Rites and Desires is a game of cat and bat, only Catwoman is a seductive magic-wielding mastermind and Batman is a precious cinnamon roll who has no idea what he’s getting into.
Ruby Killingsworth is the cutthroat evil queen of a media empire called Goblin Records (100% perfect), who hasn’t got where she is in life by using her powers for good. Her magic, both innate and ritual-based, allows her to manipulate and dominate most people she meets. When she loses her powers (shortly before the novel), she isn’t going to let a little thing like that slow her down: she forges a deal with Loki, everyone’s favorite trickster god, to secure a powerful artifact to replace her powers.
Along the way, she becomes increasingly embroiled in a scheme to blow up the perfect marriage of her neighbor, Cobalt City’s gee whiz tech hero Jaccob “Stardust” Stevens (like Iron Man if he were just really nice to people all the time), partly out of jealousy of his brilliant wife Liz (tall and blonde where Ruby is short and ginger, it’s a whole thing), and partly because, well, she can. She has to seduce him without her magic, and without him discovering that she has the artifact he’s looking for, and Ruby doesn’t back down from a challenge.
But in corrupting CC’s golden boy, Ruby finds herself drawn toward his shining goodness as well. Opposites attract and pull each other, for better and worse.
The result is an engrossing character study of a woman with villainous motives but, almost without realizing it, creeping toward a better path.
The majority of the narrative is from Ruby’s perspective, focusing not on action scenes but rather the details of her schemes and calculations and, as things progress, increasingly her feelings and maybe even a little doubt about her course. She’s definitely ruthless, no doubt about that, but she’s complex, intriguing, and I couldn’t help but like her more than a little bit. Not unlike the way Stardust does.
Ah, Stardust. Before Amanda wrote this novel, she came to me and asked for my blessing to put Jaccob Stevens–a character I’ve done a lot to develop, including my novella EYE FOR AN EYE–through the ringer, and boy oh boy, does she. As if there was a chance I wouldn’t give her an enthusiastic “yes!”
And I’m glad I did, because this is a smart, engrossing novel that continues in the Cobalt City tradition of telling stories of heroes who are people first, supers second. This feels like a real story–a real relationship–and says something true about all of us.
It inspired me to write more, about the fallout from this dirty bomb (flirty bomb?) Amanda had fired straight at Jaccob’s too-big heart, and I can’t think of a more perfect praise of a novel than that it inspires its readers to imagine and dream and tell further stories.
I thought this novel was great, and I eagerly await the follow-up. 🙂