In honor of Halloween, I'm reviewing a couple of monster-iffic books this month. If you'll allow an incredibly hackneyed Halloween analogy, Monster In My Closet looked like a treat at first but turned out to be more of a trick – the kind that is gross and depressing, like having your car egged.
It starts off as a fun and quirky urban fantasy but then the villain appears and suddenly there are all these long, graphic scenes of rape and murder. In between the rape and murder stuff the book tries to go back to being a light fantasy, which just adds to the squick. Add a perfunctory romance with a completely undeveloped character, and a heroine who is too stupid to live, and the book falls apart.
Monster in My Closet is the first book in a new series by R. L. Naquin. The main character, Zoey, is a wedding planner. She is especially good with clients because she can always feel their feelings. Turns out she's an “Empath”, a fact that is made known to her when a friendly monster named Maurice moves into her kitchen. Soon Maurice is joined by a sick baby dragon, a family of brownies, a hag, and a Skunk-Ape. She is also befriended by a herbalist who teaches her how to raise her psychic shields, which cures her migraines but subjects the reader to many cheesy discussions of shields and bubbles and bricks and windows, none of it original. She also meets a token love interest but he never gets to do much except reveal a twist and look cute, so you won't be reading much about romance in this review even though the series is supposedly romantic in nature.
In addition to her new friends, Zoey also gets an enemy. This guy is an incubus and his method of murder is to rape women to death in their sleep. I cannot over-emphasize how gross this was to read about. The guy makes the women feel intense physical pleasure even as they experience emotional terror and suffering. To me, this reads as a double violation, and it adds a voyeuristic quality to the scenes that is both horrifying and exploitative. The rapes occur in dreams, but later the author reveals that the women are also raped physically. No one ever comments on the fact that a physical rape would leave physical evidence, thus leaving a huge plot hole in the story, especially the end.
On top of that, these women are characters that the reader is given some time to know. Reading about them dying horribly is sufficiently devastating that to jump back and forth from these horrific events to cutesy dragon cures is jarring. The resolution is supposed to be considered a happy one but it was, in my opinion, another horrible betrayal. If it had been discussed in terms of being an ethical dilemma I would have bought it, but apparently only I saw anything wrong with what happened (nope, not telling, it's a big depressing spoiler of doom). I'm no stranger to the concept that humor and even whimsy can be mixed effectively with horror, but Naquin just can't pull it off.
I was so disappointed by this book, because I loved the first couple of chapters (hence the labored “trick” analogy in the first paragraph). A woman who attacks an intruder in the dead of night while armed only with a toilet brush and while wearing a Hello Kitty nightshirt is my kind of person. I sympathized with Zoey's loneliness, I admired her unique fashion sense, and I related to her need to fix the problems of everyone around her. Watching her become stupider with every passing chapter was agonizing.
To add insult to injury, the writing itself was fluid and often funny, thus luring me into getting excited about the book. In a lot of books I review, the writing itself is awkward but the story and characters shine through the inexpert sentences. Naquin has the technique down but not the ability to tell a story that holds together well. Clearly Naquin knows how to evoke emotional responses from a reader – but I'm not sure she evoked the ones in me that she was shooting for. I hate writing bad reviews because I hate to make an author sad. R.L. Naquin, if you were with me at this moment, I would give you many consolation cookies, but I just can't give this book a good review despite great promise at the beginning of the book.