Calla has always welcomed war.Here it is. Bloodrose, the last book in the Nightshade trilogy, and its last chance for redemption. Our reviews of the last two books in the Nightshade series have essentially ended the same way – with the wish, the hope, the expectation that the next book will be better. That it will allow the series and characters to live up to all their potential. Well, now we’ve read Bloodrose, and we can finally say without a doubt…
But now that the final battle is upon her, there’s more at stake than fighting. There’s saving Ren, even if it incurs Shay’s wrath. There’s keeping Ansel safe, even if he’s been branded a traitor. There’s proving herself as the pack Alpha, facing unnamable horrors, and ridding the world of the Keeper’s magic once and for all. And there’s deciding what to do when the war ends. If Calla makes it out alive, that is.
That never happened.
In fact, shit got worse.
We’ll start with Calla, because Calla has given us the most trouble throughout the series. In fact, above, when we say we want “the characters” to live up to their potential, we really mean Calla. We’ve been waiting for her for THREE BOOKS NOW to take the reins and become the leader, the strong heroine, that she’s supposed to be, and well, we were disappointed. Deeply, deeply disappointed.
She gave us hope, though. At the start of the book, Calla has a brief, crowning moment of awesome. After resolving the last book’s cliffhanger by bringing Ren over to the Searcher’s side and introducing him to them as a new ally, they naturally end up running into Shay before Calla has a chance to break the news of Ren’s arrival gently. Being the ill-tempered children that Alpha werewolves in this genre typically are, Shay gets upset because Calla went off to rescue her childhood friend, which is about as unreasonable as it sounds, and he and Ren end up devolving into a brawl. Over Calla.
Naturally, Calla is informed that it is HER RESPONSIBILITY to put an end to this, and after a brief moment of panic, boy does she. For the first time in perhaps the entire series, Calla puts her foot down with Ren and Shay. She stops their fight cold and declares that she will not choose between them until the war is over, and that they’re going to have to just suck it up and get along until then.
This is fantastic. Sure, it’s a blatant excuse to delay resolving the triangle until the end of the book, but at least Calla’s asserting herself here, which is something we’ve been waiting for. After books of waffling, of wanting whoever is nearest, we were proud of Calla for making a decision that she’d stick to, even if that decision was “I’ll choose later”.
The shine pretty quickly wears off, though, because even as she steps up and gets a handle on her romantic situation, it seems like Calla simultaneously maneuvers herself out of playing any sort of important leadership role in the war herself. She basically tells Ren and Shay that she is their Alpha, and that she needs them to be her soldiers for the war. To mollify to poor boys’ fragile little egos and keep them from fighting with each other, she tells Shay that he is to coordinate attacks with the Searchers, while she puts Ren in charge of the pack. When they ask Calla what she will be doing, she simply says, “I am the one that makes sure we all get along.”
Really Calla? Is this the role you’ve envisioned for yourself in the werewolf war? You get to keep your boyfriends from killing each other so that they can do important things? This bugs, because the book has maneuvered the boys in Calla’s life into positions of great importance – Shay is, of course, the Scion, and in keeping with the tired prophecy cliche that they have no intention whatsoever of subverting, is the only one who can kill Bosque Mar. Ren has become important because he is a key figure in solidifying an alliance with the discontented members of the Bane wolf pack. So now, both boys are more important to the successful execution of the war than our heroine, who is subsequently only important because she’s important to the boys. Calla’s role has been reduced to that of “the girlfriend”.
WHAT HAPPENED TO WEREWOLF MOSES?
Urgh. Okay, so maybe she’s not going to be leading the charge up the hill, but at least she asserted her will over her love life right? Um, yeah, not so much, because that aspect of the truce gets fucked up almost immediately. Not long after Calla establishes her new resolution, she and the boys get in to another fight, this one so bad that Calla has to physically strike Ren and Shay to impress her point. She tells them again that it’s not a competition, and that they don’t need to vie for her because she’s not going to choose yet.
And then she immediately goes to Shay’s room to make up with him. They end up having sex.
Because you see, Calla’s “refusal to choose” is actually just a ruse to keep Ren around and involved in the fight. Calla has supposedly chosen Shay – or at least, that’s what she tells him – and is just putting off letting Ren in on this until the war is over. Apparently, Calla feels that without her or some other woman to fight for, she can’t count on Ren’s continued involvement.
What are you doinggg, Calla, you’re killing us here. We’re trying to get behind you, here, and you keep making it hard to do. Granted, it ended up being hard for us in different ways.
Kayla: I am going to try and keep this short. No matter how you look at it, when someone writes a book, the main character is a role model. That is why we get so irritated with some characters that don’t live up to those standards. We are all about women being strong willed, making their own decisions, and doing things for themselves. These things make for a strong heroine and a good role model for women and teens everywhere.
Unfortunately, Calla lacks these very important characteristics completely.
But what we do get from her is something completely revolting to me. I really didn’t like the way she handles herself with Ren and Shay, and the way she uses them. Though she tells them she won’t be making any decisions between them until the war is over, she still uses her sexuality to keep them where she wants them. With Ren, she does it to keep him around, and keep him thinking he still has a chance with her so he will stay and fight on her side, even though she has basically had already chosen Shay. And with Shay, she does it to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and so that he knows that he is the one she wants. Because she really does care about him, so she should have sex with him so he knows that, right? /sarcasm
Seriously, is this the kind of thing we should be proud of? Either way you look at it, whether it’s Ren or Shay, her actions are wrong. No woman should think so little of herself as to use her womanhood to persuade a man. It’s simply wrong and disgusting! If you are going to make a decision to not choose between two men until the time is right, then don’t go fucking around with both of them. Wait until it’s time, make your decision, then have all the fun you want with the one you chose. This is just one of the decent ways to handle it. As a woman her actions offended, and infuriated me.
Cyna: I don’t know how I wound up as defender of the Calla, but I don’t really think of her as harshly as Kayla seems to. To me, Calla isn’t intentionally manipulative so much as hopelessly confused and wishy-washy, and that’s my problem with her. It seemed like, as it did in Nightshade, Calla just wanted whichever boy was nearest. When she was with Shay, she loved Shay forever and always, and when she was with Ren, she doubted Shay and longed for Ren’s familiarity. And yeah, yeah, love triangle, that’s all well and good for the first book, but this is the third. Calla’s development in this department has just totally stalled – it had seemed like at the end of Wolfsbane, she’d finally settled on Shay, and that we might be moving past this conflict, and yet in Bloodrose‘s opening chapter, she’s just as confused and torn as ever.
This bugs the crap out of me, for two reasons. One, it plays too much into the idea that women are inherently emotional, illogical creatures that can be easily swayed by their feelings. Calla’s emotions seem to change with the wind, and she is utterly incapable of keeping herself from physically acting on them when these men are within a certain proximity. I mean Christ, woman, you don’t even approve of what you’re doing – why are you still doing it?
Two, Calla’s development is something that I’ve been waiting this whole series for. When she asserted herself with Shay and Ren, I thought that we’d finally gotten to the point where Calla would stand up for herself, would know her own mind, but no. She only takes this step for Ren’s benefit, plus, like two seconds later she’s totally undermining herself and everything she said by deciding that she’d been lying to Ren and would sleep with Shay behind his back. It was so very disappointing, so lacking in integrity for Calla, and worse yet, such a huge step backwards.
For the rest of the book, we’re stuck with the same old wishy-washy, indecisive girl that we’ve been stuck with since Nightshade, and the most disappointing part is that this that never changes. But we’ll talk more about that when we get to the ending.
In some ways though, Bloodrose did end up being the book that we’d been waiting for for. It’s very action-based – most of the page count is devoted to the search for the Elemental Cross, and then after that the Final Fight, so there were lots of things going on to distract us – and Calla – from her endless internal angsting. Of course, it kind of had to be this way, because this is the final book in the series and they really hadn’t made much progress towards the goal in the other two, but ANYWAY.
We liked the actiony bits. As our good friend Lup has pointed out, the Nightshade trilogy borrows heavily from other genres’ and mediums’ tropes. Much of the action is like something out of a comic book or adventure movie or fantasy novel – Shay’s swords being spread across exotic locales, the elementally-themed caverns filled with death traps, the monstrous final boss fight – these elements are all very familiar. We’ve seen those before, just not in a paranormal romance, and that weird combination helps make the book something new. It’s interesting to see a paranormal romance heroine in a comic book/fantasy/adventure movie world, and those comic fantasy adventure elements make a paranormal romance book more interesting. At least, in theory.
Here’s the thing, though: it seemed like Cremer’s writing style did everything it could to invade our enjoyment of the book itself, mostly by being very, very transparent. We are constantly shown the hand of the author in the text. We see it in the relationships, in the banter, and ultimately in the outcome of the story.
UNMARKED SPOILERS ABOUND
Take Silas, for instance – his fate was so obvious that he could have spent the entire novel in a red shirt. His inclusion in the missions was utterly unnecessary, and so awkwardly shoehorned in that he could only ever die or turn evil. With this in mind, his very presence was like a countdown clock ticking away the seconds until Something Happens to Silas.
As effectively as a phone ringing or an alarm going off while you’re trying to read, Silas’ presence made it difficult to be truly immersed in the story. Are we surprised when he dies? No. Do we care? Probably not, no matter how much Calla’s last-minute emotional softening towards him, or the rest of the group’s half-hearted mourning afterwards try to convince you otherwise. He was always only just canon fodder, and, like the token lesbian from the last book, a disposable asset to make us feel as though our heroes have lost something. Otherwise we might notice how well everything has gone!
Or Hell, look at Logan – isn’t it awesome how he just shows up out of nowhere with little real motivation? If Keepers really are as arrogant as the book seems to want them to be, then with all the power they have behind them – the Bane pack, the wraiths, the insanity-inspiring undead, not to mention their monstrous god Bosque Mar, you wouldn’t really expect them to be worried very much about Calla’s little rebellion, even with her pack and the Searchers in alliance.
So how is it, then, that Logan feels threatened enough to risk his father’s wrath and defect? It doesn’t seem terribly likely to us, and yet it’s good thing he did, because it turns out that the ceremony to kill Bosque Mar requires the help of a cooperative Keeper! Isn’t that lucky? And isn’t it funny how Calla’s only contribution to the entire final fight is convincing Logan to play his part in that ceremony? Great how that all worked out.
The various insta-relationships that crop up all over the book are a another example of forced storytelling that kept bringing us out of the story. Take Ren and Ariadne – the moment they meet, when they mutually acknowledge that they share genetic material, they instantly form an open, friendly bond. Ren holds Ariadne while they mourn the loss of their father – a man Ren has barely even met – and Ren talks about how he’s always wanted a little sister. They joke about how very appropriate it is that they both call Calla “Lily”, Adne casually refers to herself in the third person as “your [Ren’s] sister”, and it’s just this very cutesy, overly familiar relationship from the start.
These characters are strangers, and they were raised as enemies. Ren has no reason to trust any Searcher, much less immediately drop his defenses and hug on one two seconds after they meet just because they were fathered by the same man, and especially not after both of them have just discovered this. That’s not how these relationships work.
People are not bffs with their brother or sister because they’re biologically related, they’re bffs because they’ve been raised together, they know one another very well, and they have that comfort level that comes from a long relationship. Ren and Ariadne have none of that, and yet the book immediately has them fall into that protective brother/adoring kid sister dynamic.
It’s so cloying, and so, so unrealistic. For example, towards the end of the book, Connor finally acknowledges his feelings for Ariadne, and the two officially decide to become a couple. Ren immediately steps in, all protective and intimidating, and says, “What are your intentions towards my sister?”
WHAT THE FUCK, SERIOUSLY? THIS GUY HAS KNOWN YOUR SISTER LONGER THAN YOU HAVE. HE SHOULD BE ASKING YOU THAT.
And OH GOD is this NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Ren barely knows this woman, we cannot stress this enough, and yet he’s asserting this sort of paternal authority, and it’s supposed to be sweet and endearing because d’awww, she’s his little sister, but no. NO. They are STRANGERS, STRANGERS, he shouldn’t care, and really, if you were to look at this in a real-world context, his behavior would be nothing but creepy overstepping. It’s not cute!
Oh, and speaking of Connor and Ariadne, let’s talk about them for a moment, shall we? In like two sentences they agree to be a couple, despite years of awkward tension and a genuinely creep-ish age difference, and then immediately start acting as though they have been in a relationship forever. Yes, they’ve had a thing for one another, and it’s been obvious that they’d get together since they were introduced, but for them to go from antagonistic friends one second to lovey-dovey couple the next is ridiculous. Ariadne is calling him “sweetie” in that girlfriend-y way the paragraph after they confess, and right after they return from their mission, they decide to go off and consummate their relationship. Seriously? Was Connor not skeeved out by how young Ariadne was like two chapters ago?
Then there’s Ethan and Sabine, probably the worst example of this insta-ship crap in the entire book. It was painfully clear after the two met in Wolfsbane that they were being set up as an item, but that comes to fruition absurdly quickly. It’s implied in Wolfsbane itself, but in Bloodrose, like a day later, maybe two if we’re being generous with the passage of time, Calla sees them openly arguing about their feelings for one another.
What? TWO DAYS? For SWORN ENEMIES to put aside their prejudices and become lovers? HAVE THEY EVEN HAD TIME TO SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER? And if you think about it, these characters are carrying around some serious baggage: Sabine has essentially spent her entire life – and it’s implied much of her Wolfsbane imprisonment – being raped by her Keeper, and Ethan got to watch Calla, another Guardian, kill his brother. These are psychological and emotional hurdles should have taken several books in themselves to work through, and yet apparently they’re hashed out in ONE argument, because, IDK, the power of the healing cock and vagina.
Sabine spends the entire book glued to Ethan’s side, preferring his company even to that of her pack. After all, why should you need friends to help you cope with an awful trauma? Clearly a guy, a PERFECT STRANGER, is support enough.
Worse yet is that apparently by the end of the series, Sabine is so enraptured with her lover that she’s willing to sacrifice her wolf to remain at his side. Completely ignoring the inherent sexism in that, we’re supposed to believe that Sabine loves this guy enough after A WEEK that she’s willing to part with her wolf?
The book tries to excuse it in a number of other ways, talking about how Sabine has never really been that attached to her wolf, and painting it as sacrifice more for Ansel’s sake than her own happiness, but still, when it comes down to it, Sabine’s ending is only “happy” because she’s living out her wolf-free life with Ethan. Because ~love~. LOLK, whatever you say, book.
At any rate, the root issue here is that the book wants these characters to have these deep and meaningful relationships, to be emotionally affected and motivated by them, and that’s just not plausible enough in the time period given. But instead of finding some kind of work around, or even dialing back the insta!love, the book forces it, and now every time we read about Ariadne and Ren, or Ariadne and Conner, or Ethan and Sabine, or Shay’s MASTERFUL FIGHTING SKILLS that he developed in all of a month, we’re jerked out of the story and reminded yet again of how utterly implausible this all is. Even more than Calla, more than the ending, this is what bothered Cyna the most. It made the book very difficult to read, frustrating and grating, and it’s just, well, not very good writing.
Cyna: I’m also compelled to mention just how much the banter and dialogue in general made me want to chuck the book across the room. Part of this is the cloying way that some characters – like Ren and Adne – were required to speak to one another, but as with the last book, the banter just struck me as so forced. In Wolfsbane, it was about establishing the characters’ personalities with their dialogue, and I could kind of understand it then, but even so, it was always so aware. You could see what it was trying to accomplish, and it was trying too damn hard – perhaps “clumsy” is the right word? – and this has carried on into Bloodrose. I can’t quite explain it, but I guess the best way to put it would be that I never felt like these were characters speaking. It always read to me like an author writing “quirky” dialogue.
The mission aspect of the story, which really had the potential to be the book’s saving grace, didn’t strike us as quite right either. This is a book about a war, about covert and carefully planned missions, about vastly overwhelming numbers and oddas, and yet somehow…everything seemed to go off almost without a hitch. The missions especially – aside from a few moments that were more excuses for action scenes than real difficulties, it was fairly easy to collect the pieces of the Elemental Cross and put it together. Sure, people died, but they were undeveloped POC or foreign side characters and LOL who cares about those, right? The point is that we knew nothing about them and had no investment in them, so what does their sacrifice matter to us? The important white people survived, and that’s what matters.
The only even marginally characterized Searcher to die was Silas, and again, he was a red shirt. He wasn’t terribly likable or vital to the story, so we don’t really give a crap when he goes. Even in the final fight, where you’d expect nearly everyone to bite it, or at least get horribly injured, this wasn’t really the case. The infiltration mostly went as planned, thanks to a last-minute save and Ariadne’s convenient deus ex powers that broke even her own world rules. Everything seemed just a little too straight-forward and largely without complication.
Ah bup bup, before you start, yes, there are, of course, a couple of different ways one could take exception to this claim. But allow us to explain why those don’t really count.
MAJOR MAJORY HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD
Obviously the big one is Ren’s death, which is probably supposed to serve as our heartbreaking casualty of war for the series. The value of one love interest works out to several support characters, after all. But this doesn’t quite work as a “wartime sacrifice” for us. First – and probably the worst thing about his death for fans – was that it wasn’t really necessary. Ren’s death didn’t affect the plot, he didn’t go out defending anyone or taking any major bad guy with him, and it wasn’t even particularly courageous. In fact, it was kind of foolish. Ren just died, no ceremony, no build-up, because he did something stupid.
Kayla: It was sad, because the one person that Ren truly hated, the person that he should have been able to justifiably kill, was the person that ended up killing him. There was just no reason for this, and it was a seriously sad moment for me, because I really liked Ren.
Second, the reason for Ren’s death, as far as we can see it, was not based on the plot. It was about solving the love triangle. Really, in the overall context of the book, what did Ren’s death accomplish? Absolutely nothing, except for saving the book complications.
On a character level, it saved Calla from worrying about hurting his feelings when she chose Shay, and that, in reality, is the worst part of Ren’s death. Without having to woman up, without having to finally, finally make a decision between them once and for all – or, if you subscribe to the idea that she’d already “chosen” Shay, without ever having to tell Ren the truth to his face – Calla missed out on vitally important moment of growth. She’s permanently stunted, having never had to take real responsibility for her actions, and the love triangle is left permanently unresolved. In the end, we get a largely “default” coupling, although the book tries to play this off because Calla and Shay are “how it always would have been”.
Yeah, easy to say that now, when the competition is dead.
On a story level, Ren’s death prevented Calla from being left with the infinitely messier situation of having two male Alpha wolves in her pack, once it was revealed that the Guardians would end the series as wolves. Because what happens when two Alphas conflict over a female in the wild? They fight, and the loser is kicked out of the pack. In the worst case scenario, which we figure would probably apply to Ren and Shay, they kill each other. Either way, it makes for a very un-pretty ending.
So no, Ren doesn’t really count as a sacrifice. He counts as a cop-out.
Two, the “revert-to-wolf” ending. One could make the argument that this counts as loss, as an unforseen complication of the war, and a very ~tragic~ situation, but we don’t buy that. This is faux-tragic: a happy ending in tragic clothing.
For one thing, the magical rules that suddenly appear and supposedly require this “shocking twist”? Really convenient, wouldn’t you say? We’d have counted it as “tragic” if the book had gone through with the original implications of this revelation: if Shay and Ansel had had to remain humans, and Sabine’d had to revert to wolf. This would have genuinely sucked for people, and would have equated to some real tragedy. But no, the book magically invents more magical solutions for these three problems, because what it’s really committed to is giving everyone what they want.
And you know what, happy endings are fine. We really don’t expect much else from YA books like these. What bugs us is when the book plays at a presenting a tragic ending, perhaps in a grab for more dramatic weight, and doesn’t have the balls to follow through. You can’t have it both ways, because then it doesn’t achieve either.
The other issue we had with the ending is that in order to finagle this not-so-tragic outcome, it has to violate the very logic that required a “tragic” ending in the first place. Supposedly the reason that the Guardians will revert to wolf once the gate is locked is because their ability to shift is a crime against nature, is unnatural, and closing the rift gets rid of all of the Keeper’s unnatural magic, or reverts things back to the way they were before they were affected by the Keeper’s magic, or something of the sort. Fine. But why does that mean that Calla and the Guardian’s “natural” form is wolf? It’s been established that they are two separate entities gerry-rigged into one: the wolf and the human. It’s been shown that the wolf can be removed from them without sacrificing the human form – look at Ansel. Hell, in this very sequence, Sabine ends up giving her wolf half to Ansel, and her human side is left.
So why, when the rift closes, do all of the other Guardian’s human sides just magically disappear? Why are the wolves the “natural” form? It’d make more sense of their ability to shift were taken away, if they had to choose a form to remain in forever, or even if suddenly the wolves and humans became physically separate beings. But the complete invalidation of the human form makes no sense.
Second, why is it that Shay, who was BORN AS A HUMAN, has a 50/50 chance of reverting to wolf when all is said and done? He was BORN A HUMAN. Calla TURNED HIM. If the 50/50 chance must apply to Shay, shouldn’t it then apply to all of the Guardians? Why is Shay the only one for whom eternal wolfdom is in question?
Third, the book made a point of showing how all the “unnatural” magic was sucked into the rift when Shay closed it. Not when he locked it, when he closed it. Following that logic, shouldn’t the same have applied to the Guardian’s wolves? Shouldn’t they have all just suddenly and without warning been reverted to wolves the moment the magic disappeared? Oh, but right, then we wouldn’t have had the opportunity for such a touching and “tragic” parting scene.
Fourth, and finally, WHY THE HELL WEREN’T THEY SADDER ABOUT THIS? Okay, I get that they liked being wolves, that the wolves were a part of them that they were comfortable with, but they are LOSING THEIR SENTIENCE. No matter how smart an animal is, it doesn’t have the level of consciousness that a human being does. In essence, Calla and her pack’s human selves are DYING, and they don’t care? “No, it’s okay, we’ll live as ANIMALS for the rest of our lives, that’s totally cool.” Ahahahaha, I seriously doubt it.
But of course, if Calla and her comrades were to acknowledge this sort of “death”, then the horror of their fates would push any chance of an even marginally “happy ending” out the window.
So yeah, the way the book presents Calla and her pack’s ultimate fate is not tragic in the slightest. It’s just sort of manipulative, and when things are so carefully arranged so that the ending can be “just so” it doesn’t carry the sort of dramatic weight that a “complication of war” really should.
Finally, we’re going to finish with a quick rundown of a few other things that bugged that we couldn’t work in. *deep breath*
Calla didn’t do a damn thing in the final fight except goad Logan into finishing the enchantment to turn Bosque into a sci-fi monster and then spend the rest of it speared to the wall specifically to goad Shay, FEMINISM! She also basically ended up as a soldier in her own war, seeing as how the Searchers, Shay, and Ren are the ones who strategized the attacks, and even on Elemental-Cross-retrival missions, the group largely followed the lead of the local Searchers. This means that Calla NEVER DOES ANYTHING ALPHA-Y, WHY? And on a similar tangent, why is it exactly that Bryn is her beta? Like Calla, she never does anything very leader-y and doesn’t even seem to have any specific talents. Is it just because they’re BFFs? If that’s the case, love how Ren chose his Alpha based on competence and Calla on sentimental favor, way to break those stereotypes.
Also love how the characters are dead-set on wielding ancient weaponry – who the hell decides a spiked whip is the most efficient weapon for anything? You know what would have solved lots of problems? Guns! Automatic ones! Or bombs. Bombs are an awesome idea, and the Searchers utterly fail as strategists.
Why was the insanity-causing touches of the zombie-things even mentioned if no one is affected and it doesn’t impact the fight at like all? Way to set up an awesome, terrifying power and not use it.
In conclusion, no, this book didn’t work for us, the series didn’t work for us, and we’re very, very happy to be done with it.
Kayla gives the book two stars, Cyna gives it about one and a half.