Tomorrow two of my all-time favorite authors are publishing new books, and I can’t wait. I even made a trip to the nearest Barnes and Noble this weekend on the off chance that the books would already be there, shelled before the release date. Hey, it’s happened before! Unfortunately, this particular Barnes and Noble actually puts out new releases on the release date (how DARE they!!!), so I had to settle for books by other authors. Some were good, but some were a bit painful, namely, Jacquelyn Frank’s Hunting Julian. I checked this novel out from the library, because I liked Ms. Frank’s Nightwalker series. Hunting Julian is the first of a different series, the Gatherers, and the library had this and the second novel in the series on the shelves so I decided I’d give them a try. I should pause here to point out that when I purchase a book, I usually read over Amazon reviews or blogs before making a purchase, but I don’t do that at the library. It’s expanded my reading to include new authors, but I’ve yet to see a book at the library that I wish I’d purchased. Hunting Julian was no exception.
There’s a common fantasy trope in paranormal romance, that of the “one true mate,” and it tends to get on my last nerve. I’ve always preferred novels with characters whose relationships develop over the course of the text or series, rather than the instant, “Hey, nature/fate/destiny has chosen you for me. We’re meant to be so let’s go have sex!” That’s just not my preference, although some authors have played with this successfully. Kresley Cole has a version of this in her Immortals After Dark series. Her vampires can be “blooded” (their hearts resume beating and they grow stronger) and the Lycans search years for their mates. However, Ms. Cole’s characters then find themselves wooing their brides or mates, and some of them get into hilarious trouble with their significant others when the males (and it’s almost always the males) make assumptions about how the females should act now that their mates have appeared. Nalini Singh has a similar phenomenon in her Psy-Changeling series, with the changelings (shifters) finding their mates. Again, her series works, because these mates have to work together and develop relationships. In both authors’ novels, a significant part of the conflict results from these matings and the characters having to adjust to one another.
One of the reasons I had so many problems with Jacquelyn Frank’s Gatherer series is that the hero, Julian, expects the heroine, Asia, to accept their mating almost without question. She is his kindra and the two of them are kind (mates) and that’s that. The novel begins with Asia, a bounty hunter, stalking Julian because he has caused the disappearance of thirteen young women, among them Asia’s sister Kenya. Asia allows Julian to take her to his apartment so she can discover what happened to her sister. When Julian realizes his cover is blown, he uses his mental powers to induce an orgasm in Asia (just wait, it gets better!) which generates enough sexual energy for him to take the two of them through a portal to his home world, Beneath. It turns out that Beneath is actually another plane of existence where the beings live off of energy. Guess what kind of activity generates the most energy? Yup, doing the horizontal tango!!! Unfortunately, Beneath is running VERY short of women because of a virus that killed nearly all of them. Julian is a gatherer, and he travels between the planes to collect energy to aid his people.
Here’s where it all started to get a bit hinky for me. He also collects human women who are very sensual and brings them to his plane to serve as Chosen. Basically, they get to have sex with anyone they want! Actually, they pretty much HAVE to have sex, because it’s what keeps people alive. Women who commit any sort of crime or who, imagine this, don’t want to be chosen, have to serve as Nightfly, a pretty word for prostitute or mistress. Asia is horrified by this new world she finds herself in but is still "inexplicably" attracted to Julian, who explains to her that in the normal course of his work, he would introduce his world to her through her dreams and then give her the choice of returning with him or not. Unfortunately for her, she realized he was an alien and he had to take action to prevent the humans from learning of his world. He also realized that she was his kindra, his chosen mate, and naturally he couldn’t leave her behind.
Frank has created an original world; unfortunately it ticks me off, because the women have no choices in this novel. Be a Chosen or a Nightfly – it’s for the good of everyone! Whaaa??!?! And Asia is forced to be Julian’s kindra or become a Nightfly. She can’t return to the human world because she has seen Beneath and could alert humans to the existence of another plane. Julian apologizes for taking away her choices but claims there was no other way and besides, as kind the two of them generate enough energy from having sex to keep everyone healthy. In fact, there's a scene of children and the elderly in a hospital, starving from lack of energy. Asia and Julian then have amazing, mind-blowing sex, and we get to see all the children frolicking happily again. Yay for sex! Little Johnny feeling sick? Give your neighbors some wine and a Marvin Gaye CD and Bob's your uncle! Seems a bit awkward, don’t you think? And negative energy and emotions cause the world to shake. What happens when it’s that time of the month and Asia doesn’t feel like having sex – does everyone “starve” for a week? And what if Asia gets PMS? YIKES!!! We learn pretty early that she’s a bad- a$$ bounty hunter, so maybe everyone should just hide when she gets cranky. Lord help us if this were the case on our “plane of existence”. I can only imagine the house exploding when I realized the DH spilled coffee grounds on the kitchen counter.
Julian acknowledges early on that he used his mental abilities on Asia to induce an orgasm so he could create the portal to Beneath. The last time I checked, forcing someone to engage in sexual activity without their consent is a violation. Given this and the overwhelming lack of choices for the female characters, this novel just made me mad. Asia calls Julian on all this behavior, but then turns around and accepts him almost immediately. After all, they’re kindra!!! It’s meant to be! And having sex is fun and feeds energy to everyone else, so why would the rest of it matter?
With much misgiving, I went ahead and read the second novel of the series since the library had it and I was driving the DH crazy with my whining about having to wait until the 31st for the new releases. I’m sorry to say the second novel’s more of the same. It had me questioning my memory of Frank’s Nightwalker novels, because I remember liking them, so I went back and reread two of them. Those novels also feature “mates”, but the world building is very different. Women are active agents and have choices, and, like Cole and Singh’s characters, the mated pairs have to work out the problems in their relationships. Granted, Asia and Julian do have to work out their problems, but that process was too short and unbelievable for me. I was a bit reluctant to give Hunting Julian such a negative review, because I do like Ms. Frank’s writing in other novels but I really didn’t like it, even though the feeding off sexual energy bit made for some laughable conversation with the DH later. I’m still willing to try some of Frank’s novels, but if you haven’t read her work before, I suggest that you stick to the Nightwalkers series.