Series: DARK MISSION
Plot Type: Dark and Gritty Urban Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence--4-5; Sensuality--4; Humor--1
Publisher and Titles: Avon
"Before the Witches" (novella prequel, 7/2011)
Blood of the Wicked (5/2011)
Lure of the Wicked (6/2011)
"No Rest for the Witches" (novella, 11/2011)
All Things Wicked (1/2012)
Sacrifice the Wicked (9/2012)
"Wicked Lies" (novella, 3/2013)
One for the Wicked (4/2013) (FINAL)
One of the problems with this book is that Cooper has used "S" and "J" as the first letters of many of the lead characters' names. Towards the end, when all of the couples from the previous books enter the plot in rapid sequence, it's difficult to cast your mind back and remember just who everyone is. We have Jessie, Juliet, and Jonas; Silas, Simon, and Shawn—and they all begin to run together as the scenes quickly jump from couple to couple, sometimes with scenes of all three "S" and/or "J" characters in the same scene. I definitely had to put the book down at one point and go back to my reviews to refresh my memory as to characters' names and relationships.
Having said all that, here's the final story line: Shawn (a rebel) kidnaps Kayleigh Lauderdale, the genetic scientist who is the daughter of Dr. Laurence Lauderdale, the current series villain. Shawn is supposed to take Kayleigh back to rebel headquarters for questioning, but he wants to use Kayleigh as a trade-off for a group of his fellow rebels who have been captured by the Mission, so he drugs her, drags her off to an abandoned house, and ties her up. As Shawn and Kayleigh hide out in Seattle's lowest levels, a series of earthquakes hits the city, causing both of them to be injured and forcing them to rely on one another to survive. I need to mention that just before Shawn drugs Kayleigh and carries her off, he poses as her security guard, and she makes a pass at him that he accepts and fulfills to her great satisfaction (if you get my drift). Naturally enough, when she wakes up tied to a chair with a major headache, she is more than a little pissed off. Thus, their relationship begins as the typical lust/hate type that we have seen between other couples in this series.
The early part of the story follows the couple as they occasionally allow their romantic emotions to run free as they try to stay alive during the quakes. Then, other couples from past books begin to arrive on the scene, and the story starts jumping from one to another—and that's where the characters begin to blur.
In the previous books, Kayleigh was portrayed as clueless about her father's dastardly deeds, and in this book we learn that Dad kept even more secrets from her—specifically, the truth about her own genetic heritage. We already know from past books that Laurence Lauderdale is smart and sociopathic, and in this book, he takes his final horrific actions to, in his words, "make Seattle a better place."
In this final book, Cooper ties up all the loose ends of the Salem Project (including the cure) and gives us some hints as to the HEA futures of most of the characters, including Shawn and Kayleigh. Once again, my main criticism is that the lead couple falls in lust instantly and lets their emotions rule them, sometimes to a ridiculous degree. For example, at one point, they jump each other's bones in an empty hospital room in the midst of the immediate aftermath of one of the earthquakes, with hundreds of wounded, moaning victims lying in the rooms and hallways surrounding them. I do give Cooper credit, though, for an inventive mythology and a well-crafted ending to the series story arc. If you can forgive the instamatic lust/love relationships that are the centerpiece of every book, this is a solid series. If you haven't read the previous book, there's not a chance that you will understand what's going on in this one, particularly the second half, when all of the series regulars show up and make all kinds of references to past incidents.
Although the cover art and the setting of this series are both on the urban fantasy side of the paranormal fiction field, each book is actually a romance. The series is set in an alternate Seattle, 50 years after various types of natural, global catastrophes have left the world in a shambles. In Seattle, an earthquake caused a huge split in the San Andreas fault, dumping the city into a bottomless trench that has filled with sea water. (aka the sea trench). New Seattle has been built on top of the ruins in a layer-cake fashion, with the poorest living in the dark and gritty bottom layers of the city and the wealthy elite living up on top in glass-walled penthouses.
Back when the devastation began, people looked for someone to blame (as folks are wont to do), and they accused the witches of causing the earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions by abusing their powers. The Church (aka the Holy Order of St. Dominic) stepped in with its "Do not suffer a witch to live" edict and became the ultimate moral authority. In order to be sure that all witches were eliminated, the Church created a highly trained enforcement group called the Mission. Each of the ironically named "missionaries" is a trained witch hunter—and killer. In retaliation against the church's efforts to execute all witches—good or bad—the witches have formed covens to protect themselves as they try to keep themselves hidden from the missionaries. Some of the covens have decided to increase their power through blood rituals so that they can challenge the church. And that is the state of affairs at the beginning of the first book, Blood of the Wicked.
This series has some strong features, first and foremost being the author's ability to establish a sense of place. The scenes in Seattle's underground ruins are beautifully written as they put the reader squarely in the middle of the darkness and devastation of the pitiful remains of the original city. The mythology is fresh and inventive, with its ongoing Coven vs. Church confrontations that are complicated by the all-too-human hunger for power and influence.
If you like the darkness of this series, the idea of multiple social levels, witches, and the representation of an all-powerful church, you might also enjoy reading Stacia Kane's DOWNSIDE GHOSTS series. That urban fantasy series has a heroine (Chess Putnam) who is a drug addict—but she's also a powerful witch and a skillful ghost debunker who works for the Church. In the DOWNSIDE world, the Church of Real Truth saved the day when the world's dead rose up as ghosts and killed much of the population. The lower classes live in a dark, Dickensian world and even speak in a Cockney dialect, while the rest of the population lives and speaks like like modern Americans. It's a solid series, with fully developed, interesting characters. I highly recommend it.
PREQUEL NOVELLA: "Before the Witches"
The prequel novella that introduces the series takes place five decades before the beginning of the first novel, Blood of the Wicked. It tells the story of Katya Zhuvova, a Seattle prostitute who is also a witch. Her hero is Undercover Detective Nigel Ferris, who is trying to shut down a prostitution ring. Katya is one of the prostitutes, and Nigel tries to win her trust as he attempts to get the evidence he needs to close his case.
As Katya and Nigel get together (in many ways), earthquakes literally knock the bottom out of Seattle. This disaster sets the stage for the rest of the series.
When Silas rescues Jessie from a street punk (whom he hired to accost her so that he could come to her aid), he does not realize that she is a witch. He sweeps her up and carries her off to a safe house where they begin to act on the electrical sexual attraction between them. As the story progresses, Silas and Jessie are constantly in danger, either from the witches or from the Mission. The Coven wants to kill Silas and sacrifice Jessie in a death ritual, while the Mission wants to force Jessie to find her brother—and then execute both of them. It's a lose-lose situation for the unhappy couple. At one point, Silas and Jessie are rescued from the sea trench by a mysterious elderly woman (Matilda) who provides them with sanctuary in her home deep in the trench. Matilda reminded me of the elderly folks that Stephen King likes to use in his stories as wellsprings of goodness and wisdom (most notably Mother Abagail in The Stand). Blood of the Wicked ends in an apocalyptic battle between Silas and the Coven, with Matilda reappearing to play a strategic role. By the end of the book, Silas and Jessie get their HEA ending, as we always knew they would.
The developing romantic relationship between Silas and Jessie is really the central point of the plot. Cooper tells a good story, pulling the reader right along to the bang-up ending. Silas and Jess do fall in lust/love a bit too quickly, and I thought that the period of hate/lust before they succumbed to their undeniable feelings was a bit short, but then, these aren't called soul-mate romances for nothing. The other plot thread involves the ramifications of the bond between Jessie and Caleb: the reasons why he previously tried to cut off all contact with her and why he now needs her for a mysterious and scary ritual. One big problem I have with Jessie is that she only uses her "vision" powers once. Why doesn't she use them to avoid some of the ambushes that she and Silas keep walking into? Also, even at the end, it was not really clear why Caleb had been murdering all those women. How could that be a good thing? And how can Jessie ever forgive him? Click HERE to read an excerpt from Blood of the Wicked.
In the previous book, we saw the dark underbelly of New Seattle. Now we go topside to take a look at how the rich and famous live in these post-apocalyptic times. Naomi West (aka Naomi Ishikawa) is a missionary who has been sent by the Mission to take down a rogue missionary named Joe Carson. Carson is believed to be hiding out at Timeless, a luxury spa owned by two women and their son, Phinneas (Phin) Clark. Yes, Phin has two mommies, and the three are devoted to one another—plus, they definitely have family secrets about some mysterious behind-the-scenes activities at Timeless.
Naomi has the typical tragic past that we find in many paranormal fiction heroines. Her mother walked away when she was five years old, and her father committed suicide shortly thereafter, leaving her to be raised by the Mission in an orphanage. As she thinks to herself at one point, "Why was she mad?....Because she didn't want to know that Phin had two mothers? When she didn't even have one?" (p. 149) Naturally enough, Naomi is filled with rage that has built up since her terrible childhood, and now it is spilling over into her present life in very destructive ways.
The story follows Naomi as she is attacked by a witch and then tries to solve the disappearances and murders of guests at the spa. Naomi and Phin fall in lust within moments of meeting each other, and they float on waves of sensuality all through the story—balanced, of course, by the fact that neither one totally trusts the other—and for very good reasons. In the climactic scene that resolves most of the plot issues, Phin faces a tragic loss, while Naomi accepts a gift that she's not sure that she really wants. Towards the end, Silas and Jessie from Blood of the Wicked drop in for a cameo to assist in the plot resolution.
Once again, the lead couple falls in love the moment they lay eyes on each other—no build-up scenes of simmering sensuality—they just go for it right away. The plot has some interesting depth beyond the SMR story, with the rogue missionary lurking behind the scenes, Naomi's mother making a surprise appearance, and Phin running his secretive operation behind the spa walls. This is definitely not your average paranormal romance series, because the series has a strong and well-defined story arc that is building towards a revolution of sorts, led by a growing group of disgruntled missionaries and good-hearted witches who oppose both the Mission and the Coven. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Lure of the Wicked.
NOVELLA 2.5: "No Rest for the Witches"
This novella resolves the relationship between Phin and Naomi. As the story opens, Jessie, Silas, and Naomi are living with Matilda in her cottage deep beneath Seattle, down by the sea trench. Naomi is still adjusting to her new life as a rebel, and she misses Phin tremendously. Phin remains up at the top level so that he can continue to carry out his rescue operation and spy on the Mission. When Jessie has a vision that Lillian, Phin's mother, is in danger, Silas and Naomi go off to rescue her from her kidnappers.
The story line doesn't really have much to do with the series story arc because the villains are not part of the Mission, but it is important because it brings Phin and Naomi to their HEA.
In the meantime, Caleb and Juliet keep falling in and out of hate/love, with lust being the single uniting factor in their relationship. They spend much of their time being chased through the rot and ruin of the deepest depths of Seattle, stumbling through wreckage and even falling into the sea trench at one point. Eventually, they are rescued by Caleb's sister, Jesse, and her boyfriend, Silas (from book 1). As the story plays out, Juliet discovers the dark secret of her genetic heritage and learns the painful truth about her sister's death—and Caleb's part in it. The previous books were unrelentingly grim and gloomy, but this book is even more harsh and oppressive. Juliet's character is completely clueless for most of the book. Although she has been living by her wits on the streets of underground Seattle for months, she makes so many bad decisions and has so many TSTL moments, that you want to reach into the pages and give her a little "wake up" shake. The connection between Caleb and Juliet is entirely built on sexual attraction. Caleb can't really hold a truthful conversation with Juliet because he must keep so many secrets from her, and Juliet has trouble even being civil to Caleb (except when they're in a clinch) because she blames him for so much of the violence in her life. Their time together is spent either spitting insults at one another, running for their lives, or groping each other's bodies. For me, this is the weakest of the books. Click HERE to read an excerpt from All Things Wicked.
We saw the beginning of the relationship between Parker Adams and Simon Wells in the previous book, but this time they have the starring roles. Parker is the buttoned-down, tight-lipped director of the Mission; she replaced the previous director after it was discovered that he was a witch. Simon is a test-tube creation—one of the Salem Project witches manufactured and controlled by the villainous and power-hungry Dr. Laurence Lauderdale and his wife, Matilda ("Mattie"), who had second thoughts about her part in the project and met her sad end in All Things Wicked. As Simon tells Parker, "I wasn't born..., I was vat-grown. Cultivated in a test tube and incubated by a machine, right here in new Seattle....The Salem Project...makes witches out of genetic material with the greatest odds of survival. Hatches them, raises, them, and turns them into soldiers." (p. 124)
This plot is all about Church politics as Lauderdale, the director of the the Church's secretive Sector 5 (Research and Development), makes a play to take control of Sector 3—Parker's beloved Mission. Of course, for Lauderdale, this is just one more step in his plan to totally control the Church, and the good guys need to stop him—if they can only learn to differentiate between friends and enemies.
Lauderdale, through his clueless scientist daughter, Kayleigh, has assigned Simon to work in Sector 3 masquerading as a missionary. In the previous book, Parker learned his true identity and has not yet decided what to do about him. She's conflicted because she is mightily attracted to him—and vice versa. As the story opens, Parker is busy with two urgent projects: Project Domino, which is the investigation into the recent deaths of several of her missionaries, and Project Ghostwatch, which involves a computer hacker who is getting into Mission records. In addition, Parker has evidence that someone within the Church is involved with human experimentation. Simon, who knows all about what's going on in Sector 3, does his best to keep Parker from digging into dangerous secrets, but Parker is determined to get answers.
Eventually, Lauderdale puts out a contract on Parker, and Simon whisks her off to temporary safety. Although it takes the couple 200 pages to get into the bedroom, they finally give in to their lustful urges and enjoy an 18-page love fest. Their relationship appears to be mostly built on their sexual attraction (just like the other couples in the series), and Parker spends much of the time in deep distrust of Simon—or sometimes just plain angry with him, usually for good reason.
In the meantime, Simon has his own problems as he faces death due to the disintegration of his lab-created DNA. As he explains to Parker, "The problem is in the longevity....There's something in the DNA that's...broken or fractured or not complete." (p. 125) Simon's current assignment has been to kill Salem Project witches before they completely fall apart, and every time he does so, he sees his own bleak future in their faces. You can imagine how Parker deals with this information when she eventually learns the truth. She had no idea that Lauderdale had infiltrated the Mission with Salem Project witches, and she is furious with Simon for not telling her the truth. On the other hand, she's pretty upset to learn that Simon is at death's door. Simon is a lot like Caleb (the hero of All Things Wicked) in that he keeps massive numbers of secrets from his lover. Simon keeps up that secret-keeping all the way to the end of the book, but by that time, the couple has already declared mutual enduring love, so Parker forgives him.
None of the conflict is resolved, even some questions are answered and there is the usual violent good-vs.-bad scene near the end. This appears to be a transitional book that carries the series story arc one step closer to completion.
This book is better that All Things Wicked, mostly because the hero and heroine are slightly more intelligent (although Parker does have a TSTL moment that puts the good guys in grave danger and takes away Simon's chance at saving his own life). My main quibble is that once again, the couple's only link seems to be sexual—not mental or even emotional, just base urges. The romantic connection is further weakened by Simon's continuous withholding of information from his lover, which insults her intelligence and sometimes puts her in danger. These criticisms are also true of most of the heroes in this series. Still, I like the inventiveness of the world-building and appreciate the way that Cooper keeps building towards the inevitable showdown with Lauderdale. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sacrifice the Wicked.
NOVELLA 4.5: "Wicked Lies"
In this short novella, Jonas Stone finds his true love in Danny Granger, grandson of May—the insurrection leader. As the story opens, Danny is being tortured in a Mission prison cell, and it's up to Jonas to use his electronic wizardry to break him out. During the days of Danny's recovery, Jonas takes care of him in a rebel safe house, and they soon give in to their mutual lustful attraction to one another.
In the earlier books, Cooper's heterosexual couples fall for one another as soon as they meet, and Danny and Jonas are no exception. Danny actually is attracted to Jonas through his voice on an ear-com while he is in his prison cell. This story doesn't add anything to the series story arc, but it's a nice character study for two of the good guys.
Cooper includes an "Author's Note" that includes a description of the "It Gets Better Project" and states that "I will be donating the proceeds from this book to the...Project."