The blurb for Wicked as They Come describes the book as part paranormal and part steampunk. I have only read a handful of steampunk novels and each one I found to be absolutely unique. Wicked as They Come was no different.
Told from the first person point of view, Wicked as They Come is the story of Tish Everett. First person can be hard to like because you miss out on a large part of the story that would come from the other main character. I knew just from reading the first two chapters that I was going to like Tish’s voice and it would likely be enough for me. Tish has recently come from an abusive, controlling relationship. She thinks of herself as shaky and weak and just getting back on her feet. She has moved back home to take care of her ailing grandmother and return to life as a home hospice nurse.
When one of her patients dies and holds an estate sale she stops by to see if there will be anything of interest. She finds an unusual and intriguing ruby necklace. No matter what she does though, she cannot get it clean. She is able to pry it open but when she does some red liquid spills out on her skin and burns her. Unable to figure out what the liquid is or what she is supposed to do with the necklace she gives up and goes to bed. And this is where the strangeness starts to happen…
I use the word strange because I cannot think of how else to describe it. This book was so different from anything I have ever read. When Tish “wakes up” she is naked, in a confusing land and facing a man named Criminy Stain. How is that for an odd name? Criminy Stain tells Tish that he bespelled the necklace and has been waiting his whole life for her. At first, Tish thinks she is simply dreaming but it quickly become clear that is not the case. She is in a world called Sang where there are a mix of people, Bludmen, Coppers, Pinkies and several other varieties of life.
“You’re starting to piece it together, love,” he said. “This is a different world from yours, which means there are different rules. Your world must be a soft one. Nearly everything here runs on blood. That’s why it’s called Sang, I think.”
“The everything is called Sand. We’re now on an island called Sangland, approaching the city of Manchester. There are villages and cities, mayors and Coppers, Pinkies and Bludmen, but the name of it all is Sang.”
“Sang,” I mused to myself. “In the past tense. I like that. But what is a Pinky?”
“You’re a Pinky, darling,” he said with a fond smile. “You eat plants and animals and drink water, and your blood is all meaty and hot and fragrant, bringing pink to your cheeks. The cities are full of your kind, of all different colors and sorts. But they taste about the same.”
If you throw is some clockworks from the steampunk genre you have the world in this book. So different and so odd.
Before long Tish and Criminy figure out the necklace allows her to be in one world awake while she is sleeping in the other world. The problem with that is her body thinks she is always awake because in one world or the other she really is. The issue is temporarily solved when she wakes up in Sang feeling rested. They quickly realize someone has stolen her necklace and they must get it back.
There are so many thing going on in this book. Tish is what they call a Stranger. Criminy has a habit of collecting Strangers and hiding them from the Coppers. Another Stranger that Criminy has in his circus is a man named Jonah. Tish is shocked to realize that Jonah is one of her patients from the other world. There he is in a coma because of a motorcycle accident. Tish/Jonah/Criminy all together form a bit of a love triangle that I wasn’t too pleased about. I do not like love triangles and while I thought the outcome to this one was obvious, I still did not like reading about it.
Criminy Stain is a pretty fascinating hero. He is unlike one I have ever read about. He is described as almost small in stature, not much larger than Tish, but large in presence. At times he is fierce and bold and other times kooky and just plain strange. I almost couldn’t get a handle on him. Because he has waited so long for Tish, when he finds her he declares instant love. I wasn’t really on board with that as much as Tish was. She is in this scary, new land with only Criminy to protect her. Shouldn’t she be a little more wary than just being immediately drawn to him? I was relieved when I finally got those feelings from her.
It was a horrible position to be in. I couldn’t storm out; I had nowhere else to go. In Sang, it was too dangerous to risk even a moment out of their site. But alone with two predators, I felt like a kitten and more like an object lesson waiting to happen.
I think I could go on for a long time talking about this very complex and interesting book but I will stop and leave some for the reader to discover on their own. If you are looking for something new, different and fresh I would encourage you to try this book. It ends with not really a cliffhanger, but an idea that there is more we haven’t learned. This is a debut novel for Ms. Dawson and I would say she started out well. Final grade- B.
I watched him playing with the long blades of grass, weaving them into patterns as he hummed an unfamiliar song, a waltz.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“I’m letting you get used to the idea of me,” he said idly.
“I’m pretending to be harmless. Is it working?”