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Monday, February 20, 2012

Cynthia Garner: WARRIORS OF THE RIFT SERIES

Author:  Cynthia Garner
Series:  WARRIORS OF THE RIFT
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--4; Humor--2-3
Publisher and Titles: Grand Central
        "Into the Rift" (prequel e-book story, 5/2012)
        Kiss of the Vampire (2/2012)
        Secret of the Wolf (7/2012)
        Heart of the Demon (2/2013)


     This post was revised and updated on 4/20/13 to include a review of the third novel in the series, Heart of the Demon. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2: 

             BOOK 3:  Heart of the Demon             
      Finn Evnissyen, hero of this book, was actually an anti-hero in the previous book. Finn is a demon, and he is Lucifer's son and chief enforcer. As the events of book 2 played out, we discovered eventually that Finn is actually one of the good guys. As this book begins, Lucifer and Tobias ask Finn to infiltrate a group of rogue preternaturals (aka prets) who are planning to sabotage the Council's efforts to keep human-pret relations friendly and who also plan to use the mysterious machine introduced in book 1 to open the rift and allow unlimited numbers of prets to take over human bodies here on Earth. Finn is an unhappy demon; he hates being under his father's thumb and wants his freedom more than anything. He agrees to do the spy job if his father will free him from his enforcer commitment.

     In the meantime, Finn's kinda/sorta girlfriend, Keira O'Brien, is also being asked to spy on the rogues, having been blackmailed into the job by Caladh, a council member who has learned some damaging information about Keira's past. Keira is a fey who was a grifter with a long criminal record before she came to earth. She still loves the rush she gets during a con job, but she is determined to go straight. Keira and Finn are wildly attracted to one another and have had one passionate night together, but they are both wary of long-term relationships.


     The plot mostly follows the love story as Finn and Keira are each startled to find the other at the rogue's meetings, both pretending to be true followers of the rogue leader, Stefan Liuz (who is actually the villainous Natchook, whom we met in book 1). Both Finn and Keira believe that the other is a traitor, but that doesn't temper the lustful attraction between them. 


     In the action part of the plot, Stefan puts Finn and Keira through a series of tests to determine their loyalty. Eventually, of course, there is a climactic show-down scene where everything gets sorted out, one way or another.


     This book is thinner on plot and heavier on soul-mate romance than the previous two novels in this series. The lead lovers are relatively shallow in character, motivated primarily by their sex drives, not by their moral sense. For example, even though Keira totally believes that Finn killed a prominent Council member on Stefan's orders, she still can't stay out of his bed. And even though Keira claims to be on the straight and narrow, Finn watches her gleefully steal jewels and rob a bank on Stefan's orders, but that doesn't stop him from from jumping her bones every chance he gets. This all seems quite improbable because, in the end, these are two good people, so how could they not be repulsed by the other's seemingly immoral and traitorous behavior?


     The lack of plot complexity makes this a slow-moving story. We just watch Stefan put the couple through one similar test after another, and then there's the big showdown at the end—interspersed with graphic love scenes. So...not really enough going on to hold my interest. After you've read one of the love scenes, you'll find that the rest are pretty much just duplicates.


     The epilogue introduces an all-new character—Bartholomew Maxwell ("Ash") Asher, a Council liaison, so I assume that he will be the hero of the next book. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Heart of the Demon.

            WORLD-BUILDING             
    In this world, all supernaturals have arrived on Earth in non-corporeal form from distant planets or realms, traveling through a dimensional rift caused by the Moore-Creasy-Devon comet, which cycles past Earth every 73 years. Here, a character describes the process: "The comet goes by and temporarily opens a rift, a hole, between the two dimensions. Picture it like sliding down a zipper...The opening at the top gets wider the farther down you unzip. Entities spill into this dimension all along the opening, more of them toward the top and middle as it widens....Then as the comet gets farther away from Earth,...it's like the release of the effects of gravity snaps the zipper tab back the other way, closing it." (Secret of the Wolf, pp. 212-213)

     Many of these preternatural immigrants are criminals seeking escape from punishment in their home realms. When they arrive on Earth, they take possession of the bodies and identities of humans. Here's how an anti-preternatural newspaper editor puts it: "These interdimensional marauders...stream through the rift like Vikings of old riding the rough waves of the sea to take possession of human bodies without any regard for those they displace. Or, more accurately, suppress." (Kiss of the Vampire, p. 2) 

     Humans call these alien beings Extra-Dimensionals (EDs), but they prefer to call themselves prets (short for preternaturals). When the otherworldly essence of an ED, or pret, combines with the human host, that host becomes either a vampire, werewolf, pixie, demon, or some other type of preternatural being. No one knows exactly why they turn into different types of beings. Although the migration of the EDs has been going on for centuries, the human world has known about the rift for only three years.

     The general reaction among mortals has been one of caution and fear, with many humans seeing the EDs as predators who must be contained. "It was a bit unsettling to think you could be going about your business and thenwham!you're no longer in control of your own body, rather, you had to share it with someone else, someone whose personality is melded with yours." (Secret of the Wolf, p. 40) When a pret drops into a human host, family members often turn against that sibling (or offspring or parent), causing disruption and heartbreak. Some of that fear is justified, because some prets (vampires, for example) require human blood to sustain themselves. Many prets prefer their blood to be from live humans, and they don't always ask permission before imbibing. Remember, many of them are outlaws. Some humans are clamoring for restrictions on the prets. On the horizon is the Preternatural Registration Act, now in the early stages of discussion by the U.S. Senate. That act would require all prets to register with their local government and be fitted with microchips that will probably have GPS capabilities. 

     The prets are governed by the Council of Preternaturals, which (of course) is deeply corrupt. Click HERE to go to a Council organization chart on the author's web site. By the end of book 1, Tobias (the book 1 hero) is a member of the Council, so we know that there's at least one good guy on the governing board.

             BOOK 1:  Kiss of the Vampire             
     In the series opener, the heroine is Nix de la Fuente, a human-demon hybrid whose incubus mother drained and killed her human father when she was a child. Nix was raised in a cruel and hostile environment by her demon-hating human grandmother, who left Nix with a lot of emotional scars. Now, Nix works as the human liaison between the Council of Preternaturals and the Scottsdale, Arizona, police department, and she religiously practices Tai Chi so that she can keep her demon nature under control. As the story opens, Nix and her partner, Dante MacMillan, are investigating their second vampire murder in two days. This time, the victim is Nix's friend, Amarinda, who has been mauled and eviscerated. As Nix and Dante are discussing the case, they are unexpectedly joined by Nix's former flame, Tobias Caine, a vampire who moved away to another city after the couple broke up five years ago. 

     Tobias came through the rift 219 years ago in pursuit of the assassin who murdered his leader. In Tobias' former dimension, he was an Enforcer of the High Law, and the killer (Natchook) had pretended to be his friend, so the murder was very personal for Tobias. Unfortunately, Natchook is ensconced in a human host, so Tobias doesn't know what he looks like now, but he does remember Natchook's scent. As more mutilated vampire corpses accumulate, the trio finds evidence that Amarinda was involved with an underground group of prets who are developing technology to enable radio transmissions through the rift, which could cause huge problems for both prets and humans alike (although there is no real explanation as to what exactly those problems might be). When Tobias picks up Natchook's scent at one of the murder scenes, he takes off in hot pursuit. By the end of the book, both Tobias and Nix are forced to lay their lives on the line for one another (in the tradition of most paranormal soul mates). Not to worry though, this is a paranormal romance, so there's definitely an HEA. The ending leaves the radio transmission part of the story unresolved.


     Now for the romance: At the beginning of the story, Nix and Tobias still love one another, but neither will admit it to the other. Tobias left Nix because he was afraid that he was the cause of her difficulties in keeping her demon side under control, but he didn't tell her that. He just left. Nix has always believed that Tobias left her because she is a lowly demon. Demons are considered to be the dregs of pret society and are particularly denigrated by the socially superior vampires. Pretty soon, the mutual attraction between Nix and Tobias takes over, though, and old hurts are (way too quickly) forgotten. Dante, the human in this crime-fighting trio, has been attracted to Nix, but when he sees the sparks flying between Nix and Tobias, he backs off. As Dante accompanies the star-crossed lovers on their various interviews and crime scene visits, he provides welcome comic relief, with his wisecracks and sarcastic gibes. 

     This book has the awkwardness frequently found in first novels and in series introductions. The mythology needs a bit of polishing because the whole rift/preternatural/human host process is just sketched in, without sufficient detail to provide a clear picture of how it all works. For example, if an ED is a non-corporeal essence residing in a human body, why is Nix part demon. Although her mother's human body is hosting a demon, it's still a human body, so why isn't Nix all human? Does the spiritual essence somehow alter the host's DNA? The narrative provides no clues. Nix's situation at the end of the story also raises questions. I can't really go into the details without a spoiler, but I will say that the process by which humans acquire the traits of various preternaturals definitely needs more clarification. The best part of the book is the dialogue that includes Dante, whose character is the most entertaining and realistic in the book. Nix and Tobias are relatively one-dimensional, particularly Tobias. Although he has been chasing after Natchook for more than two centuries, he doesn't show much passion. The relationship between Tobias and Nix is stereotypical, with angst-filled monologues followed by simmering but unfulfilled lustuntil they break down the barriers between them. Then, it's lust all the way, all the time. Unfortunately, their relationship doesn't seem to go any deeper than the physical attraction, and they never really have a conversation about anything beyond their murder case, their bad break up, or their lustful feelingsbut no real emotional connection. 

    Click HERE to read a deleted scene from Kiss of the Vampire. Click HERE to read character interviews with Nix and Tobias.     

             BOOK 2:  Secret of the Wolf             
      The hero of this book is Dante MacMillan, a human police detective and the former partner of Nix, the heroine of book 1. Dante's soul mate is Victoria (Tori) Joseph, werewolf liaison to the Council of Preternaturals. As the story opens, a rogue werewolf is attacking humans and either turning them or killing them. In the meantime, both Dante and Tori are dealing with family problems. Dante lives with and cares for his sister, Lily, who is recovering from cancer. Tori is getting to know her long-lost brother, Randall (Rand), who showed up on her doorstep a few days ago. They haven't seen each other since they first came through the rift in 1866, and Tori is eager to build a family unit. 

     The plot follows Dante and Tori as they investigate the werewolf case and try to track down the rogue. Of course, they fall in love along the way. The identity of the rogue werewolf is clear almost from page one, so there's not much suspense involved in the plot. There is, however, a character problem. Tori, who is supposed to be such a clear-headed, smart, centered person, makes some really dumb decisions as she eventually suspects that the rogue is someone she knows well but then fails to tell anyone her suspicions, resulting in more attacks. Coincidentally, I just finished reading (and reviewing) another book in which the heroine has the same problem: Tainted Night, Tainted Blood (book 2 in E.S. Moore's KAT REDDING series). In both cases, the heroines make stereotypically stupid moves, withholding information and getting innocent people hurt and/or killedall in the name of (dysfunctional) family devotion.

     Other than the lack of suspense and Tori's character flaw, the story is solid enough, with compelling action that moves the plot along at a fast clip. Even though I knew who the villain was, I still was interested in seeing how the couple solved the case and just how far Tori would go before she spilled the beans about the identity of the rogue. I was disappointed that Dante wasn't nearly as humorous a character in this book as he was in book 1. Falling in love seems to have sucked all of the sarcastic wisecracks out of him.

     Natchook, the villain from book 1, makes a brief appearance, but he's still on the loose at the end, and plotting more rift-connected mayhem. The rogue werewolf plot line in this book is related to the series story arc involving mysterious plotters who are planning to use electronic means either to open a new rift or widen/lengthen the original rift. In book 1, Tobias captured one of their electronic devices, and in this book, Dante and Tori spend a lot of time taking the thing apart and analyzing how it works.

     More details are added to the world-building in this book. In this passage, we learn more about the process by which vampires and werewolves can turn humans. "It's just like in the legends. werewolves can make another werewolf with just their bites. Vampires have to seal the deal with blood because they're....the weakest of all prets when they first come through the rift. They can only take over bodies that are close to death or have just died. Once they've acclimated to their host, though, physically they're the strongest." (p. 141)

     Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site with photographs of key landmarks in Old Town Scottsdale that are important to the plot of Secret of the Wolf.

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