In theory, I should love romance novels.
In reality, at best, most have been moderately entertaining fluff. A good many have left me digging under the sofa cushions, searching for a misplace a crucial "girl" gene, because the romance left me cold and disinterested.
For me, the ideal romance would feature an even balance between the love and non-romantic story elements, concluding with an all important happily-ever-after. The couple should meet early on, but they don't need to realize their attraction until later (this allowing me to start "shipping" them beforehand). And the non-romantic plot elements should be there as something more than just a backdrop for the romance.
Unfortunately, the gods and goddesses of genre romance have decreed that the formula requires the couple to meet in chapter one, ideally on page one, fall into instant attraction (lust or love), and from there on, the focus should be with blinding clarity on The Couple. The hero and heroine will cease to be individuals, and non-romantic story elements can never take preeminence over the love story. Sit back, brace yourself and prepare to be nagged endlessly about The Couple, their feelings, their fucking, more feelings. It's all so...forced and awkward.
Liesmith: Book 1 of the Wyrd is so not like that.
Sigmund Sussman is the archetypal geek. Slightly pudgy, good with computers, bad with people (at least ones who aren't part of a RPG), he works for the local mega-corporation as a "did you try rebooting?" help desk minion.
As his name would suggest, Lain Laufeyjarson, is a lot more than the newbie addition to Sigmund's IT division. Under his cool hipster exterior is, well, several other exteriors, one being a certain god of mischief, currently hiding from fate in a corner of Australia. Lain is quick to glom onto Sigmund and make him his new work buddy.
Initially, Sigmund is baffled by Lain's friendly overtures, and is adorably clueless with regard to Lain's motives. It takes some prodding from one of his gal-pals, Wayne, to open his eyes to Lain's flirting. Even then, he doesn't quite know what to make of Lain. Sigmund is a nerd but he doesn't ooze desperation and jump on the first hot guy who shows an interest. Point of fact, he thinks Lain is too tall and lanky and not his type.
Lain, being immortal, is content to take his time romancing Sigmund, His past, however, decides to accelerate and catch up with him, forcing not only the issue of who he really is, but also who Sigmund once was.
See, once upon a time, Loki had a wife name Sigyn. Sigyn. Sigmund. Get it? To reveal more would be to spoil a substantial chunk of the non-romantic plot points. Once Lain's true (read: not human) form shows up, the fantasy aspects of the story ramp up, as the boundary between ordinary Australian city and the realms of Norse mythology grows thinner and thinner. Sword fights ensue, ravens talk, dead walk, and ultimately, it's up to Sigmund to step up and save the day.
Some reviews had complained that the story requires substantial knowledge of Norse mythology. All I ever learned about Norse mythology comes from the movies (Thor and The Avengers), comic books, and fan fiction. Of the three, fan fiction may be the deeper well of knowledge--seriously. With my smattering of understanding of the mythos, the story was accessible. It's possible, however, that for someone with no background at all in anything Loki/Sigyn/Odin/Baldr, this novel may be confusing.
On the other hand, the author, did what most have done with the tales of Asgard. She took a fractured and inconsistent narrative and made it her own.
In her notes following the story, the author discusses what she was attempting to do with the story, addressing the inherent challenge of making a romance between an immortal and a very young mortal believable. In particular, the inherent imbalance of power between two such people, and the necessity of showing that despite that, each partner brought something significant to the relationship. This, for me, is the strength of the love story, the slow unfolding of attraction and a construction of a solid foundation where two individuals are better together, but never lost to the amorphous Relationship.
There's a spot, early on, where Lain essential tells Sigmund he loves him. Unlike, however, Bones's creepy, over-the-top pronouncement in Halfway to the Grave, Lain's declaration is exquisitely subtle and one of the most romantic things I've read. Because he never uses the word love, but instead lists all the characteristics (good and bad) that he likes about Sigmund. And I was like, "Dude, he just told you he loves your soul." *Plop. Drops dead of feels.*
Also in the author's notes is a mention that this is published under a Harper Collins imprint, which was surprising because I assumed it was self-published. Not because of the quality; the writing is snappy and engaging, but because the story is just so not-formulaic. There's Sigmund, the pleasant to look at, but way not-sexy half of the couple. Oh, and although he's not as black as the guy on the cover, Sigmund isn't the usual Anglo-Saxon white as per romance standards.
There's the fact that Lain isn't even human and is basically a scary monster throughout much of the story. There's a constant romantic tone that is partnered with a complex and essential non-romantic subplot (where at times, the romance is the subplot). There's the absence of a sex scene every five pages (I assume the two will get to some sexing in the sequel).
Oh, and it's an urban fantasy that doesn't feature a bitter, friendless, female protagonist who is supposedly kick-ass, but often ends up needing rescuing from the love interest.
This sucker is just too original to be from a paint-by-numbers, take no risks, big publisher.
But it is. Go figure.