Theresa Meyers‘ THE HUNTER is book one of “The Legend Chronicles,” and is a steampunk Western fantasy romance. (Say that five times fast.) Here we meet Colt Jackson, a Hunter of the Darkin (demons, vampires, shapeshifters, etc.), and succubus Lilly Arliss. Lilly is a kind and gentle-hearted succubus, which she does her best to conceal (supposedly, she’s a demon like any other), while Colt is your average clueless workaholic guy, albeit one transported to 1883 and with the looks and musculature of a young Adonis. As this is both a Western and a steampunk fantasy romance, Colt’s horse is mechanical and powered by steam, and much of the action happens in the Arizona Territory.
The plot mostly revolves around Colt and his two brothers, Remington (“Remy”) and Winchester (“Winn”), finding the three far-flung copies of “the Book,” which if reunited should prevent Hell from taking over the Earth. There’s some urgency here because of how many Hellish creatures have managed to cross over in recent months.
One of the first things Colt does in THE HUNTER is to summon a demon from Hell to aid him in trying to recover part of “the Book.” This is because his brother Winn believes that a demon is required even to find where their father’s copy of his part of “the Book” is. Colt expects to summon a monstrosity, but instead gets Lilly, and of course is immediately and carnally attracted to her.
Lilly and Colt have adventures, most of which reminded me of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” more than anything resembling most steampunk novels; they also try to keep their hands off each other because Lilly is a succubus and once she sleeps with Colt, she’ll have to take his soul. Both of them know this, but they’re still irresistibly attracted to one another. This proves nearly impossible, which keeps the sexual tension — and awareness of one another — high.
There’s a worse danger than Colt losing his soul to Lilly, though; it’s losing his soul to Lilly’s demonic overlord, an Archdemon named Rathe. (Nice re-spelling of the word “wrath” there.) Lilly’s doing this job mostly because she wants to once again be a human being, as she only became a demon to keep her sister from having to become a prostitute. But part of why she’s the one Colt ended up summoning is because Rathe wanted it that way; Rathe believes Lilly is the one to bring Colt, one of “the Chosen” Jackson brothers, down.
Colt, of course, wants Lilly to become human again for a very different reason: he wants to sleep with her. He romanticizes this by saying that Lilly is the one woman (er, female creature) he’s ever wanted to be with more than once; because of his romantic notions, he vows to Lilly that he’ll help her do anything she can to regain her humanity, or die in the attempt.
So, will Rathe get his way and get “the Book?” Or will Colt and Lilly not only foil Rathe, but find a way to stay together? (Hint, hint: it wouldn’t be a good paranormal romance if they didn’t.)
The steampunk here is well-conceived; even the more far-out bits, such as Lilly and Colt’s adventures on the way to get “the Book” (where they go through a sequence of caverns where they have to avoid being shot, having acid flung on them, or being decapitated), are plausible within the steampunk genre. There also is a rather nifty scientist fellow named Marley Turlock, who created all sorts of futuristic things that Colt uses to destroy the worst of the Darkin, and I really enjoyed and appreciated his character no end.
That said, the romance here was lacking for many, many reasons. Here are just a few.
1) Lilly and Colt are both described as drop-dead gorgeous (well, Colt’s described as “man candy,” which seems pretty similar to me), so it’s hard to root for either one of them.
2) Lilly is a succubus, so no matter how tender-hearted she is, if she sleeps with Colt, she’s going to have to take his soul. This is why for the first three-quarters of this book, they do not sleep together. The point is made over and over again by Meyers that Lilly doesn’t have a choice in the matter; if you sleep with a succubus, you’re going to lose your soul. The end.
Yet when the “big moment” finally arrives, guess what? Colt’s soul is still intact!
This is a major plothole, because either Lilly can choose to take Colt’s soul, or she can’t.
3) Still on that subject, consider this: up until they actually “do the dirty deed,” Lilly believes it’s not a choice. Then, because the plot demanded it, Lilly suddenly could choose not to take Colt’s soul if she slept with him.
This is what is called a “deus ex machina” plot device. It cheats the reader. It weakens the story. And it was completely unnecessary, as the next part of the book demanded that Colt go to Hell anyway in order for him to try to help Lilly.
And, finally . . . 4) Colt goes from hating all the Darkin, even the well-intended ones like the shapeshifters (who are not demons and do not have to do evil) and vampires (who need humans because humans are the vamps’ main food source), to appreciating them far too quickly and easily because of his liaison with Lilly. While romance can and often does change a person’s point of view, Colt’s mostly thinking with his nether regions during this novel and surely isn’t doing any of the work on himself (the introspection needed) which would promote such a change.
So here’s the deal with THE HUNTER, folks; it’s a good steampunk paranormal in many ways. It’s inventive. It’s fast-paced. It has moments of humor. And it held my interest until the very end.
But the drawbacks are fairly significant because this book includes that dreaded deus ex machina plot device, something that was not only unnecessary, but pointless. The romance is just too easy between these two; worse yet, I didn’t like Colt overmuch because I felt him too impulsive on the one hand while lacking brains on the other. And while I did like Lilly, and wanted her to regain her humanity, I kept wishing that someone other than Colt was the putative hero of the story because I kept thinking she was worth a lot more than Colt Jackson.
This makes grading this novel extraordinarily difficult; while this is an inventive book filled with heroic deeds, the fact that this is supposed to be a romance really doesn’t sit well with me due to all the reasons listed above.
That said, it’s worth buying in paperback if you really enjoy steampunk or if you don’t expect much out of your male romantic leads other than a whole lot of testosterone — and nothing else.
Grade: a very generous B-, mostly because the invention should be praised even though the romantic male lead is sorely lacking.
— reviewed by Barb