WARNING! Going to be talking about M/M romance. If you’re not into that kind of stuff, head over to another review.
Some Hope For the Romance Genre
I had just about given up on romance as a genre. I had reasoned that, perhaps, I was just too cynical — that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief and let the fantasy unwind. I had also reasoned that, perhaps, I was just too much of a feminist interested in reading only about consensual relationships.
Well… I was wrong.
Because Bleeding Heart by Melissa Graves showed me just how much potential M/M paranormal romance and romance as a genre could have.
What I Thought Worked Well
Characters and Style
Two aspects of Bleeding Heart that I thought were really strong were the characters and the writing style. Bleeding Heart centers around the relationship between medical student Brain Preston and a vampire with a mysterious past named Kyle.
And instead of Brian Preston being the adorable puppy victim and Kyle being some broody angsty teenager, they are portrayed as two unique individuals, and portrayed really, really well through the the narrative’s writing style and dialogue.
I mean, check out some of these great hooks at the beginning of some scenes:
“The synthetic blood tastes like crayons. In Kyle’s current state, dirty and tired and alone and starving, this discovery actually makes him laugh until he cries.
“ ‘I had a feeling you were going to be a pancake man,’ Kyle says, crossing his legs.
Brian cuts his blueberry pancakes into pieces. ‘It’s weird to be eating with someone who can’t join me.’ ”
The interactions between these two feel intimate and real. The details are the perfect caliber — not too light, not too strong. The wit doesn’t feel forced. And in these situations, I admire how the writing employs a really deft hand. The sex scenes are written this way as well. They’re vulnerable, intimate, and exquisitely detailed. Such writing turns the ordinary into something extraordinary and memorable, and that is one of the greatest skills a writer can possess.
So, in this sense, I was fine on the micro-level regarding the overall writing style.
The macro-level, however, is where I had problems.
What I Thought Didn’t Work Well
Plot, Setting, and Theme
No matter what the genre, I’m not a fan of when the plot, setting, and theme in a novel take a back seat. I’m not a fan of stories with little to no tension or conflict. And there were many times when Bleeding Heart felt like everything was hunky-dory when it shouldn’t have been.
While the sex scenes between Brian and Kyle were wonderful and detailed and emotionally stimulating, it felt like there was a sex scene with them every single chapter. And I get it. They’ve got the hots for each other. And slowly, over each sex scene, they become even more and more intimate and open with each other, sort of depicting the ebbing away of their own inner conflicts.
But when the back blurb of a book claims that I’m going to receive a “story of love, blood, political intrigue,” and I only get the first two, I get worried.
The setting and theme of Bleeding Heart is even embodied by the characters themselves. Brian is a med student studying vampires and helping give artificial blood donations to new vampires that ask for them. Kyle is a new vampire that struggling to make a new life for himself and ends up working as someone who fulfills the sexual desires of customers through his bites. Even Brian’s brother is a vampire, who gets recently engaged to a human woman.
All of the pieces are there for political discussion and intrigue within the world of the story — a world in which vampires are relatively new and feared, yet managed to be controlled through artificial blood that tastes like “crayons.”
Yet I found nothing really comes about through those pieces. Every so often, Kyle worries about someone coming to get him or Brian (foreshadowing whatever happened in his mysterious past), but for the most part, there’s no political intrigue. There’s barely any conflict or outside force that interrupts Brian and Kyle, and I wanted more of that.
Yes, this book is a part of a series, but I don’t think that gives Bleeding Heart the excuse to act as set-up, with the sequel coming in later to fill the gaps. That might be posited as a successful marketing tactic somewhere, but it doesn’t bode well with me.
It saddens me that I can’t give Bleeding Heart a higher rating. I enjoyed its writing style and its characters a lot. But I can’t ignore its flaws. I can’t ignore that even though it gave me an emotionally-stimulating experience, I was not given an intellectually-stimulating one. And perhaps that’s by design. Maybe the romance genre is all about the feels, and I’m taking it too seriously.
I don’t know. In any case, this book has re-lit my hope in the genre. And that’s something worth noting.