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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dianne Duvall: IMMORTAL GUARDIANS SERIES

Author:  Dianne Duvall
Series:  IMMORTAL GUARDIANS 
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Publisher and Titles:  Zebra
         Darkness Dawns (2/2011)
         Night Reigns (12/2011)
         Phantom Shadows (10/2012)
         "In Still Darkness" (novella in Predatory, 5/2013)
         Darkness Rises (10/2013)
         Night Unbound (9/2014)

     This post was revised and updated on 9/30/14 to include a review of Darkness Rises, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels and a link to my review of novella 3,5.   

               NOVEL 5:  Night Unbound               
     In the previous book, Lisette d'Alençon showed signs of romantic attraction to Zach, the mysterious winged man who perches on rooftops, watching over the Guardians. No one but Seth and David know Zach's true identity, and they aren't sharingnot with the Guardians and not with the reader. Seth despises Zach and has warned all of the Immortal Guardians to stay away from him. As the book begins, Seth is certain that Zach is the traitor who has stolen the tranquilizer formula and manipulated the memories of two captive vampires. He beats Zach up, drains away his strength, and leaves him to be recaptured by the Othersthe mysterious and violent group from which both Seth and Zach have broken away. The Others drag Zach away for two months of torture, during which he somehow manifests himself in Lisette's dreams and then escapes, falling out of the sky onto the roof of her house, badly injured and unconscious. As Lisette helps Zach heal, their romance begins.

     Meanwhile, the Guardians are dealing with a new threat. Someone is turning highly skilled military men into vampires and sending them out to capture one or more of the Immortals. These new vamps are extremely strong and well-trained in hand-to-hand combat. Plus, they are armed with darts filled with twice the normal amount of the vampire tranquilizerenough to knock out an Immortal for days. Lisette finds this out the hard way one night when she is hunting vampires with Zach and gets hit with a dart. Zach fears that she is dying, so he grabs up Lisette and the two uber-vamps and smashes his way into David's house in the middle of a major meeting of the Immortals. It is at this point that Seth and Zach make peace with one another and the reader learns how and why they became estranged in the first place.

     Although there are a few too many repetitious vampire-hunting scenes, on the whole, this is a tight, suspense-filled plot with some major twists and turns. Each time Seth believes that he has identified the traitor, new information surfaces and his search continues on to the next suspect. There are two climactic scenes near the end of the book: one with lots of guns and explosions and one with a long-overdue, bitter encounter between ancient enemies. Both are connected with the search for the true traitor, who is still on the loose. Once again, we don't find out exactly what or who Seth, Zach, and the Others are, but I keep adding up the cluesattractive, winged men who were originally tasked with observing humansand this leads me to the Bible, specifically to the Book of Enoch. Somehow, this situation has to include angels, fallen angels, and/or nephilum in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps we'll get the full story in the next novel.

     The romance plot line follows the usual lust-filled path, but with fewer bumps and less angst than some of the romances in previous books. Although Zach has lived for thousands of years, he is still a virgin, but don't worry, he has either been reading sex manuals or watching porn because he knows all of the right moves.

     In the primary sub-plot, the Immortals are worried about the birth of Ami's child, which happens towards the end of the book in one of those screaming birth scenes with major complications. The suspense builds throughout the scene because no child has ever been born with the combination of alien DNA (Ami) and vampire-infected blood (Marcus).

     Although this novel runs long (425 pages), it moves along quickly, with the action scenes and the romance scenes interweaving in a natural manner. Zach and Lisette are a well-matched couple, both strong, brave, and highly skilled warriors who would lay down their lives for one another. Readers who are keeping up with this series will love the fact that we get a bit more information about Seth's tragic background and a few more vague hints about his true identity.

     Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Night Unbound. Click HERE to read an interview with Dianne Duvall on pp. 24-25 in the September/October issue of BTS Book Reviews, an e-magazine


          WORLD-BUILDING          
     Duvall has created a world in which the Immortal Guardians protect humankind from evil vampires. Not a very fresh concept, but Duvall adds a twist by giving the Guardians most of the same traits as the vamps: sun sensitivity, blood-sucking fangs, day sleep, and the usual super-strength and speed. Interestingly, their fangs siphon the blood from the source directly into the Guardian's bloodstream. As Roland explains to Sara, “…our fangs behave like IV needles, drawing the blood in and carrying it directly to our veins.” (p. 132) 

     Vampires can consume only blood. Guardians eat regular food, but they must supplement it with blood once or twice a week. The vamps drain humans for their blood, but the Guardians take blood only from the most despicable of criminals (e.g., pedophiles, child-pornography peddlers) or from the vampires’ human minions...because, after all, they are the good guys.

     In this world, vampirism is a toxic virus. If a normal person is bitten, he or she becomes a vampire and is slowly driven into blood-lust madness by the effects of the virus. But, if the human who is bitten is a Gifted One—that is, if the person has a special magical gift—he or she will become an Immortal Guardian instead of a vampire. The Guardians' magical gifts include such talents as healing, seeing ghosts, and telekinesis.  Since the gifted ones supposedly come from one ancestor, they all have similar physical characteristics, including black hair, brown eyes, and a large stature (in other words, really big, tall, dark, and handsome dudes!).

     Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site where she provides a glossary of terms and a list of character descriptions. Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site with links to excerpts. Click HERE to go to a page with links to character interviews and free series-related short stories.

Here are the soul-mate couples (so far):
   > Roland and Sarah Bingham (novel 1)
   > Marcus Grayden and Amiriska (Ami) (novel 2)
   > Sebastien (Bastien) and Dr. Melanie Lipton (novel 3)
   > Richart d'Alençon and Jenna McBride (novella 3.5)
   > Etienne d'Alençon and Krysta Linz (novel 4)
   > Lisette d'Alençon and Zachariah (Zach) (novel 5)

               NOVEL 1:  Darkness Dawns               
     Set in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, the first book, opens with Sara Bingham, a beautiful human woman, in her backyard planting a vegetable garden just before dawn. Suddenly, she witnesses some men in the near-by woods who are fighting viciously to subdue another man. When the thugs leave their victim staked to the ground, Sara rescues him, thinking that she has stumbled onto some type of gang or mob war. 

     Sara is the usual paranormal heroine, with a tragic childhood and an inability to sustain a romantic relationship. Roland, the Guardian she saves, has a reputation for being a gruff loner, refusing even to have a human assistant to guard him during his day sleep. Naturally enough, it's lust at first sight for this couple, even after she finds out that he is a fangy bloodsucker. Sara has absolutely no second thoughts about their relationship, so there is zero angst—which is highly unusual for a paranormal romance (and rather disappointing). As Sara and Roland get to know one another, they must contend with continual attacks from a mysterious vampire named Bastien, who wants Roland dead for reasons that we don't learn until the end of the story. As the attacks continue, Roland's fellow Guardians arrive to help him out, and we meet the rest of the cast of characters for the series: Seth, the all-powerful leader; David, Seth's second in command; Darnell, David's human second; Marcus, Roland's best friend; Richart, Étienne, and Lisette d'Alençona sibling team of French Guardians; and Chris Reordan, a human in charge of computer data gathering, clean-up, and daytime security for the Guardians.  

     This book also includes a weird time-travel romance scenario that turns up in a single conversation between Roland and Sara and that is developed further in book 2, when Marcus’s story is fully told, but even then we don't get enough details to justify its insertion into the plot. Why insert time travel into a vampire series? Who knows?

     I liked the world-building for the series, but there were a few problems with the editing: misplaced names, comments that didn't quite fit with past events, and so forth. But the biggest problem for me was the incredible amount of space used to impress us with how eco-friendly the good guys are. The Guardians eat only organic fruits and vegetables, no red meat, etc. Marcus drives a Prius. Roland is careful to rip the label off a cat food can before he drops it in the recycling bin. Roland's romantic wedding gift to his bride is a new vegetable garden. They enjoy an organic pizza—no chemical-filled pepperoni and processed cheese for this couple! This organic thing goes on and on and on, and it became a huge distraction for me.  We even learn that Roland uses environmentally friendly dish soap and bubble bath, for heaven's sake! I don't know about you, but I don't read paranormal romance for environmental tips. If Duvall can pull back—a lot—on her environmental message in future books, I may keep reading the series.

     Duvall also has problems with character development. The good guys and gals are almost too "good." After having lived for centuries, one would think that they would have a few flaws that could be explored as part of the story. Although we keep hearing from the supporting characters that Roland has a reputation for being rude, morose, and stand-offish, we never ever see that side of him, so it doesn't seem real. Instead he comes across as a kind, gentle, too-good-to-be-true environmentalist. Depth of character cannot be established solely through comments from bystanders. Characters have to demonstrate their personality traits through their own words, thoughts, and actions as they work their way though the conflict set up in the plot. Unfortunately, this does not happen in Darkness Dawns. Sara is another character who is nearly flawless—and totally one dimensional. Although Sara has a doctorate in music, there is absolutely no evidence of music in her life. Sara has set aside a whole room for her gym equipment, but there are no musical instruments or equipment anywhere in sight. What's the point in making Sara a musician if there are no musical references in the story? She probably should have been a personal trainer instead. As the story progresses, Sara segues from music-professor, exercise-freak, organic-gardener to kick-ass, sure-shot vampire killer in the blink of an eye, with little or no physical effort or emotional trauma, even when she shoots her first vampires at close range. (Well, she does faint once—when she first believes that Roland is a vampire, but that's over in a flash.) 

     Also—SPOILER ALERT—Sara's "gift" comes out of nowhere. We hear nothing much about the content of Sara's dreams at any point during the story—just that she has trouble sleeping. Then, bam! Her dreaming ability becomes a life-changing talent. I don't think so...For me, the most enjoyable character is Nietzsche, Roland's 40-year-old vampire cat, who takes on raccoons and opossums twice his size. He has more depth than some of the humanoid characters.

Click HERE to read an excerpt from Darkness Dawns (scroll down a bit to find it).

               NOVEL 2:  Night Reigns              
    The second book picks up a year and a half after book 1 and tells the romantic story of the Immortal Guardian Marcus Grayden and Amiriska (Ami), a mysterious woman who has superhuman strength and miraculous healing powers, but who is not a Gifted One. As the story opens, Seth assigns Ami to be Marcus' second, his human back-up. From the beginning, I had to wonder how Ami could have been living for a year and a half with Seth, David, and Darnell without ever coming in contact with any of the other Guardians. When Seth brings Ami to Marcus' house, he has no idea who she is or that Seth has known her for so long. How could this happen in the close-knit Guardian community? Anyhow...Ami proves to be not only a great second, but a great lover when Marcus eventually gives in and makes a move. Unfortunately, Ami has an extremely tragic history, which she doesn't reveal to either Marcus (or the reader) until very late in the book. The first set of villains are the blood-thirsty vampires under the command of Dennis, a crazy vamp who wants to be king of the world. The second set of villains, who show up late in the story, are far more mysterious, and I can't tell you much about them without revealing Ami's big secret. Let's just say that when Ami tells Marcus, "I'm not from around here" (p. 298), she's not kidding.

     This book has some of the same problems as book 1, but they aren't as severe. We still have LOTS of eco-friendly moments. Here are some examples: Marcus drives a Prius, and Ami drives an electric cara Tesla Roadster. When Ami packs Marcus a lunch to take along on his vamp-hunting missions, she always includes a healthy, all-organic sandwich and some environmentally friendly, scentless wipes along with the requisite chilled bag of blood. And there's another cat-food-can recycling scene (and another cat). A gratuitous justification paragraph (p. 192) explains that the Immortals are mostly vegetarian because they run the same health risks as humans (e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes). Apparently, their bodies waste energy healing them from these diseases, thus causing them to consume more blood, which puts a strain on their human blood donors. To me, this whole concept is kind of silly.

     The most ridiculously manipulative scene in the book occurs on pp. 127-130 when the author has Ami stumbling around on roller skates in Marcus' study for no apparent reason other than to have her trip over a rug and fall into Marcus' arms. (This is the only time that the skates show up in the story, thank goodness.) The Marcus-Bethany (his lost love) story comes up several times, but we get only a few details. Marcus tells Ami about a time back in the 1600s when Marcus' liege lord brought home a woman (Bethany) wearing blue jeans and a tank top. When Ami has a WTF reaction to this, he tells her that Seth sent Bethany back in time. When Ami asks for details, Marcus puts her off, saying, "Another long story and our dinner's almost ready..." (p. 196) Later (on p. 215), Marcus tells Ami that Bethany showed up at some point during the Middle ages and gave him an iPod with a solar recharger. And that is about all we get on the time travel episode. On the author's web site, Duvall says that she has completed a new manuscript telling Bethany's story: "Rendezvous with Yesterday is a time travel romance in which Bethany Bennett is whisked back in time and takes thirteenth century Englandand the dark Earl of Fosterlyby storm." Why put that inane story line into this book if you're not going to flesh it out? Maybe to sell another book.

      Much of the violence comes from the graphic descriptions of battle injuries, like this one: "The wounds that hadn't yet healed stung...as though being inflicted anew. Blood, some sticky, some crusty, softened and liquefied, trailing down his flesh like paint following an artist's brush." (Night Reigns, p. 184) 

     We learn a few new details about Seth in this book, with wings being one of the new clues to his real identity. This book signals a change in the world building, moving from strictly paranormal to a more science fiction type of plot line. We'll see how that works out. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Night Reigns (scroll down a bit to find it).

               NOVEL 3:  Phantom Shadows               
     As the book begins, Sebastien ("Bastien") has been living among the Guardians for almost two years, but he's still a hated outsider, untrusted by everyoneeveryone, that is, but Dr. Melanie Lipton, the human doctor who works in the Guardians' network headquarters. Bastien and Melanie met back in book 1 when he burst into headquarters in a mad rage, looking for one of his vampires. Even though he was a fearsome sight, Melanie was not afraid of Bastien. On the contrary, she finds herself attracted to himand vice versa. Their love story is, like those in previous stories, a fairly smooth ride from first attraction to final commitment, although Bastien does have a few interior monologues in which he goes on and on about how he isn't good enough for her. Their love story is really more sweet than passionate, although they do have the obligatory graphic love scenes common to all paranormal romances.

     The action plot centers around the mysterious set of new villains who turned up at the end of book 2. Emrys, the leader of that group, is determined to create an army of mercenary super-soldiers using vampire blood, so he has put together a black-ops tactical force to stake out the city and capture vampires for experimental purposes. Emrys is the man who tortured Ami in book 2, so all of the Guardians are determined to take him down. In an effort to weaken Emrys' efforts, Bastien proposes that the Guardians try to win some of the vampires over to their side. He takes the lead, locating Stuart, a young vampire who agrees to sign on with the Guardians. Unfortunately, that plan doesn't end well, particularly for Melanie. A major battle scene late in the book is full of bloody action and drama, but the requisite climactic showdown at the end is a bit too short and too neat. The story line involving Emrys is resolved by the end of the book, but new problems crop up in the final pages. 

     Once again, we get a bit more information about Seth when he meets up with Zach, another of his kind, and we learn that for some reason Seth has distanced himself from the rest of his people. We also learn that David has some magical powers that he's been keeping under wraps.

     This book is much better than books 1 and 2. The characters of the hero and heroine are more fully developed, and we're getting the back stories of the rest of the supporting cast. Melanie is an intelligent heroine, who doesn't have a single TSTL moment; the flip side is that she is a bland heroine. Thankfully, the environmental theme of the first two books has been scaled way back in this one, with just a few references to the Guardians' diet of organic food and no references at all to the their gas-saving cars, although the narration does draws attention to the fact that the bad guys drive gas-guzzling Hummers. There's no time travel in this story; it's a straightforward paranormal romance with an action-filled plot. This is not a stand-alone novel. The author doesn't provide much of a summary of past events, so a new reader might be confused by all the hatred for Bastien. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Phantom Shadows (scroll down a bit to find it).    

               NOVELLA 3.5: "In Still Darkness"                 
     This novella, which appears in the anthology, Predatory (5/2013), tells the love story of Richart d'Alençon and Jenna McBride. Click HERE to read my review of all of the novellas in Predatory. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "In Still Darkness."  

               NOVEL 4:  Darkness Rises               
     In the fourth book, we get the love story of Étienne d'Alençon, one of three French sibling immortals, and Krysta Linz, a human who has honed herself into a highly effective vampire hunter. One night when Étienne is out hunting, he observes Krysta lure some vampires into an alley and dispatch them quickly with her shoto swords. When more vampires appear on the scene, Étienne jumps into the action to assist her. At first, Krysta believes that Étienne is a vampire because of his fangs and glowing eyes, but she sees that his aura is purple and white, while all the vamps' auras are orange. Naturally enough, Krysta's bad-ass fighting skills are a major turn-on for Étienne even though he fears that she is risking her life every time she engages vampires in battle. In fact, when Krysta claims to have been killing vamps for six years, Étienne can hardly believe it. In order to protect Krysta, Étienne begins to follow her on her hunting rounds each night, grabbing up any vampires who follow her and killing them out of her sight. Krysta soon discovers what Étienne is doing, but she is physically attracted to him (big time), so they just have a bit of a spat and both go home to have lustful dreams about the other. 

     Then, the unexpected happens: One night, just as Étienne jumps in to help Krysta fight off a large group of vamps, someone shoots a tranquilizer dart into his neck and then begins banging away at both of them with high-powered guns. They escape with the help of Krysta's brother, and the main action plot is underway.

     Krysta and her brother, Sean, each have a magical talent (thus we immediately know that they are Gifted Ones): Krysta can see people's auras, and Sean can heal with a touch of his hands (although all of the injuries he heals transfer from the injured person's body to his ownand that's a huge problem for a healer). Since the two are Gifted, Seth agrees to allow them entry into the Guardians' world.

     Krysta and Sean are soon adopted into the extended family of the Immortal Guardians as the the group attempts to figure out the identity of their new attackers. Supposedly, all evidence related to the tranquilizers was destroyed after the big battle that ended the previous book, but somehow this new group not only has the formula, but an army of mercenaries as well. The previous group (under the command of Emrys) captured vamps and immortals in order to cut them apart and try to figure out the secret to their super powers. Seth and David (leaders of the Immortal Guardians) destroyed all computer files, research records, and equipment as well as wiping the memories of the two men who were Emrys' top lieutenants. So…what's going on here? How has this new group learned to make the tranquilizer (which is the only drug that will incapacitate an immortal)? Why is their secret headquarters identical to that of Emrys? Could there be a traitor in the Guardians' ranks? The action plot follows the Guardians as they follow the clues and take down yet another enemy.

     In the meantime, the primary romance plot takes Krysta and Étienne from immediate attraction to lustful glances and sighs to hot love scenesand finally to their HEA. In a side story line, Étienne's sister, Lisette, is falling for the mysterious Zach (and vice versa). And in yet another story line, the Guardians are worried about Ami's pregnancy and about her friendship with Zach.   

     As usual, the author spends too much time on the whole eco-friendly, organic theme, as she has the characters explain to Krysta that their highly developed senses result in extreme sensitivity to pollution and to artificial food additives and chemicals. That's why they drive hybrid or electric cars and eat only organically grown food. Still, why bother discussing this at length in every book when it has absolutely nothing to do with the plots?  

     By now, the cast of characters is so large that if you haven't read the previous books, you may get confused as to who is human, who is immortal, and who has mated with whom. Therefore, I don't recommend this novel as a standalone. With its interesting characters and suspenseful plot, this is another strong installment in this ongoing series. The characters of both Étienne and Krysta are well developed, and their chemistry is obvious from their first meeting. The single problem I have with their relationship is that Krysta's (and Sean's) distrust of the immortals dissolves much too quickly. After all, the siblings have been hunting (and despising) vampires for years, ever since some vamps butchered Krysta's fiancé right in front of her. Yet, it takes only a day or two for both of them to believe the whole Guardian mythology and trust them as good guys. Other than Krysta's very brief initial distrust, her relationship with Étienne goes very smoothly, with no bumps, no misunderstandings, and no angst. After having over-the-top heroes like Roland and Bastien in the past, Étienne comes across as rather bland and almost too nice to be real. The only small bit of romantic drama comes in the Lisette-Zach story thread, and that romance hasn't even really bloomed yet.

     Everything considered, though, this is a strong addition to the series, and it ends with a cliff hanger involving the identity of the traitor. The next book will no doubt turn inwards for its villain rather than outwards toward external enemies as has been the case in the previous books. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Darkness Rising (scroll down a bit to find it).

1 comment:

  1. Note from the writer of this blog: Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader who caught an egregious error in this post (which I immediately corrected). I blame it on the fact that I was reading book 1 of this series at the same time that I was reading book 1 of Larissa Ione's LORDS OF DELIVERANCE. I accidentally transposed the name of Ione's heroine (Cara Thompson) to Duvall's series. The heroine of "Darkness Dawns" is Sara Bingham, and her name has been restored to its proper series. Mea culpa and thanks for bringing that to my attention.

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