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Thursday, October 16, 2014


Author:  Deborah Blake
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3.5; Humor—2-3 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation      
          Wickedly Magical          (novella .58/2014) 
          Wickedly Dangerous    (novel 19/2014) 
          Wickedly Wonderful     (novel 212/2014)
          "Wickedly Ever After"  (novella 2.51/2016)
          Wickedly Powerful       (novel 32/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 3/3/2016 to include a review of Wickedly Powerful, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novellas .5 and 2.5 and novels 1 and 2. 

                       NOVEL 3:  Wickedly Powerful                         
     The only thing more fiery than Bella Young’s red hair is her temper. She knows that a Baba Yaga’s power without strict control can leave the people she cares about burned, so to protect her heart—and everyone around her—the only company she keeps is her dragon-turned-Norwegian-Forest-cat, Koshka. 

     But when Bella is tasked with discovering who’s setting magical fires throughout Wyoming’s Black Hills, she finds herself working closely with former hotshots firefighter Sam Corbett—and falling hard for his quiet strength and charm. 

     Sam may bear the scars of his past, but Bella can see beyond them and would do anything to help him heal. Only before she can rescue her Prince Charming, she’ll have to overcome the mysterious foe setting the forest fires—a truly wicked witch who wields as much power and even more anger than Bella. 

     Having told the soul-mate romances about the blond (Beka) and the brunette (Barbara), Blake now comes to the red-head—the fiery-tempered Bella Young. Because of a tragic temper-losing experience back in her youth, Bella has tried to stay away from human contact as much as possible and would never consider hooking up with a human male. Naturally, we know that’s not going to last, don’t we? 

     As the book begins, Bella has parked her camper in the Wyoming forest near Black Mountain. Soon, a group of local Humans come seeking her help in stopping a series of mysterious wild fires. (This is always the most implausible part of these books.) Then a tree sprite brings Bella a scary message that appears to have come from the three Riders, who have vanished without a trace. The message reads “Cave Help Brenna.” If you have read the earlier books, you know that the Riders are immortals who assist the Baba Yagas, and that Brenna is the forcibly retired Baba Yaga who was banished from the Otherworld by the Queen after she tried to murder Beka in order to hold on to her immortality. Soon, Bella finds herself with two big tasks: get the Riders out of Brenna’s clutches and stop the forest fires. It is obvious from the very beginning that the two tasks are closely intertwined. 

     Meanwhile, just down the trail is a fire tower manned by Sam Corbett, a former fire-fighting Hot Shot who was severely burned in a flare-up that killed the rest of his team, including his fiancée. Not only does Sam have his outward physical scars, but he also has emotional scars—survivor guilt, nightmares about that tragic day, and sad memories of his fiancée. Like Bella, Sam has moved far away from all human contact and has vowed never again to develop a romantic relationship. (Of course, that vow doesn’t last very long.) 

     Blake tells the story in the third person voice from multiple perspectives: Bella, Sam, the Riders, and Brenna. Added to the mix is a teenage runaway who calls herself Jazz. First, Bella’s giant dragon/cat, Koshka, finds Jazz living in the woods, and then Bella has to rescue her from one of the wild fires. Jazz soon becomes a part of Bella and Koshka’s family and we’ll certainly be hearing more about her in future books. 

     The characterization is better in this book than in the first two. Sam and Bella’s romance builds slowly but surely as they battle the emotional problems that tie them to the past. Jazz is an interesting character: bright and likable, but dealing with the emotional scars that come from being in the foster system since she was five years old. We spend much more time with the Riders in this book, but they are in such a dire situation that we don’t get much of a chance to see them at their best. The most stereotypically drawn character is Brenna, who is just as psychotic as she was in book 1. She is a cartoonish villain who shrieks out lines like these: “‘This is mine…No matter how many trees have to burn. No matter who has to bleed. This is mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.’ Her laughter leapt to the roof of the cave and swirled down around her like ashes.” 

     Although this book has a two-pronged plot that provides plenty of excitement and a bit of suspense (not a lot), it seems to be a transitional book to get us ready for the love stories for the three Riders (and, perhaps, Jazz). The next book—Dangerously Charming—will tell Mikhail Day’s story. He’s the Rider who dresses all in white and rides a white Yamaha motorcycle. In the excerpt from Mikhail's book that is included in Wickedly Powerful, the publisher says that it is part of the BABA YAGA series, but on, the book is labeled BROKEN RIDERS series.

     If you have been enjoying the previous books, you’ll probably like this one as well. With this series, you really have to work hard at suspending your disbelief because it’s hard to accept the fact that the Baba Yagas meet up with so many people who believe in magic and witches and the Baba Yaga legend. But if you accept that the world is full of magic-believing people, this is a nice, light romance series with entertaining stories, quirky characters, and just enough humor to take the edge off the dark scenes. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Wickedly Powerful by clicking on the cover art on the book’s page.

Traditional Version 
of Baba Yaga
     In Russian and Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga (B.Y.) is generally pictured as "a frightening old crone who lived in a log hut that walked through the forests on chicken legs." (Wickedly Magical) The truth—according to the mythology of this seriesis that there is not just one B.Y., there are several scattered around the world. In the U.S., there are three: Barbara Yager, Beka Yancy, and Bella Young. Each is a powerful, beautiful witch, and each has upgraded her chicken-legged hut to more modern transportation. In the legends, B.Y. was often a cruel and evil witch with sharp iron teeth, but her modern-day descendants are more attractive and much nicer, spending their time "guarding the doorway to the Otherworld, keeping the balance of nature, and occasionally...helping a worthy seeker." (Wickedly Magical) One B.Y. explains that "There is this, what some call the mundane or Human plane, and the Otherworld. The Otherworld is a place where magic exists, and it is home to creatures out of legend, many of which you might recognize and some which are beyond your comprehension." (Wickedly Dangerous)

     Each B.Y. is accompanied by a shape-shifting dragon called Chudo-Yudo. Barbara's Chudo-Yudo disguises himself as a 200-pound white pit bull, and Beka's transforms into a 200-pound Newfoundland dog. The job of the Chudo-Yudos is to guard the witches' supply of the Water of Life and Death, which was given to them by the Queen of the Otherworld to prolong their lives, increase their strength, and boost their natural magical powers. Each B.Y. is born with her magical powers—powers that become stronger and broader through training and experience. Also essential to maintaining their powers is a constant diet of blue roses. Each B.Y. has access to the Otherworld through a portal within her mobile home. 

     Click HERE to watch a funny video that tells an urban fantasy story about a 21st century B.Y. And click HERE for a more traditional B.Y. video tale. Click HERE to read a 1903 Russian version of the B.Y. legend.  

                         NOVELLA .5:  "Wickedly Magical"                          
     In this introductory novella, we get much of the world-building, so it's one that you should read if you plan to dive into this series. This story features Barbara Yager, a tall, leather-clad B.Y. who drives a classic BMW motorcycle and lives in a silver Airstream trailer. Both the motorcycle and the trailer are loaded with magic to help Barbara ward off enemies and tend to her witchy business. 

     Baba Yagas are required to grant favors promised either by themselves or their forebears, so when Ivan Dmetriev approaches Barbara with an ancient dragon scale given to his babushka (i.e., his grandmother) decades ago by Barbara's predecessor, she is obliged to help him. As Barbara muses to Chudo-Yudo: "A Baba Yaga never breaks a promise. Legs, yes. Hearts, occasionally. But never a promise." Ivan's problem is that his wife, Grace, has joined a cult, taking their two children with her and convincing the court that Ivan abused them—a complete lie. As it turns out, there's a magical reason that Grace and Jonathan Bellingwood, the cult leader, convinced everyone that they were telling the truth, and Barbara's task is to undo that magic.

     At the end of the story, while Barbara is enjoying a brief visit with Beka and Bella, she gets The Call, "a kind of subliminal mental pull towards whatever problem needed her special attention. No one else could hear it besides the Baba it was aimed at, and there was no ignoring it. When you were called, you went. It was as simple as that." This Call will be at the center of the first novel.

     This is an ultra-slim plot, but it does provide the opportunity to meet Barbara and to get most of the mythology details out of the way. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

                         NOVEL 1:  Wickedly Dangerous                          
     The first novel carries on the story of Barbara Yager, one of the three Baba Yagas in the U.S., as she answers The Call she received at the end of "Wickedly Magical." Barbara has moved her Airstream to a small town in upstate New York, where a Russian family asks for her help in finding their kidnapped child, one of three small children who have disappeared in recent weeks. The town is in the middle of a major dispute over whether or not to allow a fracking company to purchase local mineral rights, so between the kidnappings and the infighting on the fracking issue, people's tempers are short, and fear for their children has eroded their confidence in the sheriff's office.

     The sheriff is Liam McClellan, a man with the inevitable tragic past that befalls so many paranormal fiction heroes. Several years ago, Liam's only child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and his wife disappeared after turning to drugs and alcohol to dull her grief. Liam has been roaming the countryside looking for the missing children, but has had no luck in finding them. Here's where the first huge improbability appears: The state police are supposedly so busy with other cases that they don't have time to help Liam find the children, and the FBI never appears at all. It is impossible to believe that with three children disappearing from this tiny town that the FBI and state law enforcement agencies don't get involved from the very beginning. Also improbable is that Liam—an experienced law enforcement officer—doesn’t really investigate the kidnappings. He just drives around looking for the children, day after day after day. So…the main plot is based on an extremely weak and implausible premise.

     When Barbara learns about the multiple kidnappings, she calls in some Otherworld help: her three magical motorcycle-riding buddies, Mikhail Day (aka Bright Dawn, the White Rider), Gregori Sun (aka Red Sun, the Red Rider), and Alexei Knight (aka Dark Midnight, the Black Rider). The Riders are "pledged to the service of the Baba Yagas, [though] even Baba herself didn't know exactly what kind of creatures they were behind their human masks. All she knew for certain was that they were immortal, powerful, and on her side." (p. 60) She also asks for help from her long-time friend-with-benefits, Koshei, an immortal shape-shifting dragon. "Koshei had been the companion of the Baba before her; for all she knew, he'd been the companion of all the Babas in their line back down through history." (p. 66) Of course, all four men are tall, well-built, handsome alpha males. They also go out looking for the kids. No one really searches for clues or questions suspects, they just keep looking around.

     Liam meets Barbara while he is out driving around on one of his searches, and the two are immediately attracted to one another. Their blossoming romance grows stronger and stronger as the story moves along. Soon, Barbara attends a town meeting and spots a likely suspect who appears to be hiding behind a magical glamour, but with no proof, she can't tell Liam her suspicions without disclosing her own magical identity. The story follows Liam and Barbara as they fall in love and solve the crime after briefly becoming suspects themselves. 

     This story is a run-of-the-mill genre romance with paper-thin characters and an implausible plot. If you like typical paranormal genre romances, you might enjoy this one, but if you are looking for a fresh approach to paranormal romance, this one isn't for you. Even with its inventive Baba Yaga mythology, there's not much new in the actual story line. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

                         NOVEL 2:  Wickedly Wonderful                         
     This novel tells the love story of the second American Baba Yaga (B.Y.), Beka Yancy, a surfer girl who lives in a refurbished school bus on the Pacific Coast. As the story opens, Beka is just a few days short of her thirtieth birthday, the date she on which she must choose whether to continue to spend an immortal life as a B.Y. or to stop drinking the Water of Life and Death and become a nonmagical human. Poor Beka has severe self-esteem problems, never believing that she is good enough to be an effective B.Y. Her emotional problem was exacerbated by Brenna, the B.Y. who mentored her and who has always told her that she isn't good enough for the job. 

     Beka's task is to find out who and what is poisoning the deep sea trench that is home to the Merpeople and the Selkies. The water in the trench has become so toxic that it is killing the young and the elderly, forcing the King and Queen to move to a trench that is closer to shore. Unfortunately, that trench is frequently visited by humans, so living there would be risky. It's up to Beka to find out what is going on and to purify the water.

     Meanwhile, Beka has met Marcus Dermott, a tall, sexy ex-marine who is helping his cancer-stricken father on the family's fishing boat. One day, while Beka is out surfing, a mermaid grabs her surfboard and drags her to the Dermotts' boat because the mermaid's baby is caught in their net. While rescuing the baby, Beka gets caught up in the net, making Marcus think that he might have caught a mermaid. Their first meeting does not go well because she thinks that he is rude and arrogant (which he is), and he thinks that she is some kind of hippy, New-Age, Green-Peace activist who cut his net as part of a protest. Eventually, of course, their feeling begin to change as mutual attraction overrides the huge differences between them.

     Then, a new man enters the picture: Kesh, a charming Selkie prince who tries to woo Beka in order to use her in his evil plan for the future of the planet. Beka isn't very sophisticated and she's definitely not street smart, so for awhile she is taken in by Kesh's ardent attentions. The reader is told from the beginning that Kesh is the villain, but it takes Beka a very long time to figure it out. Two of the Riders who appeared in the first novel show up briefly to assist Beka, but then they go off in search of their third comrade, who has vanished without a trace. This mystery will be explored in the next book.

    Just as in the earlier books, the plot has a number of improbabilities and inconsistencies, and the characters are one-dimensional and not very interesting. In general, Marcus stalks around growling and glowering at everyone; Beka whines about how useless and overwhelmed she is; and smarmy Kesh sneers and pouts his way through all of his scenes. So…not much depth to the characters. Beka's Chudo-Yudo—a shape-shifting dragon who takes the form of a huge Newfoundland dog—is the source of most of the sarcastic humor. 

     The author has an unfortunate habit of telegraphing critical plot points so blatantly that she destroys all of the suspense. Towards the end, for example, she points out several times that Beka is breaking a major rule and taking a huge risk when she removes her dragon/dog from his post (his job is to guard the Water of Life and Death), so what do you think happens? I don't even have to tell you because it's so easy to figure outwithout even reading the book. This is a middle-grade, formulaic paranormal romance, so if you like that type of book, you'll probably enjoy it, but if you are looking for something fresh and inventive, this one won't ring your bell. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

                         NOVELLA 2.5:  "Wickedly Ever After"                         
     Having triumphed over a powerful enemy and ended up with both a wonderful guy—Sheriff Liam McClellan—and an adorable adopted daughter to raise as a Baba Yaga, Barbara Yager is ready to welcome her happily ever after. 

     But first she must bring Liam to the Otherworld and get the Queen’s permission to marry him. The Queen, however, is not so easily persuaded. She gives them three impossible tasks to complete in two weeks’ time—and if they fail Barbara will have to watch Liam slowly age and die like all humans, and kiss her happily ever after good-bye forever.

     This is a light and fluffy tale about the trials and tribulations the Queen of the Otherworld puts Barbara through before she is allowed to officially mate with her beloved Liam. The plot is quite straightforward: The Queen gives Barbara three impossible tasks to fulfill within a two-week period. If she fails to complete them all, she must give up Liam forever, but if she succeeds, Liam will be allowed to drink the Water of Life and Death so that they can age at the same rate and be together for the rest of their lives. This is the typical price that people pay for the services of the Baba Yagas, but Barbara "was used to being the one who demanded that others fulfill three impossible tasks and she didn't much like being on the other side of the equation." 

     Luckily, Barbara, Liam, and little Babs are smart, well-connected people, so you can be sure that this little story has an HEA ending. The novella is not really an essential read in terms of understanding the series. Basically, it's just a short, humorous epilogue to Wickedly Dangerous. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Wickedly Ever After" by clicking of the cover art on the book's page.

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