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Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Author:  Meljean Brook
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley: 
  “Falling for Anthony” in Hot Spell (2006)     
  Demon Angel (2007)    
  “Paradise” in Wild Thing (2007)
  Demon Moon (2007) 
  Demon Night (2008)   
  “Thicker Than Blood” in First Blood (2008)
  Demon Bound (2008) 
  Demon Forged (2009)
  “Blind Spot” in Must Love Hellhounds (2009) 
  Demon Blood (2010) 
  Demon Marked (2011)  
  "Ascension" in Angels of Darkness (10/2011)
  Guardian Demon (8/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 10/9/13 to include a review of Guardian Demon, the eighth and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by a very brief overview of the series and an in-depth review of the seventh novel:

            BOOK 8:  Guardian Demon            
     In this final episode in Brooks' terrific GUARDIAN series, she left the best for last. In this story, Michael and Andromeda ("Andy") finally work things out between them, but not without a great deal of angst and anger. The story begins in Hell, where Andy finds herself being used as bait to draw out Michael. Ever since Michael escaped from Hell's Frozen Field, he has been running around in his bestial dragon form mindlessly killing demons, but the Guardians need him to get back into his human body and help them fight against Lucifer. Sure enough, the bait works when Michael's dragon arrives in the nick of time to rescue Andy from a Hellhound's attack. Andy is grateful for the rescue, but she is terrified of Michael in this bestial form and is still enraged that he linked their psyches without her consent and then took control of her mind without her permission. In Michael's current bestial form Andy can't see anything within him that she recognizes from the years she has spent with his soul inside her. What happens next is so horrible that the reader will wonder how in the world the author will ever turn Andy and Michael into loving soul mates. But don't worry, Meljean Brook is a master story teller, and she performs miracles with this relationship.

     In the action part of the plot, Michael gets back with the Guardians as they try to deal with Lucifer's dastardly plans to open a portal and send his demonic army through to take over the Earth. Michael and the Guardians (including Andy) vow to stop Lucifer, and they have some help down in Hell, where the armies of Belial and Anaria (Michael's estranged sister) are keeping Lucifer's demons busy.

     All though the book, Micheal has a serious personal problem: he is just weeks away from dying (for reasons I won't go into here). Early in the book, only Michael and Khavi know about Michael's impending death, and he wants to keep it that way. He doesn't even tell Andy.

     During the years that Andy carried Michael's soul within her, she had the same powers and skills that he had, but now that she's just a novice Guardian again, she has lost those skills and must get some training. To Andy's disgust, Michael insists on training her himself because he insists on staying close to her so that he can protect her (and drool over her). Andy is enraged about Michael's protectiveness at first, but they soon develop a civil relationshipthen a friendly oneand then a lustful one. Michael is quite sure that Andy will never fall in love with him (he's wrong about that, of course), but he just wants to be near her as much as possible until he dies.

     So...the two parts of the plot are these: The action plot follows the Guardians' efforts to figure out Lucifer's plans before he puts them in motion and to defeat him if and when he breaks through the portal. The romance plot follows Andy as she works through a world of anger, grief, and unwanted lustful feelings to get to the point that she can tolerate Michael's presenceand then his romantic attentions. After the half-way point in the book, there are lots of steamy love scenes between the two star-crossed lovers. (The wine scene is my particular favorite.)

     The ending comes with the climactic showdown battle between Lucifer and the Guardians, led by Michael. Luckily for Andy, her Guardian gift (which I won't describe here), comes in quite handy in matters of both love and war.

     This is one of the rare times that the final novel in a series is perfectly devised. Brook brings back many characters from previous books, and many of them go through some major traumas. (Don't expect everyone to make it out alive.) The only parts of the story that lagged slightly were the drawn-out scenes involving Andy's ongoing search for clues about a series of murders that she believes is related to Lucifer's schemes. In part, Brook includes these as a means of allowing Andy and Michael to share some experiences and learn more about one another, but sometimes, it seemed that there were too many of these scenes and that they went on a bit too long. 

     Brook's character development with Michael and Andy is superb. In past books, Michael has frequently been unlikable and harsh, but in this book, we get insights into his personal history that shed light on why he did the things he did in the past. Previously, we only saw Andy when she was possessed by Michael's spirit. Here, we see her as she really isdealing with the tragedies in her life and beginning to look forward to a much happier future. If you haven't been reading this series all along, please start with this book. Your best bet is to begin back at the beginning with Demon Angel and enjoy Brook's wonderful GUARDIAN world in its entirety. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Guardian Demon.

       Protagonists in this series are primarily Guardians (i.e., Guardian Angels), who are responsible for protecting humankind from demons. Set primarily in San Francisco, this series is best enjoyed if the reader has some knowledge of demonic mythology (e.g., myths about hellhounds, Nosferatu, Nephilim, guardian angels, and various types of demons). The mythology in book 1 is particularly complex. Each book tells the soul-mate story of one couple as they battle the bad guys and come to terms with their own relationship. In general, the soul-mate pair has so many second (and third and fourth) thoughts about their relationship that sexual tension is at peak levels throughout each book.  

     Meljean Brook is one of the strongest of the paranormal romance writers now on the market. In the GUARDIAN series, she has built an intricately designed world that consistently follows the rules set up from the beginning. Her heroes and heroines are more complex than the usual paranormal soul mates, and their romances build and shape their characters. The plot in each book fits neatly into the overall story arc of the series: the Guardians' ongoing battle against the demons and their diabolical leader, Lucifer. 

     My recommendation is to start reading this series from the beginning, but if you insist on starting in the middle, you should click HERE to go to to Brook's online Primer for some "story-so-far" clues. The Primer also includes a time line, a section that explains the characteristics of the mythos of the various supernatural characters, a biography for each character, a description of each setting and organization, and a glossary of terms. The Primer is extremely helpful, but you should be aware that it does contain lots of SPOILERS.

Here are the names of the soul-mate couples in each novella and novel:
  > “Falling for Anthony” in Hot Spell: Anthony & Emily
  > Demon AngelHugh & Lilith
  > “Paradise” in Wild Thing: Lucas & Selah
  > Demon Moon: Colin & Savi
  > Demon Night: Ethan ("Drifter") & Charlie
  > “Thicker Than Blood” in First Blood: Jack & Annie
  > Demon Bound: Jake & Alice
  > Demon Forged: Alejandro & Irena
  > “Blind Spot” in Must Love Hellhounds: Geoffrey & Maggie
  > Demon Blood: Deacon & Rosalia
  > Demon Marked: Nicholas & Ash
  > "Ascension" in Angels of Darkness: Marc ("Icarus") & Radha
  > Guardian Demon: Michael & Andromeda (Andy) 

            BOOK 7:  Demon Marked           
      The seventh book has two main plots. The first focuses on the development of a romance between a halfling demon and a human: Ash and Nicholas. As the story begins, Ash has just escaped from three years of imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital in London. She can remember events from just prior to her imprisonment through the present, but before that, everything is a blank. We get our first clues to Ash's real nature with the description of some of her extremely odd traits, which frighten the hospital staff to the point that some of them quit their jobs: eyes that sometimes turn red, clothing that disappears and reappears, and a complete lack of emotion. 

     After her escape from the hospital, Ash is determined to discover who (and what) she really is. When she breaks into the house in London that she remembers living in, she is caught by the owner, Nicholas St. Croix, who is searching for Madelyn, the demon who possessed his mother's body and ruined his life. When Nicholas shocks Ash with a Taser, she shifts into a partial demonic form (horns, red skin), so we that gives us are final clue that she is some kind of demon. Nicholas, of course, hates all demons with a passion. We met him in a previous book when he had some interactions with the Guardian, Rosalia, in a demon dungeon in Italy where he was also searching for Madelyn. As the plot proceeds, Nicholas takes Ash to America, hoping to use her as bait to attract Madelyn so that he can kill his demon-possessed mother once and for all.  

     Eventually, the Guardians enter the picture with some information about Ash. They know who she really is and the extent of the powers in the red tattoos that cover her face and chest. Up until now, you could read this book as a stand alone, but from this point on, the plot reaches back for the Michael/Taylor plot line from previous books. To sum it up, Taylor is a Guardian who is possessed by Michael, a Grigori (half-demon, half-human) who is the powerful First Guardian and who was imprisoned in the frozen field of hell in Demon Forged. This is where the second plot line kicks in: the attempt to free Michael from the frozen field. Leading the rush to rescue Michael is the Grigori, Khavi, who has the gift of foresight and "sees" the events that will lead to Michael's rescue. Unfortunately, Khavi has a tendency to manipulate events to make them fit her visions, and since her primary goal is to free Michael, she doesn't really care if others (i.e., Nicholas and Ash) get hurt in the process.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Author: Rachel Vincent
Plot Type: Soul Mate Romance (SMR) in an urban setting
Ratings: Violence--4-5; Sensuality--4; Humor--2
Publisher and Titles: MIRA
     Blood Bound (7/2011)
      Shadow Bound (6/2012)
      Oath Bound (5/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 6/10/13 to include a review of the third (and probably FINAL) book in the series, Oath Bound. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2:

             BOOK 3:  Oath Bound             
     The action begins when Serenity (Sera) Brandt shows up at the Tower estate to ask a favor. It turns out that Sera is Jake Tower's bastard daughterone he never knew he had. At this point, Julia (Jake's evil sister) has taken over the leadership of the Tower syndicate, and she's not at all happy to see Sera. In the meantime, Julia's thugs have kidnapped poor Kenley Daniels—who was just freed from her long-term imprisonment after Jake's death. Kenley's brother and sister (Kris and Kori) are trying to rescue her, and Kris breaks into Julia's office just as Sera is in the middle of her confrontation with Julia and Gwen (Jake's widow). When Julia's thugs pull out their guns, Kris grabs up Sera and escapes with her through the shadows, taking her to his family's hideout house out in the middle of nowhere.

     Sera grew up in an extremely sheltered atmosphere and has absolutely no knowledge of the ruthless violence that ruled her biological father's life. She was raised by her mother and step-father—the only father she ever knew. Just three months ago, her parents and her sister were murdered in a home invasion, and Sera wants revenge. That's the favor she asks from Julia: the death of her family's killer. Now, she's been kidnapped by a sexy guy who Travels through the shadows, and he's taken her to a house with no exits—all of the doors and windows are screwed shut. Of course, Kris and his friends don't need doors because so many of them are Travelers, but Sera knows nothing about Kris and his associates (all of the lead characters from the previous two books), and she's terrified that they will kill her when they find out that she is Jake's daughter.

     The story follows the group's efforts to rescue Kenley and to track down the killer of Sera's family. Both Kris and Sera feel a mutual attraction right from the beginning, but there is so much distrust and so many secrets standing between them that it takes a very long time for that attraction to burst into flame, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). Unfortunately, this relationship takes many, many more unhappy twists and turns than one would hope, making it difficult to understand how the tiny flame of their attraction keeps burning. The two spend most of their time arguing and misunderstanding one another, and there is really no trace of romantic undercurrent throughout most of the book. Some of the Kris' friends and family seem to see the mutual attraction, but the reader (at least, this reader) doesn't see much evidence to support that.

     The action part of the plot is suitably dark and violent. Julia is just as cold-hearted and brutal as her brother ever was, and she plays some Machiavellian games with Kris and his crew. Once again, Binding is an important part of the story line as Sera realizes that as Jake's true heir, all of his Bindings now go to her. At first, she wants to free everyone, but eventually she has to consider what happens to people who have been Bound for decades and then are suddenly freed. Who protects them from other syndicates? Where do they go? Sera is really the only true innocent we have seen in this series, and she makes a lot of mistakes as she learns the real truth about life and death in the big city under the shadow of the crime families. 

     Although this book is billed as the final installment, the author definitely leaves the door open for further adventures. Jake Tower may be dead, but there is still another crime family in town
the one run by Ruben Cavazosand Ruben still has Cam and Olive Bound to him. So...maybe some day Vincent will finish the story, but in the meantime, this trilogy has plenty to capture your interest: an inventive mythology, well-developed characters, and compelling plots.

    Don't you love it when a great new series hits the market? I have been awaiting Rachel Vincent's new series with great anticipation because her SHIFTERS/WERECATS Series is one of my all-time favorites. This new series is going to be just as great if it stays on the level of its first book, which is absolutely fantastic.

     Here's the opening paragraph of Blood Bound: "Only two-thirty in the morning, and I already had blood on my hands. The most messed-up part of that? It was the hour that bothered me." How's that for dark and gritty?

     On her blog, the author explains her inspiration for the world-building: "What if a person's word really was his or her bond? What if, once given, a promise could never be taken back? Would you be more careful what you way?...If the spoken word carries that much power, how much more would the written word carry? What about words written (or sealed in) blood? What about words written (and sealed in) flesh? Tattoos and graffiti take on a whloe new meaning, huh?"

     This urban world is as different from life on Faythe's Texas ranch as it could possibly be. In the BLOOD BOUND world, there are no shifters or vampires or demons. Instead, there are the Skilled—people who are born with special magical Skills. Here is a partial list of the Skills:

  > Binding: bind people to magical contracts that, if broken, result in pain or death
  > Tracking: locating a person or object through blood or full name
  > Traveling: moving instantly from one place to another using shadows
  > Seeing: forecasting future events
  > Jamming: preventing the use of Skills by others
  > Blinding: causing complete darkness; drawing the shadows to cover you
  Reading: discerning whether a person is lying or telling the truth
  > Bleeding: This Skill is mentioned, but not explained, so far.

     Although the Skills are not officially recognized by government agencies such as police departments or courts, the general public is aware of them and uses them behind the scenes. That has led to the growth of a black market in which mob leaders attempt to recruit and control as many of the Skilled as they can get. The two major mob leaders are Jake Tower and Ruben Cavazos.

     Most of the charters are bound to either Jake or Ruben. Here, one of Jake's people explains how it all works: "Jake Tower was the heart of the Tower syndicate. We—the initiates—were the lifeblood of the organization, but Tower was the pump that kept us flowing through the veins and arteries of this living machine. He pushed the buttons and pulled the strings, and we belonged to him, all of us, bound into service, sealed in flesh, by bloom and any name. We lived and died according to his will. And we obeyed because obedience was a physical mandante. Even when our minds resisted, our bodies complied, helpless in the face of a direct order." (Shadow Bound, p. 11.)

     One of the primary focuses of the series is on the ramifications of Binding: Why do people Bind themselves? How do they manipulate the Binding just to the point of breaking it? What are the consequences of breaking an oath? Also important in this world is blood, which can be used against a person in a number of horrifying ways."

             BOOK 1:  Blood Bound             
     The heroine of book 1 is Olivia (Liv) Warren, whose Skill is Tracking, particularly Blood Tracking. If Liv has a blood sample, she can track that person down even from hundreds of miles away. Liv's motto in life, which she has tattooed on the back of her neck, is Cedo nulli: Latin for "I yield to no one."

     As Blood Bound begins, Liv's current life doesn't conform to her motto because she is bound to the mob leader Ruben Cavazos, who is a powerful Binder. Although some of the Skilled bind themselves to the mob for money and power, Liv's motivation was much different. Cavazos put her in a position in which she was forced to bind herself to him in order to keep someone she loved from harm. (Sorry, I can't tell you more. That would spoil the story for you.) Cavazos is a cruel and vicious man—kind of like Tony Soprano, but with the added threat of magical Skills. Liv's primary job for Cavazos is to track down his young son, who was spirited away by his mother, who used to be Cavazos's mistress. Liv has been unsuccessfully trying to track the child for a year and a half, and she has just six more months before her contract ends. If she doesn't find the child by then, things will get much worse for her with Cavazos. The scenes between Liv and Cavazos are disturbing, with physical violence on both sides, but with Liv always getting the worst of it.

     Liv's love life has been terrible for the past six years, ever since she was forced to dump her long-time boyfriend, Cameron (Cam) Caballero. Cam is also a Tracker whose specialty is Name Tracking. If Cam has a person's full name, he can find them anywhere. We don't discover why Liv left Cam until deep into the book, but, trust me, it's a big payoff. 

     Cam is still deeply in love with Liv, and he'll do just about anything to win her back. Here, Cam muses about his attraction to Liv: "Over the past six years, living and working in this city had turned the funny, charismatic girl I'd loved with every cell of my body into a jaded, hard-edged loner I still couldn't look at without catching my breath....Olivia was a wire wound too tight, always about to snap, but she lived on excitement and thrived under pressure. Being with her was like holding a bomb in both hands, watching the numbers tick back toward zero. I knew she'd eventually explode, and this time it might kill me." (Blood Bound, pp. 81-82) The chemistry between Liv and Cam is sizzling, with just the right amount of sexual tension running through all of their scenes. Both Liv and Cam are keeping a lot of secrets from one another, and some of the revelations could be devastating to their future relationship.

     Early in Blood Bound, Cam shows up at Liv's office with Anne, one of Liv's childhood friends. Anne and Liv, along with two of their friends, accidentally bound themselves to help one another back when they were teens, and Anne uses that binding to coerce Liv into tracking her husband's murderer. She also forces Liv to partner with Cam for the investigation. As the plot thickens, Anne's daughter is put in jeopardy, and Liv and Cam are caught in a confrontation between the Tower and Cavazos crime syndicates. Liv and Cam must try to get around the various oaths that bind them so that they can rescue the girl and begin to trust—and love—each other once again.  

     Blood Bound is told in the first person, switching back and forth in point of view (POV) from Liv to Cam. This is confusing the first time it happens (Chapter 3), but then you get used to it. Vincent handles the difficulties of first person narrative with the ease of a veteran. Shadow Bound will also feature a dual POV: Liv's childhood friend, Kori, and a new character named Ian. This time she plans to label the chapters with the name of the narrator, which should clarify the switches in POV.

     Vincent has created a terrifically inventive world in this series, a world in which seemingly simple oaths can change people's lives. All of the characters are well developed. Each one has a back story that creates empathy on the part of the reader. No one is all good or all bad—just as in real life. Liv and Cam have flaws. They have made wrong decisions in their lives, but they are basically good people. Even Cavazos and his crazed wife, who are awful human beings, are shown to have some good in them. The plot is intricate, and it plays out in a compelling manner. I have to say that I figured out the big plot point (can't tell you what it is though) about 3/4 of the way through, but that still didn't spoil the story for me. The ending is a bit of a cliff hanger, with Liv on the verge of making a decision that will change her life for many more years. I can't wait to read Shadow Bound.           

             BOOK 2:  Shadow Bound             
     The heroine of the story, Korinne (Kori) Daniels, is a Travellera shadow walker, which means that she can walk into a shadow in one place and emerge in shadows or darkness far from her starting point. As the story opens, Kori has been tortured and sexually abused for more than six weeks for her role in the battle that climaxed book 1. During that fight, both she and her boss, Jake Tower, were shot. Jake punished Kori by locking her up and leaving her at the mercy of his psychotic brother, Jonah. As part of that punishment, Jake commanded Kori, "Don't fight back." Since this was Jake's direct order, that made it part of Kori's binding and she had no choice but to accept Jonah's abuse without opposition. When Jake finally frees Kori, he assigns her as an escort and recruiter of Ian Holt, an extremely powerful blinder who can pull darkness even in the daytime to cover himself from view. Jake is determined to bind Ian to him and he tells Kori that she must do anything and everything that Ian asks her to do. If she doesn't convince Ian to sign the binding oath, Jake promises to torture her sister (Kenley) and then kill Kori. Kenley is an incredibly strong binder who acts as Jake's sealer: "A Binder like Kenley seals [an oath], with ink, blood or spoken promise. Or some combination of those. A verbal promise is the weakest. A blood binding is the strongest, whether sealed on paper, flesh, or any other surface." (p. 102)

     In the meantime, Ian has his own reasons for accepting Jake's invitation to visit the Tower empire. Ian's brother is dying from the effects of a broken binding that was sealed by Kori's sister. He had hoped that Kenley would be his escort and planned to kill her immediately (which will save his brother's life) and then escape, but when Kori shows up as his escort, all of his plans go out the window.

     The plot follows the couple as they fall in love, fight off attempts by Cavazos' agents to kidnap Ian, figure out a way to rescue Ian's brother, and strategize methods of getting rid of Jake. The action never stops and the angst never quits. Ian and Kori are well-developed, empathetic characters with mad fighting skills and nerves of steel. Both of them are placed in impossible situations, each with a sibling's life in his or her hands. In addition, Kori is living with the mental and emotional aftermath of her torture and Jake's threat of more to come. The couple's give-and-take sardonic dialogue is darkly humorous, and their romance is actually believable, even if it happens very quickly. Ian and Kori tell their story in alternating chapters using the first person point of view. In contrast to book 1, this book begins each chapter with the name of the character who is speaking, which greatly enhances the flow of the story.

     Once again, there are lots of supporting characters, so you have to pay attention. You must also keep tabs on every story thread, no matter how unimportant it may seem, because some of those threads are actually the very plot points that lead to the climax and resolution of this intricately devised novel. The lovers from book 1 show up a few times, sometimes as enemies and sometimes as friendsit's an interesting relationship. This is a solid, compelling story that leaves me hoping that book 3 will come along sooner rather than later. Click HERE to read the first two chapters.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Home Improvement: Undead Edition" (Anthology)

     The overall theme of this anthology is the do-it-yourself world of home renovation, but with a definite otherworldly twist. Dealing with topics as diverse as wizardly home security, ghosts in the walls, and supernatural building permits, these stories include both series-related tales and stand-alone yarns. Although paranormal anthologies are not usually my favorite books, this one includes several top-notch stories, particularly those by Victor Gischler, Patricia Briggs, Heather Graham, Melissa Marr, and Toni L. P. Kelner. My two favorites were those by Stacia Kane and Seanan McGuire.

Charlaine Harris: "If I Had a Hammer" (an all-new SOOKIE STACKHOUSE story) 
     So-so story: Sookie, Sam, Tara, and J. B. attempt a renovation project to make more room for Tara and J. B.'s twin babies, but are stymied when they inadvertently unearth a ghost who has his own agenda. (I would have loved to have seen Pam wielding a hammer on this project.) (Click HERE to go to my review of the SOOKIE STACKHOUSE Series.)

Victor Gischler: "Wizard Home Security" 
     Good story with a satisfying ending: A wizard takes a few shortcuts on his home security system and learns the hard way that when magic is involved, it's never good to skimp on personal protection.

Patricia Briggs: "Gray"
      Good story: A vampire returns to renovate and live in an apartment in which she resided decades earlier. As construction begins, she has a run-in with the local vampire leader and a reunion with the ghost of her dead husband.

Rochelle Krich: "Squatters' Rights" 
     Not one of my favorites: When a couple moves into their new home, the wife begins to hear noises in the wall and voices in her head. We know from the get-go that this renovation project will end badly.

> Heather Graham: "Blood on the Wall" 
     Good story with a nice twist to the ending: A New Orleans cult leader accused of murder is forced to team up with the private investigator he has been harassing in order to find the real killer.  Here, the home improvement project takes place in a mausoleum. 

>  James Grady: "Mansion of Imperatives" 
     In a typical horror-story set-up, five people head for a haunted house in the woods during a blizzard to start a renovation. It's kind of like The Evil Dead without the humor.

Melissa Marr: "The Strength Inside"
      Good story with a great ending: Bori sisters are attempting to raise their younger siblings and need to build a wall to keep them under control. The problem comes when the homeowners' association's annoying president won't approve their proposal. The ending is very satisfying, particularly if you've ever run up against a petty bureaucrat who misuses his or her power.

>  E. E. Knight: "Woolsley's Kitchen Nightmare" 
     In this weird story, which teems with supernatural beings, a supernatural Gordon Ramsay clone attempts to set a strange restaurateur on a profitable path, that includes a few structural improvements.

Seanan McGuire"Through This House" (from the OCTOBER DAYE series; takes place between Late Eclipses and One Salt Sea
     My favorite story in this book: Toby's friends come to her aid as she attempts to take ownership of the knowe of Goldengreen (Toby's gift from the Queen of the Mists), but they must first overcome some rather violent resistance from the current residents. (Click HERE to go to my review of the OCTOBER DAYE Series.)

>  S. J. Rozan"The Path" 
     My least favorite story in this book: An extremely shy and timid guardian spirit helps to reclaim a lost artifact that will allow him to continue his reincarnated path through life. The "home improvement" in this story takes place in an ancient cave. Too much talk and not enough action.   

> Stacia Kane"Rick the Brave" (from the CHESS PUTNAM/DOWNSIDE GHOSTS Series, one of my all-time favorite series) 
     One of my favorites: Rick is a naive human trying to earn enough money to get out of debt, but he gets in over his head when the building he is renovating turns out to be full of monstrous, deadly ghosts. Luckily for him, Terrible and Chess come to his rescue. (Click HERE to go to my review of CHESS PUTNAM/DOWNSIDE GHOSTS.)

 Suzanne McLeod: "Full-Scale Demolition" (from the SPELLCRACKERS series; set 6 months before The Sweet Scent of Blood) 
     Genny Taylor is a Sidhe fae who can't cast spells, but can crack (i.e., break) them. In this story, Genny is asked to rid a home of pixies, but that turns out to be a ploy to involve her in a much deadlier scheme that plays out in a house that is in the middle of a renovation. (Click HERE to go to my review of the SPELLCRACKERS Series.)
Simon R. Green: "It's All in the Rendering"
     In this typically offbeat and humorous tale, Green tells the story of Peter and Jubilee Caine, who are the caretakers of a safe house (at 13 Daemon Street) that exists in both the mortal and the supernatural realms. When they are threatened by both a human and an elven housing inspector, they must figure out how to prevent the destruction of their home.            

Tony L. P. Kelner: "In Brightest Day" 
     Great story with a humorously twisted ending: A young and irreverent houngan (i.e., voodoo priestess) must keep reanimating a revenant so that he can finish his last architectural project. Then, she has to justify her actions to Tante Ju-Ju and the voo-doo council.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Author: Karen Duvall
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V4; S2; H2
Publisher and Titles: Harlequin Luna
     Knight's Curse (2011) 
     Darkest Knight (3/2012) 

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 4/14/12 to include a review of the second book in the series: Darkest Knight. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

     BOOK 2: Darkest Knight    
     None of the world-building from book 1 made it through to book 2. The Vyantara, who were the sole villains in book 1, are nowhere to be seen in this book (except for one evil ghost). We're back to square one, really. Chalice has now rid herself of all traces of her old life, with the exception of Aydin, who, unfortunately, has been turned into a gargoyle. Chalice now has a Guardian Angel (Rafael, aka Rafe) who seems to believe that he and Chalice will marry and produce a child. Chalice spends a lot of time in this book disabusing Rafe of this notion. As the story opens, Rafe delivers Chalice to her grandparents' home (called Halo House) where she finds a group of her Hatchet Knight sisters, mostly newbies whom she is expected to train. Since Chalice just learned about the Hatchet Knights, it's difficult to understand how she can possibly be qualified to be their teacher/trainer. Chalice, after all, knows little or nothing about the organization since she has been living on her own almost all her life. This is just one more illogical detail in the series. 

      The plot, thin as it is, revolves around the murders by suffocation of a large number of Hatchet Knights. Chalice gets involved when the mysterious murderer shows up at Halo House and attempts to suffocate two of her sister Knights. With the help of Aydin, Rafe, and a few others, Chalice sets out to track down the mysterious villainess. A secondary story thread involves Chalice's search for an artifact that will allow Aydin to become human again. Chalice gets possession of the artifact early on in the story, but then it is stolen after she buries it in her Grandmother's back yard (in full view of anyone in the housenot a smart move)

      At this point, we learn some new parts of the series mythology, specifically, that the primary role of the Hatchet Knights appears to be that of mommies. Each Knight is expected to mate with her Guardian Angel and immediately produce a child. In fact, the Knights cannot bear children with any other mate. After the mating, the angel (since he has sinned by having sex) has two choices. He can either become a human, or he can become a Fallen Angel. Although the role of the Knights is supposed to be fighting evil, the source of that evil is never really explained and there doesn't appear to be any structure to the Knights' organization. If there is, it has yet to be described.

     Here's just another mystifying part of the world-building: There are different "veils" in this world: silver (for regular Angels), black (for Fallen Angels), and green (for Fae). What exactly are these "veils"? Who knows. There are also "dimensions." The mortal earth is the third dimension, while ghosts inhabit the fourth dimension. What does this mean? Who knows? In addition to these problems, the plot is filled with holes. For example, in one scene, Chalice retrieves a stolen "flying" charm from a young sorcerer, but just a few pages later, that same sorcerer still has the charm and uses it against herwhich makes no sense at all.

     In summary, this book is even less satisfying that book 1. The author appears to be making up the world-building as she goes along, with few explanations and little continuity. Chalice isn't a very satisfying heroine. She jumps head-first into situations with little forethought, and her social skills are practically nonexistent. None of the talents she demonstrated in book 1 seem to be of any use to her in book 2. She makes one bad decision after another and then needs help from Aydin or Rafe or Barachiel (her father) to get out of trouble.
     NOTE: Darkest Knight received only 1 star from RT Book Reviews. Here's the summary statement: “Chalice is an immature and unsympathetic protagonist in a setting that makes very little sense. The purpose of The Order of the Hatchet is unclear apart from the forced childbearing and arranged marriages to angels and the plot wanders about until Chalice stumbles across the solution and manages to save the day.”

     This world is populated with a variety of supernaturals, primarily sorcerers, Angels (aka Arelim), Fallen Angels, and gargoyles, with some enhanced humans thrown into the mix. The heroine is Chalice, who is half-angel and half-human. As the series opens, she has superhuman senses that require her to shield her eyes, plug her ears, and filter her breathing so that she is not overwhelmed by her surroundings. Duvall has gone overboard with Chalice's various skills (e.g., brilliant art historian, master impersonator, talented Visayan knife fighter since childhood). For the past 13 of her 25 years, Chalice has been enslaved by an evil sorcerer (Gavin Heinrich), who has bonded her to a homicidal gargoyle (Shui). Every 72 hours, Shui must lick Chalice's tattoo or she will permanently turn into a gargoyle herself—kind of gross, but inventive. Gavin is the egomaniacal CEO of a mysterious supernatural mob-type group called the Vyantara, which collects magical artifacts and sells them for huge profits to its clients from the dark side of the supernatural world. Chalice is one of several thieves enslaved by the Vyantara to track down and steal the magical objects. Beware, though, Chalice's circumstances change completely by the end of book 1 and again in book 2.

      Chalice's romantic interest is Aydin Berkant, who starts out as human, then is transformed twice (once in book 1 and once in book 2) into a different form.

      Based on the first two books, this series appears to have no over-arching story line. Book 1 and book 2 have completely different settings and mythologies, so they can definitely be read as stand-alones. 

     BOOK 1: Knight's Curse     
     As the series begins, Chalice has been brought to the Vyantara Fatherhouse in Denver, where Gavin inexplicably gives her a letter written by her mother before her birth and commands her to read it to him. Gavin can't read it because Chalice's mother treated the ink magically so that only her daughter could read it. Why has Gavin waited 13 years to force Chalice to read him the letter? When she asks him that question, he replies, "You weren't ready." (p. 53) What does that mean? Ready for what? But we get no further information. This is an example of the many weak moments in the story when characters take action and/or make statements that aren't supported by anything except the author's need to manipulate the plot so that the characters can go on to the next step in her plot outline. The hero of the story is Aydin Berkant, an immortal warrior who is in the same gargoyle-enslaved situation as Chalice, with the exception that Aydin has lucked out with a friendly gargoyle while Chalice is saddled with a psycho-sadistic one. The plot involves a mummified head that can speak, missing body parts, an angel whisperer (Quin), and a reunion with Chalice's long-missing father. Oh, yes...and the breaking of Chalice's gargoyle curse, so that she can begin the second book as a free woman.

     Duvall has some original ideas, but her story line and character development fail in their follow-through. Knight's Curse is written in the first person from Chalice's point of view, and the author has the usual problems with unnatural dialogue, awkward personal descriptions, and the limitations that first-person narration bring to moving the story along—and which result in an overdose of plot manipulation. None of the characters—not even Chalice—has any depth. They are mostly one-dimensional, cardboard cutouts of typical UF cast members: handsome (but non-charismatic) hero, smart (but whiny and immature) heroine, nasty (and totally evil) villains, and a magical sidekick (Elmo) who is more interesting than the lead characters. The romantic feelings between Chalice and Aydin have no basis in fact, happening way too quickly with little or no conversation between the two—no chemistry whatsoever. They just meet, and all of a sudden Chalice is in love with him, without even a single, sighing, love-at-first-sight romantic moment. 

     In the course of Knight's Curse, Chalice learns more about her family history. An interesting and inventive twist is that Chalice's mother was a member of the Order of the Hatchet, which is based on a true-to-life group of women back in Medieval Spain who took up arms (i.e., hatchets) to defend their homes against a Muslim army while their menfolk were off fighting other battles. Duvall definitely brings fresh ideas to her series. I'll keep reading the series in the hope that she develops the authorial competence to integrate those ideas into effective and compelling plots.