When it comes to YA paranormal romance, I know what I want. I've read enough of the genre to know that there are certain elements that just work, time after time. The sympathetic protagonist, the mysterious-and-possibly-a-little-dangerous love interest, the initial snarky tension between the two that develops into serious chemistry and eventually love... When I'm reading about a romance between a human MC and a supernatural being, those elements are pretty much guaranteed to hook me. At the same time, I want something new. I want a book to surprise me. Contrary, moi? Well... yeah. But every now and then, a book seems to have it all. And Shannon Delany's debut novel 13 to Life: A Werewolf's Tale is one of those books.
Set in the small town of Junction, 13 to Life is definitely a paranormal romance that ticks all the boxes. When mysterious Pietr Rusakova arrives at Junction High, he's just bursting with that special brand of arrogance and charisma that we readers have come to expect from our supernatural love interests. Our heroine, Jessie Gillmansen, is initially unimpressed - but it doesn't take a scientist to figure out that the sparring between these two can only mean one thing: major chemistry. And when I say major, I mean it - these two set the sparks flying, the air crackling with electricity and the pages turning like crazy. Thrown together at school, the attraction between Jessie and Pietr gradually deepens into the beginnings of love. Of course, we readers can also make the connection between Pietr's arrival and the strange creature lurking in the shadows around town - and unless you failed to notice the book's title before you started reading, it's not difficult to figure out what young Mr Rusakova's big secret is. This paranormal romance is sweet, stormy and dangerous.
But where this one really makes an impression is with the elements that take the story off the beaten track and into less familiar territory for the genre. Take our MC, for example. Heroines of YA paranormal romance can often be a little passive for my liking, but Jessie is a character whose inner strength shines through. She's not your regular 'everygirl': she has a witty and engaging voice, a fascinating backstory and is drawn with the kind of complexity that means she doesn't always behave in ways that are predictable to the reader, but she is true to herself and her own motivations. Then there's the element of mystery about Jessie's past, and her somewhat strange friendship with schoolmate Sarah. This gives the story an added intrigue quite separate from Pietr's own secret, and a satisfying depth beyond that which I was expecting to find. The biggest surprise, however, is one I don't want to spoil by even hinting at. Because just when I thought Pietr's big mystery had been revealed to Jessie, we learn that there's more to it - and it's a huge, jaw-dropper of a revelation that promises to take the sequel in directions I hadn't even considered.
13 to Life: A Werewolf's Tale is a delicious combination of all my favourite YA paranormal romance ingredients, topped with a generous sprinkling of tantalising variations. It's the perfect blend of cosy familiarity and intriguing newness. A new twist on a favourite genre.
Out: 22nd June 2010, UK
Thanks to Carla at The Crooked Shelf for organising the book tour for this one.