There are few things more rewarding than a properly-executed cross-genre ‘mashup,’ that is, a novel that capably blends the hallmark elements from two otherwise disparate literary arenas. An equal blend can be difficult to achieve, but when it works, you often wind up with a gem (like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow). For modern writers, however, the task of crafting a groundbreaking ‘blender’ is made all the more difficult by the sheer volume of titles that come to market every year. With the first entry to her Queen Messiah series, MALKAH JOB: Red Dragon, Vasilissa Wladowsky makes a valiant attempt to blend a classic spy/thriller with a steamy romance romp.
Leda is many things to many people. To her friends, she is a quick-witted former ballerina. To her employers, she is a resourceful, ever-reliable contract killer. And to her enemies, she is the last face they will see. Her latest assignment, however, is her most personal yet. It’s during her mission to rescue her brainwashed husband that Leda first realizes that everything she thought she knew about her life has only been a small part of a much larger story. Not only is the international spy in the crosshairs of the world’s superpowers, she just so happens to be the long-awaited Queen Messiah, a legendary being with supernatural abilities and a birthright tethering her to the fate of the world.
MALKAH JOB has a lot going for it. Leda is an instantly memorable character driven by a tantalizingly complex past. She’s smart, resourceful, and fears no man (or woman). And save for a slew of grammatical inconsistencies, Wladowsky’s writing is remarkably adept at crafting an engrossing setting. Regardless of the numerous tropes on display in MALKAH JOB, there’s an unabashed sense of enthusiasm driving this story that almost makes it impossible not to root for Leda. Unfortunately, the author’s heavy reliance on exposition results in a convoluted plot bogged down by a plodding pace that is ill-suited for either of the genres Wladowsky attempts to explore. To make matters worse, MALKAH JOB is in desperate need of reformatting. The combination of long, adjective-laden sentences and the exclusion of any paragraph indentation makes for an endless stream of text, resulting in a wince-inducing read. Given that the book’s layout is a stylistic choice, an argument could be made that it shouldn’t be held against the novel’s content. But as it stands, MALKAH JOB is an objectively difficult read. Additionally, the gratuitous sex and violence make for a strange mix. The portions that will satisfy diehard fans of romance will likely be a turn-off for those in search of a fast-paced thriller, and vice-versa.
While much of the above is easily remedied with a solid edit, the disjointed nature of this novel may be a DNF-inducing deal-breaker for some readers. By the third act, it becomes apparent that there are three fully-formed story-arcs in constant competition. Leda saving her family, Leda confronting her past, and Leda saving the world could all serve as a solid premise for a debut novel. But as it stands, the current plot, so intricate it occasionally flirts with overwrought, buckles under the weight of itself.
Driven by a cunning seductress with a secret several millennia in the making, MALKAH JOB: Red Dragon is a promising debut that is disappointingly undermined by a convoluted plot and formatting issues.
~James Weiskittel for IndieReader