This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Ms G. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.
HOT, SULTRY, DEADLY… THESE ARE THE SECRETS THAT LURK IN THE BAYOU.
Bent on revenge, Native American Shadow Hunter Tombi Silver could turn to only one woman, the “witch” Annie Matthews, for help. Her ability to hear auras had allowed her to discover Tombi’s friend mystically trapped by forces that could destroy them all. The accompanying message of a traitor in their midst meant Tombi could trust no one. Dare he bring Annie along on his quest to fight shadow spirits? Putting his faith in someone outside his tribe, especially one who pulled at his tightly controlled desires, could prove just as dangerous as his mission…
Here is Ms. G's review:
I haven’t read a paranormal romance in a long-ass time. I binged and then got sick of vampires and werewolves. However, whilst scrolling through the open options on the RITA spreadsheet, I came across a book called Bayou Shadow Hunter. Damn if that shit didn’t sound either fucking awesome or batshit crazy. Since it is a paranormal without bizarre creatures, I decided to give it a shot, and I ended up enjoying myself quite a bit.
Annie Mathews is a Hoodoo witch with magical auditory powers that not only allow her to hear like a roided-up bat, but also listen to other people’s auras in the form of music. Annie fucking hates her gift because all the constant auditory input makes it nigh impossible for her to person IRL. All she wants is for her Grandma Tia, the Hoodoo Queen of Alabama, to help her get rid of it. Annie has been coming to stay with Tia in Bayou La Syrnia every summer since she was a kid, but Tia can’t/won’t help Annie ditch her gift.
One night, while trying to fall asleep Annie notices a glowing green orb floating outside her window, and she decides to Nancy Drew it. Turns out the orb is a will-o’-the-wisp and it leads her into the Bayou. Wisps are trapped spirits of the dead, and this particular one is named Bo. He can only talk to Annie because of her gift. He wants Annie to tell his BFF, Tombi Silver, that there is a traitor in Tombi’s inner circle and Tombi shouldn’t trust anyone.
Of course as soon as Bo finishes delivering his cryptic message, who should step out of the woods but Tombi! Tombi is a carpenter by day and the leader of a group of Choctaw warriors who run around the Bayou freeing trapped spirits and fighting evil by night. He has pretty full plate.
The second these two clap eyes on each other, they catch a raging case of insta-lust. They are also kind of suspicious of each other because, you know, the whole total strangers in the dark thing. After they spend a few minutes feeling each other out (verbally) Annie delivers the message from Bo. She also explains her gift to Tombi.
Though Tombi is intrigued by Annie’s gift, he’s also suspicious as fuck. See, besides releasing the souls trapped inside wisps, he and his warriors are also looking for a way to stop the evil spirit, Nalusa, that their ancestors trapped in the Bayou. Hurricane Katrina not only took Tombi’s parents and his home, but it also fucked shit up so bad that Nalusa started gaining power and running amok. Tombi and his warriors are desperate to keep Nalusa confined to the Bayou because not only can this son-of-a-bitch shapeshift into a creepy-ass snake, and other horrible things, but he can also infect the minds of the living and bend them to his will and drive them to kill themselves. So when Annie tells Tombi that one of his most trusted friends is a traitor, he half thinks that she is under the control of Nalusa and spends a most of the rest of the book trying to decide whether he can actually trust her.
Annie is kind of fascinated by Tombi because not only is he hot AF, but she cannot hear his aura. Yep. It’s reverse Twilight. Turns out that being a shadow hunter means that you have a very particular set of skills, such as night vision and the ability to control how much energy you release into the world.
Despite being wary of Annie and her message, Tombi still feels the need to look into this whole traitor kerfuffle. He wants Annie to come and creep on the auras of his friends. At first Annie is all “Hell no. I want none of your evil snake monsters.” However, Tombi tells her he can teach her to control her energy field which might help her learn to turn off her gift. The prospect of being rid of her super hearing is too good, so Annie agrees.
This book has A LOT of plot, so for the sake of brevity I’m just going to say that Tombi’s plan doesn’t work out so well, straight up because of his trust issues and rather magnificent dumbfuckery, and all the shit hits all the fans.
Annie totes identifies the traitor (his other bestie) but Tombi doesn’t want to believe it and disregards her. Basically, Tombi is a fuckwad who should have listened to the outside consultant that he brought in because doing so would have solved almost all of the problems that arise in the rest of the story, but hey, that would have been a much shorter and less angsty book.
They spend the rest of the book hunting wisps, trying to figure out how to fight Nalusa and, attempting to suss out the traitor. Of course, all this intrigue and danger is just bursting with sexual tension and they end up boning like bunnies. And in the grand tradition of the majority of romance novels that I’ve read, Annie falls hard and knows it while Tombi has trust issues and manfeels he doesn’t quite know what to do with. Besides, he has a sacred duty to fight evil and love makes you weak so…. Anyways, it all works out OK. Evil is smushed back into a tree, Annie owns her power, Tombi figures out his manfeels, and love and weddings and shit.
I really enjoyed Bayou Shadow Hunter. There were a lot of things that I liked; however, there were also a lot of things that kind of annoyed me and took me out of the story. Granted I am a nitpicky motherfucker, so the things that bothered me might not phase other readers at all. I am willing to admit I tend to overthink. Especially about books that are set during my lifetime. I ended up having a lot of feels, so I figured the best way to break this down was to make a list (I am a BIG fan of lists) of what worked for me and what didn’t.
Things That Totally Worked for Me
– The plot is crazy interesting and compelling. There is a lot of it, but it is paced pretty well. Not too bogged down in detail or slower moments, and not too rushed or so action packed that there was no room for character development. Now it wasn’t quite I-can’t-put-this-book-down-or-I-might-actually-go-crazy good, but it was damn!-I-am-so-curious-to-see-what-happens-next good.
– I loved the setting. Debbie Herbert does a good job at giving the reader a really concrete sense of place. Her descriptions of all of the natural elements of the Bayou are lush and detailed without going complete Anne of Green Gables with the adjectives. As someone who has spent the grand total of a whole week in NOLA, I found the constant mention of mosquitos and being bitten by mosquitos to be very authentic. Though, no one ever mentions bug spray which I found disquieting.
– The main character’s total acceptance of each other’s cultures. Now, I don’t know much of anything about Hoodoo or Choctaw religious practices, but in the book there is a decent amount of overlap between the two. However, neither Annie nor Tombi ever prioritized their rituals or practices above the other’s. In fact, they were usually willing to try both or blend the two together figuring the more firepower they had in the fight against evil the better. In this era of what seems like constant religious conflict and judging, it was really nice to have two supportive people who were like “Yeah, your thing is totally cool. You do you.”
– Annie’s super hearing is really interesting. I’ve never come across paranormal auditory powers before, so for me this was a cool and unique gift. I could also see how it could be a total pain in the ass and why she was so desperate to get rid of it. As a reader I found the constant whining she had at the beginning of the book to be a little grating, but if I’m being honest with myself, if I were in her shoes I would probably be waaaay more of a sad sack.
Things That Kinda Worked for Me, but I Wish Were Better
– The world building in the supernatural realm is pretty good and vivid. There are some basic rules and people follow them. I am persnickety however, and just wanted a little more explanation. For an example of extreme persnicketiness, the shadow hunters free wisps by hitting them in the center with stones. Does it have to be stones or could any projectile work? I am sure that most people won’t care, but rocks were specifically mentioned enough that it got me wondering. Also, Grandma Tia is kind of an all knowing badass. She can suck demon-snake poison out of people and come out the other side alive. She also seems to know a whole lot about Tombi’s secret fight against Nalusa and about how and he and Annie they are destined for one another. How does she know this? Do the spirits tell her? Does she have visions? Grandma’s intuition? This inquiring mind needs to know! I mean all the stuff with Grandma Tia was cool and very convenient plotwise, but it all kind of felt Hoodoo hand-waved, which stuck out because Herbert took time to explain the mechanics of a lot of the Hoodoo rituals.
– I want more backstory on Annie. We learn that Annie is known as “Crazy Annie” in her home town up in Georgia. How did the whole town find out about her gift? Did she ever tell other people? We are left to assume that as a kid hearing shit all the time meant she acted weird, but I am hella nosey and wanted more info. Plus, we are told that Annie’s mom is awful and does not do well with Annie and her magic powers, but it is just talked about and never shown. The rejection from her town and her mom is a huge part of Annie’s character make-up and explains why she is such a shrinking violet at the beginning of the book, and I would have liked a little more explanation into her past.
Also, Tombi’s cultural heritage is a huge part of who he is. Annie is Cajun, Native-American and Caucasian, but her heritage(s) (beyond Hoodoo which in my understanding is more religion than heritage but I could be mistaken) is barely mentioned. I cannot tell if this an intentional choice to show that her past doesn’t mean anything to her, or if it was just lost in all of the paranormal stuff and plot, or whatever, but it kind of bothered me.
– I am very meh on both of the main characters. Their flaws and motivations make sense given their what we know of their backstories. Tombi is fighting an evil demon that controls people, so his trust issues, while rather prolonged, are not unfounded. Annie has had very little support and can’t do much of anything because she is constantly trying to filter out noise, so her desire for quick fixes for her gift and tendency to just bounce when the going gets tough, while a bit grating, make sense. Usually (I’m looking at you Tombi) neither one was Too Stupid To Live, which is nice. They were both just kind of broody and angsty a lot, which used to thrill me when I was a teen, but I now I like it when my heroes have their emotional shit together a little bit better. I was totally fine hanging out with both of these people for a whole book, but I just didn’t love either of them.
Things That Annoyed The Ever Lovin’ Dickens Out of Me
– PROTECTION!!!!!!! This is one of my biggest pet peeves: if you are going to set your novel in modernish times (I have no idea what year this is supposed to be taking place. Cell phones are used a lot, but no one even mentions the internet so . . .?) then your grown-ass characters should not be having unprotected sex! Protection and/or birth control is never even mentioned. No condoms. No “I’m on the pill.” No “Don’t worry baby I will pull out.” which is bullshit, but still would at least show they are aware of basic biology. NOTHING!! They just keep going at it like irresponsible twits.
I find this kind of hard to believe since when they started going to pound town Tombi was actively avoiding emotional entanglements. You know what’s emotionally entangling Tombi? A baby. And syphilis. Also, you know that Annie, working with the Hoodoo Queen of Alabama since she was knee high, has seen women showing up to Grandma Tia’s for various reproductive reasons. Girlfriend should know better. Especially because they both have been sexually active before. Unless one of a shadow hunter’s particular skills is immunity to STIs, protection should have part of the sexy times. There is no reason modern characters to be sexually irresponsible. It actually pops me out of the narrative and makes the sex scenes way less sexy because you know what is not hot? Genital warts.
– The secondary characters are barely flushed out. Tombi’s twin Tallulah gets an okay amount of page time and motivation for her actions (she is also the heroine of the sequel) but all the other warriors are barely mentioned. Like we get their names and some jobs and maybe an adjective but other than being potential traitors, they are pretty much just filler.
Even when we do find out who the traitor is, it has no emotional impact at whatsoever because we have no idea who this person is or why they go dark. It’s just like, “Surprise bitches! I’m a jackass! And now I’m going to fuck all of y’all over and be an evil rapey dick.”
– Probably not a big deal for most readers, but after I put the book down and thought about it for a minute this drove me crazy. The shadow hunters spend a week camping in the woods every month. The week after the full moon is the time when the supernatural is extra frisky, so that’s when they hunt. However, these guys have jobs. One dude in the inner circle is the local sheriff. Tombi’s sister works at a museum. How do they disappear into the woods for a week once a month and still hold down their jobs? Especially the sheriff. Tombi is self-employed, so he can peace out for twelve weeks out of the year I guess. It’s never made clear how many shadow hunters there are, only that not everyone in the tribe can be one. Overall, it’s not a huge thing, but I am detail oriented and I want to know how they manage to incorporate shadow hunting into their daily lives. Do they rotate shifts? Is there a schedule!?! An age limit? What are the mechanics of fighting evil in today’s fast paced world?
I think I would give this book a B-. Even though there were quite a few things that got my dander up I was very engaged and interested in what was happening throughout the story. Also, I was being a bit more critical than usual since I’m reviewing this book. If I was reading this book just for funsies I probably wouldn’t have been as critical. So if you just want a fun fast read, if you are into paranormals that are not vampires and werewolves, and enjoy books with a firm sense of place I think this could be an enjoyable book.