Book Review: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Hello there, long time no see! This is Alz with another review for you. Krispy won this book as an ARC and a long time ago I stole it from her to read. I kind of wish I hadn't.

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Pros: I think there were one or two minor characters who were okay.
Cons: Everything else.

Intellectual Rating: 0.5 out of 10 stars (only because Crescendo is my golden standard for utter literary failure)
Emotional Grade: F

Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything- including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

Alz's Take: Imagine a dark supernatural YA romance where werewolf Guardians have their own unique society living in our world, guarding a sacred mountain under the orders of their Keepers. Imagine edgy romance twanging with tension, sizzling with sexual innuendo, and molten with lust as fierce warrior Calla, the heroine alpha female of a new soon-to-be-pack, is torn between her predestined alpha werewolf mate, dominant forceful Ren Laroche, and the song of destiny that sings between her and the new boy, nerdy-but-hot noble-but-na├»ve protective-and-perfect Shay Doran. Imagine a book that immerses you in a supernatural world built from the ground up beside our own world. Imagine an edgy, thrilling book that deals realistically and sophisticatedly with themes such as homosexuality, pedophilia, rape, love and sacrifice.

Now imagine a book that fails to achieve any of those things.

That book is Nightshade.

Nightshade tries very hard to be immersive, erotic (yes, this book is the closest thing I've read so far to YA erotica, though there is no actual getting beyond second base), edgy and hip and cool.

The way it tries to do this is by throwing you into this magical werewolf/warlock society where apparently stuff happens because of other stuff and it's very omgwtfbbq important because people say so. My main motivation for finishing this godawful waste of paper and ink was trying to figure out what the hell was happening. It took me months to finish the book because every 3 pages something annoying or beyond implausible would happen and I'd stop.  I finished it and I still don't know what's going on, except that there's some kind of conspiracy, Calla is lamer than a flock of wingless one-footed ducks, and Shay is every 13-year-old girl's wish-fulfillment fantasy boyfriend, right down to liking Buffy the Vampire Slayer (specifically: Season 8).

I've got to hand it to the author, though, you know how they say to start off a book with action? There is ACTION in that first chapter. Calla's in wolf-form fighting a freaking bear that already mauled beautiful illegally-trespassing-hiker Shay. Yes, folks, that was and is still the most memorable and interesting (and laughable) scene Nightshade: the hot love interest is mauled by a bear before the book even begins. He's literally lying on the forest floor bleeding on page 2 or 3.

Re-using this doodle from an old post.

The book fails to get better from there. Instead we are treated to in-depth descriptions of Calla's overwhelming LUST for Shay, because he's so beautiful and hot and she feels so LUSTFUL toward him, her LUSTFULNESS knows no bounds every time she sees or thinks of him, she is afire with LUST. Seriously, the girl needs to take an iced bottle of chill pills every hour on the hour throughout the entire book. And when she's not LUSTING over Shay, she's LUSTING over Ren. Her werewolf betrothed is always putting his hands all over Calla (and once or twice getting into slightly graphic territory considering this is YA), and later Shay's none too shy with the hanky-panky either.

I don't buy the romance because there is none. Just LUST. And not very convincing LUST. (Just a note: It doesn't actually say "LUST" everywhere in Nightshade, in capslock or otherwise, but that is the sentiment that smolders so much throughout the book I'm surprised it didn't burst into flames in my hands.)

I don't buy the world-building either. I wouldn't even buy it if it came with a free puppy, king-sized box of gourmet dark chocolates, and a foot locker crammed with gold and diamonds. On sale. On clearance sale.

The story tries to be immersive by throwing things at you without explanation. While I prefer the immersive form of world-building as opposed to paragraphs of explanation, it has to be done well enough that you understand through context or are tantalized and intrigued enough to want to know more. In Nightshade, something would happen or people would appear and the characters would dramatically yell, "HOLY CRAP IT'S THE PERSON" or "ZOMG IT'S A BOOK" and I'd be left feeling left out.  Who are these people and why does this matter? 

Aside from that, there is no world-building. The world just is and has been, but you can't just slap down a Six Flags magic mountain in the middle of the United States guarded by werewolves and their master/Keeper witches/warlocks attending an elite school that also happens to enroll (normal human) students of the rich and powerful—with no explanation other than, "Yeah, the witches and warlocks have ancient powerful lineage and magic and contemporary political influence, that's why."

Not this kind of convention.

Thanks to this failed attempt at immersive writing, the plot is neither gripping nor coherent—but despite not understanding or caring about what was going on, I was still able to accurately predict 70% of what was going to happen thanks to Typical Romantic Narrative Conventions, Typical Angsty Heroine Conventions, and Typical Werewolf Conventions. That's pretty sad. It means there's nothing new, noteworthy, or creative about Nightshade.

Calla's our narrator. She's filled with LUST for Shay, and every weird or inconsistent aspect of her character is explained away by the fact that she's not human. That's not even me interpreting things—I'm paraphrasing what Calla tells Shay. She's supposed to remain "pure" before her union with the alpha male (Ren of the Bane pack) that will unite her pack with his to create a new pack, which means no sex and almost no touching if possible and no kissing even (not that Ren obeys this, to Calla's combined annoyance and lust), and yet she flings herself at Shay. She knows she's not supposed to but she just can't help herself, which I find irritating since considers herself such a responsible badass (paraphrasing again—she considers herself a warrior).

Hmm, a warrior. And given her status as daughter of alpha wolves and a soon-to-be-alpha herself, that essentially makes her a princess. Where have I heard—

Ohhhh yeah!
Now if only Calla had been one-tenth as awesome as Xena, this book wouldn't have been such a failure.

Calla also doesn't question things because…I'm not really sure why she doesn't question them. Possibly she is brain-damaged or it's because she's a werewolf (same thing in this book). She doesn't question hierarchy or the shaky stories that the Keepers tell her, and at one point around page 200 Shay even asks her why she's never questioned them, and all she says is that it's forbidden.

You'd think that she'd start to question her own world, and society, and the role of Keepers and Guardians as she slowly explores her forbidden feelings for Shay and aids him when he asks for her help in learning this forbidden knowledge—

Nope. One minute she's snarling and crying because it's forbidden on pain of death and then literally on the next page she's like, Okay, we'll chillax at the public library where you can translate and I'll do research on background information and also explain anything that you don't understand about my secret world with its secret societies. By the end of the book, she's violated at least four laws that put her under a death sentence but eh, she does it without a second thought because the plot demands it.

Add to that the repeated mantra that she's a warrior and an alpha and must guard and protect and lead her pack and she's so fierce and awesome, and yet she hardly ever does anything. She spends most of the book lusting or angsting. She's been born and bred for leadership and all she does is willfully endanger herself and her pack but it's okay because they're loyal to her and will protect her secrets, which is good because she's such a great responsible leader. Huh?

Ugh, I don't even want to talk anymore about Shay, so I'll just list his most important attributes:
1. His name is Shay, short for Seamus Doran

2. Mauled by a bear before the book even began

3. Has an incredibly beautiful face and a sculpted muscular body

Like many trashy romance heroes, Shay morphs into
a bodybuilder the moment his shirt is removed. The
sharply creased vee of his hipbones rising out of his jeans
isn't artistic license--they're described in the book.

4. So literate and well-read he can spout Latin phrases and cite the philosophical theories of Thomas Hobbes at the drop of a hat

5. Fascinated by Calla, always touching her face or her arm and murmuring how he doesn't want her to be hurt, how love can't be controlled, etc.

6. He has no flaws

7. He has no personality

Ren doesn't even get a list of attributes. He's just there to be the arrogant dominant controlling alpha and the other tip of the love triangle.

All right, all right. I know you want to hear about the homosexuality, pedophilia, rape, love and sacrifice stuff. Well, the first three anyway, since the latter two are part and parcel of a YA romance. I confess that the Big Three aren't in fact a big part of the book—which is problematic since they're very clearly only there for shock value and as lazy writing (e.g. to make a villain evil and creepy, it's easier to just make him a pedophile or rapist than to actually develop his character or motivations).

Basically there are two minor supporting characters that are gay. This is brought up as an issue, only it's not an issue at all because everyone is kind and accepting and loves and supports them totally! Nice nod to tolerance and acceptance—and I'm not being totally sarcastic here, I think it's great that issues of alternate sexuality are brought up in YA. But it also needs to be done with purpose and realism.

Instead of leaving it as a poorly-done token acknowledgement of homosexuality, the author went for shock value. Not only are these werewolf boys gay, but their future master is gay too, and has his eye on one of them! Oh noes! And for some bizarre reason that is never explained to my satisfaction (except that the wolves are afraid of their masters because they can summon wraiths, which are scary), all the wolves owe absolute obedience to the Keepers—which means if the Keepers want to have sex with them, they have no choice but to obey and nobody can object, not even the alphas.  And the Keepers are, one and all, abusers on a perpetual power-high, in one way or another.

So there's the basic rape issue.  Now for the pedophilia.

One of the older male Keepers (not the gay one mentioned above—nope, this is his father) is a total creeper and has been eyeing this little girl werewolf (she's like 12 or 13, I forget, but I think it said he's been eyeing her for at least a couple of years prior to this). In order to save her, one of the teenage werewolf girls from the same pack has been sleeping with him instead even though she loathes and fears him. When he wants it, she has to put out. But as long as she can keep him focused on her, he won't go after the little girl. Probably.

These issues are artificially jammed into the story because oh hey, this guy should more obviously be a villain, so let's make him a pedophile rapist too! That way there can be more angst and some characters can have dramatic excuses for being bitchy! Whee! And let's have these werewolf boys be gay too, as a message of love and tolerance—but love and tolerance is boring, so let's throw more rape on the horizon! Yay!

The Alz does not approve.

I at least expect the issues of pedophilia and rape (and especially implied child rape) to be handled with a modicum of respect and seriousness. Using them as bells and whistles to add peripheral excitement to a story is tasteless and offensive. I had held to the faint hope that these topics would get a little more light shed on them.

Fat chance.  The story (not that there's much of it) would remain unchanged if these elements were excised, because they're unimportant background issues.  Which should make you scratch your head: Rape and pedophilia are unimportant.  What?

I mean, the Guardian/Keeper relationships and society are just plain stupid and screwed up for the sake of being screwed up. I didn't buy that the werewolves' unwavering loyalty and no-questions-asked attitude was due to tradition, fear of the scary never-really-explained wraiths that the Keepers could summon, and the fact that the Keepers provide them with food and shelter. As Shay eventually points out, they're pretty much slaves and they don't seem to like it but are still okay with it because they have no other choice because…wait, why can't all the wolves just band together and launch a blitzkrieg against their masters? The wolves outnumber them and seem way more powerful and physically faster and stronger, even if the Guardians can summon these scary-because-we're-told-they're-scary wraiths!

Ah, but if they did that then Nightshade would have made some sense for once. And that's not this book's style.

Alz's Conclusion: Nightshade is a failboat that should sink under the waves never to be seen again, but sadly the fact that it contains werewolves and copious groping and sexual themes was enough to make it a trilogy. Nor does this first book function as a standalone—the ending is a cliffhanger. And since I still have no idea what the plot was about except that it was a steaming pile of failure to be cool and sexy, the characters couldn't win a spelling bee against a cardboard box, and the world-building wasn't world-building as much as world-shambles, I will not be reading the sequel.


Angela said...

I actually liked this book.

Still, I laughed like crazy at your review.

Jolene Perry said...

Wow, I have to say that I love a terrible review once in a while. lol.
Haven't read it, it's not my thing, and is not in my TBR pile.

Merc said...

I do enjoy your reviews (the doodles are priceless!) and the book is most definitely NOT on my list now--I think I will save the braincells. ;)

Tere Kirkland said...

ROFL, it says Blood and Chocolate on the Werewolf convention booth! BWAHAHAHAHA!


Thanks for the thorough review, Alz. Enjoyable, as always. So... am I the only one who thought this was a fairy book from the cover/title? Like, who would look at the purple-haired girl and bloody lilies on the cover and say, oh, right, the new werewolf novel? #marketingfail

Connie Keller said...

So NOT on my to-be-read list. Even though the cover is lovely.

Emy Shin said...

I haven't read the book (and don't intend to, as I've gotten selective about which YA paranormal to read, and ones that have love triangles are automatically out) -- but I have to say that this review made me laugh. Especially the illustrations! SO AWESOME.

Spartezda said...

Man, I would've loved the Book That Could Have Been.

Also I love that there was another post in which a doodled wolf attacking a giant bear while a small mauled person goes WTF was appropriate.

ali cross said...


Um, I loved this book? Yes, yes I did. *puffs out chest and refuses to be bullied by your albeit funny and extremely thoughtful review* I DID love this book! 5/5 stars for me, baby!


Lydia Kang said...

I am in pain. You've hurt me to my core. I need some serious opioid help from laughing so freaking hard I think I broke three of my ribs.

OMGWTFBBQ may be the best acronym of all time, BTW.

Christine said...

I also liked the book. I do agree there was a little too much LUST in it, a little goes a long way for me, but I liked the rest of the book.

Alz said...

Angela, Ali, C.K. Bryant – I like to hear from people who like the books I don't! :) I appreciate a different perspective, especially since I feel like Nightshade just didn't work for me. My critical nature often gets in the way of books I could probably like or at least not rip to shreds, if only I could turn off my inner editor or just sit back and enjoy the ride without thinking. Nightshade bothered me a lot because I felt like there lot of potential for an interesting dark, edgy book—and it failed on every level to deliver that to me.

Jolene, Merc, Connie, Emy, Lydia – Thanks! Books that I have issues with I usually have to do a review for as a form of catharsis and hey, since I read the freaking book, I might as well fling my two cents after it. And since Krispy acquires so many books, I tend to make off with them in the dark of the night to read them shamelessly before she does. I thought Nightshade would be less bizarrely unfollowable and fanficcy and more generic, honestly.

Tere – Krispy read Blood & Chocolate but I confess I never got around to it. Nightshade's cover made me think it was some kind of Killer Barbie Horror Book except it was in the YA section.

Spartezda – The original post that doodle was featured in was basically a bunch of doodles from books I was reading at the time, months ago, which says something about how long it took me to finish Nightshade…

linda said...

LOL awesome review/rant. I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't like Nightshade! (Although I don't feel as strongly about it as you do.) Your post was super entertaining and brought up a lot of points I hadn't considered. Thanks for sharing! Now I have to check out your other reviews ^^

Lori M. Lee said...
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