but these often weren’t, and it happened frequently enough to be annoying. I need reminders for things that happened last chapter or in the first half of the book, not last paragraph.
Magic exists in this world, but its rules are fluid and somewhat undefined. Sidhe are creatures of immense power who have some sort of hand power that defines them, yet some of them have multiple powers, or it's unclear what their hand power is, or if that only applies to Merry and her family or what. Hopefully this becomes clearer in future books.
Because, no matter what small gripes I had with the first book, I’ve already started the second one and intend to finish it. Laurell’s writing style is polished, and Merry Gentry and her world is intriguing enough that I’m eager to see where her multiple relationships go.