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Friday, August 5, 2011

Kendra Leigh Castle: DARK DYNASTIES

Author:  Kendra Leigh Castle
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--4; Humor--2
Publisher and Titles:  Grand Central
     Dark Awakening (2011) (Ty & Lily)
     Midnight Reckoning (2012) (Jaden & Lyra) 
    Shadow Rising (8/2012) (Damien & Ariane)
     Immortal Craving (2/2013) (Tasmin & Bay)

     This post was revised and updated on 3/5/13 to include a review of the fourth book in the series: Immortal Craving. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1, 2, and 3.:

            BOOK 4:  Immortal Craving            
     After sleeping for 400 years in a cave in the Sansan-Gir Forest in India, Tasmin Singh wakes up one day to discover that he is the sole survivor of the Rakshasa race and that the evil Ptolemy queen, Arsinöe, has possessed him with a demon named Hunger that frequently takes control of his body. The Rakshasa are lion shape-shifters who have unique powers that other vampires don't have: the ability to walk in the sun and the power to create complex illusions. Before their extermination, they lived in small prides with no dynastical royalty, and some used their powers against the other dynasties. As Tasmin explains, his particular pride fought for the good: "We were fierce warriors, but honorable. Not all of my kind were....The reputation of a few left most people in terror of all of us." (p. 179) Arsinöe feared the powers of the Rakshasa so much that she hunted them down—pride by pride—and killed them all. 

     After six months of wandering, Tasmin makes his way to Tipton, Massachusetts, where he stumbles into the dog-grooming shop owned by Bailey (Bay) Harper, best friend of Lily MacGillivray, queen of the new Lilim dynasty. The attraction between Bay and Tasmin begins immediately and grows steadily from that point on.

     Lily agrees to shelter Tasmin and to put him in touch with Anura, an Empusae whose mate was a Rakshasa, so he can learn exactly what happened to his people. In the meantime, Arsinöe finds out that Tasmin is with the Lilim and sends her thugs to kidnap him. The action portion of the plot follows that story line as Arsinöe keeps trying to get hold of Tasmin, and Tasmin's demon yearns to kill Arsinöe—as soon as she releases him from Tasmin's body (which will cause Tasmin's immediate death).

     Obviously, Tasmin's love life is even more problematic than those we read about in most paranormal romances. He's having blackouts when the demon emerges, and he's afraid that the demon will harm—or even kill—Bay. When Tasmin's demon turns on Bay one night, she realizes that he is being possessed and is able to subdue the demon with just her touch. The couple falls deeply in love, but the demon is getting stronger, and he wants out—not caring if Tasmin lives or dies as a consequence. Then, when Bay is nearly killed by a Ptolemy warrior, Tasmin bargains with the demon for her life and gets himself even deeper in trouble. 

     Bailey has her own emotional problems. She and Lily have been BFFs forever, but Bailey has been feeling left out of Lily's new life. She isn't sure that she wants to give up sunlight for a vampire life, so she sees their friendship eventually coming to a slow and painful end, particularly if Lily moves her dynasty to Boston. Bay's relationship with Tasmin is a new bright spot for her, but she's afraid that he'll leave her because of his fears about the violence of his demon.

     This book moves the series story arc along as changes occur among the Ptolemy and the Empusae, and the Lilim gain in strength. Chaos, the demon who escaped from the Grigori in the previous book, is still at large and is collecting an army of lesser demons (one of which is Hunger) so that he can attack and defeat the vampires.

     This is another strong addition to the series, with lots of angst-filled interior monologues and plenty of action sequences. By the end, both Tasmin and Bay have put their lives on the line for one another and (as you knew from the very beginning) go on to their HEA.  

     Just a side note: Some reviewers have questioned Bay's choice of who she asks for assistance in the climactic showdown with Arsinöe. I'd like to point out to those reviewers that Bay's choice of sidekicks is based on the time of day that particular battle takes place. Think about it for a moment and you'll get it. 

     The main supernatural creatures in this series are vampires, although werewolves will enter the story in book 2. The vamps are divided into four rivalrous dynasties, each of which has its own special talent and lives within the boundaries of its own territory. The names of the dynasties are pulled from various mythologies, without much regard for the traditional story behind each myth. The list below is taken from the information provided at the beginning of Dark Awakening. Each pink link below will take you to a traditional explanation, which does not always match up exactly with the way the name is used in this series. Here are the five dynasties that are in place as the series begins:

    >  Ptolemy: Based on ancient Egyptian myths. In this series, they were created by the goddess Sekhmet, and they move with lightning speed. Their territory is the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.

    >  Dracul: Based on the Dracula legend. In this series, they were created by the Greek goddess Nyx and can shape-shift into bats. Their territory is the northern U.S. and a share of Chicago.

    >  Grigori: Based on Biblical stories. In this series, they are of unknown origin and may be able to fly. Their territory is the deserts of the western U.S.

    >  Empusae: Based on a Greek myth. In this series, they were created by the goddess Hecate and can take the form of smoke. Their territory is the southern U.S. and a share of Chicago.

    >  Cait Sith: Based on Celtic mythology. In this series, they were created by the Fae and can shift to the form of a huge cat. They have no territory, and (as the series opens, at least) they have no leader.

     All members of the dark dynasties are vampires, and each bears the mark of his or her dynasty. What this amounts to is a rigid caste system that forever consigns a person to the life indicated by his or her mark. Sometimes a mark can be enhanced—by the kiss of a goddess, for example—but in general a vampire is destined to be eternally stuck in whatever dynasty he or she started in and must live with the consequences. In this world, vampires have the traditional traits: sun sensitivity, blood lust, enhanced senses, great beauty, and super strength.

     This is a solid SMR series with compelling story lines and fully developed protagonists. The mishmash of mythologies is slightly off-putting, particularly in book 1, but eventually you get used to it. Castle includes an explanation of the various dynasties at the beginning of each book. Click HERE to go to a page on Castle's web site explaining the Dynasties (scroll down about halfway).

     Castle also wrote the MacInnes Werewolves Trilogy (SMRV3; S5; H5), which I reviewed in my book, Fang-tastic Fiction: 21st Century Paranormal Reads. That series follows the MacInnes werewolves of the Scottish Highlands as they guard a portal between Earth and the Drakkyn realm, a land of dangerous demons and dragons. The werewolves battle many fierce enemies, but they inevitably survive, find their soul mates, and go off to their HEAs.

            BOOK 1:  Dark Awakening            
     In the series opener, Tynan (Ty) MacGillivray is saddled with the lowblood mark of the Cait Sith, who are spit upon and called gutterbloods by the highbloods of the other dynasties. Most of the Cait Sith are in bondage to Arsinöe, leader of the Ptolemy. Ty is the Ptolemy's best hunter/tracker, so Arsinöe has sent him out to search for a Seer to help the Ptolemy learn who has been murderously attacking them. Ty stumbles upon a beautiful woman who is a Seer, but she turns out to be much more than that. Lily Quinn lives a quiet, small-town life, trying to cope with her constant nightmares. The author follows the rules for paranormal heroines by having Lily lose her parents in infancy and then be adopted by a less-than-loving family who dumped her as soon as her powers manifested. Just as Ty finds Lily, one of the bad guys finds her, too, so Ty and Lily go on the run to try to discover the meaning of her rare birthmark. Eventually, more bad guys join the hunt, and the pursued couple joins up with Ty's blood brother, Jaden, who is hiding from the Ptolemy. They soon learn that Arsinöe's new boyfriend, Nero, has taken control of the Ptolemy and is trying to get Arsinöe to declare war on the Draculs. 

     Now a few words about the loving couple. Ty is really messed up emotionally. He grew up dirt poor (literally), scorned by all the other vampires. After he was turned by Arsinöe, he was able to live a better life, even though he continues to be treated disdainfully by everyone in Arsinöe's court. Ty believes that he must follow Arsinöe's dictates, no matter what the consequences. In the past, other Cait Siths have left the Ptolemy to seek a living on their own, but Ty swears that he will never go back to scraping out a living on the street. Ty sees Lily as a lovely innocent, and he really wants to believe that Arsinöe will not harm her, but deep in his heart he knows that Lily will be in danger if he delivers her to Arsinöe's court. Lily has always feared the unknown power within her, so she has suppressed it as much as possible. Her nightmarish visions are growing stronger, and she doesn't understand what they mean. (Here's a tiny clue about Lily's visions: The fact that she is named "Lily" has very special meaning in any paranormal novel. Think about it.) After Lily learns that vampires exist and are hunting for her, she begins to trust, and then love Ty, even though he kidnapped her. She hopes that the two of them will be able to figure out the meaning of her visions and the source of her powers. Both Lily and Ty have many, many interior monologues in which they muse and worry about the past, present, and future.

            BOOK 2:  Midnight Reckoning            
     Book 2 tells the love story of a couple we met in the previous book: Jaden, Ty's blood brother, and Lyra, daughter of a werewolf Alpha. Their first meeting was so deliciously hostile that it was obvious that they were secretly lusting after one another. Jaden has had an extremely tragic life. He grew up in the English countryside and was turned without his consent when he was quite young. Then, he was captured and enslaved by the Ptolemy. Here's how Jaden sums up is life: "He'd spent years enslaved, been tortured, escaped, and helped to defeat one dynasty in order to begin another." (pp. 80-81) Now, he is living with Ty and Lily as they begin their new vampire dynasty: the Lilim. Lyra has been trying all her life to be seen by her family and her pack as a strong individual, but they view her only as a weak female. In a month, the pack will hold a Proving, in which the new second-in-command will be selectedthe person who will eventually become the Alpha. The Proving is a vicious physical battle among the contestants, and the strongest always wins. As the Alpha's daughter, Lyra is expected to choose a mate and have him enter the Proving in her name, but Lyra has upset everyone by putting in her own name as one of the contestants. 

    When Jaden returns a lost necklace to Lyra at her home and is attacked by one of the pack werewolves, Jaden's father likes the way Jaden handles himself in battle and hires him to help Lyra get in shape for the Proving. As they train together, they (naturally enough) fall completely in love with one anothera forbidden love that they must keep secret from everyone. As the story progresses, the evil Ptolemy get involved and a traitor emerges among the werewolves. For me, this book is much better than the first one. The plot moves along at a fast pace, and both of the lead characters are well developed and complex, each with a past life that fosters a need to belong and to be loved. The only quibble I have is that, at the end, Lyra's changeover from being ferociously independent to being happily dependent on Jaden came a little bit too quickly. Other than that, this is a solid paranormal romance, and I'm looking forward to the next book. That one will tell the story of the mysterious Damien Tremaine, a lethal and arrogant Cait Sith assassin for the House of Shadows.

            BOOK 3:  Shadow Rising            
     The third book brings back a familiar character in the person of Damien Tremaine, a professional thief and assassin for the House of Shadows. Damien is a Cait Sith who hides his innate kindheartedness within a hard outer shell of arrogance, shallowness, and cold-blooded ruthlessness. He has perfected this persona over the centuries to the point that he believes that he has no worth beyond his lethal extermination skills.

     Ariane is a beautiful Grigori run-away who proves to be Damien's romantic downfall. As the story opens, Ariane's only friend, Sammael (aka Sam), has disappeared, and Ariane's arch rival, Oren, has been chosen to search for him. Once again, Ariane is told to stay home and leave the action to those who are more suited to the task. Although she is a skilled fighter (with swords and daggers), Ariane has been forced to lead a sheltered life in the Grigori's desert stronghold, where she yearns to be a part of the outside world. The ancient ones who lead the Grigori believe that Ariane cannot be trusted because of the mysterious and violent circumstances of her turning hundreds of years ago. Ariane has no memory of that momentous event, and she also cannot remember any details about her mortal life. Determined to find Sam and fearful of the sexual attentions of Sariel, the Grigori leader, Ariane runs away and heads for Charlotte, North Carolina, the last place Sam was seen. There, she runs into Damien, whose boss has assigned him to find Sam. The Grigori are willing to pay a huge fee to the House of Shadows if they can return Sam to them. 

     This is the first time that the Grigori have appeared in the series. They are called the watchers, always hovering on the edge of human and vampire life but never interfering in any way. They live in isolation and do not mingle with either humans or supernaturals. Their primary physical characteristics are their platinum blond hair and their extreme beauty. The Grigori men are also famous for their size: over seven feet tall and very muscular and broad-shouldered. The Grigori are so rare that several of the vampire characters in this story have never seen a female Grigori until they meet Ariane. (By the way, we learn in this story that the rumor about the Grigori's ability to fly is absolutely true.)

     The plot follows the usual two threads: the love story and the action plot, which in this case involves finding Sam and dealing with demonic forces that are on the verge of Rising. Both Damien and Ariane have tragic back stories—as usual—but they are both strong characters so we have less whining and fewer angst-filled interior monologues than usual. Their romance is just as rocky as you would expect, with Damien trying his best to shield his heart from all emotions and Ariane desperately reaching out for every heartfelt sensation she can latch onto. As in the previous books, the supporting characters have strong roles—particularly Vlad Dracul (the leader of the Dracul) and Ariane's Cait Sith friend, Elena.  

     This series has much stronger character development and more interesting story lines than many of the paranormal romance series on the market, and this book is a solid third entry. The fourth book will tell the love story of Lily's best human friend, Bailey (Bay) Harper and the world's sole surviving Rakshasa, Tasmin Singh.

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