Windwalker by Natasha Mostert
(Tor, $6.99, G) ISBN 0765349299
No reviewer associated with TRR ever gives a one-heart review lightly. We agonize over them. Is the book really that bad that it deserves such a harsh review? Is there nothing redeemable? In the case of Windwalker there is something redeemable – this author can write. Mostert also has a real sense of place, and a portion of the story takes place in Africa - an unusual setting by romance standards. Unfortunately Windwalker is also boring, almost completely lacking in dialogue, cluttered with gothic elements that lack suspense, and worst of all – it breaks the cardinal rule of romance novels. Since this book is published by Tor’s paranormal romance line, it’s a rude little surprise indeed.

Justine Callaway is a photojournalist running from her past. She feels guilty over her role in her beloved brother’s death, has a horrible relationship with her mother, and has even tried to commit suicide. Her solution to her problems is to run away to mansion in the English countryside, where she takes on the job of caretaker. However once she arrives spooky things begin to happen.

A ghostly wolf-like image begins appearing in her photographs of the house. She ticks off one of the local teenage punks. She garners the attention of the town’s creepy stalker who calls himself The Watcher. Plus, she begins to obsess over the family who previously owned the house – the Buchanans.

Adam Buchanan is living a life of exile in Africa. Nine years earlier he killed his spoiled brother in an altercation. So he runs away from home. While he’s cut himself off from the outside world, Adam does believe in the concept of soul mates, and has been writing letters to a mysterious woman for years. Turns out that mysterious woman is Justine and she’s now living in his abandoned family home.

Now this all sounds interesting right? There’s a great gothic tone, and Mostert really has a way of painting a setting with words. Unfortunately the whole thing is really bloody boring! There is barely any dialogue to speak of. Chapters go by without any of the characters speaking to anyone. I kept waiting for something to happen, and when it finally does it is extremely anti-climatic.

Several instances that could have been quite suspenseful come off as tedious. The idea of Justine having a stalker could have been exciting – but instead the reader knows immediately the identity of the man. There’s absolutely no mystery to it. There’s also the presence of a villain in Africa, but given that he’s motivated by greed and underworld ties, it’s not a big leap to know exactly where his story arc will go.

The romance here is non-existent. Adam and Justine don’t even meet until the last 100 pages of the book, and when they do they simply declare that they’re “soul mates” and are so in love. Color me skeptical. Given Justine’s questionable mental condition (the girl needs a therapist not a romance) and Adam’s homicidal tendencies, it’s a bit of a leap to buy into a grand cosmic love affair.

However it’s the ending that really sinks the book. Readers tend to clamor for different ideas in their romantic fiction, but something tells me they won’t be prepared for an ending like this one. Mostert breaks the cardinal rule of romance. Its’ the stuff of women’s fiction, fantasy, and literary circles – not romance.

Ultimately that is what sinks Windwalker into one heart territory. Sure the writing is crisp and I loved Mostert’s descriptive settings. But with virtually no dialogue, a plot that packs no suspenseful punch, a completely unsatisfactory romance, and an ending that has no business being in a novel marketed as romance – Windwalker more than earned this one-heart review.

--Wendy Crutcher

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