Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
Tags:Sarah McCarty, TBR Challenge
This month’s TBR Challenge theme is catching up with a series. Well, I just had the right book languishing in my humongous TBR mountain range. It’s been nigh on four years since I read and reviewed Caine’s Reckoning, and almost as long has Sam’s Creed been languishing on the shelves, unread.
The second title in the Hell’s Eight series, Sam’s Creed is set a few months after the events of Caine’s Reckoning. To sum it up, the other seven to Caine’s eighth are following up on every rumor about stolen white women in the territory, looking for Ari Blake, Desi’s twin sister. In the course of this search, Sam pretty much stumbles across his own woman, Isabella Montoya.
A disclaimer, I think, applies here. This is an erotic romance. Not only is there sex in this book, there is quite graphic sex and quite a bit of it, with plenty of graphic language to go along with it. So, if you object to either or these, you may want to refrain from reading the review—let alone the book.
Let me be upfront about the fact that I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as I did the previous one. Fact is, it was a rather big letdown. However, it is a testament to the appeal of Ms McCarty’s voice that I managed to sail through all 400+ pages of it in three, four sittings, without any major derailments in my reading, despite the things that irked me about the book.
First irritant, the back cover blurb:
Every Texan woman knows the men of Hell’s Eight offer wild, no-strings-attached pleasure. Well, almost every woman…
Known for making up his own rules of right and wrong, Texas Ranger Sam “Wildcard” MacGregor takes what he wants when he wants it, especially when It comes to women. But seduction is the last thing on his mind the moment he stumbles across an Hispanic beauty crouching in fear beside a burned-out wagon. And it doesn’t take long before he realizes the woman the townsfolk call “cursed” is hiding secrets too dangerous to face alone.
Isabella may look feminine and unassuming, but she’s hell in a bodice with gunslinging skills to match any man’s. But though she knows not to give Sam her heart as readily as she offers him her lush body, Isabella is certain she sees in Sam what he can barely glimpse in himself—a virtuous man dropped deep into a hard country bent on breaking him. A man who, under it all, craves a passionate woman willing to risk everything…
Anyone who has read more than a few of my reviews knows how often I have to grit my teeth over blurb inaccuracy. In this case, I am still looking for Isabella’s gunslinging skills—seems to me the only time she actually hits what (or rather who) she shoots at it’s because she’s pretty much point blank and on his blind side. What she does a few times is putting herself directly in the way of Sam’s knife throws or bullets, and it’s pretty much a miracle he hasn’t at least winged her by the time we hit page 200. And let’s not even start with the cursed bit, given that there’s no town—let alone townsfolk.
In fact, the first two thirds of the books are spent following Sam and Isabella’s rather slow progress through Texas, somewhere south of San Antonio—where she is trying to escape to at the beginning of the novel. This seemingly simple journey is made much harder and dangerous by two factors. One, this is territory claimed by one particularly rabid villain by the name of Tejala. Second, it’s well known that he has claimed Isabella as his intended, so there are many who would happily grab her for the reward alone—and none who would help either her or Sam and risk retaliation.
So any human encounters, either in small settlements of a handful of buildings, or while camping overnight in some relatively protected spot, are obviously threatening and, predictably, end in violence and death.
Also somewhat predictable is the fact that Isabella manages to seduce Sam regularly, indulging in some form and degree of nookie, pretty much regardless of the circumstances. A particular instance, however, drove me batshit.
After a confrontation with three of Tejala’s man, which ends with Sam wounded (second time in a week) and his dog tied to a makeshift travois that is being dragged by one of their pack horses, Isabella decides to seduce him. Of course she succeeds, and nookie ensues. While on horseback and leading two other horses.
And hey, not only is there oral sex but also Isabella’s first anal penetration.
Yeah…not so much with the suspension of disbelief there.
Because while I can see how they would be in a hurry to move away from the scene of the attack and any potential follow ups, I can’t see anyone with a working brain put himself and the woman he’s supposedly so hell-bent on protecting in such a vulnerable position. Yet we are to believe that Sam is this almost legendary Texas Ranger—smart, resourceful, heroic.
Most of the time, this is not what the writing shows us.
Interestingly, I did find Sam’s character believable when in his point of view during fight scenes. His awareness of his surroundings, his actions and reactions, those ring true for me. What I simply can’t buy is that he would be so careless, that his attraction to Isabella would switch off his brain to that degree—that he would ‘want her so much’ he would put her at such risk. (And not necessarily from an outlaw—did I mention horseback? while leading two other horses?)
And then, there’s Isabella.
Isabella’s speech, both internal and in dialogue, is written with very awkward grammar, apparently to suggest a person whose command of English is quite poor. In fact, we are told at one point that her parents and most of the people she has interacted daily with, all her life, speak only Spanish (at least to her). She’s been isolated from English to the point that she had never heard the word cock (either as rooster or penis) and the construction of her sentences is clearly meant to convey her struggle to communicate in a foreign (to her) language. And yet, she is never at a loss for words or unable to express herself—to Sam or any other character—in perfectly clear English.
I am sure there are exceptions and that there will be people shaking their heads at my closed-mindedness, but the whole conceit makes me angry. Making Isabella’s speech awkward does not convey lack of familiarity with the language when you give her a rich vocabulary and perfect understanding of other people’s speech. It just doesn’t. To me, it fetishizes (is this a word?) her otherness¹. It’s meant to make her exotic and special, and sadly, it takes the place of actual characterization.
Beyond Isabella’s speech, there is really nothing for me as a reader. She wants Sam—first, because she’d rather have sex for the first time with a man of her (limited) choice than be raped by Tejala. Pretty much immediately after, because she’s decided she is a good man. On the heels of that, because she loves him.
Isabella’s only internal conflict is because in the past few years she’s been told she must be a proper Hispanic wife—whatever cliché du jour that entails—but she acknowledges, first only to herself, that she wants Sam sexually.
And…that’s it for character growth.
All in all, the most interesting bit of the novel for me was the scene where we meet Tucker and Sally Mae, the protagonists of the next installment in the Hell’s Eight series.
Sam’s Creed gets a 5 out of 10.
¹ The whole Hispanic Catholic thing, and the Hispanic mother-daughter dynamic irked me no end, though I get that stereotypes exist for a reason. What put the icing on the cake of my annoyance was that Ms McCarty got the Hispanic naming conventions absolutely wrong. Isabella’s mother couldn’t have been Bettina Montoya de Aguero, unless Isabella herself was illegitimate—the way it’s written, Montoya is her mother’s maiden name. Head, meet desk.
PS A further annoyance when writing this review was the obvious neglect of Ms McCarty’s website. While I completely understand that many authors quite simply have no time (or inclination) to keep up a blog, or a facebook page or a twitter account, it’s very sad when there is a Diary page that gets updated once a year, if that often, and even the books page is behind a full year of releases.