This is a first for me – a paranormal romance review! Granted, I didn’t know SHADOW STAINED was a paranormal romance when I started reading – if I had known there’s an almost zero percent chance I would have picked it up – but actually, I’m kinda glad I did. And I know there’s some folks who read my reviews that do read a bunch in this genre and for you folks I think there’s a lot to like in this book.
Shadow-Stained is the very dark story of Ruby and Drayvex. Ruby is a city girl cooped up in the small town of Crichton, forced to move there after her mother suffers a debilitating injury in her former job as a police officer. She unwittingly attracts the attention of Drayvex, who recognises her necklace and family heirloom as a stone of power that protects the wearer from being harmed. Unfortunately for Ruby, Drayvex happens to be the king of the fucking underworld and wants nothing more than to obtain the stone to cement his rule over the rest of demonkind forevermore. This being a romance story, the two of them develop a connection that causes both of them some pretty drastic problems as the book progresses and a rival demon lord attempts to take control of the stone – and is willing to unleash all kinds of horrors to do it.
The first major disclaimer I’d start with is this is a dark book. It’s pretty twisted and fucked up in places, so if you’re looking for a fluffy, cutesy romance story this isn’t it. However, if you want to explore the darker side of relationships then this book is for you. I’ve described this story as a romance because that’s how it came across to me, but honestly this story subverts a lot of the conventions of the genre. I don’t read a lot of romance, but I think I’m right in thinking that generally you’re supposed to root for the folks to end up together after all their trials and tribulations. But I absolutely did not want Ruby and Drayvex to end up together. Drayvex is a fucking psychopath. Of course he is, he’s a demon. He doesn’t give a shit about Ruby at the start of the book, all he wants is her stone to grant him immortality in his megalomaniac thirst for power. He murders people. Frequently. In cold blood without a second thought, just for kicks. He treats her like shit for most of the book and actually exhibits the traits of an abuser quite a lot of the time. Honestly I thought he was detestable and I wanted Ruby to get as far away from him as possible.
I clearly got into the story and the characters much more than I expected to because I developed some quite strong feelings about them. I remember thinking to myself at one point that Ruby has a pretty severe case of Stockholm Syndrome and there were several instances where I literally shouted at Ruby for her (what seemed to an outsider looking in as) objectively terrible decisions. I don’t know if this was the author’s intention, but I frequently found myself thinking about people in abusive relationships who know their partner is hurting them but find themselves unable to leave regardless. Either because they love them despite the abuse, or think deep down there’s something redeemable that just needs to be brought to the surface, or any other number of reasons. Either way, this is the parallel I drew as Ruby and Drayvex’s relationship developed. It’s not healthy and I just wanted Ruby to walk away from it at every stage.
Despite not being the kind of thing I usually read, Shadow Stained is a very interesting book. It’s certainly not a standard paranormal romance story, and even though I’ve called it romance throughout this review I’m still a bit iffy on categorising it as such because it doesn’t conform to all those conventions. No spoilers, but the ending isn’t really a Happy Ever After and I spent the book actively rooting against the two main characters getting together. For me this is probably what made it interesting; if it was a bog standard Will They Won’t They But You Know In The End They Will type story I would have been bored out of my mind, but Rachel Hobbs offers up something different that, while definitely not for everyone (especially if you are looking for a nice HEA), upends the conventions and offers a lot to think about while telling an entertaining story.
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