By Paula R. Stiles
Ward, J.R. Covet: A Novel of the Fallen Angels. New York: Signet Books, 2009. USD $7.99; CDN $9.99. ISBN: 978-0-451-22821-5.
Covet is the first in a series of paranormal romance novels by author J.R. Ward and is set in the same universe as her popular Black Dagger Brotherhood vampire series. Jim Heron is a biker bad boy with a bad past who finds himself suddenly recruited by angels to redeem seven souls in order to save the universe (It’s a dualistic system, where Good and Evil are evenly balanced). Vin diPietro is a nasty businessman with an (unbeknowst to him) even-nastier girlfriend, Devina (One might even call her “demonic”). Vin meets a hooker, named “Marie Terese”, with a son and a heart of gold. But it’s going to take an angel (in this case, Jim Heron will have to do) to help Vin turn his life around and keep him from his hellbound path and use his ability to foresee the deaths of others for Good.
Jim is a Dean-Winchester clone with a military past, who rides a Harley instead of driving a muscle car. Vin is Richard Gere from Pretty Woman, but with a trailer-park background. Marie-Terese is your classic Lifetime Network heroine, or the newest desperate housewife on the block, the one with the deep, dark secret that gets the others all abuzz. She’s even got the accessory without which no LFN heroine is complete – an obsessed stalker. Devina, an evil succubus working for the Other Side, is somewhat more interesting (and certainly stronger and more proactive), but that’s because she’s the story’s Designated Evil Bitch. The stereotypes make it a bit difficult to get into any of the characters, though they’re likeable (the Good ones, anyway) enough, otherwise.
I was disappointed by the overstuffed nature of Covet, especially the lack of attention to the angel angle. Jim is not really a “fallen” angel so much as a human who has been promoted to provisional angel status (You can’t really fall if you’re going up in the universe). Think Highway to Heaven not Legion. It feels as though angel protagonists in paranormal romance or other types of fantasy are always fallen and end up demons in disguise, stand-ins for vampires, or Batman types – essentially-human heroes who are a little stronger and faster and nobler than your average bear. Not angels of the biblical type. Also true-to-form in fantasy stories that involve angels, the unfallen angel characters are arrogant prats, even if they appear to be ex-humans, themselves.
The romance seems a little perfunctory for a romance novel (not helped by the fact that Marie-Terese is a bit of a drippy victim type), though there is a fair number of explicit sex scenes. The action is the best thing about the book (By this, I mean that the action is quite good, not that the book is terrible or that the action is the only good thing).
This isn’t a bad book. It certainly isn’t as dire as I expected from the description. Yes, the writing tries too hard to be hard-boiled while also following romance conventions. For example, you have Jim worrying early on about being a bastard for having slept with “a gorgeous, vulnerable woman” in the back of his pickup, while “dawn’s early light was kicking the ass of the curtain next to him, and as the brightness barged into his skull, he wished the frickin’ window were made out of Sheetrock.” Oy. But the overall plotting isn’t half-bad; Ward seems to like her men tough and hard, yet likeable (as opposed to the Tall, Dark and Bastard or Six-Pack and Neutered that you often get in romance); and she puts a fair bit of thought and care into her worldbuilding.
I’d say that if you’re a fan of Ward’s stuff, you should enjoy Covet, but I’ve read some reviews indicating that fans of her vampire series were a little disappointed by this one (though they liked the recent sequel, Crave, better). On the other hand, I’d also say the main problem is not that the story or characters, or even writing, are inherently awful, but more that this novel suffers from first-book-in-a-series-itis. There’s a lot of worldbuilding for extraneous characters and not so much for the main characters, who have cliched tragic backgrounds. They’ll probably end up more developed down the road (those that continue past this book) as they leave their literary origins behind, but for now, the original packaging is a little too much in evidence.
You can find Covet on Amazon.com.
Angels and Demons Week continues through December 31.