Disclaimer: Lilith Saintcrow is the President Superbitch of the Romantic Bitches. Me? I’m the Vice President of Vices. Full disclosure and all that. Make of this review what you will; I know I made every effort to read this book and judge it solely on its own merits.
Theo Morgan, much like Greta Garbo, just wants to be left alone. See, Theo is Special, and not in short yellow bus kind of a way. She’s a Lightbringer, a witch, and one with powerful healing abilities. Forced to live a rootless life for a long time—people eventually take just a little too much interest in her unusual abilities—she’s finally settled down in a town she really likes where she owns a store that specializes in New Agey witchcraft supplies. She’s even found three other witches to befriend and employ.
But all that is about to get shot to shit. Theo has caught the attention of the Dark, and a centuries-old Crusade against witches has moved into town. Lots of nasty things have made it their highest priority to turn Theo and her like into hamburger. This is where Dante and his fellow Watchers step in.
Watchers are created to be guardians of witches by Circle Lightfall, a rather mysterious organization. On one hand: protecting witches from being turned into hamburger is a good thing. On the other hand: they use some rather unsavory methods to battle the Dark, up to and including implanting elements of the Dark in the Watchers to allow them to combat their foes more effectively.
Theo and Dante strike up sparks right away, even if Theo finds him kind of creepy. Dante, on the other hand, figures out in double-quick time that he’s found his soulmate, the only person in the world who can make the pain from the Dark inside him go away. The usual shenanigans ensue—bad guys attack, Dante and his fellow Watcher, Hanson, hand their asses to them, Theo does some rather rash things, Dante blows a gasket, does more ass-handing, rinse and repeat.
While overall an entertaining offering, the book suffers from some debut author clunkiness, especially with the way chunks of exposition are worked in. The dialogue, action blocking and characterization also suffer from bouts of awkward lurchiness. I find it hard to describe in concrete terms, but with some books, I find myself picturing soap opera actors delivering the lines while pacing a cheap, garishly-lit set. Something about the cadence of their speech and the way they react just lends itself to that sort of visualization. Dark Watcher suffers from this sort of writing only occasionally, but it was often enough to be distracting.
Theo herself kind of bored me. She’s kind of a cross between Nancy Drew and Siddharta Gautama Buddha: she can do EVERYTHING, everybody loves her except the bad guys, and she just about oozes compassion from her pores. If she were a hippo and compassion were hippo sweat, she’d be red all over, baby. She’s not really annoying, but she also didn’t have too many interesting nuances.
Dante is a bit more interesting. There are delicious hints of a really unsavory past, not to mention the things Circle Lightfall did to him to make him a Watcher. However, very little of his backstory is revealed, and most of the time in his head can be summarized thusly: “Theo. Theotheotheo. Man she’s hot. Oooh, can I touch her? But I’m tainted. Mmmm, Theo. Theotheotheotheotheo. Ooh, she just touched me! Wait, scary bad guys are after her! RAR, HERE ARE YOUR ASSES, BAD GUYS. Mmmm, Theo. Theotheotheo.” But then a lot of romance novels suffer from this sort of redundant musing.
Those of you expecting a traditional HEA for this book are going to be disappointed, by the way. Lots of threads are left dangling at the end, threads which are presumably picked up in the sequel, Storm Watcher. Dante and Theo’s love story is, in many ways, just beginning right when the book stops.
However, this book does get two things very, very right. The first is the world-building. Most paranormal romances I’ve read have kind of sucked on the world-building, and usually I don’t even give it a second thought, just as I don’t let clunky love stories faze me while I’m reading fantasy and SF. The world in this book is fascinating, especially the intrigue surrounding the Crusade and how it came to be. By the way: if you’re a hardcore Catholic who believes all the Popes and the Church have been, are and always will be infallible authorities guided by the Holy Spirit, amen, then I recommend that you skip this book because it’s probably going to offend the hell out of you. Personally, I thought Dark Watcher took some interesting risks; while horror, fantasy and SF aren’t afraid to poke at the occasional religious authority, I have yet to see paranormal romance novels do too much of this. My only frustration was that the length of the book didn’t allow me to explore the world and the monsters to my full satisfaction.
The other thing this book gets right is its portrayal of witches. Here’s another problem with many romance novels: characters who are remotely crunchy-granola-earth-mother rapidly become caricatures, oftentimes really, really annoying New Age stereotypes whom I’d love to crush under a spiky bootheel. Most Constance O’Day-Flannery novels and Rachel Gibson’s It Must Be Love provide prime examples of these types of airheads. Dark Watcher is the first romance novel I’ve encountered that treats crunchy types with respect and makes them seem (oh, dare I say it?) cool.
Dark Watcher is kind of a mixed big bag, but overall, it’s more good than bad. If you’re looking for a different take on romance novel witches and some fairly complex world-building, you could do a lot worse than checking this one out.