I’ve posted a few different reviews on Big Bad Wolf based on platform audience. I thought I’d put a more complete one on the blog.
And full of spoilers, so beware.
Initially I had intended to use the open spot in January episodes to review Big Bad Wolf. There was a slight problem: I couldn’t get into it. Honesty is important and I wanted to say that upfront. I must have picked it up and put it down three or four times. Suleikha Snyder, Sourcebooks, and NetGalley allowed me to review an electronic advanced reader copy (eARC).
Unfortunately, my review isn’t particularly kind. Honest, yes, but not necessarily kind. There were a lot of problems with the book. And that surprised me because I’ve read Snyder before. Listeners will know that Courtney and I enjoyed the hell out of Prem Numbers. Plus, I’d read Tikka Chance on Me prior and it stayed in my mind. I’m mentioning this because even though she doesn’t necessarily write my usual subgenres…I love her work and her voice.
And the love of her storytelling, and her personally, has lead to a pretty complicated review. So many elements are in my wheelhouse: shifters, a dystopian future, a competent heroine and a cast of characters. The problem falls into the way it was edited and organized.
Between the self-hate repetition–some just pages earlier–and a lack of zapping chemistry made the fated mates trope fall flat. It felt like empty space between the plot points. How do I invest in a character (Joe) that is nothing but self-loathing to the point even a honest, conscientious heroine (Neha) can’t make him real? How do I root for a character that say some pretty gross shit to the heroine?
I love a strong world. One of my top catnips for any genre. Give me a spiraling world with a lot of complex systems. One of my first books I ever read with such a deeply layered series was the Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop, so dark and funky is not an issue for me. The problem for Big Bad Wolf was the world overtook the romance as a character driver.
In truth, it felt more like an urban fantasy instead of romance. Love urban fantasy so much. But that wasn’t what was presented when reading the synopsis or marketing. I don’t even like mob romances or movies, but in paranormal books, it seems to work when taking about factions. (Hello, Shelley Laurenston!)
However the lack of emotional connection pulled away from the romance. I didn’t believe in the love aspect. Joe was too self-hating, too negative, against Neha’s burgeoning optimism. Sex isn’t the only form of intimacy in a perilous world. So much can said when sharing a bite of food or furtive glances between the characters on a quick bodega run. Plus, the sci fi angle reminded me a lot of the late ’90s, early ’00s TV shows like Dark Angel. I dig mixing of subgenres. (See: Ariel review.)
I needed to believe in Neha and Joe’s deep connection. Problem: Joe wasn’t a hero I could like in any way. Had he been the hero in the second book the concept could have worked better. A space where readers could see him previously dealing with his obvious PTSD at the Brooklyn Hilton in counter to Neha’s forced PTSD from being a Sikh in a rising nationalistic white Christian United States. But there was zero focus on the commonalities of a harsh world, even though readers spend at least 45-50% of the book with his regrets and shame spirals.
And let’s be real: being written post-2016 by a Indian-American woman means there’s a lot of nuance that white dystopian writers miss. I got chills on that world building. Told you: catnip! I saw the world, could be believe it possible, because of the world we currently live in. I was invested. In the world. Not the romance.
When Snyder mentioned Atlanta as a Sanctuary City, I wondered if that was possible. In case anyone doesn’t know: immigrants and refugees often face a lot of issues in the court systems. When my now-husband and I were looking into having him emigrate to America, we were told to be careful because if anything happened…we were screwed. To do everything by the book. Because at Atlanta is a hard city for asylum approval ratings.
My husband is German, so he wouldn’t need asylum, but as the world has learned….ICE doesn’t really care. (Ask me about his time with Border Patrol on his first visit.)
So how could this new Atlanta be so different? Did someone follow the words of activists like John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr? How would Neha and Joe romantically fare here versus NYC? Or how different is Los Angeles? I wanted to see them talk about the realities. Of new identities. Of starting over since it was mentioned.
Absolutely loved Neha’s friends and her family network. There’s something very familiar in those moments. Auntie network thrilled me. Love a good community build up as a southern American with a deep friend of a friend of a cousin’s friend background. And oh man! Introductions to different Sikh paths, the way different cultures in India intersect and veer apart. How Neha contemplates her background versus her career and future.
One thing a lot of people can understand: found families in a world that isn’t kind. Pretty much a base line for the current romance market. And the outcome of being honorable in a world with not enough grey spaces for people to survive in. Isn’t that the tale as old as social media? Or at the very least letters to the editors.
Did I mention how much I appreciated the food talk? Seriously. I love a good food description. And how Neha fit within her world since being in NYC, Brooklyn specifically, legally separated her from family due to regulations. A separation somewhat healed by the fact NYC had pockets of Neha’s community to feel comfortable in. No need to codeswitch, or use English, among friends. To be able to hear snippets of other conversations and follow along. I think that spending so much time on Joe’s manpain ended up cutting off the emotional intimacy needed to foster a relationship beyond good sex and championship pussy eating. Neha’s story arc was dropped in order to make him a center stage.
Another positive is the use of different shifters, like the Naga, which show that it’s not just Western Europeans that loves a good paranormal shift. Kind of hoping for some werehippos in the series at some, honestly. A different kind of apex predator. Seriously, would you mess with someone to transforms into a gigantic that even crocodiles run scared from?
Third Shift as a series may be interesting. I honestly wasn’t that interested in Danny Yeo’s storyline, nor Yulia Vasilieva. The latter I’m sadder about because I love a good story where a heroine or side character finds her own path after a lifetime of belittlement. Empowering women to kick ass for the win.. And that nothing to do with the couple, either. I was worn down by the constant drags of self-hate from Joe. Plus, the mafia reminded me a bit of John Wick.
Actually, BBW was another love letter to comfort fandoms, I think, like Spoiler Alert. Big Bad Wolf took all these elements and created a world. I just wish it had been tightened and weaved a little differently. To connect. Remember that in Prem Numbers, one my top picks was “Tangled Up in You,” an X-Men kind of world. (One of my favorite series is the Bigtime series by Jennifer Estep for a reason.)
I’m trying a new method to help give more of a nuanced take on my longer reviews. On Jess Owens’ recent live, there was a mention of the CAWPILE rating. I’m not using it entirely, but may work well for those wondering what all that I said meant.
- Characters: 4.5/10
- Atmosphere: 7/10
- Writing Style: 5.5/10
- Plot: 5/10
- Intrigue: 4/10
- Logic / Relationships: 4.5/10
- Enjoyment: 4/10
Total Score: 4.92 (3 stars)
Given my breakdown plus the new system’s numbers, I have to give Big Bad Wolf a solid three out of five stars.
That’s for concept and worldbuilding, mostly. Neha had potential but I think she was wasted on a man without layers…beyond lust. Sex is fun and Snyder writes it well. But it can’t be the only basis on a fated mates plot. In most paranormal romance, the fated bits become more solid through that intimacy–the word of this post apparently.
A little more on the enjoyment and intrigue: the interconnected subplots didn’t necessarily hold my attention because I wasn’t invested in the end game found family’s world. I’m hoping a different editing system in the next book will let that character power shine through. Neha working on a different job has been really interested.