Marked by Sue Tingey. ★★
I should never have read this book or requested it as an ARC. Unfortunately, it has two different blurbs, one of which is honest and one of which is misleading, and I read the wrong one. The honest one is upfront about this being a paranormal romance. The misleading one tries to sell it as a psychic investigation. Only the first few chapters are anything like psychic investigation before Marked takes an abrupt genre twist.
Listen, I hate paranormal romances. I always have, and in all likelihood always will. I am utterly the wrong person to be reading this book. This book is clearly wish fulfillment, and I don’t feel like I am the audience for it. If I’m going for a tropey wish fulfillment book, I’d chose the one about the action girl over the princess every time. However, this was an ARC from Netgalley so I felt obliged to read and review the whole thing. And even if you like paranormal romances, I think this one has obvious flaws.
Lucky’s only friend in the world is a ghost – Kayla – who she’s known since childhood. Only, Kayla isn’t who Lucky thinks she is, which leads Lucky to be dragged into another world and a battle for power among demons.
A large part of this book is people not telling Lucky things. She will ask and they’ll deflect her, and that is how it goes for the vast majority of the book. It’s super annoying. Lucky also feels younger than she’s supposed to be. Is it lack of responsibilities? She’s supposed to be a twenty something who makes a living exposing fake psychics. Yet, she acts like the protagonist of a not very good YA novel.
Lucky just doesn’t do much in this book. She makes a few decisions, but she mostly relies on the characters around her to take care of her. There’s also a lot of time spent describing what she was wearing and how hot she looked in it. Plus, there were at least three attractive men who were all into her. Oh, and she finds out… (SPOILER) she’s secretly a princess (END SPOILER). Is Lucky a Mary Sue? I feel like the term’s rather meaningless, so I’ll just say that she’s a reader insert/wish fulfillment character and leave it at that.
There’s no tension to this book at all, and the plot’s a mess. Something interesting could have been done with Lucky having to “chose” between the two worlds, but it’s no contest since literally all the characters who appear in more than one chapter are in the Underlands. There would have been a lot more conflict if she had actual ties to the human world, say if her father had still been living.
Speaking of worlds, the world building was also a mess and very under developed. I’m not sure what if any thought went into the construction of the Underlands culture or social system. There’s different types of demons, and Lucky’s love interests are both super powerful due to abilities? Then there’s the demon king who’s in charge because… reasons? And the culture was just generic medieval, with the explanation being “oh, technology doesn’t make humans any happier so we don’t use it.” Yet, there’s still a scrumptious apartment for Lucky’s apartment is scrumptious even by modern standards, and she’s got a gigantic wardrobe of totally cool outfits. Somehow these these facts are not contradictory with the imposed medieval theme?
The characterization was horrible also. The love interests are mostly just sexy and shirtless and don’t have anything resembling personality. Oh, except one’s a “bad boy” which just means that he acts like a jerk and is considered sexy because of it. But it’s all okay, because they’re both hot, right? And when I say “shirtless” I mean, one of them never wears a shirt at all and the other one is more often found shirtless than not. I know people normally talk about the male gaze with fiction, but you could use this book as a prime example of the heterosexual female gaze.
The one possibly interesting thing about the book was that its love triangle seems to be of the polyamorous variety instead of the “she chooses one” variety. I’ve seen this before but not very often, and all the times I have seen it there’s usually been some overlap with characters being LGBTQ. Everyone in Marked is straight. The polyamorous part was still the most original aspect to the book though.
I chose this book partly because the misleading description I read talked about Kayla and I was excited for a book about two female friends. I would not recommend reading Marked for this reason. Kayla’s sort of sadistic, and she gets far less page time than the sexy shirtless love interests. She and Lucky are also the only reoccurring female characters in the novel with literally everyone else being male. The book also had this weird obsession with virginity that I didn’t know what to make with and that was never explained. It was acting like Lucky being virgin should be a plot point but never told us why this was important? The book has a whole had tons of sexual undertones even though there were never any actual sex scenes. Oh, and the villains were rapey, because of course they are. Doing other wise would require characterization, I guess…
Paranormal romance aspects aside, this book just has so many problems. I’m not sure I would recommend it even if you like paranormal romances. The only reason I can see people liking this book is if they’re looking for this specific sort of wish fulfillment. Even then, I’d suggest reading it with your brain turned off, because you don’t have a chance of getting any enjoyment out of it otherwise.
In general, I just would not recommend this book.
I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.