Hashtag LoveHate

Into the Shadows -  Carolyn Crane

"There are so many layers to our fucked up layer cake, I don't know how to untangle it," she said.
"You don't untangle a cake, baby," he said. "You eat it."



For all the love I have for Carolyn Crane's Disillusionists Trilogy, I'm a little ashamed to admit this is my first of hers outside that series. While this didn't necessarily disappoint, I'm hard pressed to call the high points winning over the lows. It was good in the sense that the things I didn't agree with didn't make me want to quit but still left an aftertaste that wasn't all that pleasant.


After finding the truth about her mother, Nadia Volkov has made it her mission to find her, dismantling her deceased father's illegal operations in the process. Standing in her way is Thorne, one of her father's former henchmen, current number 2 of one of the gang who inherited the spoils of her father's downfall and the unknowing father of her two-year old son, Benny. So Throne gets the nondisclosure punishment because he essentially called Nadia a hotel soap and he's a robot with a lot of enemies who want to hurt him.


When actually, he's an undercover agent of The Associates, tasked to take the leadership from The Hangman's psychotic leader Jerrod who was part of the group who killed his sister years ago. Two birds, one Thorne and all that. But that's okay since Thorne's still smarting from the hurt of hearing Nadia offer him to her hot sister Kara for some sharing time.


Secret Baby!
Sexual tension!


See where this is going?


Though the story was a little predictable I found Thorne quite unique. Initially, I had a lot of gripes and issues against his incessant quoting of Bruce Lee and the constant use of these cheesy sound bite worthy comebacks in casual conversation. Then I realize its part of the complexity of his social maladjustment, learning how to interact with people through watching films, having no role model growing up etc. His character offered something different and fascinating in a genre overpopulated by the cookie cutter, juiced, Alpha Male heroes. His pathos was almost Aspergers-like and his efforts to compensate was a good source of emotional wattage when the story chooses to.


Yet I still wish Crane went a bit deeper into how he came to be, because while the tension between him and Nadia was quite delicious, something felt lacking in their backstories to sell the chemistry to me.


Though I think that was mostly Nadia's fault.


I had great difficulty understanding her motivations and some of her thought process veered towards disturbing. The shift from Party Princess to Human Trafficking Crusader was addressed a little too casually and I thought the conflict between staying safe for her son and risking her life to rescue her mother warranted more introspection than this afforded. Especially since her fervent efforts to keep Benny from Thorne was supposed to shield him from the violence of that world.

"I don't want somebody in Benny's life who thinks its cool to be associated with gangs that run sex slaves and sweatshops."
"Hangman doesn't run sex slaves and sweatshops."
"They're friends with gangs that do," she said.

Meanwhile, she's running around with mercenaries freeing her father's victims and crushing his operations while finding her mother. True it's expected to have some unorthodox moral compasses and standards among people with her background, but it still felt a little like pot calling kettle black.


Their role playing was simultaneously hot and heartbreaking, most of the time. Usually when Nadia doesn't lapse into these awkward ruminations about how much Benny looks like Thorne while having sex. Maybe my mind has gone too dirty to not feel awkward over that situation and for that I am truly sorry.


Almost as sorry for the awkwardness of certain turns of phrases that stuck out like a sore thumb considering the wealth of heart-tugging moments and exchanges this is armed with.

People didn't realize the things they hated about themselves were often the coolest.


'Coolest'? Really we're going with that one? This coming from the author who coined "Cucumbery Cock" which was a favorite of mine.


I would've gladly overlooked these few episodes but here were also lapses into valley speak ("like") and abuse of cringe inducing words (is "lovehate" really a word?) which again maybe explained by the kind of people these characters are emulating but was still something that took me put of the story and back into my critiquing-bitch seat. But for the love of God, STOP SAYING THORNE WAS RAISED BY SCORPIONS BECAUSE TECHNICALLY HE REALLY WASN'T. It came across a pathetic attempt to make him more intimidating, maybe make his past more dramatic and action hero-worthy, when he really didn't need to be.


I'm going to park the snark bus here because I really did like it but I had to overlook a lot of things to keep myself from cringing long enough to actually see its strengths, and discussing them further might make me change my mind with the rating.


Review Copy courtesy of the publishers for this late review (sorry).