CarrieS reviewed this book after reading it twice, and her review after the second reading was fascinating:
I was looking for books to review and I thought, “Hey! Wild Ride is out on paperback and it’s a new release to the large contingent of people who won’t buy a book until it’s in paperback (me). Also, I haven’t reviewed a fantasy or paranormal in a while. Plus it has great geek cred since it lists Joss Whedon in the acknowledgments page.”. Then time passed, and eventually this book was no longer a new release to anybody. But, I’m reviewing it anyway, because I had a pleasant surprise when I read it for the second time. The first time, I expected a Romance Novel and I was disappointed. The second time, I read it on its own merits and had a total blast. So, if you passed this book up the first time around, or if you tackled it and were let down, give it another shot, but be prepared for it to diverge from a standard romance novel.
The plot goeth more or less thusly: Mab (short for Mary Alice Brannigan) wanders the United States restoring amusement parks. While working in the park “Dreamland”, she is attacked by “a giant robot clown”. Enter hilarious (and very Whedonesque) dialogue. At the same time, the son (Ethan) of the park’s owner shows up, back from Afghanistan with a lovely case of budding alcoholism and a bullet lodged near his heart. Hi-jinks ensue as it turns out the the park is the prison of five demons who are kept in park statues and rides, and guarded over by the park owners and employees.
In this paragraph, spoilers abound. You, dear romance reader, are going to read the very opening sequence with Mab and Ethan and think “Ta-da! We have the central couple. they have now ‘met cute’ and will proceed to fall in love.” Not so fast, Sparky. Turns out none of the standard romance patterns apply. Even on my second reading, when I knew what to expect, I found this to be jarring. It would work better if the romances that do form were better developed, but they seem just stuck in. It’s not so much a series of clever twists as a series of sort of weird stuff that culminates in the right number of couples. Even though I kind of liked the couples, I didn’t really get to know them as couples, and I really think the book would have been stronger as a straight up fantasy without the romance elements. I don’t have any problem with Crusie experimenting with different styles and genres, but I suspect she keeps some romance in to try to keep her audience, and it’s more awkward than it needs to be.
There is a certain group of Crusie heroines that have a marked family resemblance. If they were all related to Min from Bet Me, then Agnes of Agnes and the Hitman would be Min’s older cousin from the South, and Andie from Maybe This Time would be her older cousin from the North. Mare, from The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and Mab, from Wild Ride, would be Min’s younger twin sisters. Crusie’s ability to write great characters with great dialogue remains as awesome as ever and I really enjoyed Mab’s growth as a person. I also loved, loved, loved the characterization and plot twists with the demons. Vanth is one of my new favorite characters and I also liked how the character of Flufluns was explored. Generally in their collaborations, Bob Mayer writes the male point of view, so he would have been in charge of the stuff involving Ethan, and I didn’t really buy his character or the relatively easy way his alcoholism was disposed of. I had a similar problem with Weaver, a Special Ops person who shows up. I liked her OK, but I didn’t believe that she was a real person and I wasn’t that invested in her story. Of the three books Mayer and Crusie have written together this one seemed more Crusie’s book, but overall it was more intermixed than their previous two books.
You’ll notice that I have a lot of positive things to say about dialogue and character but I haven’t said much about plot. That’s because as far as I can tell the plot doesn’t make any sense. Some of my favorite lines involve characters, most frequently Mab, pointing out that the plot doesn’t make any sense. What is enjoyable is the atmosphere, the characters and dialogue, and the theme of shared family. As a fantasy that is not a romance, the book is really fun. It’s also funny, sad, exciting, and engaging. When I read it thinking that it would not be a romance, it was made of win. As a romance, it’s poorly developed and confusing. So whether or not you like this book is all about whether or not you expect it to be a romance.
To Jennifer Crusie, I would say the following. Ms Crusie, I adore your works to a degree that borders on the fanatical. I buy cheap used copies of Bet Me and force my helpless friends to read it. I quote you endlessly. So, rest assured, I am your biggest, but totally not psycho stalker, fan. But, I couldn’t help but notice that in your last two novels, as you explore genres other than straight-up contemporary romance, the romance element seemed secondary to the actual story and kind of contrived. It’s OK to just leave it out – that would be better than forcing it. Or, keep it as a side plot, but keep it there with pride, don’t worry that we’ll stop loving you if you stop writing Romance with a capital ‘R’. In the words of Buffy, “The thing about changing the world…Once you do it, the world’s all different.” Rock on with your different badass self and don’t throw in the romance just to keep your audience. We’ll follow you anywhere because you are the best!