Book Review: Bad Boy's Bard, by E.J. Russell
Niall O’Tierney, half-human son of the Unseelie King, had never lost a wager until the day he swore to rid the Seelie court of its bard. That bet cost him everything: his freedom, his family—and his heart. When he’s suddenly face-to-face with Gareth at the ceremony to join the Seelie and Unseelie realms, Niall does the only thing inhumanly possible: he fakes amnesia. Not his finest hour, perhaps, but he never revealed his Unseelie heritage, and to tell the truth now would be to risk Gareth’s revulsion—far harder to bear than two hundred years of imprisonment.
Then a new threat to Gareth’s life arises, and he and Niall stage a mad escape into the Outer World, only to discover the fate of all fae resting on their shoulders. But before they can save the realm, they have to tackle something really tough: mending their own broken relationship.
I'm so seriously, super disappointed that Niall's existence is revealed in the blurb. I suspected the big secret of who he was and why he'd been spirited away back in book 2, but there was no confirmation, not even a whisper of it being true that would make it okay to be exposed the way it is in the blurb for book 3. It was still a huge mystery and, now, before I even sit down to read book 3, I already know everything about why and how he disappeared and who he is, because it's not only in the blurb on Goodreads and Amazon, but it's in the blurb at the beginning of the book. And, since I read everything from front cover to 'The End' (including skimming for anything relevant after that point) I read the blurb. And I wish I hadn't. If I'd wanted to know the big reveal before I even started, I would have skipped to the end.
I was hoping for a big reveal, a huge emotional journey that Niall and Gareth could go on together, as they fell in love again, even just to see Gareth's reaction to Niall being alive and well. I didn't want to be told, in the blurb, before I even crack the book open, the entirety of Niall's story. It makes me far less interested to read the book and go on this journey with them. In fact, it makes me think that Gareth deserves better than Niall, so puts me off reading the book that will inevitably have them falling for each other again. Just knowing how deeply Niall betrayed and deceived Gareth makes me not want to go any further than reading the blurb.
Honestly, between you and me, I had hoped for the whole hurt/comfort thing. I had hoped that Gareth would stumble upon the truth of where Niall had been held captive all this time, used his Bard gifts to rescue him from the big bad, and it would be all broken/hurt Niall being comforted/saved by Gareth, who had to finally pull up his big-boy pants and be an adult, rather than the whiny teenager he'd been until now. Instead, what I got was a cocky/arrogant piece of snark who had put Gareth in the position to get hurt in the first place, showed little remorse for 90% of the book and still got his happily ever after, because instead of growing up and getting a backbone, Gareth laid himself down as a mat to walk on and told Niall to go ahead because it was his honour to roll over and be used. Not what I'd wanted or expected from a supposed romance story.
In truth, the blurb also caused another issue for me. It built upon an uneasy feeling that book 2 had already given me, but which I'd overlooked for the simple fact that I thought it was limited to Mal and Bryce's relationship, which already had some iffy topics. However, the blurb for this book reminded me that the Fae are excelling at lying and manipulating to get their way. I find it increasingly disturbing how easily it comes to them and how the author decides to portray that within their relationship. I let it slide in book 2, because of the Master/slave relationship – despite the fact that the balance of power really did feel off kilter – but I'm not sure I can let it slide here. The Fae have gone from wondrous, lazy, politically focused creatures who happen to be gorgeous and do nothing worthwhile to something much darker and more dangerous than they had ever been in book one. They manipulate others at every turn, are quick to be judgmental and prissy, yet never stop to question anything worth questioning. In fact, David is the only character in this entire series who makes sense to me and thinks like I do.
I have to admit, that because of that, I feel like my interest in this series has plummeted. Book 1 is the golden jewel of the series, book 2 was passable if you closed your eyes and squinted through the Master/slave stuff, but I'm now beginning to wonder if this author is for me. I don't like to have the entire book ruined – a plot that I've waited 2 books to find out about – by having every detail I'd want to “see” for myself laid out in the blurb as though it didn't matter. Well, it mattered to me. I wanted to be surprised, to read about it happening as Gareth discovered it, to go on that journey with him and discover it on my own, not be told in a simple two paragraph description. For me, having it so blatantly exposed like that made half of the story utterly pointless.
Niall is a completely unlikeable, unrelatable character. I found him utterly reprehensible and I don't care how badly he was tortured or for how long, because he can never make up for what he did or who he is, or the fact that he shows little remorse for it. Not only did he treat Gareth despicably, but he was more than willing to let all of Faerie implode, with his own brother and Gareth's two brothers inside it, all because he was too chicken to speak up and confess that he was a habitual, compulsive liar with absolutely no decency. He was so afraid of losing Gareth that he was willing to sacrifice everyone in Faerie, and Faerie itself, just to keep his secret.
Gareth, the poor soul, was railroaded. I didn't want him to forgive Niall or get him back. I hoped he'd have spine enough to keep his distance and admit that he deserved better, but again, the author did a bang up job of making him out to be part-villain for the first two books, probably so that he and Niall would be better matched for each other. The way Gareth was continually used as a source of anger and discontent between the Kendrick brothers throughout the series meant that he'd made mistakes of his own and we, the readers, were supposed to equate the forgiveness his brothers offered him to the fact that Niall deserved forgiveness, too. But, I read it differently, I guess. Gareth's actions are perfectly understandable, to me, and to his brothers, because he was heartbroken and a prejudice was bred in him by his experiences from early youth. Niall has no such excuse – he willingly and knowingly went into his deception of Gareth and only grew a conscience when it concerned himself.
I also have to admit that I find it disturbing that the Seelie (or the author?) view rape as the only torture device known to man (Fae). It's used continually throughout the series as a threat, consequence and torture whenever the bad guys are around. The only deviation was when Niall was being punished and he was whipped instead. It reads so much like it's okay to threaten a character with rape, but that a main character would never be a main character if they'd actually gone through it. Yes, it's abhorrent, but it's treated with a strange kind of untouchable quality that means it's okay to threaten that it will happen, but if it ever did, either the author or the characters would never know how to handle it. I can't really put it into words, but there's a really strong sense throughout the series that it's a suitable threat, but it can never, ever happen.
I was a bit frustrated that we've been told in both previous books that people can't lie to David or Bryce without discovery, yet Niall does it persistently. He is never once caught out, until he's willing to reveal himself. I found it really off-putting and wasn't sure if it was some unexplained loophole or just a huge plot gap.
Besides the few editing/grammar issues I spotted throughout, I began to get really irritated by the constant use of “mate”, “oi” and “boyo”. To be honest, I presumed these were part of Mal's character, not a generalisation for both Mal and Gareth, who use them frequently, as does Niall. The more I read them, the more these brothers don't read Welsh. These three phrases are more Scottish or Irish than Welsh, in my experience, which totally goes against their heritage and the supposed American backdrop of the story.
I also had an issue with Gareth's logic – or rather, lack thereof. I get that he was happy to see Niall again, but there is no logic in the world that would reason an amnesia victim entering a relationship with someone who claimed to be their boyfriend, willingly. Most would question everything they were told by someone who had such a claim, not to mention they would definitely not seduce and willingly jump into bed with the person claiming to be their long lost love. That part alone should have woken Gareth up to Niall's lies, but so should the million other things that at least gave David and Bryce some pause, even if they weren't smart enough to put the pieces together themselves.
Overall, the scenes were short, constantly chopping and changing between Niall and Gareth, usually to show the same events through both eyes, which became a little laborious after a while. The story plot itself was thin and I really didn't like Niall, at all. He had a thousand chances to tell the truth – in the past and in the present – yet he never took them. Instead, he knowingly left Gareth to suffer, well aware of what he'd been through and what it would do to him, just because he was too scared to tell the truth and face the consequences. The fact that the author had to use flashbacks to show any kind of chemistry between them just says it all, really. The relationship was so thin that nothing, for me, could save it. Not even having the ray of sunshine that is David and Alun back, or seeing Bryce and Mal again, could fix what was wrong, here.
The ending was left open for another book, though I've read that the author doesn't intend to write one in this trilogy. In all honestly, even if they did, I wouldn't read it. However, I've heard that they're contemplating writing side stories about other characters, and I won't be reading them, either. I've learned my lesson. Book 1 is as far as this series will go, for me. I won't be re-reading any of the others in the future.
This isn't really my favourite for a good reason, but because Gareth finally questions Niall the way he should have in the beginning. He finally sees what should have been obvious all alone.
“Niall straightened his shoulders. “This isn’t about you and me anymore, Gareth. This is about Faerie. About my brother and yours. About all Celtic fae, greater and lesser. If you’re the man I’ve always believed you to be, you don’t have a choice.”