Celia Jerome: Trolls in the Hamptons

When graphic novelist Willow Tate conjures up a new hero in the form of a large red troll named Fafhrd, she somehow conjures him up for real, leading to something which shouldn’t exist tearing up a chunk of New York real estate. However, she’s the only one who sees the troll for what he is, while everyone else struggles with rationalization and recollection. As Fafhrd’s destructive appearances grow in frequency, and Willow continues to be the only reliable witness in each case, she finds herself under investigation by the mysterious Agent Grant, a sexy Brit with a way of getting under her skin, and by Officer Van Gregory of the NYPD. With trolls in the background and sexy authorities underfoot, it’s time for a vacation. So away Willy goes to the Hamptons, where she’s agreed to house- and dogsit for an absent celebrity as a favor to her mother.

But the town of Paumanok Harbor has its own secrets, and it’s certainly no refuge from the increasing weirdness that’s invaded Willy’s life. Fafhrd’s still showing up, Agent Grant won’t leave her alone, and her family heritage is a whole lot stranger than she ever expected. If she can’t figure out what Fafhrd wants, and get a handle on her newly-revealed abilities, the world is doomed. No problem!

As much as I wanted to like this book, it just never really worked for me. The concept itself is perfectly fine; with the right treatment it could even have been downright fascinating and bizarre, maybe a little bit gonzo. Graphic novelist’s creation comes to life and turns her life upside-down? The power of imagination threatens to destroy the world? Awesome. However, what we have here is a romance around which strange things have been wrapped, and the potential is misplaced in the drive to make sure the heroine ends up with the right guy by the end of the story.

Celia Jerome is a pseudonym for Barbara Metzger, known for her numerous Regency romances, and it shows. The dialogue is stilted and often formal, with awkward turns of phrase and flat exposition leading to a jarring discrepancy between setting and language. What works well for the historical, more formal social situations of the Regency period simply comes off as clumsy and out-of-place against modern sensibilities. This, more than anything, made it hard to fully enjoy the book. The author clearly needs to find her groove if she’s to successfully transition from romances to urban fantasy. (There’s a broad line between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and an enormous grey area in which they overlap. However, with this book coming out from DAW and being labeled as fantasy, it’s only logical to look at this as fantasy instead of romance. Were this marketed otherwise, perhaps it wouldn’t be so jarring.)

I see Trolls in the Hamptons (the start of a series, naturally) as a weak but potentially good beginning, and hopefully things will improve as the author finds a more appropriate voice to bridge the gap between genres. At the very least, if you choose to read this, be aware that it draws much more heavily from the romance side of the family than the fantasy, in terms of language, sensibilities, and priorities.

(I will, however, give Daniel Dos Santos’ lovely cover an extra bit of credit, for being eye-catching, memorable, and quirky. As an artist whose been making the rounds lately, he’s been delivering some great pieces. Even if the girl on the cover reminds me of Sarah Michelle Gellar.)

(DAW, 2010)

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