I just finished Shannon K. Butcher’s DYING WISH, the sixth novel in the Sentinel Wars series. I think it may be the best so far. (I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t read Paul and Andra’s story.) Butcher pulled me into the story with the first sentence and didn’t let me go until the last.
Previously, I reviewed the first book in the series, BURNING ALIVE. While I enjoyed that book a lot (obviously, since I’ve since read most of the series), I wasn’t entirely happy with the emotional blackmail that results from the way the world is structured. (Theronai women must siphon off the energy their bonded mates automatically accumulate, or the men will eventually die. They’re faced with a “choice” of bond with the man that is their physical match, or sentence him to an agonizing death.)
OLD TROPES MADE NEW
This is an amplification of two old, and effective tropes. Romance novels have long featured relationships where the woman must surrender to a more powerful force, whether it’s a dominating man, or economic compulsion. That’s one of the aspects of paranormal romances that is so effective: non-human characters often have biological compulsions that override choice, or raise the stakes on the choice of whom to love and when. The characters are drawn together against their will. It’s a new take on the arranged/forced marriage plot.
The second trope, an essential one, is that of the healing power of love. In the best romances the couple doesn’t just learn to love each other. Their love brings about their transformation and healing. The individuals give up their self-focused perspective, and the whole of their union becomes greater than the sum of their individual desires.
All of this comes together to make DYING WISH a smashing good read. Butcher does a fantastic job of creating characters (both of whom were introduced in previous books) who are broken but unbowed. They’re both strong, but they’ve been holding it together by themselves for so long that they can’t see they need the other to be whole again. They don’t even think it’s possible to be whole again.
Butcher forces her characters to deal with a horrendous dilemma. She did such a great job of writing her protagonists into a corner that despite the genre demands for a “happily ever after” ending, I doubted the outcome. The solution made an interesting kind of sense, and I’m looking forward to the fallout in subsequent books in the series.
Shannon K. Butcher was a guest of honor two years ago at TusCon Science-Fiction Convention in Tucson, AZ. This year’s guest of honor is S.M. Stirling.