Extended Review: Phenomenal X by Michelle A. Valentine
When Elissa brought Phenomenal X to my attention, I bought it almost immediately. I am a pro wrestling nerd, folks, and have been hoping that with the surge in MMA romances, pro wrestling romances would soon follow. Tori McAllister wrote a really great article on why there needs to be pro wrestling romance and makes some awesome points: The guys are hot and the sport is both physically demanding (before you ask, it’s not as fake as you think it is) and entertaining. She even went as far as to suggest that the WWE have a romance imprint, which sounds ridiculous but actually makes a lot of sense. The WWE's storylines are riddled with romance. There have been secret babies, kidnappings, girlfriend stealing and plenty of weddings on the air, although the WWE has moved away from this in recent years. Still, romance and pro wrestling are pretty much made for each other, so I was thrilled to see Michelle A. Valentine embrace the hero appeal of pro wrestlers with Phenomenal X.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the story didn’t deliver. Or maybe I just had unusually high expectations because I was really excited. Either way, Anna and Xavier’s romance fell flat halfway through the story and the book ended on a cliffhanger, not giving me the HEA I needed. If this were part of a serial, I would have understood, but as far as I’m aware it’s the first in a series and at 300-plus pages, I felt justified in expecting a full and complete romance. After paying $3.99 and taking the time to read a full-length novel, I felt a little robbed. This was my first book by this author, so perhaps this is something she does in her books and something her readers enjoy, but I was not into it.
Anna Cortez is fed up being the quintessential good girl and escapes her father’s abusive, overprotective nature by moving to Detroit to live with her hip aunt and cousin. On the plane ride, she meets Xavier Cold, aka pro wrestling superstar Phenomenal X, who literally everyone on the plane recognizes as a famous wrestler except for her. Xavier tries to get into her pants immediately, and although Anna is attracted to him she’s not willing to get sexed up by a stranger in an airplane bathroom. Which is completely reasonable. After they land, Xavier, a Detroit native on break from touring with his wrestling company, pursues her for a few more weeks before he has to get back on the road.
I really liked that while Anna was pretty sheltered, she wasn’t a mindless virgin and she stuck to her guns, making Xavier’s chase much more interesting, amping up the sexual tension. Anna wants a commitment and the couple doesn’t end up sleeping together until about halfway through the book. Which, again, is totally fine. But after all of that buildup I was expecting fireworks. Instead, the sex was lackluster and actually pretty short. The sex scenes read like the author didn’t enjoy writing them.
Xavier is the classic emotionally tortured hero who had abusive, negligent parents and doesn’t believe he’s worthy of being loved. The book alternates between Anna and Xavier’s points of view, but there are only a few chapters from Xavier’s POV and they’re usually used to reveal portions of Xavier’s childhood through his recurring nightmares and to emphasize how much Xavier hates himself. His point of view didn’t really contribute much to the relationship and the entire book could’ve easily been told in third person.
What Valentine did well was portray the world of pro wrestling accurately enough. She was smart and didn't go into too much detail, using specifics for only what mattered to the plot. The behind-the-scenes aspects of the sport that she included were well-researched and, for a fictional wrestling company that was very clearly not the WWE, worked with her story.
The cliffhanger ending is ultimately what ruined the book for me. Spoiler alert: After making a very stupid mistake in the ring, the book ends with Xavier being hauled out of the arena without Anna. It was very abrupt and after I finished the book, I actually thought maybe there was a formatting error or perhaps I got a faulty copy. Nope, just a poorly placed cliffhanger.
What do you think, are cliffhangers a deal-breaker? Have you read Phenomenal X? Do you think there should be more pro wrestler heroes?