"Cam? He's back."
The all-important first line of a novel has become something of a cliche; that first line should be creative enough to catch the attention of the reader, draw them in, and make them want to keep reading (Novel Writing 101, syllabus day 1). It's become a weird little hobby of mine, seeing how creative and "out there" first lines have become.
But Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux keep it simple in Warrior's Cross. "Cam? He's back." Warrior's Cross doesn't waste pages on backstory or filler; our two main characters have an established relationship from page one. The relationship may be mysterious and limited, but you get the sense that there is a connection between them and the angst in this book isn't of the "Will they or won't they" variety.
If you haven't read Warrior's Cross, there are mild spoilers below. In case you aren't familiar with the book and choose to keep reading, you should know a bit about the characters first. Cameron Jacobs is a waiter at an upscale restaurant in Chicago. Julian Cross is, well, he takes on various jobs for a living, some (most?) involving killing/harming/scaring the bejeesus out of people. Much of what Julian does is a mystery, but he has a handler named Blake and a partner-in-crime slash driver named Preston.
Warrior's Cross continues what I love about the Urban & Roux books. They aren't your typical "romance" novels. Sure, there is more than enough angst and mystery (and sex) in Warrior's Cross to go around, but rather than flipping through the pages waiting for the next steamy love scene, I found myself thinking about what Cam and Julian were trying to tell me with their story. Even in my love stories, I love it when the authors make me think, dammit!
Several themes run throughout this book, some more subtle than others. Career choice is one recurrent theme, as Julian examines whether he wants to keep doing what he does and as Cameron questions what Julian could possibly see in "just" a waiter. Another theme has to do with protecting those we love; if we have to keep secrets to protect them, then what, exactly, are we protecting them from?
What color is your parachute?
Being good at your job doesn't equate to loving your job. What if you hate a job in which you excel? I used to be very good at advanced math, algebra, trigonometry, etc. But I hated it with a passion. I can't imagine I'd be very satisfied in a career as a physicist. On the other hand, what if you excel at a job you should hate but don't? What happens if society sees your work as morally reprehensible, but you see it as a necessary evil? And, also, you just happen to enjoy your work and take pride in what you do. I imagine these were questions some very famous physicists in the 40's struggled with, as does Julian.
Additionally, the point is made in Warrior's Cross that what you happen to do for a living is not the same as who you are. But later in the book, one of the characters comes to think that perhaps who you are influences what you end up doing for a living. The question then becomes if what you do for a living is looked down upon by society, what does that say about who you are? Or, should one ask instead, what does that say about society?
Secrets mean I love you?
Julian is clear there are things about himself he cannot share with Cameron, and this is to keep Cameron safe. Cameron is clear that he can accept this about Julian. However, the cracks in this arrangement eventually begin to appear.
So, do you risk your relationship by keeping secrets in order to keep your partner safe, or do you risk putting your partner in danger by being completely honest in an effort to save the relationship? How well do you need to know someone to love them? To trust them?
To Julian, love equals protection. He gives his Warrior's Cross necklace to Cameron as a token of his affection, but also as a talisman of protection; for Julian they are one and the same. To Cameron, love equals unconditional acceptance; knowing your partner's flaws and loving them--not in spite of their flaws, but flaws and all.
"Cameron, what will it take for you to realize I'm trying to keep you away from something ugly?" Julian asked quietly as he lifted one hand to take Cameron's chin. "I don't want you to see the world like I see it. What is it that you want so badly?"
Graphic courtesy Olga P. (c)
"I want to know you," Cameron answered, a little desperation in his voice. "I want to know you," he whispered as the upset choked him and threatened to spill over. (loc 2608)
For their relationship to survive, Cameron and Julian will need to come to some sort of understanding about how much Cameron needs to know to trust Julian, and how much Julian can disclose and still keep Cameron safe.
What about this Cameron, anyway?
Finally, I've seen some criticism floating around out there about Cameron. Not about Cameron, per se, but about Cameron being such an odd (read: boring) choice for Julian. My initial reaction to this criticism is perhaps these readers were expecting a more typical novel where the dashing, mysterious, dangerous, exciting man would be partnered with someone equally dashing, mysterious, dangerous, and exciting. However, upon reading Warrior's Cross again in preparation for this post, I came to the conclusion that those who criticize Cameron as a romantic choice for Julian maybe didn't read the book. Urban and Roux clearly address, over and over, why Julian is attracted to Cameron. But in case you missed it...
One scene in particular stands out for me. It's Christmas evening. Julian has been walking who knows how long in a blizzard and finally gets to Cameron's apartment. Julian enters. Lights are twinkling in the window, jazzy Christmas music is playing, and the scent of lasagna is coming from the oven. Julian is wet and cold; Cameron immediately gets him a towel and shows his concern. Even though there is a bit of tension between them, Cameron offers his hospitality; a hot shower and some dry clothes.
Cameron takes care of Julian. Cameron offers someplace that feels like home. Cameron trusts Julian. Cameron offers Julian something that not even his most trusted Preston can offer: comfort. And there is so much more than this one scene tells us. But enough reading between the lines. What does Julian have to say about Cameron?
Julian says that he enjoyed watching Cameron do his job because he appeared happy (loc 685), and observed that Cameron appeared content (loc 168). Julian also says, "When I'm with him I feel like one of the good guys . . . I just... I feel normal with him. (loc 2330).
What Julian does for a living sets him apart from everyone else. He's an "other." His job is life and death on a day-to-day basis. Cameron is the only "normal" person Julian has felt connected to, the only person who loves him and trusts him who isn't in "the life." And, on some level, each of them has a job that is not valued by society but both of them enjoy what they do, see value in what they do, and take pride in doing it well. I can't think of anyone else better suited to Julian than Cameron.
And Cameron is no slouch. He is described as "trim...of average height and build...brown hair cut short and neat..." He may have a "quiet personality and tendency toward introversion," but that combined with a "pleasant but unremarkable appearance" makes him "naturally discreet (loc 28)." He is repeatedly described as confident. Again, if you have a high-stress high-danger lifestyle, I can see how you might be drawn to an attractive, unassuming yet confident kind of person.
Warrior's Cross and Cut & Run
Warrior's Cross, by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux, is technically a standalone book but the main characters Cameron Jacobs and Julian Cross make a crossover appearance in the Cut & Run series by the same authors. Warrior's Cross takes place after Divide & Conquer.
If you came late to the Cut & Run series as I did and were lucky enough to read Armed & Dangerous immediately after finishing Divide & Conquer, you may have completely ignored Warrior's Cross. I mean, c'mon. Ty leaves that note at the end of Divide & Conquer and I'm supposed to take time out to read Warrior's Cross?
Impossible as it may have been, I wish I had read Warrior's Cross first. I understand Cameron and Julian on a completely different level now, which makes Armed & Dangerous a very different book.
Warrior's Cross is a must read, all on its own. Urban and Roux don't fail. There's mystery, thrills, sex, twists and turns, a great plot, and outstanding character development.
*all references from the Kindle e-book edition
From the Publisher:
Cameron Jacobs is an open book. He considers himself a common waiter with normal friends, boring hobbies, harmless dogs, and nothing even resembling a secret. . . except a crush on a tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome man who dines alone at his restaurant on Tuesday nights. All it takes is one passionate night with Julian Cross to turn Cameron's world on its head.
Julian's love and devotion are all Cameron could have hoped for and more. But when his ordinary life meets and clashes with Julian's extraordinary lifestyle, Cameron discovers that trust and fear can go hand in hand, and love is just a step away from danger.