Jul 20 2013 10:00am

Perfect Unions: Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Obsidian in West Virginia

Obsidian by Jennifer L. ArmentroutWe’re reading our way across America…one romance at a time.

West Virginia: Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Lux, Book 1)

All I know about West Virginia—thirty-fifth state to join the Union – has been gleaned from that John Denver song (it apparently has country roads) and Chris in the Morning (John Corbett) from Northern Exposure (it is home to handsome and well-read jailhouse philosophers). Oh, and it’s where Kate Bosworth was working at a supermarket rejoicing in the bizarre name of “The Piggly Wiggly” when she won that date with Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), and it is also the setting of The Deer Hunter and several particularly harrowing episodes of The X-Files. So, basically, West Virginia doesn’t have the most glowing of reputations, pop culture-wise.

Something Obsidian, I’m afraid, is unlikely to change.

I was actually more than a little excited when I first came upon this book. (West Virginia-set romance novels are not particularly prevalent, by the by. Take it from me.) It’s a YA paranormal romance, which is so very my thing, but more than that, it’s a YA paranormal romance with aliens, and aliens are even more so.

Yes: aliens! At last I get to cover aliens here in this Perfect Unions series, because there are some living in West Virginia, several of them are teenagers, and one of them is named—I’ll give you a second to drink it in—Daemon. He is hot, he is cool, he is emotionally unavailable and gets on our first-person narrator’s nerves. That narrator is Katy, and she has this to observe about her new neighbor (and nemesis) (and crush) (and YA PNR necessity):

“Beautiful face. Beautiful body. Horrible attitude. He was the holy trinity of hot boys.”

Now look, I get that in this post-Twilight world, it is often important for our mysterious and inhumanly gorgeous hero to (at least outwardly) despise our perplexed-and-yet-attracted heroine, for no obvious good reason. And I also get that, despite his better judgement, despite knowing that being near her puts her and everyone he loves in danger, he must eventually find it IMPOSSIBLE to stay away. But what I don’t understand is how we’re supposed to forgive anyone who is as much of an asshole to Katy as Daemon is, let alone how she can. He sneers at her. Humiliates her. He plays fast and loose, blows hot and cold, is a jerk and a cad and a total dick, and yet somehow we (and Katy) are expected to come around to Team Daemon because, what? He’s an alien? And his brother was killed after falling for a human? And there are evil aliens out to get them all? Pah! These may be reasons, but they are no excuse.

Then again, I found it hard to be too affronted on Katy’s behalf, considering I had my issues with her almost from the very outset. She is a book blogger, you see, and is always receiving new YA PNR novels in the mail to review—how extraordinary and coincidental, then, that she should start living in one!—and while I am more than happy to have here a teen protagonist whose favorite reading is not something as dubiously worrisome as Wuthering Heights (and I quite love the clever marketing strategy inherent in this character trait: “Hey, book bloggers! Katy is just like you! Review my book!”), I do object to this: “Katy’s Krazy Obsession.” Yes, that is the name of her blog. Ugh. (And I wouldn’t be the least surprised if it had originally been written up as “Katy’s Krazy Kompulsion” until someone noted the unfortunate acronym.) Sure, she’s a 16-year-old girl, and 16-year-old girls do silly things like use painful alliterative spelling and put hearts on top of their “i”s and fall for douchey alien boys who seemingly hate them, but to be honest it is this one horrifying lapse in judgment that would have made it difficult for me to really like Katy, even had she been perfectly admirable in every other respect.

Yeah. She’s not.

Of course, there is more to this tale than Daemon and Katy and their fractious and forbidden hate/love. There is Daemon’s sister Dee, enthusiastic, exquisite and ever so lonely. There is Backstory! about everyone having lost their parents (Katy’s mom is a nurse and so absent here she might as well have moved them to Mystic Falls instead of some miles west.) There are the other aliens in town —notably, a set of troublesome blonde triplets and a teacher at their high school; as Katy later observes “Our biology teacher is an alien? Holy crap.” And there is the ongoing alien battle against the forces of darkness, which at least brings a little suspense to this otherwise pedestrian tale. Our aliens, by the way, are known as the Luxen, because they’re made of light (Starman!); the bad guys are the Arum, and they have power over shadows or some such. It’s all a bit confusing, plus the titular obsidian is their Kryptonite, because...something about how it reflects light, or what have you? By this stage, I really didn’t care.

If I were to pitch this book, I would say it was Twilight meets Roswell meets Eureka meets Men in Black II, with just a touch of Superman lore in there. (And here you thought that was I Am Number Four.) If you like Hot Mean Boys, aliens among us, improbable military cover-ups—REALLY? The DOD just lets powerful aliens made of light live with us?—and someone else’s interstellar war fought on our planet, then perhaps Obsidian is for you. It just wasn’t, perhaps surprisingly, for me.

One shining moment of awesome I will give it is where Katy steps up and does some rescuing, which came as a nice change in a subgenre that has seen more than its fair share of ineffectual damsels in distress. It almost made me like her, in fact...and if only it hadn’t been for the ridiculous use of that “K,” maybe her continuing adventures (a fourth Lux book is due out next month) would tempt me.

But no. Probably not.


Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

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