Darkfever—Karen Marie Moning

"I suspect most kill themselves. Beautiful women rarely possess sufficient depth of character to survive without their pretty feathers. Strip them down and they crumble ."The look he gave me was judge, jury, and executioner. (102)
This book was the alt for Vaginal Fantasy in September—for which the theme was fae noir—and boy am I glad that it was not the main. Or that it was the only. Because I had a hard time getting through it. I think especially in comparison to how much I LOVED the main, Rosemary and Rue, it just fell disappointingly short. I'd also heard a lot of really great things about the series. But I just couldn't take it.

MacKayla Lane's sister is mysteriously murdered while studying in Ireland. When the police don't make any headway with the case, MacKayla travels to Ireland to take matters into her own hands. (Because she's a twenty something, spoiled, sheltered bartender from the American South, so obviously she's going to get more accomplished than the authorities. But don't worry: Mac is equipped with a vague voicemail that her sister left for her, so she's all set.) But when she gets to Ireland, Mac gets much more than she ever expected: she finds out that there is a whole fae world that actually exists, and that she has the ability to see beyond fae glamours. As a result, she meets a mysterious man called Jericho who owns a bookstore (swoon) and is kind of an asshole. (What a surprise. A mystery man who is an asshole, and thus irresistible. Never seen that before.) But he knows something about the fae, so Mac puts up with him as she journeys down the road to discovering her past and where her future might lead.

There were a couple of redeeming qualities about this book. I really liked the fae aspect, I loved the bookstore aspect, I liked the intrigue and the discovery of Mac's true past. I feel like there could have been enough there to keep me interested and bring me back for more in the series.

My one bone of contention was Mac, and since she's the main character, as well as the narrator, I just could not stand her. Beyond just that base level of irritation, there was something deeper there that I can't quite decipher. I've read books with protagonists that I didn't love or relate to in the past, but I've never had quite as visceral a reaction to Mac as I did in this case. I think maybe if she hadn't been the narrator, giving us "insights" into her own life and personality, I wouldn't have been quite so irked by her...maybe...

One of the first things Mac says, on page 5 in fact, is this: It was currently playing an old Louis Armstrong song—"What a Wonderful World." Born in a generation that thinks cynical and disenchanted is cool, sometimes I'm a little off the beaten track. Oh well. (5) Well aren't you just so cool for not being cool. Generally, when I hear a twenty-something describe themselves as "off the beaten track," it's like them telling me they're a unique little snowflake and SO different from everyone they know. (And I'm a twenty-something, so I've had a lot of peers like this.) Beyond that, we get literally no other glimpse of her being "off the beaten path" in relation to her "generational" peers, so basically this was added by the author as an attempt to give us a glimpse into Mac's personality and make her seem well-rounded, but just fell flat.

The same thing was true when Mac tells us that she's smart and reads a lot. Mac tells us this: Before the call, I had no use for a word like "demarcation," one of those fifty-cent words I knew only because I was an avid reader. (7) Other than this convenient explanation for her knowing what demarcation means, there is no other evidence to suggest that Mac is an "avid reader." Since I am actually an avid reader, I know the signs. Also, as an avid reader, I don't consider demarcation a "fifty-cent word." I feel like it's a pretty commonly known phrase.

That just set the stage for me not liking Mac from the beginning, and then she is completely self-obsessed. Now, I know a lot of people have an inclination to think about themselves or be materialistic, and I don't think these are necessary bad qualities; I am drastically not that way, probably because I have no fashion sense and feel uncomfortable in my body. But I can understand it. I think this is one of those cases where I might have given Mac more leeway if she hadn't been the narrator telling us these things about herself. Basically everything she said felt like a humblebrag to me. Here's the first example: I loved to eat. Fortunately, it doesn't show. I'm healthy through the bust and bottom, but slim through the waist and thighs. (6) I'm all for women being proud of their bodies. There's far too much body shaming that happens, and if you actually like yours then more power to you. I also think that the false modesty that a lot of women have is part of the same problem, so I'm not looking for that from Mac either. I guess this information just seems kind of unnecessary in the grand scheme of character development? Like, what do those sentences help me discover about Mac as a person? Nothing.

The shallowness of Mac focusing on her own appearance is a through line. She makes sure to remind the reader every chance that she gets that she's an attractive girl. Here are just a few examples:

  • With my figure, nobody could ever accuse me of not being womanly. (131)
  • The black linen trousers were a joke. I had a twenty-four-inch waist... (104)
  • I might never manage ugly, but at least I bordered on invisible. (170) — Honey, anyone can manage ugly. Have you seen Charlize Theron in Monster? That woman is beautiful and they made her hideous. Anything is possible.
  • "How many different ways do you think I can do my hair? I refuse to be a redhead. I draw the line there. As much as I like color, I have no desire to paint my head orange." (194) Well, redheads don't have orange hair, they have red hair. But sure, definitely insult them in an un-ironic way.
  • Me, I have a pretty face. (262)
I could go on about moments that made me completely despise this girl. And not because she's a villain or evil, but because she seems like an absolute contradiction in herself, with what we're "told" about her (by Mac herself, through the author, really) and what we see in action about her.

I might try to continue with the series, as some of the other Vaginal Fantasy folks in the forums said that Mac has some growth in later books, but it's going to take me a while to shore up enough patience to dive in for another journey with Mac.

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