Shades Of Gray is the debut UF novel by L.M. Pruitt that stands out more for its ridiculous scenarios and inane characterization than anything else. Virtually every trope and cliché is displayed in full unpolished glory and drags the whole thing down into head-shaking wonder.
Jude Magdalyn Jeffries has been on her own since she was fifteen; now twenty-five she's an accomplished street hustler in New Orleans with a touch of magical power- she can feel it on the edges of her perception, like intuition, but can't manage it. But it does come in handy for the occasional scam. A tarot reading for some wealthy clients goes wrong when she feels an instinctive loathing for a man at the party and she leaves, only to discover him following her. The man, Hart, is revealed to be a vampire but Jude is rescued by a mysterious group of people called the Covenant- an alliance of magical families and of late, vampires- whose existence was only whispered about. Jude is revealed to be the Prophecy- her coming foretold centuries ago- and is the last descendant of those who ruled the Covenant. They need her to finally win the war against Hart, who has his own ties to and designs upon the Covenant. Jude quickly assimilates the lessons and skills required of her, making both enemies and friends and even gets embroiled in a love triangle with Williams- a vampire who rescued her from Hart, and Theo- a worldly priest. Hart maintains the pressure, always waiting to strike, and lands a decisive blow that threatens both individuals and factions within the Covenant. Now vulnerable, Jude must find a way to stop Hart before he can achieve his ends.
This book goes wrong in so many places it's hard to know where to start. In the pdf copy I read the text was improperly formatted and riddled with typos and misspellings- copyediting was sorely lacking here. Unfortunately, that's the least of my concerns. Jude herself is a complete mess of a protagonist, just all over the place. She starts out as Stock UF Heroine #43: Twenty-Something Edgy But Caring Orphaned Loner What Had It Rough, until it's revealed that she ran away from the orphanage and the nuns who raised her so she could live on the streets stealing, selling drugs and even whoring herself out. Because it makes more sense to lose your virginity in a back alley to some sleazebag than to get a solid education and forge a decent life for yourself. And she never misses an opportunity to get Smart & Sassy with everyone, even when there's no reason to- except just to be annoying. Yet Jude constantly falls back upon all the things the nuns taught her- like archery (good for hunting vamps) and quoting Shakespeare (nice for those romantic moments), which makes it even harder to understand why she ran away. None of this makes her seem like a flawed hero so much as a stupid, self-centered bimbo.
This is underscored by her ironclad status as a MarySue. As the leader of the Covenant, Jude is elevated from hustler to trust fund baby, with millions at her disposal and a magically reinforced mansion to dwell in, complete with enchanted training room. Within a week of being brought into the Covenant Jude can cast magic spells by synonym instead of incantation, mix heretofore unknown compounds, stop time, heal people, astral project, alter the genus of plants... do I need to go on? The magic and mixing is particularly grating; the compound she puts together could've been done by anyone in junior high, yet is a revelation to the most learned members of the Covenant. And instead of reciting the entire tract of a magic spell to conjure gale winds she simply substitutes the word 'hurricane'- and voila! Did I mention this all happens within a week? One of the characters sums it up best: "Well, it looks like the Prophecy can do any little thing she sets her mind to. How lucky we all are." Too bad half the time she never seems to know what to do with any of them.
And what would a MarySue be without her utter sex appeal and complete lack of common sense? In one scene, Jude awakens to find a vampiric assassin in her room watching (instead of killing) her. She distracts him with snappy banter, cleavage and come-hither looks until he decides to put his weapon down (!) and get some, but still tells her he'll kill her after. One guess how this all turns out. Then in spite of making out with Williams at every opportunity she has what amounts to polite small talk with Theo and immediately wonders about him naked. After that Jude decides to leave the mansion- alone,but during daylight. While she wanders the streets trying to sort things out she starts to get the feeling that something's not right. It takes her a full TEN MINUTES while standing next to the Mississippi River to understand that the sun's gone down and Hart will be coming for her. Yes- the Prophecy is too stupid to realize when night falls. It takes four days to recover from the beating she gets- during which she's assured that's she totally worth the trouble and not an utter moron. At this point she uses Paris Hilton logic to decide which man she wants: since Theo stayed to hold her hand while Williams was out hunting for Hart, he's clearly the man for her. Afterwards the happy couple leaves the safety of the mansion and goes out on a date... at night. Because that's just what Chosen Ones do when vampires are hunting them.
After the death of a Covenant member, Jude and Williams find themselves alone together and end up having Insanely Awesome Sex While Emotionally Vulnerable. Yet Jude not only feels guilty for betraying Theo she resents Williams for using her solely to soothe his own pain (at least that's how it seemed to her). But wait- after she confesses it to Theo he rationalizes she was raped despite the fact that she let Williams finger her, they undressed each other and she willingly laid down for him simply because she never verbally said yes. Like any true hero, Jude eagerly seizes upon this foolishness so she can push Williams away and have a guilt-free relationship with her true love... that she just met last week.
The other characters were supplied through Central Casting- Gruff Yet Wise Terminally Ill Mentor, Hot-N-Sexy Man O' Mystery, Ebil Blonde Haterz, Big Bad Guy Who Always Avoids Killing The Heroine, etc. As bad as this is, some of the names are worse- a Blonde Hater named Wily has twin girls named Lies and Guile. Seriously. Williams is always referred to as such, and no one ever bothers to ask what his given name is. God only knows why.
The plot points are so implausible they're almost a parody. The world is apparently full of magic yet it never seems to impact daily life. Jude herself heard whispers about the Covenant on the streets, so how do law enforcement and government bodies deal with it? At the funeral representatives from virtually every local governing body are paying their respects, yet none of these agencies ever impact the story. What's all their influence for when it's never used in the war against the vampires? And why wasn't it used to help Jude while she was on the streets? Heck, why was Jude not with the Covenant in the first place?
Hart has several opportunities to simply kill Jude outright, yet doesn't. And what's his connection to and interest in their group? Why are Williams and his followers all good vampires? Several members of the Covenant harbor an intense hatred against Jude- particularly the blonde members, since blondes are always up to no good- but there's not even a hint as to why. Even as answers get dumped into your lap in the last few chapters via villainous monologues not only are half of them more clichéd nonsense, you're probably not even reading it anymore. It all wraps up in a half-baked casserole of overused tropes including- but not limited to- a magical weapon convenient for literally any occasion, some blatant disregard for vampire mythology only to insert it when necessary, and a little magical martyrdom throw in for seasoning.
And if you think this all sounds silly here, imagine over 400 pages of it.
Shades of Gray is a disastrous UF novel. Sorry to pile upon a new author, but there's nothing to recommend about it other than blowing it up and starting over.