Review of Shadows and Light, by Melissa Haag
This book is a series of YA novellas. Each story is told through the perspective of a young woman in their late teens finding themselves under the protection of handsome men. The first story stars Phoebe, a girl on the run from a couple of psychos that want to kill her. The reason why was kept from the reader until… well, I don’t think it was ever properly explained. That was the frustrating part. Every fantastical element of the story was nothing short of vague. There was lots of talk of light and dark and wells and flames—ugh. I just didn’t get it. I realised that the hook of this story was the murder of Phoebe’s mother, but a proper explanation for this unsolved mystery was never fully realised. That’s probably because Melissa Haag’s intention was to redirect the story to revolve more around Phoebe’s romantic feelings for the hero, William. So, my advice to the writer is that in the future, don’t cloak your love story in mystery when it’s pretty clear that you don’t know what to do with it. Stick to the romance. It was the only aspect of this novella that wasn’t plagued with ambiguity.
The second story was a big improvement—the plot actually made sense. It followed Ema, a young woman living in a world where warlocks, witches and werewolves were real and acknowledged by mainstream society. The main character was likeable and funny, so already it was easier to get on board with this quirky little story. The hero, an emotionally unstable werewolf, was also fun to read. However—and that’s a big however—Ema’s father was utterly ridiculous and not in any way realistic. What doting father would encourage their daughter to travel across the country with a complete stranger? Emma’s father, that’s who. It became very evident that his purpose was to not be a real person at all, but merely a catalyst for Haag’s second attempt at supernatural romance.
The final story also involved werewolves and followed Gillian, an immature and petulant young woman who is forced by her father to relocate to the middle of nowhere in order to hide her away from a crazy stalker. Her father leaves her alone in a house with another total stranger (I’m seeing a pattern here), but it’s OK because he’s hot, like the other leading men in Haag’s stories. Sensing my sarcasm yet? Of course I find this entire set-up to be as ridiculous and unrealistic as the stories that came before it, and the saving grace of the previous story was not the case here. The main character was so unlikable, I couldn’t understand why the hero took any notice of her.
Judging by this little collection, it seems that Haag loves a good romance and loves a good YA fantasy, but she struggles to tie the two together. Her character’s actions don’t make a damn bit of sense except when it comes to her leading men and leading ladies’ explosive sexual attraction towards one another. She creates characters with well-defined gender roles (strong boy protects weak girl) with exception of her paternal characters, who often tend to indulge their selfish daughter’s whims and encourage strange young men to live with their teenage girls unsupervised.
But what annoys me the most about Haag’s writing style is the sheer tediousness of it. Case in point: Phoebe does her laundry. Haag takes her time writing this scene, down to the smaller details like Phoebe placing a towel beneath the drying rack in order to catch any drips from her drenched clothes. Seriously? Does any of this have to do with the complex story and characters that she introduced to the reader from the get-go? Nope. There are many, many more scenes in her stories that could/should have been taken out (her characters take an unusual amount of showers and not the sexy kind) and the sheer repetition of every passing day told in minute detail should have been whittled down to the more important scenes where the story actually progressed in some way. After all, these are novellas. She doesn’t have much time to tell a story, so it’s best to leave out the scene where Gillian cleans her room. Much of Haag’s writing feels like monotonous fillers in between more interesting bits, once again showing me that Haag struggles with the story-telling aspect of writing. She is talented when it comes to hooking her reader within the first few paragraphs, but it becomes clear that she doesn’t really know what to do after that.