A Review of Obsidian (Lux #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Entangled Teen, 2011
by REBECCA, February 11, 2013
Katy Swarz: thoughtful book blogger Katy doesn’t take shit, but can’t quite resist Daemon, even when he’s shitty
Daemon Black: the infuriating and handsome
alien boy asshole next door, Daemon is wary of Katy at first, but then drawn to her
Dee Black: Daemon’s twin, she and Katy are fast friends and she runs interference between Katy and Daemon
When Katy’s mom moves her to rural West Virginia the summer before senior year after her dad dies, all she wants is to make some new friends, write her book blog, and recover. So, of course she would move in next door to aliens caught in an epic battle between cosmic good and evil. And of course one of those aliens would be an overly attractive shithead who breaks her laptop!
Katy’s world has been small lately. After her father died, her mother withdrew into herself and started working all the time, leaving Katy alone a lot. Katy started a book blog that lets her reach out and connect with people, and she’s poured all her energy into it. She’s chill and a bit shy, but smart and confident, so when she realizes that her next door neighbors are teenagers her own age she decides to make nice. Her first meeting with grouchy-pants Daemon sets the tone for their relationship: he’s overly attractive, obnoxious, condescending, and (of course) convinced that Katy is attracted to him (which, of course, she is).
Daemon’s sister, Dee, is a sweetheart who befriends Katy right away. However, something weird happens every time Katy goes into town with Dee or tries to sit with her at lunch in the school cafeteria; people stare at them and seem hostile toward one or the other of them for no reason that Katy can tell—after all, she doesn’t even know anyone. One night, though, Katy is attacked outside the library and Daemon comes to her rescue with . . . special powers. Finally, he and Dee can’t keep their secret anymore: they are aliens and whenever they use their powers around a human it leaves a mark on that human that their enemies can see from far away. The only way to protect Katy from the enemy? Guess. No, I’ll wait. Yes, you’re right: it’s for Daemon to never leave her alone and vulnerable.
And thus unfolds a familiar romance/action plot line: Katy and Daemon frustrate one another, but are drawn together in the face of a common enemy.
I have been meaning to read Obsidian ever since I met the lovely Judith and Ellen from I Love YA Fiction at BEA this year, because it’s the book that made them start blogging. Now, one of my favorite things about talking to friends who care as much about books as I do is that sometimes we totally disagree. So, I’ll admit it, I approached Obsidian with great trepidation simply because the genre of YA paranormal romance isn’t my usual cuppa. But I just couldn’t resist a book that inspired some of my favorite people to start blogging (and that has 4.4 stars on Goodreads), so I dove in.
It was fun to read about Katy’s book blogging and I can totally see how it would be the inspiration for Judith and Ellen! But, alas, that’s about all I liked about Obsidian.
Let me be clear: I think that probably for folks who really enjoy the genre of YA paranormal romance, Obsidian will do the trick. It has a not-totally-unreasonable plot, some legitimately developed characters and fun secondary-characters, a not-overdone setting, sexual tension between Katy and Daemon that lasts for the whole book (that’s a thing people like, right?), a nice mom, and it’s a series. Also, it isn’t badly written at all—the prose is totally serviceable. So, all that (along with the many, many positive reviews I’ve read) suggests that Obsidian is the kind of thing that people who like that kind of thing will like. You know?
But, if I didn’t already know it, Obsidian really showed me that the genre isn’t to my taste. And so I’ve been thinking about what, precisely, is the very thin line that divides “paranormal romance” from books that I do like. I enjoy a good romance plot, for sure, including several I’ve reviewed here: With Or Without You by Brian Farrey, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates, etc. And I definitely have no problem with the paranormal, as the above list will certainly testify.
So, what’s the difference between a paranormal romance and a book like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which contains a paranormal romance? The biggest difference, for me, is that in paranormal romance (as in its mother genre, romance) the central goal of the book is to tell the story of two people entering into a relationship with one another and chronicling the obstacles to the success of that relationship—a success that is, by virtue of the genre, guaranteed. A book like Daughter of Smoke and Bone definitely has a romance plot, but it’s much more than just a backdrop against which the romance plays out. That difference, though, is, for me, the difference between a book that I enjoy and one that I find pretty boring. Daughter of Smoke and Bone or The Scorpio Races or Leave Myself Behind are larger than their romance plots—their scope is bigger and their stakes are higher. In a paranormal romance, the largest stakes are in the relationship between the two main characters—even when there is a cosmic alien battle between good and evil. This is to differing degrees, certainly, and some paranormal romances (and series) are more intricate and detailed than others. In Obsidian, though, if you took away the romance element you wouldn’t be left with anything; the conceit of the book is generic and flimsy without it.
Again, I don’t mean this as a critique of the genre—far from it. Genre conventions are powerful predictors of taste, though, and readers who like a genre like it because of its conventions, not in spite of them. I’ve realized, in reading Obsidian (and other paranormal romances, like Hush, Hush, Nevermore, and Fallen), that one of the conventions of the paranormal romance genre that I dislike in particular is the way that love or attraction are abstracted (metaphorized?) as an otherworldly connection. By this I mean that often in these books our protagonist (usually a girl) sees a boy she thinks is attractive and feels drawn to him for reasons she can’t explain. I’m annoyed by the resulting tendency of these books to equate attraction—that is, being physically drawn to someone—with love. (Note: hey, friend, I can explain why you feel drawn to him . . .)
In Obsidian, for example, Katy finds Daemon super attractive, but she cannot stand his personality (with good reason, because he is a grade-A jerkface). She wants to make out with him; she feels warm and flushed whenever he’s near; she thinks he smells good. Katy: that’s called being attracted to someone. But in the genre conventions of the paranormal romance, attraction—lust—(a totally normal part of life) is transmuted into an-inexplicable-force-drawing-us-together-across-time-and-space-that-must-surely-be-meaningful.
And part of me kind of thinks that the genre of YA paranormal romance in particular developed out of a resistance to portraying teenagers as lustful, preferring, instead, to render lust meaningful and, thus, romantic. Because the only real difference between feeling drawn to someone because you want to bone them and feeling drawn to someone because they are secretly connected to you by a werewolf mating bond . . . is genre.