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Monday, June 27, 2011

Virna DePaul: PARA-OPS Series

Author: Virna DePaul
Series: PARA-OPS Series
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles:
     Wraith's Awakening (free e-story)
     Chosen by Blood (2011)
     Chosen by Fate (10/2011)

     This blog entry was updated and revised on 11/5/11 to include a review of the second novel in the series: Chosen by Fate. That review follows this overview of the series so far:  

     If you know your military history, you know that one of the first things that you do to weaken your enemy is to cut off his food supply. Without a means of nourishment, the enemy can't fight at full strength. What if your enemy is a vampire? How do you apply that strategy? You cut off his supply of pure, fresh blood, of course.

     DePaul has come up with an inspired and extremely creative idea here. In her world, America has recently ended its Second Civil War—this time between humans and supernaturals (aka Otherborns). As a means of defeating the vampires during the war, human scientists invent a drug that changes human blood so that it no longer provides vampires with the nourishment they need to remain strong. That forces the vamps to the treaty table and ends the war. Now, however, in the post-war world, vampires are losing their powers and fading away from malnourishment. Government scientists have been working on an antidote to the blood drug, but the head scientist has just been murdered and the formula for the antidote is missing, as are all the samples. 

     The story arc for the series involves the machinations of the earth goddess, Essenia, who believes that humans and Otherborns have made such a mess of their lives on earth that they deserve to be destroyed. She makes a bargain with Kyle Mahone, leader of the FIB's Special Ops Tactical Unit, that she will allow everyone to live if his group of humans and Otherborn can work together as a unit as they investigate crimes that keep the humans and Otherborns apart.  

     In Chosen by Blood, Kyle Mahone (who has a history with the vampire queen mother of this book's hero) determines that North Korea is involved in the theft of the antidote, so he puts together a team of Otherborn and humans to retrieve the drug. The team leader (and the hero) is Knox Devereaux (dharmire: half vamp/half human), leader of a large vampire clan. As the story begins, Knox is married to Noella (a full vampire), but has been head-over-heels in love with Noella's BFF, Felicia Locke (human FBI agent), ever since he met her (which was after he married Noella). Knox's marriage is not a true love match. As he says, he "loves" Noella, but he's not "in love" with her. In fact, Noella is aware of the Knox-Felicia attraction and has given her approval for the two of them to hook up. Felicia, however, won't go to bed with Noella's husband. Even when Noella dies (very early in the story), Felicia stays away from Knox. She knows that he will marry another vampire so that he can produce more vampire children. Knox is somewhat protected from the malnourishment that affects full vampires, and he feels that he is obligated to procreate with a vampire female so that his clan will remain strong into the next generation. Early on (after Noella dies), Knox makes plans to wed a European vampire, but he wants Felicia as his full-time lover. Needless to say, Felicia turns thumbs down on that idea, even though she loves Knox to distraction.

     Back to the antidote plot thread: Felicia becomes a member of Knox's team along with a werewolf, a wraith, a mage, and a psychic. We are introduced to all of the team members in book 1, but we are not told all of their personal secrets. Those will come in later books. After the team goes through the painful process of unification, they head off to North Korea to steal back the antidote. The remainder of the book follows the team as they do their retrieval thing. By the end, Knox is faced with new information about his father's death and the betrayal of one of his Vampire Council members. He must also come to terms with his long-term prejudices against humans if he is to win over Felicia.

     I have to say that this whole vampire-blood-drug concept is one of the most fresh and inventive ideas that I've seen in paranormal fiction in a long time. I just wish that DePaul were a better writer. I couldn't get interested in the lead couple—particularly Knox. He is so stereotypically alpha that his every word and action are absolutely predictable. Although we are told over and over again how "in love" each one is with the other, their love story stays at just that shallow level. We never are told (or shown) exactly why they love one another, except on a very basic lust level. What is that love built on? Seemingly, just physical attraction.

     Unfortunately the plot of this book is so filled with inconsistencies and melodrama that it's a head-shaker rather than a hold-your-breath read. If I were to explain all of the inconsistencies, I'd be giving away spoilers, but here is one example: At the very end, a brand new set of villains pops up from absolutely nowhere (10 pages from the end). You'll see other examples of plot oddities for yourself if you read the book. I do plan to keep reading the series for now in the hopes that the story-telling improves.  

      Chosen by Fate tells the love story of the living-dead Wraith, and the psychic shaman, Caleb O'Flare. They were the most colorful and interesting characters in Chosen by Blood, so I was looking forward to reading their story. Click HERE to read a free prequel e-story (Wraith's Awakening) that provides background on Wraith's tragic past. In this world, a wraith is a ghost with a corporeal body. Wraiths are generally humans who have died and then risen as platinum blond, blue-tinged creatures who have absolutely no memory of their human lives. Probably their worst trait is that they feel extreme pain if their skin is touched by a human or an Otherborn. Wraith sees her life as having only two options for avoiding pain: complete isolation or complete addiction to pain-killing drugs. Instead, Wraith has chosen a third option. She has learned to enjoy pain in a perverse way, and can no longer experience pleasure unless pain is there, too. Wraith and Caleb were attracted to one another from the moment they met (in book 1). Caleb is a human shaman with powerful healing skills and the ability to communicate with his ancestors and walk in the realm of Essenia, the earth goddess who is manipulating all of the action in this series. Caleb is eaten up with guilt over the death of his friend, Elijah, during the great war between the humans and the Otherborn. Caleb was, of course, not responsible in any way for Elijah's death, but he blames himself and so does everyone else, particularly Elijah's feline family. The love story between Caleb and Wraith is the main plot, but there are many more plot threads, all of which place numerous obstacles in the road to the couple's HEA. The plot kicks off when the para ops team is assigned to solve the rapes of several feline women in Los Angeles, which is Wraith's old stomping ground and where one of her former S&M lovers still owns a sex club. Coincidentally (or not), one of the rapes occurred at that club. Watching this plot grow and develop is like watching a load of brightly colored clothing spinning in a clothes dryer. They spin and spin, tangling themselves together in many different ways. Then the dryer stops, and someone pulls each piece out, shakes it, and folds it up neatly. And so...the plot threads in this book build up, intertwine themselves in labyrinthine ways, and then grind to a halt. After the quick climax and speedy resolution, the characters sit around and unfold the story, speculating and explaining to each other (and to the reader) who did what and why they did itand there are so many "whos" and "whys" that it takes more than one conversation over several pages to lay them all out in neatly stacked piles. A mysterious character is introduced briefly near the end of the book so that she can act as a kind of deus ex machina: a female vampire named Jesmina Martin. Jesmina will no doubt show up in the next book, perhaps as a love interest for the werewolf team member, Dex Hunt, since there seemed to be a spark of attraction between the two of them.

    This book was more enjoyable for me than the previous one, but it was definitely over-plotted. The extremely high level of angst in the romance was unbearable at times. These two thrashed around emotionally to the point that it was surprising that they could actually follow through on their team's mission.

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