Just One Touch by Maya Banks (2017)
For the part of me that is a writer, it is a challenging task to write this book review. I find myself wanting to temper my comments and yet I know that I just need to come right out and say what I’m really thinking. What I’m really thinking is that this book isn’t any good. I have read and liked other books by Maya Banks in the past, but this one definitely is not like the others, and in this case that’s a bad thing. The only reason that I got to the end of the book was because, well, I forced myself to keep reading. Not because I thought it would get better (I didn’t and it didn’t) and not because I have some sort of personal rule about finishing every book I begin (I don’t and have given up on countless books). The idea of the story had potential, but it was wasted time and time again. I’m putting this book into my newly minted “Don’t Bother” category of books, and here’s why.
In theory, Just One Touch should be able to stand alone. It is the fifth book in Banks’ Slow Burn series; however, the series isn’t serial in nature in that the events of one book are a continuation of or dependent upon the events that took place in the book or books that came before it. The books are set in the same world and you will see characters from previous books make appearances; however, these do not have to be read in order, so you can jump in at any point or pick and choose to read the stories that appeal to you. One of the problems with the book is that even as it tries (and fails) to stand alone, it reveals a lot of the details of other books in the series to the point that if you hadn’t read the others, you’d already have them spoiled for you. In addition, if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, you will be confused by some of the actions of the supporting characters. What’s more, you’ll be called upon to care about the fate of those characters in this book, to be empathetic and sympathetic toward them, but if you haven’t read each of their stories, that aspect of the story will be lost to you and only further decrease the odds that you’ll enjoy the book. In my opinion, if you’re going to write a series you have to either (1) have each book be a link in a sequential chain, where you must read them in order, or (2) have the books exist within the same world and with recurring characters but each book can and does stand on its own. For this reader, Just One Touch misses the mark.
The characters, as well as the development of those characters, also fails to deliver. There’s no real depth to either the male protagonist or female protagonist. Instead, Isaac and Jenna are both cardboard, two-dimensional stick figures who do what they’re supposed to do but are in no way engaging or interesting. Both characters’ pasts are shrouded in mystery. At least, I think that’s the intent. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that at the beginning of the story, Jenna has escaped from a cult. Though the question of how she came to be a member of the cult is answered in the faintest of terms by the end of the story, the answer itself is rendered meaningless because I don’t ever get to the point where I really care. Likewise, Isaac’s history is also shrouded in secrecy, and though the intent is to show that whatever is in his past haunts him to the point that he needs a kind of spiritual healing, it’s never specifically spelled out what, exactly, haunts him. I didn’t ever really know who the main characters were, and I was never invested in them. There were moments when Jenna in particular is supposed to be read as strong, selfless, and courageous. Honestly, I kept thinking “Is this really the choice you’re going to make? Seriously?”. She’s not believable as a character. None of the character development worked for me.
Oh, and this is a romance, right? Not only was I not invested in Isaac and Jenna as separate characters, I wasn’t invested in their love story either. There was never any chemistry between them, no tension, nothing to make it hard for me to look away and put the book down.
There’s also the dimension of suspense, right? The villain of the story (and yes, in my mind villain is the accurate term to use here instead of antagonist because the character isn’t nearly complex enough to earn that descriptor) is yet another cardboard figure. Apparently, nothing more than evil and a quest for immortality drive his actions. Throughout the story, his machinations are nothing more than plot devices. The crisis/all is lost moment in the story is quite predictable and the showdown is anticlimactic at best.
Then there’s the epilogue. Don’t read it. Trust me, just skip it altogether. If I hadn’t been reading on my e-reader I would have thrown the book against the wall. As it is, I’m rolling my eyes and shuddering just thinking about it.
It’s rare that I give a book a one-star rating. I know from experience how hard it is to write a story from start to finish, and consequently, I typically choose not to review books if I think I’m going to struggle to find good things to say about it. I’m changing my mentality (or trying to change it) on that because I think if you’re a writer, you can learn from books that are not executed or written well. That’s what Just One Touch is for me. A lesson on what not to do in my own writing.