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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Amanda Ashley: BOUND BY... DUOLOGY

Author: Amanda Ashley (Pseudonym for Madeline Baker)
Series: BOUND BY... DUOLOGY (Not an Official Series Name)
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles: Zebra Paranormal Romance
        Bound by Night (2011)
        Bound by Blood (2011)



        WORLD-BUILDING        
     In Ashley's earlier vampire novels, the heroes are generally strong, dark, handsome, lonely vampires who, after many loveless centuries, are shocked and initially dismayed to find that their soul mates are beautiful, young, unfulfilled (frequently virginal), twenty-first-century Christian women who are both attracted to and repelled by their undead status but inevitably succumb to the hero’s charms. Marriage has always been very important to Ashley’s heroines, and unlike most soul-mate pairs, each couple generally holds off on full consummation until after the wedding.  

Here is a quotation from Bound by Night that could have come from any vampire novel that Ashley has ever written:

     "After five hundred years as a vampire, there was little left in the mortal world that surprised him, but sitting there, with Elena..., he discovered that he cared more deeply than he had imagined for the woman.... Even more astonishing was the realization that he wanted her love more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. With a shake of his head, he stared into the fire, certain that he had a better chance of gaining heaven than winning the fair Elena's love." (p. 90)

     Although Ashley doesn't classify her books into series, this book and the next include a family of characters, so they can be considered a duology. In Bound by Night, Ashley maintains her tried-and-true hero-heroine profile and her wait-until-marriage lovemaking, but where her previous books usually ended at that point, this one carries the action further along. The marriage takes place early on in the story, and then all kinds of terrible things happen to both the hero and the heroine before they get their eventual HEA ending 

        BOOK 1:  Bound by Night        
     The heroine of Bound by Night is Elena Knightsbridge, a 21-year-old orphan who was transplanted from Colorado to Transylvania nine years ago after her parents died to be raised by her aunt and uncle. The uncle is an abusive monster, and after the aunt dies, he comes after the virginal Elena. She looks around at her choices and decides that her best bet is to hide away in the haunted castle up the road. Sounds logicalright? After breaking into Wolfram Castle, she meets the tall, dark, and handsome owner, Drake Sherrad (aka Lord Drake). Eventually, Elena learns that Drake is a centuries-old vampire. So far, so good. We're sticking with the usual Ashley story line. But then, all hell breaks loose when Drake's sire, Rodin, demands his return to the coven so that Drake can take his rightful place on the council and marry the vampire female Rodin has selected for breeding purposes. In a subplot, Elena's uncle does some dastardly deeds that put her in jeopardy. The violence that both Drake and (especially) Elena endure as the story progresses is not like any of Ashley's previous storiesat least not the ones that I have read. Elena is an extremely passive young woman, and although this story takes place in the present, she comes across as a frail, Regency virgin who really can't take care of herself. Although both Drake and Elena act like they just stepped out of the 18th century, they wear modern-day tee shirts and jeans and he drives a Porsche.

     This is definitely not a modern paranormal novel. It's more like a gothic Regency romance with vampires tossed into the mix. It reminded me of the early vampire romance novels that were written several decades ago after Ann Rice re-popularized vampires, and romance writers wanted to jump on the paranormal band wagon. Back then, they just took a typical historical romance plot and changed the hero into a vampire. That's pretty much what happens here. One of the characteristics that gives a "historical" feel to the story is that Drake's castle has no electricity, indoor plumbing, or central heatingit's like a Medieval fortress. The mannerisms of the characters also belong in historical fiction. For example, Drake calls Elena, "My lady wife" or just "Wife." Another unbelievability for a story set in modern times is that Rodin has dozens of human "sheep" sequestered in his compound, none of whom are aware of the outside world. They've been serving up their blood to the vamps for many generations. The whole story package, from characterization to setting to plot, is anachronistic and totally unbelievable.

     One last nitpick: Ashley uses the phrase "He grunted softly" over and over and over again. I wish I had done an actual count, but I'm estimating the number of uses to be more than a dozen. And in the brief 8-page excerpt she includes from her next book, she uses it twice more. To me, this just seems like sloppy writing on Ashley's part and negligent editing by Zebra. 

     I frequently recommend Ashley's earlier vampire novels to library patrons who are looking for kinder, gentler, less sensual paranormal reads, but this novel is definitely not gentle, and its sensuality is frequently scarred by disturbing, misogynistic violence 

        BOOK 2:  Bound by Blood        
     Bound by Blood begins twenty years after Bound by Night ends, and it tells the love story of Kaitlyn, the daughter of Elena and Drake, and her soul mate, Zachary (Zack) Ravenscroft. This book does not have the same 19th century flavor as the previous bookthank heavens. As the story opens, Kaitlyn's parents have gifted her with a lovely cabin near Lake Tahoe, right next door to Zack's casino. Of course, it's love at first sight between the virginal 21-year-old and the 600-year-old Other. An Other is a made vampire, as opposed to the born vampires that make up Kaitlyn's family. Born vampires and Others have been bitter enemies for a thousand years, so things don't look good for the romance. At first, each thinks the other is human, but they soon learn each other's true identity. Kaitlyn is pretty sure that her father will not approve of her new boyfriend (and she's definitely correct about that), so she keeps the romance a secret for as long as she can. In the meantime, Drake's aunt, Nadiya, sends one of her sons to Tahoe to kidnap Kaitlyn. Nadiya wants to punish Drake for killing her son, Florin, twenty years ago (in the previous book). She plans to use Kaitlyn as bait to force Drake out of the Fortress and then torture Kaitlyn to death. The main plot, of course, follows the ups and downs of the romance, while the secondary kidnap/torture plot puts a series of road blocks in the way of the lovers. At one point, Drake does some extremely horrible things to Zack, but as Zack and Drake fight off Nadiya and her forces, they eventually bond. The sensuality between Kaitlyn and Zack simmers throughout the story. As the romance heats up, Kaitlyn tries to seduce Zack, but he does the Edward-like thing and tries valiantly to hold off until after their marriageand they almost make it. The book ends in a climactic battle scene at the wedding, after which all of the good guys live HEA. Elena does have a life-changing experience at the wedding.  

     This book is more of a contemporary paranormal romance than the first. The plot follows the basic SMR line: love at first sight + obstacles + danger + love wins out = HEA. One last thing: Ashley continues to love the phrase "grunted softly." Zack does it 15 times in this book. (Note to the Zebra editor: Please...invest in a thesaurus.)

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