Q: How bad can a book get and still get 4.5 stars and hundreds of rave reviews on Amazon?
A: Pretty bad, if it’s a shortish genre novel with a $2.99 digital list price.
I’m not a litblogger, but I do read a lot, and once in a while I come across a book which I feel so strongly about that I absolutely must share my enthusiasm or revulsion, just to get it off my chest. Shannon Mayer’s Priceless, the first in a series of novels about supernatural detective Rylee Adamson, falls squarely in the “revulsion” category.
Rylee Adamson is a “Tracker”, a person with the supernatural ability to locate and telempathically connect to any person she knows or, apparently, of whom she’s seen a photograph (the Secret Service would be pretty worried if they knew). She has a dark past—of course!—which is hinted at but never explored except when it intersects with the story. For instance, her parents are never mentioned except to say that they blame her for her sister Berget’s disappearance and presumed death and therefore threw her out at sixteen. Oh, and apparently she was adopted, which is mentioned in passing somewhere in the first few pages and then never again in the entire novel.
You know who else blames her for her sister’s death, despite a complete lack of evidence and no body, and therefore has spent the past ten years hounding her, following her every move, and never passing up an opportunity to interfere with her life and career? FBI agent Liam O’Shea, that’s who. Because the FBI has no better use for two agents (O’Shea and his new partner, Martins) than to shadow an ostentatiously law-abiding citizen who was once a person of interest in a long-since-shelved abduction case.
Rylee makes a living “salvaging” (yes, that really is what she calls it) abducted children when law enforcement has given up on them. She is hired by a distraught couple to locate their daughter India, who was abducted six months earlier in circumstances eerily reminiscent of those in which Rylee’s sister disappeared. Notice how the feds are still looking for Berget after ten years but stopped looking for India after six months? Only one chapter in, we’ve run smack into what will turn out to be a common theme in Priceless: whatever you have deduced or been told about the novel’s characters and setting is subject to change at the drop of a hat for the benefit of a plot twist, a cheap joke or sexy fun times.
“Hold on,” you say, “sexywhat?” Well, here is, roughly, Rylee Adamson’s problem-solving flowchart:
- Fuck it, or pretend that I will if I get what I want.
- Kill it.
- Deus ex machina.
Allow me to list a few choice examples:
- Shortly after meeting with her clients, she runs into O’Shea (first name Liam, mentioned early on and then never again). Rather than ignore him and drive off like she’s done for the past ten years, she walks up to him and kisses him—not a peck on the cheek, but a slobbering let’s-see-what-he-had-for-lunch kiss—because apparently that’s how Rylee’s BFF and ex-housemate Milly-the-witch-cum-sex-goddess solves all her problems, and Rylee wants to find out if it really works. To her delight, and the reader’s disbelief, it does.
- Early in the novel, Rylee drives from Bismarck, North Dakota to an unspecified location in the New Mexico desert overnight, with a four-hour break (which is perfectly doable, according to Google Maps). Shortly thereafter, back in North Dakota, she has a conversation with O’Shea in which he reveals, to her great concern, that in the past six months, no fewer than three children have been abducted within a two-day drive of Bismarck.
As Rylee just demonstrated, a two-day drive from Bismarck covers most of the lower 48 and the inhabited parts of Canada. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are around 60,000 non-family abductions every year in the US, so O’Shea’s number is off by a factor of 10,000. But what’s four orders of magnitude amongst friends?
- Modern technology consistently fails in Rylee’s presence: she uses an “older style cell phone” because “if [she] held it just right it didn’t crap out on [her] too often” (it craps out about a page later), and the GPS tracker O’Shea has planted on her car only works intermittently. Yet her friend Kyle “the best hacker in town” Jacobs doesn’t mind her coming over, which she apparently does with some regularity, and when she spends several hours at his house, nothing untoward happens to his equipment.
- Rylee is supposed to be immune to most magic, but when an aphrodisiac spell which was cast on O’Shea rubs off on her (literally!), she barely manages to resist long enough to jump into a bathtub filled with salt water—because apparently, salt nullifies magic, a fact which was mentioned a few chapters earlier but is never mentioned again in the remaining half of the novel. Probably because the climactic fight would have been much shorter and a lot less interesting if Rylee had thought to bring along half a pound of salt in a paper bag. Or, you know, dunked herself and her clothes in brine and… oh, wait. She did. And then rinsed it off.
- At one point, Rylee and O’Shea are confronted by a troll (you know he’s a mean bastard because he’s six feet tall). A learning experience: did you know that trolls have a split tongue and that their two penises hang to mid-thigh when flaccid? Well now you do, because said troll is stroking himself and matter-of-factly informing Rylee of his intent to rape her, which she says she would very much enjoy (quote: “You know, I’ve always wondered what a double whammy would be like”). She succeeds in distracting him long enough to grab his luxated eyeball, which, despite hanging out of its socket, “roved up and down [her] body”.
- As Rylee and O’Shea approach the location in which India is being held, they are attacked by harpies (or Harpy’s, according to Mayer). The harpies are momentarily distracted by the arrival of two FBI vans, whose occupants they proceed to eviscerate. Rylee and O’Shea then escape by luring the harpies toward a herd of unicorns, who attack the harpies and quickly kill them by repeatedly stabbing them with their horns. Think about it for a minute. Harpies fly. Unicorns don’t. It’s like a squadron of Stukas took on a Roman legion and the Romans won.
By the way, we have now established that the unicorns a) are the harpies’ sworn enemies; b) live only a few miles away; c) can slaughter them in minutes; and yet, they have never bothered to run over and exterminate them.
The abductions turn out to have been carried out specifically to lure Rylee into the clutches of a coven of witches entranced by a Big Bad Vampire. That explains the similarity between Berget’s disappearance and India’s. What it doesn’t explain is why they didn’t just have Milly bring Rylee over. Yes, it was Milly’s coven—but don’t worry, Milly was an unwitting (at first) and unwilling (later) participant.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, it ends well. Rylee finds India and rescues her from the coven. The FBI offer Rylee a job. O’Shea is transferred to the Arcane Division and cleared of his partner’s murder, for which the coven had framed him (no mention is made of another cop who was shot by the horny troll). Milly moves back in with Rylee; so does Giselle (the half-mad woman who raised and trained Milly and Rylee) and Alex (Rylee’s dimwitted werewolf buddy-slash-pet).
All that sexual tension between Rylee and O’Shea is finally resolved when O’Shea moves in with Rylee and… hooks up with Milly, something which the reader only learns (on the final page) when Rylee institutes a “‘No Sex at the House’ rule” because she has “no desire to hear Milly and O’Shea ‘knocking boots’ in the room across from [her]”.
I picked up Priceless because I’ve been reading a lot of UF lately (good UF, mind you: the incomparable Seanan McGuire), it showed up in my Amazon suggestion list, and the premise seemed interesting. I now have a lot less faith in Amazon’s suggestions, and will go back to my usual MO for picking new authors: following the blogs of authors I already like and seeing which other authors they mention or recommend.