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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.

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