Author: Andrea R. Cooper
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Pub Date: July 29, 2013
Hardcover: 222 pages
Is There a Pooka In This Book?: In my professional opinion, Shadowdancer is most definitely a horse-pooka.
Pooka Rating: 2 out of 5 Nibbles
When Andrea R. Cooper first approached me, asking if I’d review her newly published book (the first in a trilogy), called The Garnet Dagger, I was delighted! I accepted almost immediately. Never had an author sought me out before! Plus, she’d agreed to mail me a free print copy of her book. Flattery and swag will get you everywhere! I promised to provide an honest review of the book by the end of January. As the agreed upon date loomed nearer and nearer, however, I became more and more hesitant.
…. But I’d already accepted the book. There was no way out. A pooka is nothing if not honor-bound.
Worries loomed. What if, after reading Cooper’s novel, I found that I didn’t like it? What if I couldn’t find anything nice to say about it at all?
I may be a rabbit, but I’m not this rabbit:
I’m the Pooka who, in the course of her reviews, developed an imaginary tea party guest list according to the theme “Authors Who Look Like Assholes” (China Miéville and Myla Goldberg, despite my intense love of their novels, are at the top of that list). I’m happy to report that Andrea R. Cooper does not resemble a pretentious asshole in the slightest. Seriously, take a look:
She’s the one on the far-right, who looks like a decent human being, not an insufferable prig. (I think she might actually be hanging out on her kitchen floor. That doesn’t exactly scream “egoist.”)
But having recently written a (picture book) manuscript of my own, and having submitted it to some of my peers for review, I also know how even the slightest negative comment can sting (even if most of the feedback is positive). It’s one thing to humorously criticize well-established authors, who already have a small amount of fame & fortune (granted, writers’ fame & fortune is nothing like actresses’ or athletes’ fame & fortune); it’s another thing to slam someone who’s just starting out. Someone who contacted you personally, with polite requests and kind words.
So, when I started The Garnet Dagger, I did it with crossed fingers. Or crossed paws. Same diff.
Before I jump into my review, I should probably give you a brief synopsis.
The Garnet Dagger is the story of an Elfin man, Brock, who has a curiosity about the human world. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a morbid curiosity. One day, as he returns from a day’s observation of their lives (something he’s forbidden to do: much like Ariel from The Little Mermaid is forbidden to visit the surface), he encounters a shriveled-looking old man, collapsed against the base of a rotting tree. The man calls out to Brock, pleading for assistance, and when Brock kneels down to provide it, the beggar’s true nature reveals itself: he’s a vampyre (Yes, with a “y.” I have to admit, that made me cringe. It’s like spelling magic with a “ck”: it’s a little too affected for my liking). Miraculously, something in Brock destroys the monster. Not really knowing what happens when a vampyre bites an elf, Brock quickly takes stock of himself, decides he feels alright, and assumes everything’s okay. He returns home to find everyone in a tizzy about the rapid state of decay of the forest. Some disease plagues the land and their very home is in danger of being destroyed.
Before going to the meeting, however, and helping his people to address this very serious problem, Brock takes a quick break to make out with his fiancée in her parents’ bedroom. (Kinky.) But, oh shit. Something goes terribly wrong and instead of things getting hot and heavy, they just get heavy. ‘Cause Brock accidentally drains her life essence and she dies. What?! Seems the vamp attack had some unfortunate consequences, after all.
Turns out that Brock is the prophesied “Dark One,” and that his fate and the fate of the forest are entwined. In order to save his home, save his people, and (maybe?) save himself, he has to journey forth (which is convenient, since the other Elves banish him when they discover him holding his beloved’s lifeless corpse, anyway) to find and kill a witch. He must pierce her heart with a dagger and spill her blood upon the earth. Then, and only then, will the curse be lifted.
But like all prophesies, this one’s shrouded in riddle and mystery. Who is the witch that he seeks? How will he find her? If he finds her, will he have the courage to take her life?
So, the moment of truth is upon us. Did crossing my paws work?
I’m pleased to report that the worst possible outcome – not finding anything nice to say about the book – was not the actual outcome. Hooray!
What Made the Book Totally Worth Eating:
Celeste is a fantastic heroine. She’s clever, inventive, a born leader, and she knows how to survive. In many respects, she’s a feminist’s dream. When horseback riding, she never rides pillion: she always takes the reigns, leaving her male companion to sit behind her, casually demanding that he “hold on tight!” She knows how to conceal weaponry and then put it to good use. She’s got a perfect throwing arm (when it comes to flinging daggers). She’s not ashamed of her nakedness, like some wilting flower cast out of the garden. Instead, she announces proudly, “I like my body.” (Women could do with a lot more of that). And she’s not without domestic charms, either. She fashions a completely convincing wig as a disguise, using tree sap as glue to secure it all together. That’s some impressive arts & crafts work! It’s leagues beyond cross-stitching, or sewing a button back on to some trousers. It’s being resourceful in the wilderness. And she manages to do it all while smelling like lavender. She’s my kind of lady.
2. It was vaguely reminiscent of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Brock’s character reminded me of Angel’s character, except instead of being a vampire with a soul, Brock is a vampyre with a tree’s soul. The world views them both as monsters, but each man is really just a wounded puppy dog. They try to atone for the darkness inside of them by doing good deeds, by saving the world.
Anything that reminds me of my beloved Buffy is okay in my book.
3. There were some beautiful, creative descriptions of nature.
My favorite is when Andrea R. Cooper writes, “Wisps of moss clung to our tree city like shawls the human women wore” (23). I love that idea. It’s like the trees are dressed-up to go to a fancy party. Personally, I’d love to wear a shawl that looked like moss! I even have a scarf marked as a favorite on Etsy that’s something to that effect:
And that’s to say nothing of the shoes…
I’d love to raid an Elf’s closet.
What I Spit Back Out:
1. The virgin thing.
The prophecy doesn’t say that Brock must slay any witch; he must slay a virgin witch. I hate the virgin sacrifice thing. It implies that only virgins have worth. A woman is only valuable if she’s pure. There’s no way a whore could save the world… If a woman is sexually promiscuous or owns her own sexuality, she’s viewed as tainted somehow. Dirty. A woman should be able to do as she pleases with her own body and still have worth. A whore’s death should mean just as much as a virgin’s.
2. The sentence fragments.
The text is riddled with sentence fragments. It’s done in a way in which I can tell that they’re not mistakes. It’s not as if Cooper doesn’t know what a complete sentence looks like. She made an intentional stylistic choice; it’s just not one I can get behind. I don’t know if she did it because she felt as if it helped her to convey Brock’s internal dialogue better… or maybe she did it because it distinguished his way of speaking and thinking from the way humans speak and think, without needing to develop a whole separate language like some mastermind Tolkien genius. Maybe it’s because English isn’t his first language? But whatever the reason, any time I encountered a sentence fragment it took me right out of the story and right out of the world. I was right back in real time, sitting on my couch, scribbling furiously in my notebook, scowling. She writes things like, “Wished for the sun to rise, to awaken these humans, as they call themselves. And madness has brought me here” (24), and “Adjusted my pack, I then hiked down the hill toward the awakening village” (24) , and “Closed the door, I rubbed my arms inside my room” (33), and “I’d thought of humans as being less intelligent than my kind. But doubted many of my people would have thought or taken the time to complete what she had done. Must have taken years” (55). Why does the sentence starting with “but” need to be its own sentence? Couldn’t she just have tacked it onto the sentence before it, making a complex sentence? Why couldn’t she have just added an article before the word “must”? Just a simple “It” and I would have been sated. I’m reminded of Allie Brosh’s post on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half, when she talks about what she imagines when she encounters internet comments with improper grammar: where people have typed the word “you” as just plain “u”, or have ignored capital letters and apostrophes entirely. She pictures this person typing:
or an eagle trying to type:
But I know that Cooper has more than two fingers, that she’s not an eagle, and that leaving off subjects and articles wasn’t done as a way to save time. She didn’t pound out the book before going to the grocery store. These things take time – and care. And I know she put those things into The Garnet Dagger, so I’m sorry for not liking this part of it. I am. I just didn’t.
3. The metaphors were a little heavy.
Sometimes, a cigar’s not just a cigar, if you know what I mean…
So, not everything was sunshine and goldenbloom; some was blastfire and withered roots. But I hope, like her characters, Cooper will remain determined and pursue her Quest, redefining it as she goes along.
Pooka Rating: 2 out of 5 Nibbles
And in case anyone is wondering what kind of rabbit I am, if not the kind who shuts her mouth when she doesn’t have nice things to say, here’s my final answer: