Friday, 4 April 2014
Cloak and Dagger by Nenia Campbell
Published by: Self-published
Genre: Romance / Crime Thriller (NA)
Michael is a professional assassin working for Integrated Military Affairs (or the IMA), a powerful organisation of mercenaries. He is young, good looking, and the best at what he does. Despite being in his early 20s he is a high ranking agent, in charge of other agents, many of whom are jostling to climb the ladder of success and gain power in the organisation. As such, some of his subordinates would be happy for him to fail and he has to watch his back when around certain colleagues.
Michael is working on a case investigating a breach in the IMAs security. A computer hacker was able to infiltrate the company's network, access top secret information and plant a virus, causing serious damage to their systems.
The prime suspect is an expert in computer science, a man called Rubens Parker and Michael's only lead to him is via Parker's 18 year old daughter, Christina.
Christina Parker is an 18 year old good christian girl who is a senior at a private catholic school. She has lived a sheltered and privileged life. She lives in the shadow of her hateful, vacuous and over-bearing mother who was formerly a model and currently works as a fashion designer. This woman has made Christina feel self-conscious about her weight and deflated her self-confidence. One day Christina returns home from school to find her parents gone and a phone message warning her to get out of the house. Before she is able to act she is attacked, rendered unconscious and taken. She wakes to find herself in the back of a moving car, stunned by the realisation that she has been kidnapped.
Michael takes Christina to a 'safe house' owned by the IMA and holds her prisoner. He intends to use her as a bargaining chip to gain access to her father. However, Michael fails to make progress in that regard and falls out of favour with his superiors. His interaction with Christina also has an affect on him - could he be developing a conscience? Things get complicated for him when his overly ambitious subordinate and rival, Adrian Callaghan, intervenes (on the orders of Michael's boss), taking Christina from the premises (while Michael is away) delivering her to IMA headquarters where she is in even more danger than ever; Micheal's approach had been to instil fear using threats he would not carry out whereas his colleagues have no problem inflicting pain and suffering on their captors. The idea of Christina being tortured does not sit well with Michael so he defies his boss and attempts to get her back...
I liked this novel. I found it gripping from the very first page and it became more so with each chapter. The story is told from two perspectives, Michael's and Christina's. They are polar opposites; Christina is an angelic character while Michael's character is very dark. (We learn from his back story that he grew up rough, became a vicious criminal and a gang member before he was spotted and recruited by the IMA.)
The novel is quite dark and goes to places some readers may find disturbing. It may even anger some as Christina suffers repeatedly while captive by Michael and later by Adrian.
Make no mistake, Cloak and Dagger is a new adult fiction novel of the hot and steamy romantic kind (you know the ones that tend to have hand-cuffs or f*ck-me stilettos on the cover). Yes there are elements of the crime thriller but that aspect is rather contrived and serves purely to facilitate what the book is actually about, i.e. Michael and Christina's relationship. That said, what sets it apart from the NA books mentioned below** is that they all read like romantic porn (and by that I mean they seek to stimulate the romantic desires of the reader) whereas Cloak and Dagger does not try to manipulate its readers and therefore, manages to avoid gratuitous romance - it is completely absent of fluff.
It is not without problem areas. I felt it started to falter towards the end, when Michael and Christina arrive in Seattle. We are told that he is the best and yet what follows are a series of events that demonstrate that he is an incompetent field agent. By the time he realises his mistakes it's too late and his actions lead to Christina's capture by the IMA (for the 4th time!). Also, he would sometimes say things that were at odds with his character. For example, "..she slept with him for money and she had a child with him out of wedlock. Both things make her a whore in my book." This suggests to me that Michael is both an assassin and a devout christian (??).
It is a thought-provoking read. The significance of the female protagonist's name was not lost on me. Her character is Christ-like (she endures countless suffering as a sacrifice for the sins of those around her, in particular her parents and later Michael). She does this without hatred or malice and is willing to bear the sacrifices time and time again - and boy does she!
The relationship between Christina and Michael is very complex; the abuser and the abused is how it starts out, but the line blurs as the plot develops. His treatment of her is undoubtedly abominable, but his back story and character explain (although do not justify) the reasons behind it. The situation is not black and white - more like (Fifty) Shades of Grey. [Sorry, I couldn't resist.]
Cloak and Dagger is well worth reading in my opinion (although one you might want to avoid if you prefer your romance served sweet). There is a sequel called Armed and Dangerous in which I hope Christina's situation improves - less Shawshank, more Redemption - and the dynamic of her relationship with Michael changes so the balance of power shifts from him to her. I would however be disappointed if it turns out to be more of the same.
**If you are interested in reading a dark NA novel - minus the rom-porn - forget Fifty Shades, forget Gabriel's Inferno, forget Beautiful Disaster and read Cloak and Dagger instead.