Title: 666 Park Avenue
Author: Gabriella Pierce
Publisher: Harper Collins (US) / Canvas (UK)
Series: 666 Park Avenue #1
Other Reviews for This Author: None
This premise appealed to me, and that's about the bulk of why I picked it up. The reviews online have been mixed: some love, some hate, and people I respect enjoy it with reservations. As in, 666 Park Avenue is an entirely fun book that doesn't delve deeply into any particular themes or purposes. It's been considered entertaining enough to be produced as a television show for the CW (I think - maybe I just think everything is being turned into a show for the CW, though). Does this book entertain the reader if they enjoy paranormal and (gothic) romantic elements? Yes. Am I a reader that enjoys these elements? Again, yes. I went in hoping to enjoy this book enough to recommend it even if it is nothing more than an airy read that follows a weird gothic-chick-lit-horror-romance genre pattern. Despite my enjoyment of the title, I can't recommend it with any particular enthusiasm, and the culprit is not just the fluffiness of the storyline.
Upcoming architect Jane Boyle has started to make a name for herself in Paris. After years of schooling and working her way up the ladder, she has finally nabbed herself a solo client. Everything that Jane has worked for up until this point has become worth it. Jane enters the job with enthusiasm and preparation, but she doesn't enter with expectations regarding romance. It isn't long before Malcolm Doran, a man she meets via this first job, turns her world into something shiny and new. He romances her within the span of a month, offering her the best of the best as only a wealthy heir from New York City can. Romance and security aren't the only thing that the blond hunk of man offers Jane, though. That one month of pure bliss also leads him to offering her an engagement ring.
Jane Boyle is now soon-to-be Jane Duran, but she has to tie up some loose ends from her past before tying the knot with Malcolm. With her parents dead from an accident in her early childhood, Jane only has her grandmother left alive in a quaint French village that was the center of most of Jane's childhood. She takes Malcom with her in order to introduce him to Gran, even though she knows very well that Gran won't entirely approve. After all, she hasn't talked to her in over six years due to familial complications. The time passed has nothing on the ties of blood and love, however, and Jane is determined to have Gran meet with Malcom before she marries him. Getting Gran to meet with Malcom proves to be a harder task than Jane thought, as she comes back home only to find her grandmother dead in her chair.
Death, though an ending, is also a beginning for Jane. Her grandmother has left her more than an empty house and dead flowers lying in a vase on the kitchen table. Jane finds a letter from her grandmother behind a mirror awkwardly placed in her old bedroom. The letter details more than just a final goodbye from Gran - it talks of an entire family history that Jane never knew about. A history of the blood. Of witchcraft. The frequent failing of electronics around herself whenever she is moody suddenly makes sense: Jane is a witch. The revelation isn't the only thing about the letter, though. Gran also warns Jane that the protected spells she put on her years before would run out with her death. Jane doesn't connect things at first, but when she moves to the States with Malcom and meets his eccentric family, she starts connecting the dots. Jane isn't the only witch in Malcolm's life, and the reality of her situation is far more sinister than she could ever anticipate.
Jane. The very name screams the every-girl. The Jane Doe. Normally, authors use this name to contrast a character that is very abnormal. Jane Boyle may come from a long line of powerful witches, but Pierce characterizes her in a way that is decidedly average. She's pretty and blonde, intelligent and snarky. Nothing about her existence is particularly exciting save for her romance to Malcom - until she becomes a witch. Then everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Jane has some character growth throughout 666 Park Avenue and becomes a bit stronger as a person due to the need to learn how to use her magic effectively. She learns how to stand up to her extremely wicked stepmother, even if it threatens her life. Those kinds of lessons are obvious enough throughout the text that the reader doesn't get too bored with Jane's journey as a character, but everything else about her is fairly shallow. Nothing about her past gets explored after the first couple of pages. She hears about her lineage as being one of the most pure and powerful ones in the witch families, yet she never researches down her family tree specifically. She also never goes into the reasons behind her extended leave of absence from her Gran, or how she feels about that afterwords. The emotions just come and go completely as that backstory gets introduced to move the plot forward. That kind of thing makes little sense emotionally, and it could have added so much depth to her character arc. She also struggles with her feelings for Malcom and for another man when she discovers that magic attracts magic, yet the 'magic attracts magic' concept is never explained enough for her to realize whether her feelings of attraction are of magical origin or not. Her romance with Malcom isn't much better, and she never shakes it up with him until the very end when she finally learns not to trust him explicitly. Their courtship was so short that neither character has time to be close with one another, and Pierce doesn't really succeed in convincing the reader that Jane would be so convinced that he loves her unconditionally, especially after all of the family secrets and manipulations that occur. Nothing about Jane is offensive or annoying, but her character feels more of a character sketch than a real person.
666 Park Avenue is one of those books where the secondary characters feel much more interesting than the main character. Malcom is arguably one of the worst, which makes his status as one of the romantic heroes a bit of a snooze. He's perpetually unable to stand up to his controlling mother and never gives Jane the full honesty that she needs from him in a relationship. He grows some throughout the story and redeems himself a little bit at the end, but Malcom does some pretty rotten things that get revealed later on in the text that make it really hard to see him as a romantic lead. It's not so much that Jane becomes the one that really stands up to his mother, but that Malcom never has any inner strength of his own as a beta male character. Harris, the other male romantic interest, is more dynamic and likable because of his position as a non-magical member of an opposing socialite witch family. He understands Jane more as a person and their relationship is more friendship/need-based than her relationship with Malcom. The lust and attraction still take more precedence than true character chemistry, though. Harris also shows a lot of respect and caring for his sister Maeve, who is the first person in New York City to befriend Jane in spite of the Doran family's scary reputation. Jane also gains a friend in Dee, a Wiccan girl who works in a high-end bakery that the Doran family uses to cater many of their posh events. Dee is the most unique of the secondary characters and is unabashed in her acceptance of Jane as a person, family title or not. She takes interest in Jane's magical abilities as well and provides a good vehicle for plot and backstory advancement that the other characters really don't. However, none of the characters hold a candle to Lynne Doran, the mother-in-law from Hell herself. Lynne is evil to a ridiculous degree and has almost no moral compass, yet Pierce surprises with just how evil Lynne really is. She manages to balance the conceited, wealthy matriarch role with the controlling witch, making a pairing that is both insane in its wickedness and rather genius in its construction. Lynne never gets moments of humanity that make her a well-rounded character, but she's by far the most entertaining character in the extremes that she will go to in order to get her way.
Many readers will find 666 Park Avenue's writing to be serviceable. Pierce's debut novel is not badly written by any means, although it has many hallmarks of a writer who hasn't learned how to embrace the personal parts of their style that makes it special. The focused third person perspective gives the narrative a level of distance that makes it harder to get into the story - mainly because Pierce uses it as a crutch to keep her characters, situations, and themes on the shallow end of the spectrum. The writing is very chick-lit in how it tends to focus on a lot of the ways that Lynne is controlling via the wedding plans, the social events that the Durans get involved with, and the other city-centered parts of the story. It doesn't have the genre's humor, though, and reads more as a frothy take on a modern gothic novel. It has more in common execution-wise with the gothic romance than anything else (rich guy marries unknown girl out of the blue, sweeps her away to a far-away place that is looming and filled with creepy family members and secrets that could ruin their relationship...it's pretty gothic). There's nothing wrong with this - in many ways it kept the book feeling a bit different from other adult witch stories out there - but the execution doesn't provide any intelligent commentary on the genre or a real idea of how to do the execution well. The story's shallowness just made the gothic elements feel contrived, and while the elements of the plot aren't quite so common in adult books that I've read, they've been done before in young adult books time and time again. There just wasn't enough of a unique spin on the plot devices used or the tropes presented that made it felt like the author had an idea of what she was writing.
My critical take of 666 Park Avenue is intensive, but it's not to say that I didn't enjoy the experience at all. There's something about reads like this that will always feel a bit enjoyable and relaxing. It's the type of book that you read and almost promptly forget unless you just love all of the tropes used within it. Malcom and Jane are a couple that never get fully explored, and their romance is ridiculously thin and based on presumptions of love that are never proven, only told. The secondary characters are more interesting but all stay within certain stereotypes and character restrictions. The writing is fair and I could see the author becoming better with time, but the most disappointing aspect was that nothing more was added to this chick-lit/gothic romance hybrid to make it feel like something more than just a simple story of a wicked mother-in-law.
Cover: The US cover is my favorite because of the more gothic edge to it. The UK one is a bit too generic, though perhaps that fits the story's tone better.
Rating: 3.0 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Canvas books!)