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Thursday, October 28, 2010


Author:  Laura Wright
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
       Eternal Hunger (10/2010)
       Eternal Kiss (4/2011)
       "Eternal Blood" (e-novella, 1/2012)
       "Mark of the Vampire Mates: True and Eternal" (free e-story)
       Eternal Captive (2/2012)
       Eternal Beast (8/2012)
       "Eternal Beauty" (e-novella, 4/2103)
       Eternal Demon (5/2013)
       Eternal Sin (11/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 12/10/13 to include a review of Eternal Sin, the sixth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 1-5 and the two novellas:

             BOOK 6:  Eternal Sin            
      The romance between the Purebloods Synjon Wise and his mate, Petra, began in the novella, "Eternal Beauty," when Petra rescued Synjon from his attempted suicide by sun and nursed him back to health. After learning that Petra's father is Cruen, his hated enemy, Synjon's feelings about Petra became extremely complicated, especially after she ran away from him and went off to warn Cruen. Eventually, Synjon's vengeful rage towards Cruen took over his mind to the point that all he could think about was killing Cruen as slowly and painfully as possible. Finally, Petra and the Roman brothers allowed Cruen to drink down all of Syjon's emotions, taking away his dangerous rage, but leaving him completely passive and destroying all of the love he felt for Petra.

     As the book opens, Petra is living with her adoptive family in the Rain Forest. She is now seven months pregnant with Synjon's balas (baby), and she and the balas are in desperate need of Synjon's blood. When the Roman brothers try to convince Synjon to go to Petra and offer up his blood to keep her and the balas healthy, hein his emotionless staterefuses to help because at this point Petra means nothing to him. In desperation, Petra's adoptive, shape-shifting brothers and her best friend, Dani, kidnap Synjon and drag him off to Petra in the Rain Forest. At first, the two just argue and fight with one another, but their mutual lust soon overcomes Synjon's lack of emotions, and their romance is back onbut not in any kind of normal way.

     Meanwhile, Cruen discovers that Synjon tricked him by twisting his emotions in a way that they are now eating up Cruen's powers. He can no longer flash from place to place, and he's growing weaker by the day. He needs to get rid of Synjon's emotions, and the only way to do that is to find Synjon. Synjon knows exactly what is happening to Cruen, and plans to kill him when Cruen shows up begging Synjon to take back his emotions. Naturally enough, Cruen hasn't given up his hopes for ultimate power, and he has a devious plan, just as he always does.

     The romance plot follows the rocky road of Synjon and Petra's make-up sex, with lots of anguished interior monologues and many misunderstandings, particularly when it comes to any discussion of Cruen. Petra still stands up for Cruen because he's her father, no matter what evil deeds he has committed, while Synjon just wants him dead. Since Cruen seems to have more lives than the nine that are allotted to cats, we can expect to see his scheming character turn up in future books, although by the end of this one he is in no position to go anywhere.

     This is another angst-filled addition that moves the series story arc along while it follows the bonding of yet another happy couple. By the end of the book, Sara and Alexander have their happy event, but Petra is still pregnant, so we have that bit of drama to look forward to. The love story in this book is just O.K., but not outstanding, mostly because of Petra's selfish and immature attitude toward Synjon and Cruen. She knows that Cruen tortured and killed Synjon's previous mate, but she still won't forgive Synjon for striking out at Cruen. She also knows that Synjon's emotions were taken away from him (she was on the scene when that happened), but she still derides him because he doesn't show any signs (at first) of caring for either her or the balas. Not to mention the fact that she walked out on Synjon in the first place (back in the novella) and warned Cruen of Synjon's plans. 

   As the book ends, some of the Mutore brothers are staying on in the Rainforest to get to know the shapeshifting side of their family. At the very end, we get a hint of a rivalrous romantic triangle involving Phane, Lycos, and Dani (Petra's BFF, who is a hawk shifter). Click HERE to read the first two chapters of Eternal Sin.

     Vampire life is complicated in this series, which is set on the East Coast, primarily in New York City. Vamps are ruled by the inevitably powerful, corrupt, and arrogant council that we find in many vampire series, here called the Eternal Order. Most vamps (the conventional ones) live in small villages called credenti, feeding on homegrown grains and seeds with weekly supplements of small vials of blood provided by the Order. They cover their wrists and necks with purity cloths to show symbolically that they will not be fed upon or feed on each other.

     There are two types of vampires: pavens (Purebloods) and Impurebloods (aka, Impures—those of mixed blood). A female Pureblood is called a veanaThe Order attempts to control the size of the Impure population by blood-castrating the males and sterilizing the females. The Impures have no powers and have limited use of their fangs. They are treated as second class citizens—often used as servants or soldiers by the pavens. Understandably, some of the Impures have decided that enough is enough, and they have started an underground rebellion against the Order and the pavens.

     There are two types of pavens. Most pavens are regular Purebloods with two Pureblood parents, but a few are the children of Breeding Males. Here's how one Breeding Male describes himself: "a genetically altered Pureblood vampire who could breed on command and choose the sex of its offspring." (Eternal Beast, p. 52) Long ago, the Order selected a few paven males with the purest blood to become full-time breeders. Using various methods, they genetically altered each one to amp up his sex drive, and they removed all aspects of his humanity. Families were encouraged to bring their female pavens to be bred if they achieved their Meta (sexual maturity) without showing the mark of their true mates. This guaranteed that unmarked women would produce Pureblood children and would not be tempted to mate with a human. Unfortunately, the women victimized by these experiences were generally not willing participants, and many took their frustrations out on their unwanted offspring. Although the practice of using Breeding Males ended long ago, its effects still ripple through the vampire community. In rare instances, the children of Breeding Males were born as shape-shifting beasts (Mutore), and most—but not all—of these unfortunate infants were killed soon after birth.

     This series focuses on the three Roman brothers, all the offspring of the same Breeding Male but different females, and all having had horrific childhood experiences that have left them trusting only one other. In each of the first three books, one brother is forced to go though morpho prematurely. Morpho is supposed to occur naturally when a male paven reaches the age of 300 years and is at the height of his powers. The pros of the morpho state are increased speed and power; the cons are extreme sun sensitivity (no more day walking), an increased need for blood, and an extremely powerful urge to find his true mate, who will have a mark on her body that matches his own and identifies her to him (thus the series title). The Order insists that the Roman brothers go through morpho early, primarily at the behest of Cruen, one of their membersand the primary villain of the series. The brothers hate the Order for a number of reasons, chief of which is the Order's indifference to the brutal treatment of the children of Breeding Males. After the brothers escaped from their nightmarish childhood homes, they declared themselves free of the Order, and they are not at all happy that the Order still has power over them. In the first three books, each brother finds his true mate. Then he tries to keep both of them alive as he fulfills a horrendous task set by the Order

     This is a solid SMR series with a rich mythology that goes far beyond the traditional vampire lore. The leading characters are well developed, with each brother having his own distinctive personality. Although the females are sexually submissive, they are intelligent and courageous. Most of the books include a glossary of terms to assist with understanding the mythology. Click HERE for links to two blog interviews  in which the author discusses the series. On that same web page you'll find a photo gallery of the Roman brothers.

            BOOK 1: Eternal Hunger            
     As the series opens, Alexander Roman, the eldest brother, finds himself unwillingly going through morpho at the behest of the Order. Alexander is soon summoned to meet with the Order, where he learns that he must catch and kill a rogue vampire within a specified time limit or his brother, Nicholas, will also be forced into early morpho. One night, Alexander finds himself on the doorstep of Dr. Sara Donohue, a human psychiatrist who works with patients who have suffered some type of trauma. Sara has a brother, Gray, who is in a catatonic state in the psychiatric facility in which she works. Gray was horribly burned in a fire that Sara accidentally set when they were both children, so she feels responsible for his condition. 

     Alexander and Sara are immediately attracted to one another, and their love story plays out in the usual angst-filled, up-and-down manner with an HEA at the end. As it turns out, Sara and Gray's mother kept some big secrets from them, and they are not quite as human as they thought they were. In addition to the romance, the plot also follows the brothers as they attempt to capture Ethan Dare, an Impure who is leading a rebellion against Purebloods. Click HERE to read an excerpt. Click HERE to read "Mark of the Vampire Mates: True and Eternal," a free, on-line short story starring Alexander and Sara. 

            BOOK 2: Eternal Kiss            
     Nicholas is the middle brother, and as the story opens, he is in the midst of his morpho. The brothers are still on the trail of Ethan Dare and his gang of Impures, but they haven't had much success in tracking him down. One night, Nicholas receives a message from one of his snitches, and when he arrives at the appointed place, he is met by a gorgeous paven woman, Kate Everborne, who tells him that she has brought him his son, Ladd. Kate is on probation, having been imprisoned by the Order for killing her abusive father. When she and Ladd witness the murder of Ladd's mother, the dying woman begs Kate to take the boy to his father, Nicholas Roman. Kate plans to dump the boy with Nicholas and return quickly to her credenti before the Order realizes that she is missing. Her plans are spoiled when the Order tracks her down before she can make it home. Nicholas is stunned on several levels. First, he doesn't believe that he has a son, and second, he is immediately attracted to Kate.

     In the meantime, Dare is in cahoots with Cruen, a powerful and villainous member of the Order. They plan to capture Ladd and bring him to the Order so that his blood can be tested to determine if he is a descendant of the Breeding Male. Cruen has his own plans for the future, and they center on his ascendancy to greater powers. Dare is at Cruen's mercy because Cruen is holding his pregnant human wife hostage and because Dare needs Cruen's blood periodically to maintain his powers. The plot follows the romance of Nicholas and Kate as they try to protect Ladd, capture Dare, and deal with Cruen's villainous shenanigans with the Order.

     Once again, each of the romantic leads has many angst-filled inner monologues. Both have secrets that they are not willing to share, and both have trust issues that, at times, seem insurmountable. This is a satisfying addition to the series as the long-term story arc becomes clearer and Cruen's plots are revealedClick HERE to read an excerpt.

             E-NOVELLA 1:  "Eternal Blood"             
     This very short novella sets the stage for the romance between Gray Donohue and the cold-hearted paven, Dillon, who has always appeared to have an unrequited love for Gray's sister, Sara. In the introduction, the author says, "Gray has always intrigued me: his struggles with his past, his closed mind and fire-ravaged hands and his need to shut off the world and give in to the pleasures of the body." As the story opens, Gray considers joining an Impure resistance group, but after meeting with them, he rejects the idea and goes back to his womanizing life. Then, he is captured by the Order and sent to the Paleothe grim, underground location where the Order blood-castrates Impure males and females so that they cannot reproduce. 

     While in the Paleo, Gray meets Samuel Kendrick, a man who was a close friend of his parents. Samuel begins to divulge some long-held secrets about Gray's family, but before he has a chance to finish, he is dragged away for castration. Gray watches while a "female clad in long red robes ...appeared directly at the side of the stone slab. Gray watched as her mouth opened, so wide it split her features in two, and brick red fangs descended menacingly. She was on Samuel in less than an instant, striking hardentering his vein with a hiss and a crack, sucking the life's blood from his desire and his maleness as though it belonged to her." Before the Order thugs can castrate Gray, Dillon leaps in to rescue him. She takes him back to her home, where they have a single passionate moment before she turns her back on him once again. As the story ends, Gray goes back to the Impure resistance group with new resolve to become involved in their struggle.

     This novella fills in some missing information about the Donohue family and explains the reason that Gray joins the Impure resistance movement. The graphic sex in this story is definitely at a level 5. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

             BOOK 3:  Eternal Captive                    
     Lucian, the youngest Roman brother, is destined to be the only one of his brothers to have the gene of the Breeding Male. This has been hinted at in previous books, and in Eternal Captive, it comes true. Lucian has been an arrogant, nasty jerk in the previous books, hiding his fears behind a tough, thuggish exterior. His single weakness is Bronwyn Kettler, a young paven who is a talented genealogist. As this book begins, Bronwyn has faked a mate mark and betrothed herself to her best friend Synjon because she is afraid that Lucian is her true mate and she is deathly afraid of mating with a Breeding Male. Bronwyn's sister was forcibly mated with a Breeding Male, and died horribly during her pregnancy, and Bronwyn wants to make sure this doesn't happen to her.

     Cruen is up to his usual dirty tricks as he manipulates Lucian and Bronwyn into a situation in which they are marooned alone on a deserted island with no escape unless they have sex. If they do have sex, Lucian will immediately turn into a Breeding Male, a monster with an overpowering sexual drive and no humanity to temper itthe thing that Bronwyn most fears in the world. Forcing Lucian's transformation is Cruen's chance to start his own pure master race of vampiresall under his control. The plot follows the incredibly rocky romance between Lucian and Bronwyn as they try to find a way to avoid having Lucian fall into Cruen's hands. The plot is filled with twists and turns, with supporting characters playing major roles in the resolution of the conflict.

     This is by far the most anguished love story of the series so far. Lucian is in a hopeless situation through much of the book, and Bronwyn isn't the strongest of heroines through most of the first half of the story. The story line is compelling, and the action is violent and continuous. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Eternal Captive.

             BOOK 4:  Eternal Beast                    
      At this point in the story, the cast of characters includes the three Roman brothers, the five Mutore siblings created by Cruen, and various mates. The two sets of brothers share some parentage, and those familial connections play a part in the plot. Here is a list of the good guys:

   > Alexander Roman and his Impure mate, Sara Donohue (Gray's sister; she is newly pregnant as this story begins)
   > Nicholas Roman and his Pavan mate, Kate Everborn
   > Lucian (Luca) Roman (who has the DNA of a Breeding Male) and his Pavan mate, Bronwyn Kettler (parents of the infant, Lucy)  
   > Grey Donohue and his Mutore mate, Dillon, a shape-shifting jaguar Beast

   > Erion: a shape-shifting Mutore demon Beast, who is the father of the young boy, Ladd (who is being raised by Nicholas and Kate)
   > Lycos: a shape-shifting Mutore wolf Beast
   > Phane: a shape-shifting Mutore hawk Beast
   > Helos: a shape-shifting Mutore water Beast

     This book completes the love story of the Impure, Gray Donohue, and the veana/Mutore, Dillon, and it's just as anguished and conflicted as you would imagine. As the story opens, Dillon (in her jaguar form) is recaptured by her Mutore brothers (Erion, Lycos, Phane, and Helos) and returned to her locked cell in the warded mansion of the Roman brothers, where she is unable to regain her human form. When Dillon demands to see Gray, he visits her cell and touches her face/muzzle, whereupon, both feel a dramatic electrical (and sexual) charge and Dillon begins to transform into her human/veana form. As soon as Gray takes his hands away, she becomes a jaguar once again. Now right here, the reader knows that the two are definitely bonded mates, but the couple themselves don't realize (or admit) this until the book is almost at its end.

     Dillon has had a horrible childhood—raped as a teenager while Cruen, her "father," watched as that violent act forced her first shift into her jaguar form. She doesn't trust people, particularly men, and she definitely doesn't trust Gray, even though she has rescued him from danger several times, and vice versa. She vows that she will never belong to anyone ever again. Gray fights against his devastating attraction to her, but can't seem to resist. Cue the angst as we watch them stumble along on the rocky road to their HEA.

     Gray has dedicated his life to leading the Impure revolt against the Order, and he can't understand why Dillon doesn't have the same deep hatred for the Order as he does. Gray and his team of Impure revolutionaries have figured out a way to hack into the Order's mental network, and they hope to use that information to spy on the Order. Unfortunately, the Order is smarter and more psychically talented than the revolutionaries so that scheme doesn't go smoothly. 

     The action part of the plot involves the Order and their attempts to capture  and blood-castrate Gray and capture and kill Dillon. Related story lines include the return of Celestine ("Cellie"Gray and Sara's mother); the burgeoning of Erion's fatherly feelings for his biological child (aka balas), Ladd; and the construction of a new credenti for the Impures.

    At one point in this book, the Mutore brothers discover that when Cruen told them that they would never have mates, he was lying, and that he has lied to them about other aspects of their biological make-up and their true genetic history. They also learn a shocking new fact about Cruen's own genetics. This book, like the previous ones, ends in a cliff-hanger as Cruen pulls a major power play that sends Erion off on a quest that will be detailed in the next novel, Eternal Demon

    Just a few nit-picks: First, the copy proofer must have been asleep on the job because there are several blatant homonym errors (e.g., bare for bear). Second, there is a major continuity problem in one scene in which Gray and Dillon meet up with Uma to plan a break-in into the Paleo that very night. Then we see Gray traveling on a subway for a secretive meeting with Cellie. Then he travels back to the Impure headquarters for a sparring session with Dillon. Finally, the original trio does their break-in thing. All of these events supposedly occur over a period of a few hours. It's an awkward sequence with too many activities over too large an area to to fit into the proposed time frame. 

     There are a few problems with the romance as well. First, there's the angst, which reaches levels of repetitiveness that are beyond belief. Even though we (the readers) know that Gray and Dillon are true mates, theyunbelievably—never recognize their soul-mate connection. When Uma finally points out to Gray that he has Dillon's mating mark on his hand, both he and Dillon are shocked...SHOCKED! How could Gray have missed seeing that jaguar-shaped mark all this time. At this point, the author gives Gray an anguished internal monologue in which he thinks: "How hadn't he seen this lurking beneath all that ravaged skin? Maybe because the mark was the same color as his skin. Maybe because he so rarely looked at his scarshis deformity..." (p. 192) But he also muses, "There was no mistaking it...the outline of the jaguar was clearly stamped into the web of burn scars, even down to the rosette pattern on its fur." (p. 192) Why didn't the author just place the mark on Gray's back? Then, I might have believed that he never saw it, but not when the mark is in plain sight on his hand. All in all, I have to say that this isn't the strongest novel in the series. It feels more transitional than the othersa place to fill in some new information about the heroes and a chance to allow the villain to make a major move against the good guys. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Eternal Beast.

             E-NOVELLA 2:  "Eternal Beauty"            
      This is the beginning of Synjon's story. We met Synjon back in the third novel when he and Bronwyn attempted a fake mating to throw Lucian off. Then, Cruen killed Synjon's lover (but not true mate), Juliette, in the fourth book. As this novella opens, Synjon has flashed (aka teleported) to the Rain Forest to place Juliette's body into the sun. He plans to join her in death as the sun turns both of their bodies to ash. Fate intervenes in the form of Petra, a beautiful 24-year-old woman who has been living with a family of lion shifters since she was a child. Petra is aware that she has no heartbeat and that she isn't a shifter, but she doesn't know exactly whator whoshe is. The only piece of information she has is the name of her father.

     After Petra drags Synjon into a cave out of the sun, she enlists the aid of their healer to take care of his severe burns. Eventually, Synjon regains consciousness long enough to realize that Petra is a veanaa vampire like himself. He grabs her wrist and bites her in order to get the healing blood that he needs to heal. Synjon makes a bargain with Petra to explain to her the mythology of the vampires in exchange for more blood. As you would expect, their lust for one another has been building up ever since they met, but all they have is one passionate night together. After that, their destinies force them apart, each unaware of the other's location.

      What this novella does is provide the foundation for book 6 (Eternal Sin), which will follow Synjon and Petra's rocky road to their HEA. I'm sure that all of the pertinent content will be summarized at the beginning of that book, but you might want to read this novella to get the finer details. The mystery of Petra's matriarchal roots is solved towards the end of book 5 (Eternal Demon), along with some additional information that solidifies her bond with Synjon.

             BOOK 5:  Eternal Demon                        
      In the cliff-hanger ending of book 4, the villainous Cruen kidnapped the balas, Ladd, who is the biological son of Erion and foster son of Nicholas (Erion's twin) and Sara. As this book begins, Erion is searching for Cruen, but having no luck. Then he discovers a way to take something valuable from Cruensomeone, actually. That would be Hellen, Cruen's soon-to-be mate, who (unbeknownst to Erion) is actually the firstborn daughter of Abbadon, otherwise known as the Devil himself. The plot follows Erion and Hellen as they attempt to stifle their immediate lustful attraction to one another and bicker their way into a standard love-hate relationship.

     Abbadon has sold Hellen to Cruen in exchange for her firstborn child. Abbadon believes that that child will be the very first child of both hell and earth. "The child Abbadon had never been able to create himselfthe child he believed would have just the right magical balance in its DNA to be able to remain on either plane. A gene the Devil would extract and use to finally be able to remain on Earth." (p. 38) Cruen wants to keep Abbadon happy because he relies on regular infusions of the Devil's blood to maintain his powers. "The blood Cruen had consumed from Abbadon's veins had made him unstoppable, and the blood he'd extracted from himself, then mixed with shifter DNA, had made the breeding Male." (p. 37) 

     Hellen believes that if she mates with Cruen she will ensure that her father will not force her two younger sisters into arranged marriages. (She should know her father better than that.) As the firstborn of the Devil, Hellen has several idiosyncrasies that complicate her life. First and foremost, she must drink a special potion, or draft, to keep her sex drive under control. When Erion captures her, she is cut off from her draft supply, and you can imagine the consequences when she goes into full arousal mode in Erion's dungeon. Naturally, there are lots of angst-filled interior monologues for both Erion and Hellen. Each wants to hate the other, but fate has other plans. 

     Meanwhile, most of the other good guysthe Roman brothers and the Mutore brothersare also looking for Cruen and Ladd. Alexander Roman, though, is searching for someone elsehis mother-in-law's long-lost daughter, who was thought to have died at birth. Remember, Celestine is Sara and Gray's mother, and that she had a long-ago one-night stand with Cruen when she gave herself to him in the hope that he would save her true mate from blood-castration. Celestine always believed that the baby died, and she has never revealed her brief escapade with Cruen to Gray and Sara. That all changes in this book, when the lost daughter is found and Celestine reveals long-hidden details of her past to her children. Another consequence of Celestine's night with Cruen is that he is still infatuated with her and (unbeknownst to her) plans on making her his matejust as soon as he can get all of his schemes with Abbadon up and going.  

     Eventually, both story lines play out in expected ways. Erion and Hellen confront Abbadon down in the Underworld, while Alexander and Celestine locate the lost daughter, who has some bittersweet connections with the pavan, Synjon. The Synjon/Petra story will be fully told in the next book: Eternal Sin (11/2013).

     This is another solid addition to the series, filling in even more back-story and moving the Cruen-related story arc along another notch. I wouldn't advise this as a stand-alone or as an introduction to the series. You'll need to go back to the beginning to really understand the mythology and the motivations of the characters.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Plot Type: Paranormal Chick Lit (CH)

Titles:  Here is a complete list of the short stories, novellas, and novels in MaryJanice Davidson's QUEEN BETSY (UNDEAD) series in reading order:
     Undead And Unwed (novel 1, 2002)
     "Dead Girls Don’t Dance" in Cravings anthology (2004)
     Undead And Unemployed (novel 2, 2004)
     "Biting in Plain Sight" in Bite anthology (2004)
     Undead and Unappreciated novel 3, (2005)
     Undead and Unreturnable (novel 4, 2005)
     Dead and Loving It (4 novellas bring together the Wyndham Werewolves and Queen Betsy, 2006) 
     Undead And Unpopular (novel 5, 2006)
     Undead and Uneasy (novel 6, 2007)
     "Undead and Wed: A Honeymoon Story" in Dead Over Heels (2008)
     Undead and Unworthy (novel 7, 2008)
     Undead and Unwelcome novel 8, (2009)
     Undead and Unfinished (novel 9, 2010)
     Undead and Undermined (novel 10, 2011)
     Undead and Unstable (novel 11, 6/2012)
     Wolf at the Door (a WYNDAM WEREWOLVES novel with a BETSY connection, 10/11)
     Undead and Unsure (novel 12, 8/2013)
     "Undead and Underwater" (novella in anthology of same name, 2013)
     Undead and Unwary (novel 13, 10/2014)
     Undead and Unforgiven (novel 14, 10/2015)
     Undead and Done (novel 15, 10/2016) (FINAL)

This post was revised and updated on 10/8/2016 to include a review of Undead and Done, the 15th—and FINAL—novel in this series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 9 through 14. 

               NOVEL 14: Undead and Done               
     Vampire Queen Betsy Taylor continues her rule in Hell in the scorchingly funny finale to the QUEEN BETSY/UNDEAD series.

     It had been a well-kept secret for centuries, but now the existence of vampires is all over the news, thanks to Betsy Taylor’s half sister (and the frustrated former Antichrist), Laura. Life for the undead will never be the same, and it’s up to Betsy to do some damage control. But her interview on the local news doesn’t exactly put out the fire. It more or less pours kerosene on it.

     With all the added attention on supernatural beings, the werewolves are more than a little agitated (never a good thing) and demand that Betsy gets her interview skills, and her family, in order. And while things go from bad to worse in the world, Hell continues to be hell—especially when Betsy’s new parole program becomes about as complicated as you’d expect.

     With a PR team launching a vampire-friendly campaign, the devil at large and out to make trouble, and mermaids on hand to see who falls—and how hard—the end isn’t just near. It’s here. And if anyone knows how to go out with a bang, it’s the queen of Hell.

     The publisher's blurb above does a good job of summarizing the plot, so I won't spend much time duplicating that effort. A good subtitle to this final novel would be "Laura's Big Melt-Down," because all the way through, from beginning to end, Laura and her sinister, vengeance-fueled plotting simmers in the background, finally coming to an explosive boil late in the book.

     Although Betsy narrates most of the story in her ditzy first-person voice, Davidson slips in a few chapters that are told from the perspectives of two other characters who are quite important to the main story line. Although the initial change in voice is a bit of a jolt, it works, and so when the second one comes, it isn't such a surprise.

     Basically, Betsy has reorganized Hell and has perfected her teleportation between Hell and her mansion so that she no longer lands in the tool shed. After Laura outed the vampires to the world (at the end of the previous book), Betsy insisted on moving Dick and Jessica and their twins out of the mansion for their own safety. So now, the mansion houses Betsy, Sinclair, Tina, and Marc (and, occasionally, BabyJon, Betsy's brother/son). Obviously, if you haven't read the previous books, you don't have a clue as to who or what I am talking about, so this is a good time to say that this is definitely not a stand-alone novel. It is the final piece of a very long and complicated series. 

     As Betsy narrates her chapters, she occasionally loops back and summarizes past events that have close connections to current events. Each time Betsy does this, Davidson includes a footnote directing the reader to the novel in which that particular event occurred. Betsy's retellings are as humorous as you would expect, especially with Sinclair's constant scoldings: "Stop that...I can hear all your exposition." and "Darling, I meant itstop narrating." So, it's kind of like having a fictional character (Sinclair) break the reader's suspension of disbelief by pointing out that another character (Betsy) is speaking directly to the audience. Davidson handles most of the humor in this novel with great restraint, a true blessing after the frenetic histrionics that went completely out of control in some of the previous books. In this final book, Betsy actually seemsDo I dare say this?rather mature in her responses to the weird people and events of her crazy life.

     The story actually begins after Laura's big public announcement (in a YouTube video) that vampires are alive (or undead) in the world and that Betsy is their leader. In an attempt to control the situation and avoid public panic, Betsy does a TV interview to give people the factsat least those selected facts that she is willing to give them. As you would expect, the interview goes off the rails when the interviewer unexpectedly asks Betsy's opinions about the existence of mermaids and werewolves. After the interview, Betsy is forced to calm down Michael and his werewolf pack, Fred and her Undersea Folk, and all of her vampires. 

     Meanwhile, in Hell, Betsy is initiating a new parole program in which certain citizens of Hell will be allowed to go back to earth and redeem themselves. Her first parolee is Jennifer Palmer, who committed suicide after she accidentally caused the death of her best friend three decades ago when both were teenagers. Jennifer is one of the characters who tell their own stories late in the book.

     This is the best book in this series in a long time. Davidson has obviously planned this finale with great care, and the result is an intricately constructed plot that holds just the right balance of humor, drama, and action. She steadily ratchets up the tension and suspense in the final chapters as the compelling climax approaches. Long-standing questions are answered, and the general futures of most of the characters are sketched in, making it a satisfying ending to a solid series. Don't miss this one if you are one of Queen Betsy's fans. There's even a major shoe event at the very end.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Undead and Done on the novel's page where you can click on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Undead and Done is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.

     Elizabeth "Betsy" Taylor is a former model turned vampire, whose special non-vampiric characteristics (e.g., not sun sensitive, not allergic to human food, not repulsed by religious objects) make her the prophesied queen of the vampires. Her love interest is her tall, dark, and handsome vampire king, Eric Sinclair.

     Supporting characters include Betsy's wealthy African American BFF, Jessica; her gay doctor friend, Marc; her half sister, Laura (the devil's daughter); police detective and former flame, Nick; and Eric's sire and assistant, Tina. Together, they solve various supernatural mysteries while causing many of their own problems through carelessness and lack of foresight. The series follows Betsy as she familiarizes herself with vampire life, comes to grips with her queenly role, and establishes a romantic relationship with Eric. All the while, Betsy continues to build her collection of designer clothes and, especially, shoes. The tone of the series is generally humorous, but the vampire battles are quite violent, with frequent beheadings and dismemberments.

     The first six books take Betsy from initial vampirehood to marriage. In "A Note to the Reader" at the beginning of Undead & Unworthy, Davidson says that this book and the next two should be considered "a trilogy within a series," with their own story arc that includes the evolving relationship between Betsy and Laura.

               INTRODUCTION TO NOVELS 9, 10, AND 11                 
     Novels 9, 10, and 11 form a trilogy within the series in which Betsy travels backward and forward in time, causes lots of trouble by changing history and events, and then returns to the present where she is forced to deal with the consequences of her well-meaning, but reckless, actions. For those who need a refresher course on Betsy's life, Davidson includes introductory sections in each book that summarize the major action in the series so far. 

             NOVEL 9:  Undead And Unfinished             
    This book takes a much darker turn than the preceding books. One reader compares it to Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol because Betsy is forced by supernatural events to examine her own life and her relationships with her closest friends, particularly Eric Sinclair. 

     The basic plot involves some time traveling as Betsy and Laura go back in time to alter events in both Eric's and Tina's lives. Then they take a trip to the future, where Betsy learns that she's not as nice a person as she'd always hoped to be. As Betsy and Laura visit past events, Betsy thoughtlessly makes some changes that will come back to haunt her.

              NOVEL 10:  Undead And Undermined               
     As book two in the trilogy opens, Betsy is back from her time travels. In fact, she wakes up on a morgue table in Chicago just moments before a buzz saw hits her brain. When she eventually gets home safely (brain secure, if not totally in gear), Betsy learns the consequences of her irresponsible behavior while she and Laura were tripping through the ether on their time-traveling journey in the previous book. Betsy discovers to her horror that her own memories of past events don't match what everyone else remembers—all because Betsy couldn't help herself from making a few alterations while she was visiting the past. Betsy spends much of this book trying to get her memories to sync up with the new reality.

     Davidson reveals her reason for Betsy's reality shift on a page of quotations at the beginning of this book. She includes the definition for retroactive continuity (aka retcon), a literary device in which the author alters previously established facts in a fictional work. Authors use retcons when they want to move a story (or series) in a direction that would not be possible if earlier history remained unchanged. Here's an example of a change that shows up early in the story: Nick does not hate Betsy for biting him, because on this new time line, she never bit him. Now, he is a friend, which he never could have been in the earlier time line. The whole book is like that, with some events and characters undergoing big changes and other events and characters essentially remaining the same. In addition to working on her memory problems, Betsy is obsessed with the fear that she will become the horrible person that she saw in the future, so she needs to figure out how to prevent that. The book includes one more trip to hell for Betsy and Laura, where Betsy learns that Satan doesn't want her dead and that Laura doesn't always tell the truth.

     For me, this book was not as successful as the previous one. The sarcastic one-liners and the frenetic stream-of-consciousness quips overpowered what was already a thin plot line. All of the action takes place in the few hours after Betsy returns from her undead Chicago experience. We do have some characters who return from the dead and one who, tragically, leaves this mortal life, but in the end, Betsy is still just muddling on—as usual.

               NOVEL 11:  Undead And Unstable               
     This is the final book in the time travel trilogy. As the story opens, Betsy is still reeling with grief over Marc's suicide and worrying about the fact that evil future Betsy will use Sinclair's skin to make the Book of the Dead. Once again, the story plays out over an extremely short time span that is filled mostly with Betsy's inane, repetitive, and endless stream-of-consciousness patter that emphasizes her narcissistic approach to life. For example, she never once sees or thinks about her friend Jessica without letting loose a barrage of disparaging remarks about Jessica's fat, pregnant belly. That gets old in the early chapters and excruciating by the end of the book.

     The plot follows Betsy as she dithers through a few days of her life (as usual). People keep telling her that she has to accept her responsibilities as vampire queen and do something to stop the world from ending in the manner that she and Laura witnessed during their time travel to the future. Satan and Ancient (future) Betsy keep dropping in and hinting that it's way past time for present-day Betsy to do something about all of this, and Betsy keeps dragging her feet, babbling about shoes and dogs and smoothiesanything to keep from facing reality. Honestly, if I had a 30-something friend who behaved like this, I'd drag her to therapy and/or slip her some lithium. 

     The dialogues between Betsy and her friends (Jessica, Nick/Dick, Marc [oh, yes, he's back—but in an undead form], Antonia, and Garrett) go on for pages and pages, frequently without identification markers, so I frequently had to stop and reread in order to figure out who said what (although it didn't really matter much in the long run). Sinclair's character has regressed to a cardboard pretty boy wandering in and out of scenes murmuring sweet nothings to Betsy ("my own") or to a disembodied voice in Betsy's head giving her wise counsel that she totally ignores. After a climactic scene in Hell, Betsy solves her most difficult future-related problems, but she alienates Laura in the process. 

     I used to laugh out loud as I read the earlier books in this series, but I didn't laugh once during this book. I'm disappointed in the book as a whole, and the best I can say is that at least it does resolve all of the conflict that originated back in book 9. 

               NOVEL 12: Undead and Unsure               

     Two basic plot lines run through the book, and both reach back to the changes Betsy made in the time line when she and Laura went back to the past during novels 9-11. Although Betsy knows about some of the changes she wrought, she learns about some new ones in this book.

     Much of the plot concerns Betsy's best friend, Jessica, who is hugely pregnant. The problem is that no one seems to know or care exactly when the baby (or babies) will be born. In fact, Jessica hasn't even been to a doctor. No one at the mansion knows Jessica's due date. Sometimes they think it well be in the spring, sometimes they say it's next week, sometimes they just shrug and admit that they just don't know—and why worry about it. My advice to the reader is not to be too concerned about this strange pregnancy situation because when you finally discover why Jessica's extended family is behaving this way, you'll find that the explanation is somewhat murky and improbable and that it is glossed over very quickly.

     Betsy's primary adventure in this book involves her sister, Laura (aka the Antichrist). In the last book, Betsy killed Satan, who was Laura's real mother. (Satan was possessing Laura's biological mother when Laura was conceived and birthed.) During the adventures that climaxed the previous book, Satan attacked Betsy, and Betsy cut off her head. Now Laura is all sulky and snappy, blaming Betsy for Mom's death and disregarding the fact that Betsy was forced to kill Satan to save her own life. As usual, Laura behaves like a spoiled, self-centered adolescent, but the kick here is that she has the power of Hell at her disposal, so nobody wants to make her mad.

     In her own self-centered manner, Betsy stumbles through the story trying to make up with Laura by sending balloon bouquets and singing telegrams to win her over and then inviting her for a late Thanksgiving dinner (in December) so that they can talk things over. That dinner doesn't end well for Betsy, but it does force her to come to some conclusions about how to use her newest powers to mend her relationship with Laura.

     In the meantime, Sinclair is enjoying his new ability to walk in the sun by spending his time endlessly walking the sets with his puppies. In one early scene, he actually takes over the kitchen to bake Apple Crunch Pupcakes for them. Betsy thinks that he is going overboard with the puppies and his outdoor activities, but by the end of the story, she learns that Sinclair has included some sleuthing in his recreational activities.

     The Epilogue scene between Sinclair and Laura was the first time that I really engaged with the story. If Davidson would just let Betsy grow up a bit—just a few tablespoons of maturity, please—that final scene could be developed into an outstanding novel that approaches urban fantasy. But, unfortunately, Betsy hasn't changed at all during this series, and her thoughtless actions, constant snarkiness, and frenzied stream-of-consciousness conversations with herself are just as immature and annoying in novel 12 as they were in novel 1. By now, they're not funny at all. If the next novel deals with the ramifications of the epilogue scene, we're in for a great Betsy adventure. Let's hope for the best.

              NOVEL 13: Undead and Unwary               

     Much of this novel suffers from the constant off-the-wall riffs of random thoughts that appear to be a sign of Betsy's attention deficit problem. She cannot hold a conversation without spiraling off into totally unconnected monologues. It's the same thing that happens when a dog sees a squirrel. All thoughts of what he was doing disappear from his doggy mind, and all he can focus on is that little furry animal. That's Betsy in a nutshell. If you removed all of her pointless, ditzy monologues and off-the-subject dialogues from this novel, you'd be left with a short story.

     O.K., with that out of the way, I'll move on to the story line, which actually has three branches: 1. Jess's twins keep disappearing; 2. Laura (the Antichrist) wants Betsy to keep her promise to help out in reorganizing Hell; and 3. Jessica claims to have seen Betsy's father in St. Paul—her supposedly dead father. The twins' story is played primarily for laughs, but the Hell story is much more serious (although it has more than its share of Davidson's trademark sarcastic humor). The story line involving Betsy's father smolders in the background (as Betsy refuses to discuss it) and then flares up and burns out quickly near the end of the book.

     Betsy has been deliberately avoiding her Hellish responsibilities, just as she dodges other unpalatable responsibilities in her life. Although Betsy agreed to be the co-ruler of Hell, she keeps putting the chaotic events of her own life before her promise to her sister. Now, Laura is calling her on it, claiming that people are escaping from Hell and that Betsy has to help her fix the situation. In the process of reorganizing Hell, Betsy FINALLY shows some signs of maturity—for the very first time in the entire series.

     Betsy spends the entire book moving back and forth between Hell and her weird and wild household. Several ongoing issues are resolved, including the whole situation with Nick/Dick's name and Betsy's rocky relationships with family members. If you haven't read the previous books in the series, you may find yourself a bit lost because there are many, many allusions and flashbacks to characters and events in previous books, with each one referenced in footnotes.

     The final chapters are much better paced than the early ones, mostly because Betsy begins to pull herself together and doesn't let herself get as distracted. This is part of her maturation process: focusing on the task at hand instead of using the defense mechanism of constantly changing the subject to avoid unpleasant topics and tasks. By the end, I was really enjoying the story, especially the well-earned and highly satisfying comeuppances doled out to some deserving characters.

     As the book draws to an end, Betsy realizes that she has learned a few valuable life lessons, and I don't think that giving you this quotation will be a spoiler: First, she says, "Okay, I've learned two things this week Be careful what you wish for, and also, I can't do this by myself." Later in this scene, she also realizes that her friends know her better than she knows herself, and she expresses her appreciation to them for standing up to her and for her throughout her chaotic adventures. That would include all of the quirky eccentrics who make up her household as well as a few characters you wouldn't expect to see on such a list. As issues are resolved, Betsy's family relationships undergo tremendous changes, but none that are set in stone—not yet anyway. To read an excerpt from Undead and Unwary, click HERE to go to the book's page, where you should then click on the cover art at top left.

               NOVEL 14: Undead and Unforgiven               
     If Betsy Taylor has learned anything about ruling Hell it’s: 1) She can't do it alone, and 2) She doesn’t have to. She’s got the help of a devoted vampire king, a dateless zombie, an exhausted new mom, an unshowered cop, a bitchy ghost, a kindly dead priest, and her late stepmother (“Go Team Satan 2.0!”). But the latest major hurdle in her afterlife is so big she can’t even see it until it’s on YouTube.

     Betsy’s father and half sister Laura (a former Antichrist with a grudge) have teamed up, for what sinister purpose Betsy can't imagine. The former Antichrist didn't take kindly to getting what she wished for, and has decided that's entirely the fault of the vampire queen. What that means for Betsy is trouble (more than usual, even) and possible exposure to an unsuspecting world.

     Meanwhile Hell is having a deleterious effect on Betsy's friends ("I didn't think it was possible, but the damned are getting meaner."), the newly dead are confused about Hell's new rules ("A buddy system? Really?"), and the vampire king is trying to poach on Betsy's territory. Betsy loves her husband, but that's not the same as trusting him. Before long the king and queen of the vampires aren't speaking to each other, the mansion on Summit Avenue is a war zone, and Betsy's getting calls from a werewolf, a mermaid, and worst of all, her mother ("What do you mean you can't babysit?"). No one said life after death would be easy, but c'mon: this is ridiculous. 

     In this penultimate novel, Betsy takes charge of Hell, supported by a committee comprising her dreadful stepmother, the Ant; her depressed zombie friend, Marc; her husband's sire, Tina; a former ghost named Cathie; and Father Markus, a Catholic priest whose previous congregation consisted of teenage vampire decapitators. Hell à la Betsy looks exactly like the Mall of America, with no lakes of fire and no stench of sulphur and brimstone. In the first ten chapters of the book, Betsy and her committee revise the Ten Commandments (to be known in the future as The Ten Commandments Remix) and begin to revise the rules and regulations that determine the seriousness of punishments and the length of sinners' stints in Hell. During these early chapters, Betsy spends her time meeting and greeting Hell-dwellers (including George Washington's mother), going to one committee meeting after another, hanging out at Hell's Orange Julius stand, and teleporting home for quality bedroom time with Sinclair. 

     Beginning with chapter 11, the action really gets going. You will recall that Betsy and her half-sister, Laura, (aka the Antichrist, the Spawn of Satan) are in the middle of a major family feud. In the previous book (a month ago), Laura did some sneaky, underhanded deeds in order to force Betsy to help her out with her Hellish duties. In response, Betsy kicked her sister out of Hell and removed all of Laura's magical powers. Now, Laura wants revenge. She has always been a spoiled, needy brat, and her plans for Betsy and the vampires include outing them to the general population. Laura's Plan also includes converting the world to Christianity.

Note: When Laura explains her Big Plan to Betsy, it sounds an awful lot like the plan that Ohio Governor (and 2016 Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich just proposed—that the U.S. government should convince the people of China, Iran, Russia, and the Middle East to convert to a Judeo-Christian belief system, never mind that most of these people already have their own religious beliefs and are quite content with them. Congratulations MaryJanice Davidson! You foretold the future.
     Betwixt and between the events that I mentioned in the previous two paragraphs, Betsy also deals with her best friend Jessica's weird babies (because they keep changing their ages), Marc's deepening depression (because he can't find a boyfriend), Sinclair's hurt feelings (because Betsy won't allow him to come to Hell with her), and her inability to keep track of time in Hell (because it runs differently than on Earth). 

     The first ten chapters were tough for me to get through. As usual, there are many—too many—scenes involving Betsy's frenetic rants on whatever catches her attention. These are always the weakest scenes, and they have grown to be more and more annoying as the series has lengthened. It's actually a relief when Laura shows up in the plot because she gives Betsy a focus—something to take her mind off smoothies and shoes and general silliness. (Although even the second part of the book veers off on some wacky tangents, like the very short chapter 22, which consists of nothing more than a list of "Terrible Nicknames for Hell's New Boss Lady.") Near the end of the book, Davidson inserts a major plot twist that I didn't see coming. Although it works, it's hard to imagine how Betsy had time to pull it off given the demands of her smoothie-drinking, committee-meeting, sex-enjoying, friend-cajoling life. I did enjoy this book more than the past few, and I'm looking forward to reading Betsy's final book next year. 

     One last thing: Davidson frequently refers to past events in Betsy's vampire life, and she footnotes each reference with the title of the book in which it appears. I had a mixed reaction to those footnotes. On the one hand, they might be helpful to readers who want to go back and read about those events. But on the other hand, they have a commercial tone to them. 

    To read or listen to an excerpt from Undead and Unforgiven, click HERE to go to the book's page, where you should then click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.