Columns > Published on February 5th, 2018

Rocket Launcher Bayonets, Secret Babies, Rock Powers: This Is 'License To Love'

Allow me to take you on a journey, not only of romance and love, but of Vegas magicians and UFOs. Take my hand and marvel with me at the plot of a book that features the most asinine poker scene of all time. And learn the ideal way to read a romance novel (spoiler: 5 feet from a toilet with a belly full of disgusting wine).

Make the commitment. Earn your License to Love.

How I Got The Book

My own stupid life is my own stupid fault.

It’s been said to me by more than one person, “I hope you never read anything you like.” Because when I read something bad, it’s pretty bad. And I say bad things about it. With passion.

Cut to a friend reading License To Love's book description in a trade magazine:

Rock Powers is one of the most successful magicians in Vegas for a reason—he creates illusions too spectacular to believe. But his former assistant, gorgeous Lani Silkwater, pulled off the greatest trick of all: disappearing into thin air the day after they were married. Two years later, Rock can't resist a clue to Lani's whereabouts—or the outlandish plan Lani and her mysterious boss propose, if it means a chance to win her back for good...

So this friend went ahead and put in an interlibrary loan request for me. This could be embarrassing for someone who isn't me and hasn't gotten an official email that reads, “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fulfill your request for the item: The Baby Jesus Butt Plug.” So I was fine until the interlibrary loan department mentioned that they wouldn't be able to get License To Love on loan and would instead just go ahead and purchase it, adding it to the library’s collection. They were also kind enough to put me at the top of the request list.

A couple weeks later I was holding a shiny new library copy of License to Love, a copy I was responsible for bringing to the community.

A Word On Romance

I’m not, at any point, trying to bash romance as a category here. I have no illusions, and you shouldn’t either, that this book is representative of romance fiction. That would be like saying Demolition Man is representative of Sandra Bullock movies.

Also, let’s recognize that there are some things I didn’t love about this book, and that’s cool because this book was never for me.

In other words, I’m going to trash this book. BUT, it’s like trashing a pair of women’s pants that got shipped to me on accident. They were never meant for me, there was zero chance of them being satisfactory, and this does not mean I think all women’s pants, or even that particular pair, are bad. They just present to me a world I never imagined, never even dreamed existed.

Crack A Beer

By the way, the following summary can be used as a drinking game. Every time I say the phrase "for some reason" feel free to tip one back. A lot of stuff happens in this book "for some reason.”

What’s In A Name?

The book opens with Vegas magician Rock Powers.

Stop. Already, we have to stop.

His name is fucking Rock Powers. Was Maximum Cornelius Overdrive already taken? Slade Jacknife?

You know what? Fine. I'm along for the ride here. Fine.

At one of his Vegas magic shows, Rock Powers performs an illusion that causes his wife of about a day, Lani Torres, to disappear. Much to the chapping of his finely-toned magician/bodybuilder/secret agent/doctor ass, she ACTUALLY disappears and he can't find her.

Cut to the chase, turns out she was a secret agent and for some reason (drink!) she picked right then to run off and stop the Hoover Dam from being blown up. We've all been there. I remember my last girlfriend vanished for a few days to save the Empire State Building, not to mention the times she was only gone a few hours rescuing some of our nation's lesser landmarks, The Hancock Building, stuff at Yellowstone that's not Old Faithful—these sorts of things.

Lani stays disappeared for a couple years before she returns and reveals that she was a secret agent all along. Oh, and her name isn't Lani Torres. It's Lani Silkwater.

Yes, Lani Torres is the name she used for the role of MAGICIAN'S ASSISTANT while Lani Silkwater WAS HER REAL NAME.

Wouldn’t you think Lani Silkwater sounds precisely like a magician’s assistant, almost too on the nose? And that Lani Torres sounds like...a name? And if your regular-ass name was Lani Silkwater, wouldn’t you have to go even bigger and badder when you become a magician’s assistant? Lani Magickadispell?

Oh, and while we're on the topic of names, during Lani’s vanishing act, she gave birth to Rock's baby. Who she named Stone. Stone Powers. Christ.

Now you might be asking, why would she keep Rock's baby a secret? And why wouldn't she just come back after she finished this Dam Caper (her term, hand to god, CAPER)?

In short: A terrorist organization is planning to enter a top secret facility by pulling off a bizarre, complicated magic trick. The CIA is highly concerned about this.

Here's something I've learned about the way to read this book. If you ask a bunch of questions, we'll be here all goddamn night. Just say that for some reason (drink!) she couldn't come back and we'll call it good.

So the new question we shouldn't be asking, Why is Lani back now?

Well, there’s an answer. Although it starts with "for some reason."

For some reason (drink!) the CIA or some such government agency needs Rock Powers because...and I'm going to do my best here.

If you haven't been faithfully drinking up to now, the upcoming paragraph will catch you up nicely.

The CIA has uncovered a plot by the evil organization known as RIOT to infiltrate Area 51. For some reason they plan to use a magic trick to spook attendees of a UFO watchers' festival thingy, which will cause them to storm the gates of Area 51 in a panic for some reason, and then for some reason this will allow RIOT access to Area 51.

The magic trick in question is none other than “Outlandish Marauders,” a trick conceived by none other than Rock Powers. The CIA's plan is for Rock Powers to beat RIOT to the punch, perform the trick himself, and once he reveals it was only an illusion the panic will subside and everyone will be cool, Area 51 will remain unpenetrated, and life goes on.

In short: A terrorist organization is planning to enter a top secret facility by pulling off a bizarre, complicated magic trick. The CIA is highly concerned about this.

As a side note, I locked myself out of my apartment a few nights ago. My top suggestions for re-entry were asking the manager for a key, hard-kicking the door until it fell over, maybe break a window. What I did not concoct was a plan that involves hosting a block party, panicking the guests by way of insane magic trick, and hoping they'll freak out in a very specific way that causes them to break down my door. Of ways to break into something, this would never occur to me, and if it did I would check into a hospital immediately for some sort of brain scan. Because a part is either missing or I have an extra part or somehow a snail got in there and is activating shit with his slime trail. I don't know WHAT is wrong, but I know SOMETHING'S wrong.

At this point, for some reason (!) Lani has to go undercover, sort of, and get in good with the magician hired by RIOT to perform Outlandish Marauders. Who just so happens to be Rock Powers' nemesis, Sol. Rock and Sol were buddies from the magic school days. Sol even saved Rock's life. During an attempt at a trick to escape from a straight jacket while water skiing, Rock fell into the water and was a stone, baby! Luckily, Sol saved Rock by catching him with a grappling hook (one of those water skiing grappling hooks we all carry), and dragging him back above water. The grappling hook left a scar on Rock's thigh, and afterward this spot is where Rock got his first of many tattoos, the text "Expect the Unexpected." I don’t think it’s an ironic tattoo for Rock, even though the most expected word to follow the phrase “Expect the” is “unexpected.”

At this point, I knew I’d have to buckle down if I was going to make it through. It was time for the three B’s: Booze, Bubbles, and Bon Bons.

Wine Interlude

I'm not a romance reader, but I figured that when in Rome(mance), drink wine and take a bubble bath.

Step one was purchasing wine.

I'm not exactly a wine connoisseur. In fact, most of my wine experience comes from a single evening when some charitable friends agreed to help school me in the finer things. The night ended with me drunkenly calling my sister, who lives on the east coast, to ask her to take us to Taco Bell.

This time I was on my own, and it came down to a decision between a wine called Red Truck or one called Little Black Dress. I was too embarrassed to buy Little Black Dress for purposes of drinking in the bath and reading a romance novel. So good news, I have one small shred of pride.

I'm told that I pour inappropriately large glasses of wine. Which must be true because, by my count, an entire bottle only contains two glasses. This is something I'd put in the category of willful ignorance. I don't know what the right amount is. This is to my benefit.

I also made an attempt to buy bonbons. The problem was that I don't know what bonbons actually are. I checked the freezer section, no dice, so I gave up and went home to set the scene with a lavender candle and lavender bubble bath.

By the way, what's the average fill time on a bathtub? Because mine seems to take about 3 hours. I'm not kidding. I'm pretty sure it would be faster to hire an old-timey innkeeper lady to boil water in a huge pot on the stove and dump it in. I think people might take more baths if the fill time was not measured in phases of the moon.

Several hours later and “one” glass of wine in, I was ready to read.

Read On

The post-glass/bottle of wine section of the book pretty much flew by. I can't really read all that well drunk, but I found this wasn't a big problem in this case.

I don't really want to go through this entire book blow-by-blow because a lot of it was, "Here's the plan" and then a second scene where we saw the plan executed exactly as planned. I can't think of a more effective way to take the fun out of a situation. Plan it out carefully, then have it go according to plan. However, if you’ve got a novel to write, and someone wants you to double the length, the easy way to do it is to have everything planned out, in detail, and then show the execution of the plan, in detail.

So rather than go through everything in order, I'll just pull out a few snippets that explain things better than the entirety of the text ever could.

Scene: The Poker Game

At one point Rock Powers is watching another secret agent's back while this agent participates in a poker game. Powers is banned because he is the apex of human ability and he wins too much. I’m serious.

Now, I have a problem with poker games in narratives. Because that's boring. I get it inasmuch as you want some physical business for your characters, but Christ, what is less interesting than a fictional version of a game of chance? Watch this: I just invented a story. It's about a man named John. He's thrown dice 999 times, and he's going for his final throw. So far, all 999 have been snake eyes. He throws number 1000. It is also snake eyes. What were the odds? It was 100% likely that the outcome would be what I'd already decided.

So poker stuff irks me to begin with. But somehow we have an EVEN MORE BORING version of poker where Rock Powers can't play, so he writes down the moves he WOULD HAVE made if he were in another player's shoes.

Riveting. Electrifying. We've gone from a card game, which I already abhor, to a hypothetical version of a made-up card game that I don't care about in the first place.

At any rate, the game is interrupted when Rock Powers discovers that an enemy spy snuck in a gun disguised as a stylus. Which would sound bizarre if Rock Powers weren't already sporting a single-shot pistol disguised to look like his thumb. Yes, a fake thumb that slips over his real thumb and is a pistol somehow. I don't know if there are any normal guns in this book, but I do know that Powers is also given a six-shot pistol that is disguised as a magic wand. Whether this is a horrible pistol and passable wand or a passable pistol and horrible wand I don't know. Is a magic wand pistol just a revolver with a long barrel, painted black with a white tip? It's best not to ask too many questions because the later appearance of a rocket launcher equipped with a bayonet will just blow your mind right through your face.

A thug puts the stylus gun in one player's back. Powers, of course, notices this, but because he can't interrupt the game with his thumb gun, he elects to shoot the thug with a spitball, which causes him to drop the stylus and at that point everything sort of resolves itself. Cue Bond theme.

Skills To Pay The Bills

In addition to being an expert magician, Rock Powers also has the following skills. I promise you that these are all explicitly detailed in the book. Don’t read the list and try to pick out the joke one because it’s not in there.

-Expert lip reader
-Water skier
-Escape artist
-Can hold breath for 7 minutes
-Face reader
-Expert at sex
-Uncanny powers of observation
-Junior High Rope Climbing Champion
-Spitball shooter

Scene: Limo Sex

Finally we get some sex in this book! I was under the impression that sex happened in romance novels, like, immediately. If there’s a pirate ship, they’re banging right on the big wooden steering wheel. If there’s a millionaire cowboy, horse trough will do. But maybe I’m wrong because this took FOREVER.

Anyway, we finally get to the sex, and it's in the back of a limo where Rock Powers blows off a smoke bomb so that the paparazzi can't get pictures of him and Lani.

Apparently, in the reality of this book, magicians are the hottest celebs in town. E V E R Y O N E knows Rock Powers, they want to know what happened to Lani, and her reappearance on the scene is the biggest tabloid tale since Batboy’s death, subsequent rebirth, and sub-subsequent re-death.

You know why actual tabloid readers don't follow magicians? They’re not nine years old.

Everything's a smoke bomb with this guy.

Anyway, they have this limo sex because it is required to make sure Lani has a good flow of endorphins, which is the only way to overcome the potential hangover she might experience from a drug she was dosed with. Sort of like the movie Crank except less stupid. Well, okay, like Crank but the male lead has lesser abs. Well, okay, it’s like Crank.

I've heard of some interesting hangover remedies in my times. Grease. Green drinks. About 15 episodes of My Cat From Hell. What I haven't come across is a nice bang in the back of a limo full of magic smoke.

As a public service announcement, if someone tries to convince you to head off a hangover by having sex, you should probably push them into a garbage can.

And let me tell you, Rock Powers? Everything's a smoke bomb with this guy. He's lighting off smoke bombs to get out of gunfire. He's lighting smoke bombs to have sex in limos. He lights smoke bombs to facilitate escape into a laundry cart in a hotel hallway. This man lights more smoke bombs than I did in my entire life, and most of my middle school days were focused entirely on the finding, purchasing, and lighting of smoke bombs.

Because of the smoke, this sex has to happen while both participants hold their breath. This leads me to believe that I'm doing sex either terribly right or terribly wrong, because there's no way I could hold my breath. Try this: Get aroused, then sprint. Remain aroused and sprint as far as you can while holding your breath. It will not be far. God help me for knowing this, but I know it will not be far.

Scene: Outlandish Marauders

I’m rarely at a loss when it comes to describing scenes. This one is particularly difficult because near the end I have to honestly say, “Rock Powers defeats his evil nemesis magician, who wields a rocket launcher with a bayonet attached, while both are aboard a hovercraft.”

Rock Powers assembles his team of young magicians/CIA agents, of which there are apparently many, to help him perform his big illusion.

He picks a Social Media Magician who can manipulate Facebook. This is considered magic.

He picks a Laser Magician who can manipulate lasers. This is considered magic.

He picks a Video Game Magician who I would also make fun of except I've played Ninja Gaiden.

He also has some other magicians, and then the CIA builds him a UFO.

The trick, from what I can tell, goes like this:

You're partying at the UFO convention in the Nevada desert about 10 miles from Area 51. When a UFO shows up, a for-real UFO. Then a couple aliens show up on the ground and start running away, right towards Area 51. They are bounding and almost seem to teleport and reappear further away. You give chase’re at a UFO convention, so I guess you’d go Fox Mulder and try to tackle one of them. At one point a whole shitload of cows are released, which slows you down as you try to catch the aliens. Then, after you've run ten goddamn miles, the "aliens" reveal they are magicians, the UFO is revealed as totally real, and everyone credits Rock Powers with pulling off the greatest illusion of all time. Granted, he didn't do shit. Oh, and as far as illusions go, I guess there was a lie involved in saying the UFO was an alien spacecraft, but the thing goddamn existed! What is magic about this?

But hey, no time for details. Let's cut to the chase:

Rock Powers defeats his evil nemesis magician, who wields a rocket launcher with a bayonet attached, while both are aboard a hovercraft.

Happily Ever After

This book left me speechless. Then type-full. Because I still can't wrap my head around anything that happened here. I sort of wish that someone else had read it because then I could confirm that all this really happened and it wasn't a wine-induced night terror from which I'll never wake.

Was it so bad that it was fun?

No. Well, yes. But no.

I just don't know if it's possible for a book of 300+ pages to be so bad that it's fun. Because the fun of something bad wears off once the bad becomes baseline reality. You have a period of big fun at the beginning as you try to figure out if this is a gag. Then you figure out it's not and things are briefly even more fun. BUT THEN it just becomes white noise. The lines about Rock leaving "no stone unturned, only himself, Rock Powers, upended" just become the beige walls in the beige office of your day-to-day life.

It's like taking a bath. Fun at first. Novel. Then you're just sort of there naked in your own body stew. You wonder about dropping in a bouillon cube and seeing what man broth tastes like, and then you're bored again.

Or it's like wine. Hard to get used to the first couple sips. Then great. Then everything is confusing and you just want to go to bed.

But mostly it was like a book that I didn't enjoy, even though I applaud it for its enthusiasm and ability to maintain a very high level of crazy over an astonishingly long time. 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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