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09 November 2009 @ 11:17 pm
Skin Game by Ava Gray  
Publisher: Berkley, 2009
Genre: Romance
Sub-genre: Paranormal
Rating: 4 pints of blood

"Stare at my pecs!" says headless dude on the cover, and I obey because I can't help it. He has no face, and his chest stands out so very much agasint the dark woodsy background. There's really nothing subtle about this kind of cover: it says "HERE THERE BE SEXY TIMES."

For those who are unaware, Ava Gray is the superpowered alter ego of mild-mannered author Ann Aguirre (ok, I might have made some of that up; both her identities are equally superpowered). If you prefer sci-fi and fantasy to romance and have been a bit wary of trying Skin Game because it qualifies as paranormal romance, I'm here to assure you it still reads like an Ann Aguirre novel. Which is to say the world is gritty and full of action, and the characters are complex and flawed creatures. This ain't a book full of pacifistic pirates, folks.

Kyra is a con artist with a secret: when she touches someone, she steals their greatest talent. The theft is only temporary, but it's enough to let her run the cons that pay her bills. On her way out of Vegas, where she's just pulled her biggest con ever, she picks up a man who introduces himself as Rey. She can't quite resist the spark between them, and so she takes him to her hotel room for the night, planning to leave as soon as she's done with him.

Reyes has no intention of being left behind, though. He's a hitman, one of the best, and was hired by Serrano, the wealthy and merciless man Kyra targeted back in Vegas. It's well known that Reyes has never missed a mark, and now that he has her in his sights, he figures it's only a matter of time before he can find out where she hid the money, kill her, and finish up another job. To discover where the money is, though, he's got to stay close to her, and the more he gets to know her, the more he grows to like what he sees. He and Kyra are two of a kind, and in her he sees the equal he's never had before. His reluctance to see her dead increases every day, but if he fails in his job, not only will it ruin his reputation, but Serrano will send someone new after the both of them.

To have a romance between a con artist and a hitman is a daring choice, but from all the buzz I've been seeing about this book, I'm not the only one this really works for. Kyra and Reyes are delightfully human and wonderfully strong characters, and both of them try to make sure they use their skills according to their morals, only hitting targets who deserve to be taken. Even better, it's a lot of fun to watch them work both with and against each other, since they're pretty evenly matched and have this amazing chemistry.

It's also really nice to see Kyra's abilities tempered with disadvantages; for one thing, her talent thefts are only temporary, and she has no idea how long they'll last. For another, she can't touch anyone without stealing their strongest talent, which limits the physical contact she can have with other people. And worst of all, if she touches too many people, takes too many talents in a short period of time, she pays for it with debilitating headaches. I love touches like this, things the keep "superpowered" characters from becoming too powerful, that keep them firmly in the human box with the rest of us. Sure, Kyra can temporarily be an expert on just about anything if she comes across the right person, but it's not always pleasant, and once it's over, that ability is gone as though she'd never had it.

The plot is lovely and layered, the sort of thing where you have to keep reading because you really need to know the answers to questions only hinted at. The story also hints that Kyra is not the only one gifted with special abilities, and since this is the first of a contracted four books, it looks like there'll be plenty of room to explore the possibilities. Which is a good thing, because Kyra herself doesn't seem to know many of the whys and wherefores behind her talent thefts, and the reason for her one-person exception to being able to touch without repercussions is driving me nuts. Being familiar with the author's work, I trust not only that there is a reason, but it will be explored later in the series, but had this been my first venture into her writing, it would have been the type of thing to stick in my craw.

Alright, enough gushing. I think it's pretty clear by now I really enjoyed the book, and am looking forward to the second in the series, Skin Tight, which delves more deeply into some very interesting secondary characters. If you haven't given Ava Gray a chance yet, do it! Do it now!

Skin Game is available in mass market paperback and as an e-book.
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janicujanicu on November 10th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
Devilwritesdevilwrites on November 10th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
I forgot this was coming out this month! I hate the cover thought. :-/