**spoiler alert** EDIT: Rating revised to 3-stars, as I've had confirmation from the author that this is NOT a stand-alone. It's just the first part o...more**spoiler alert** EDIT: Rating revised to 3-stars, as I've had confirmation from the author that this is NOT a stand-alone. It's just the first part of a MUCH larger story! :)
This story just didn’t work for me, on many levels…
I couldn’t help feeling that the author wanted to write a contemporary/real-world “college boys in love” story rather than a paranormal, and tacked in a few, brief paranormal scenes just to satisfy the prompt request. And the story really suffered because of it. Everything to do with the paranormal aspect of this story felt like a lazy afterthought, with a lot of things that didn’t make sense, or were left unexplained. For example, I’m still not even sure what Barbie actually is. Is he supposed to be some kind of fire genie? Why is he so abnormally clueless about anything to do with homosexuality? He’s been alive, and observing the human race, for thousands of years, so that makes absolutely no sense at all… Why has he been reborn as a (mostly) human? Who are these people he works for? And why does he work as an assassin for them?
Which brings me to one of my biggest gripes with this story, which is… no one ever finds out what he is. In fact, no one even suspects that he’s not human (or more than just human). Not Steven, not Crissy, no one… WTF?! With a story like this, one of the best parts is the “big reveal”, and the anticipation leading up to it. That wonderful moment when the “secret” the MC is hiding is finally exposed (usually accidentally, which is the best kind!) and you hold your breath with a mixture of fear/excitement, wondering how the love interest is going to react. Well, yeah… that doesn’t happen here. Steven never accidentally catches Barbie shedding his clothes, turning into “whatever he is”, and zipping away through the sky. Barbie never loses control over his powers while he’s drunk, in Steven’s presence. Then I thought for sure it was going to happen during the suicide bomber scene… that Steven would maybe turn on the news and see Barbie caught on film at the scene. But nope. Didn’t happen.
Honestly, the anticipation and waiting for the “big reveal” is pretty much the only thing that carried me through to the end of this story. But as the page numbers kept climbing and the end of the story drew closer and closer, I kept thinking “how the hell is all of this going to be resolved/revealed/explained/etc.” in such a short time? Then I realized it wasn’t, and yup, a few pages later… THE END.
My other primary gripe with this was the characters, and the relationship (or rather, lack thereof) between Barbie and Steven. I really wasn’t feeling any chemistry between these two, and their lack of interaction for a good chunk of the story just made that even worse. There seemed to be more Crissy/Barbie and Crissy/Steven interaction than there was Barbie/Steven. I really felt like the author had more love for the character of Crissy than he/she did for the two MCs. Don’t get me wrong… strong supporting characters are a very, very good thing. But they shouldn’t outshine the MC love interests.
Much more time needed to be devoted to Barbie and Steven, IMO. And precious word count was wasted on excessively long (and boring) descriptions of things like cooking and house painting. There were also other random, pointless scenes that should have been cut or done differently so that they furthered the plot and/or the character relationship. Like the attack on Crissy. What was that all about? I thought for sure it had something to do with Barbie (enemies that had found him and were targeting the people close to him, for example). But no. I guess it was just a contrived way to add another “paranormal” scene to the story, and have Barbie get hurt so that his real gender could be exposed to Steven.
That’s another thing I had issues with… the way the gender confusion was handled. I’ve seen a very small handful of men in drag (with the whole shebang: clothes, makeup, fake boobs, etc., etc.) who could totally pass for women and fool even the most observant person. But usually there are at least some telltale signs that the brain picks up on, even for the “prettiest” of men. If Barbie had been in full drag (or using magic to make himself look like a woman) I could have bought the fact that Steven never once, even for the slightest moment, suspected that he might not be a woman. But as it was, nope. I just couldn’t swallow that. And then it’s just explained away with Steven being told Barbie’s a man, and then, yep… suddenly he realizes his friend is actually a man, and how could he have ever thought otherwise? Ummm, really? *raises an eyebrow*
And then there’s Steven’s PTSD. That was barely explored, which was a crying shame, because there was so much potential there for some good hurt/comfort scenes and character conflict (considering Barbie’s fire powers). But again, nope. In fact, Barbie never even finds out about what happened to Steven, not really… except for that brief scene where he wakes up from a nightmare in Barbie’s arms. Same thing with the scars. Barbie briefly touches them during their first sexual encounter (with them both in a drunken stupor) and then they’re never mentioned again.
The brief scene with Barbie’s foster parents was also completely random and unnecessary. It felt like the author just threw that in there because he/she felt like there needed to be a “coming-out-to-the-parents feel-good-acceptance” scene. Same with the scarred character that’s paired up with Steven (who just happens to have been through something similar) for the writing assignment. Again, I thought it must have something to do with Barbie (an enemy trying to get close to his friends), but nope. Just a random character (who’s never seen again) so we could get a brief scene with Steven openly declaring that he has no problem with someone who’s gay.
And finally, towards the end, Steven’s self-acceptance (and speech to Barbie) that he was (might be?) gay and wanted to explore things further just felt very… off, and unnatural/unrealistic.
I really hate giving a 1-star rating to any story, especially a free one. I know some people bump their rating up to “show appreciation” for a free read, but I just can’t agree with that. Essentially, it’s a lie, and you’re doing a disservice not only to other (potential) readers, but most importantly, to the author. If they don’t know what’s wrong (or that something IS wrong), or what readers have issues with, how will they ever improve? And I do believe that this author has the potential to put out a very good story. The actual writing was good/solid, IMO. Just, a lot more work/thought needs to be put towards plot, worldbuilding (for the paranormal aspects), and character/relationship development. All things that can be achieved with the help of a few good beta readers and/or a writing group.
If the author is reading this, please don’t be discouraged! I know it may seem a bit… blunt/harsh, but the only reason I took the time to try and explain my issues in-depth and honestly is because I hope they might actually be helpful. If I thought it was a load of rubbish, with no potential at all, I’d just rate, tag, and move on. ;)
Note: If there’s ever a direct sequel/continuation of this story, I’ll revise my rating, since a lot of the issues I had with this could be addressed in a follow-up story (essentially, this being the first part of a larger story with a cliffhanger ending). But if this is meant to be a stand-alone, then my 1-star rating stands.(less)