Plot Type: Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Night Unbound (9/2014)
"Phantom Embrace" in On the Hunt (8/2015)
Shadows Strike (8/2015)
The book is set a year after the events of "Phantom Embrace," and I kept feeling that I must have missed a novella or a novel because of the big time gap. For example, Marcus and Ami's baby girl, Adira, who was still in utero in "Phantom Embrace," is already a toddler. Early in the book, we learn the identity of the traitor inside the Guardians network who supplied the vials of sedative to the enemy. That entire situation is handled off the page, and rather off-handedly, which is puzzling because it has been a major element in the plots of the past few books. Once the traitor is out of the way, the plot focuses on the villainous Other, Gershom, who is one of the Others, a mysterious, powerful, narrow-minded group from which both Seth—leader of the Guardians—and Zach have defected. For his own reasons, Gershom is determined to trigger Armageddon and destroy mankind.
But wait…we have time for a romance before the world ends. This time around, Immortal Guardian Ethan (who formerly was in love with Lisette) finds his soul mate in Heather Lane, a human woman with telepathic abilities, meaning that she is a gifted one (good news for Ethan!). Although the Publisher's Blurb states that Heather is "a U.S. law enforcement agent," that is absolutely incorrect. She is a private consultant who has done some interrogation work for various police departments and for the military, posing as a facial action coding system (FACS) specialist. As Heather explains to Ethan, "I read minds for a living. But everyone thinks I read facial expressions."
As the story opens, Heather is determined to get at the meaning of a dream she has had nearly every night for an entire year. In the dream, she is sitting in a chair in a clearing in the middle of the woods when a gang of vampires bursts from the forest. They attack her, but then a very different kind of supernatural man comes to her aid and fights at her side. On this particular night, Heather's dream comes true when the vampires, followed by Ethan, surge into the clearing. Eventually, the Guardians get to the bottom of why Heather has this and other precognitive dreams, but for the moment, Heather and Ethan spend some time falling in lust/love with one another.
The action part of the plot focuses on attacks by vampires on several covert U.S. military units. The Guardians are sure that Gershom is behind the attacks, but at first they can't understand his purpose. Eventually, all becomes clear, and the book ends with the requisite battle between Gershom's vampires and the Guardian forces. The final chapters have a number of surprises that will affect the action in the next books. Problematically, just as with the traitor in the ranks, all of the scenes featuring the villainous Gershom are off the page.
The plot is full of twists and turns, and most of them work. But in the final analysis, the reasons given for two vampire attacks on Heather and Ethan (early in the book) didn't entirely make sense to me. Duvall has a character explain this several times, but no…it still isn't clear why someone (who shall remain nameless in this review) has enough magical power to mentally coerce large gangs of vampires to attack but not enough power to control those vamps in any way once the attack begins.
Except for a few extra plot twists, this book has the same general format of all the others in the series: a relatively smooth romance, a lot of vampire battles, and too many saccharin-sweet scenes of camaraderie at David's house. (In this book, those scenes are driven by cute little Adira as she coos and drools her way from one big, tough Guardian to another.) I like the series well enough, but after six books and two novellas, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for the same repetitive vampire battle scenes we've been reading since the series began. The vampires are pretty much the only boots-on-the-ground enemies these Guardians have, so the battles are always the same because these vamps are all crazed, violent, non-sentient beings who know only one way to fight: growl, claw, snarl, bite, hiss, slash…and repeat.
These books would also be more engaging if some of the Guardians and their mates had a few flaws. What makes Phantom Shadows the best book in the series so far is the fact that its lead character—Bastien—is such a flawed hero. With the exception of Bastien and Roland, the rest of the Guardians and their mates are all so unrelentingly Mary Sue/Gary Stu that they aren't very interesting. I'm hoping that in one of the future books, Duvall finds it in her heart to give Aidan a soul mate. Poor guy…he has been waiting a long, long time! Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Shadows Strike. Just click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
The Guardians' magical gifts include such talents as healing, seeing ghosts, and telekinesis. Since the gifted ones supposedly come from one common 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!).
Later in the series, we learn of a mysterious group called the Others. Here, Seth, leader of the Guardians, describes that group: "Others are the eldest immortals on the planet, As such, we possess incredible power. Power that can alter the world if we wield it. But we decided long ago that we would not, under any circumstances, interfere with the natural course of mankind. We believed—and had good reason to do so—that any interaction with humans would alter that course and inevitably bring about Armageddon." (from Shadows Strike).
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)
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 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'Alençon—a sibling team of French Guardians; and Chris Reordan, a human in charge of computer data gathering, clean-up, and daytime security for the Guardians.
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
And now for the bad guys: 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.
NOVEL 3: Phantom Shadows
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 their gas-saving cars, although the narration does drawsattention 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"
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 own—and 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 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 scenes—and 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 hitting us over the head in every book with an environmentally friendly hammer 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, 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 cliffhanger 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).
NOVEL 5: Night Unbound
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 tranquilizer—enough 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, this is, on the whole, 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 clues—attractive, winged men who were originally tasked with observing humans—and 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.
NOVELLA 5.5: "Phantom Embrace"
Except for the super-quick progression of the romance, this story is quite different from Duvall's usual IMMORTAL GUARDIANS stories, mostly because the heroine is a ghost. Besides David and Seth, only two of the Guardians can see ghosts: Yuri and Marcus. The ghost in this story is Cat, sister of Bastien, who was killed long ago by her husband, a newly turned vampire, while she was pregnant with their child.
The two-pronged plot follows the development of the romance and the beginnings of another vampire uprising. The romance gives new meaning to the term "dream lovers," and the bittersweet ending will have you reaching for a handkerchief. Fun fact about Yuri and Cat: They enjoy listening to paranormal romance audiobooks together, especially the bedroom scenes.
Obviously, the yet-to-be-identified traitor within the Guardian network is still up to no good. This time, someone is raising a army of vamps who are highly trained in martial arts and other warrior skills. This villain is also increasing the potency of the tranquilizer that is the only drug that can affect Guardians.
Also part of the story are scenes involving Zach, who proves that he is not the traitor, and Lisette, who suffers at the hands of the new vampire army. I'm guessing that this new vampire army situation and the identification of the traitor will play heavily in Duvall's newest novel in this series, Shadows Strike, which I will be reading and reviewing in the next few days.
In the first few pages of the story, Duvall provides a concise summary of the key events of the series up to this point, so if you need to brush up on your series history, this bit of exposition will come in handy.