Top critical review
Down in Darkwood
on 22 February 2014
Oh, I love books about New Orleans, especially if they somehow incorporate voodoo and history into them.
So I hoped to really enjoy "Bound," the first novella of Kira Saito's Arelia LaRue series -- it has voodoo, ghosts, snakes, a gorgeous old plantation and lots of atmosphere. Sadly, it also has a massively unattractive heroine, no real ending and some major writing flaws that badly need to be addressed.
Against the wishes of her grandmother, Arelia LaRue takes a job at Darkwood Plantation with her best friend Sabrina (who is every rich blonde slut cliche crammed into in one character). Within an hour of arriving, Arelia discovers that the Darkwood cook is her great-aunt, that she has special voodoo powers granted by the loa Erzulie, and even gets a visit from said loa.
She also encounters Lucus, the handsome and charming scion of the family. Arelia immediately hates him because he's rich (seriously, that's the main reason), but for some reason he's very interested in her. And as she learns more about Darkwood, it becomes clear that an ancient power still holds the place.
I really had high hopes for this novella. Kira Saito loads the novella up with haunting Southern atmosphere and a truckload of voodoo stuff, ranging from appearances by the loa to a gris-gris-making class. Honestly, there's a lot of potential here, and I was disappointed when the rest of the novel didn't stack up.
One of the biggest problems is pacing -- Saito rockets through the story at light speed, pelting Arelia with massive revelations about her powers, family and history in a very short time. There are no quiet moments where the characters can breathe, no foreshadowing before they learn anything. Saito really needs to learn how to stretch out her story, learn to develop the characters and setting more.
Also, too much celebrity name-dropping and labels. There are a few continuity issues -- at one point Arelia makes a promise to matchmake a couple of loa... but unless I missed something, she never did. I don't think it's safe to break that sort of promise to a loa.
However, the biggest problem is Arelia herself. She is AWFUL. She comes across as a paranoid, gullible, bipolar mess. It's hard to see why a guy as nice and pleasant as Lucus is attracted to her, because she's constantly sneering at him and telling him what a horrible, worthless person he is because... he's rich. In one fun scene, she actually throws lumps of mud at him.
The other characters are a spotty bunch. Sabrina is a vile character which has no real purpose except to be vile, and most of the guests are forgettable. But Lucus is rather charming, Ms. Mae is intriguingly ambiguous, and the neglected "poor little rich boy" Ben is rather sweet.
Kira Saito has an intriguing premise and loads of atmosphere, but the nasty main character and too-fast writing need to be fixed before it can count as "good."