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Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Author:  Kira Brady
Plot Type:  Urban Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor1
Publisher and Titles:  
           Hearts of Fire (e-novella prequel, 6/2013)
           Hearts of Darkness (7/2012)
           Hearts of Shadow (5/2013)
           Hearts of Chaos (3/2014) (FINAL)  

     This post was revised and updated on 4/11/14 to include a review of Hearts of Chaos, the third and FINAL novel in the trilogy. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the prequel novella and the first two novels.      

            NOVEL 3:  Hearts of Chaos            
     The final novel presents two dramatic finales: the climactic showdown between Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess of chaos, and the Seattle supernaturals, and the passionate consummation of the love that FINALLY fires up between Lucia Crane and Emory Corbette, the stubborn and arrogant Kivati leader. An additional story thread follows the strange relationship between Kai Raiden, leader of one of the Kivati Houses, and Astrid Zetian, a Kivati-hating Drekar. In the previous novel, the couple had a single passionate scene up against an alley wall, but in this novel, poor Zetian has been possessed by Tiamat, and for most of the novel, no one is sure whether her true spirit will survive the possession. As we saw in the final paragraphs of the previous novel, Tiamet quickly possessed Zetian and took possession of the Tablet of Destiny, which instantly provided her with immense power. Now, all she needs is her sister's golden Scepter and she will have so much power that she and her minions will rule the entire world.

     According to an ancient Kivati prophecy, "the Crane will bring a great light. The people who lived in the land of the shadow of death all rise up and the Harbinger will lead them. Cast off your shackles oh Changers! See, oh you blind ones! Follow the Crane to destiny, for behind her lies ruin." (p. 10) The story in this novel follows this prophecy quite literally. Lucia is supposed to be the Crane in the prophecy, which is why she was selected to be Corbette's mate. Throughout the series, their story has been percolating in the background. Corbette stalks around giving orders ("Let me handle it." "I know what I'm doing."), while Lucia is expected to be a perfect lady and do whatever Corbette tells her to do. In a previous book, she rebelled against her monastic, over-controlled life and became involved with a really bad Kivati warrior who put her and the rest of the supernatural community through a horrendous experience, one that unleashed the evil Babylonian god, Kingu, into the world. The effects of that battle are still being felt.  

     As the novel opens, Corbette is furious that Lucia and Kai disobeyed him and took his soldiers to fight alongside humans and Drekar against Kingu and Tiamat. She refuses to apologize or back down, and when she asks to be released from their engagement, he angrily agrees. Soon, though, all of their lovers' quarrel nonsense gets shoved to the back burner because Tiamat begins her rise to power, marching with the Maidens of Ishtar to take over the Kivati stronghold. Corbette and Lucia head for the Underworld (home to Tiamat's sister) to retrieve the Scepter so that they can defeat Tiamat. The remainder of the book moves back and forth between the horrors that Tiamat is wreaking above ground and the adventures and romantic interludes between Lucia and Corbette that are going on in the Underworld. Early in the story, one of the supporting characters gives Lucia the Deadglass, "a small brass spyglass…that pulls back our preconceived notions of reality to let us see beyond the veil. It provides true wisdom, and wisdom, without throwing a single punch, can stop armies and end wars." (p. 73) The Deadglass becomes Lucia's only weapon in the Underworld. 

     Unfortunately, reading this novel soon feels like slogging though deep, thick mud, particularly the Underworld scenes. The couple must face a series of tests before they are allowed to pass various points, and those tests include several monsters, a wall of fire, a wall of thorns, a seemingly endless sea, blindness (for Corbette), and a lot of nakedness (for Lucia). To me it seemed as if the author just picked these "tests" out of the air, keeping her page count in mind as she did it. The final half of the book really drags. Even though there is lots of action, it all has a repetitious, been-there-done-that feel to it.

     We know from the beginning how the story will end, so there is no real build-up of suspense. About two-thirds of the way through, the author places the lovers into quite a few situations that end with lots of melodramatic, metaphorical moralizing about the importance of trust and love and faith. For example, at one point, Corbette's dead girlfriend doubles up on the metaphors as she says to him, "Love is an all-or-nothing game. And if you try to halve it, to stick it where it's convenient, you will end up with nothing but sand trickling through your fingers. You will find yourself a broken shade caught by your own bitterness." Corbett responds, "A bit melodramatic" (pp. 214-215) So…even the characters think that this preachiness is melodramatic—and it gets more and more platitudinous as the story moves along. Here's another example: "Violence will never be strong enough to hold together the threads of the universe. Violence is a brittle thing, easily made, quickly broken....There are bigger divides between the hearts of man than there are between the Lands of the Living and the Dead. Hate and violence can't bring them together….Only love….Yes. Love is the web that connects us all, god and mortal alike." (p. 288) And this pontificating just goes on and on and on.

     Through most of the story, Corbette maintains his lifelong arrogance, downplaying Lucia's strength and abilities and insisting that only he knows the right thing to do. Then, when he is blinded and must rely solely on Lucia, he learns his lesson. I just wish that the Corbette's transformation hadn't been done in such an obvious, heavy-handed manner. 

     In the end, the good guys and gals make sacrifices, put their lives on the line, and win the day—just as we always knew they would. Corbette becomes more touchy-feely, and Lucia develops self-confidence. She also learns some shocking facts about her true genetic heritage. Kai and Zetian have their own special ending, which isn't as predictable as the rest of the plot. In the epilogue, the author leaves the door open for further stories set in this world—tales involving the next generation.

     For me, the mythology has always been the weakest part of this series. The blending of the Native American shape shifters and the soul-sucking dragons might have worked. But when the Babylonian mythology got dumped into the mix, things got complicated—even convoluted, and the world-building overwhelmed the story lines. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Hearts of Chaos.

     Here's the recipe that was apparently used to put this series together: Take the dark, gritty Seattle setting from Karina Cooper's DARK MISSION series. Couple it with the initial premise of Karen Marie Moning's FEVER series. Choose a few random about Native American, Norse, and Babylonian? Throw in a tablespoon of steampunk...just because it's so trendy right now. Add a pair of stereotypical protagonists: a conflicted alpha hero and a feisty, but essentially weak, heroine. Voila! You've got Brady's DEADGLASS TRILOGY.    

     In this alternate Seattle, an outbreak of wraiths has destroyed the electrical grid, so everyone—both humans and supernaturals—must rely on steam power. And for no apparent reason, many of them wear Edwardian clothes. Even though the Native American supernaturals are all giant shape-shifting crows and raptors and the Norwegian supernaturals are all giant shape-shifting, flame-breathing dragons, the humans have no idea that they exist—at least not as book 1 begins.

     Two rivalrous supernatural groups vie for power in Seattle. The Drekar are the dragons, who exist by sucking energy from human souls. The Kivati are the Native American raptor shifters who are supposed to be the good guys, but their leader hasn't been doing a very good job of protecting humans and keeping the city in good shape. The reason that Seattle is falling apart dates all the way back to Seattle, chief of the Duwamish people back in the mid-1800s. The author includes one version of his famous 1854 speech, and interprets it to mean that the spirits of the dead will always haunt Seattle. The Babylonian mythology relates to a gate to the underworld, behind which lie some monstrous, long-imprisoned Babylonian deities and demons, including the evil demigod Kingu

     Here's a summary of the Drekar-Kivati situation: "Cursed with no souls of their own, the dragon-shifters fed on human souls. They weren't always careful to leave their food alive. Who cared how many humans died, as long as there were enough to feed on? Better the weak were culled from the flock, leaving the strongest souls to provide sustenance. The Kivati felt honor-bound to defend humans and the Drekar gave as good as they got. It was a secret war, carried out in the shadowed alleys and boardrooms, behind the backs of humans. The battles might be hidden, but the damage was everywhere...A failing power grid as ghosts fried electrical circuits. Midnight explosions made to look like accidents. The shining skyscrapers deteriorating as soon as the last nail was hammered in. People disappeared...but humans chalked it up to gang violence." (pp. 3-4)

     I'm not going to try to explain any more of the mythology, but I will warn you that it is extremely complicated, which makes the first half of the first novel tough to get through. If you just keep reading, things will eventually fall into placeto a certain extent.

     Click HERE to go to Brady's map of her alternate Seattle and background information on the Drekar and the Kivati. 

            PREQUEL NOVELLA:  "Hearts of Fire"            
     If you read this short e-novella first, you'll at least get an introduction to the three mythologies that bump up against one other in the series. Set in Seattle in 1889, this is the story of a romance between two shape shifters from rivalrous races: the soul-sucking Drekar dragons and the human-protecting Kivati, who shift into various kinds of animals, primarily raptors. Although other animal tribes are mentioned briefly (including whales, crows, deer, cougar, and wolves), they don't seem to have any real power within the Kivati. The dragons have just come to town, led by Sven Norgard (the villain of novel 1), who wants to get rid of the Kivati and take over Seattle. In turn, many of the Kivati want to get rid of the dragons. They did it once before, and they're more than ready to do it again. The Kivati view the dragons as monsters because the Drekar have no souls. The Kivati feel superior because they have two souls: their human soul and their totem (animal) soul. 

     The third mythology in the series is Babylonian, and it is referenced just once in this novella, when, with absolutely no explanation, the Maidens of Ishtar appear as courtesans in a Drekar saloon. Why are the Norse dragons hooking up with Ancient Babylonian ladies instead of with women of their own nationality and mythology? Who knows? (Maybe they don't like blonds.)

     The romance is of the shallow instant-love type that we find all too often in paranormal romances. The moment that Brand Haldor meets the gaze of Alice Corvette across a muddy Seattle street, their mutual attraction kicks into high gear. Brand is a Drekar glass blower (apparently an early, alternate version of the famous Washington State glass artist Dale Chihuly, as he dreams of creating grand blown-glass chandeliers that look like icicles). Alice is the daughter of the Kivati leader (aka the Raven Lord, an ancestor of the Kivati leader in novel 1). Their romance is built solely on physical attraction as they rhapsodize repeatedly and at great length about each other's beautiful hair, gorgeous eyes, stunning physique, etc. The story takes place over a period of a day or two, so the couple barely gets a chance to introduce themselves to one another before they are tumbling naked on the forest floor in wild passion. The climactic ending provides an alternate incarnation of the real Seattle fire of 1889, which actually destroyed much of the city.

     The narrative is full of overblown, melodramatic, clichés as Brand thinks thoughts like these: "Now he knew how the poets felt. Felled by an arrow straight from Cupid's bow. Stars aligned for this moment." Alice's hand is "light as a bird's wing." In the middle of their one big sex scene, Alice says things like this: "The blood of the Great Goddess runs in my veins. I am more than a woman; I am Kivati...The elements are my handmaidens." Moments later, she muses that "her love went on and on, eternal and everlasting, stronger than the blackness inside of him aching to be filled." She has spoken briefly to him just twice, but she already is quite sure that she can cure him with her love. All in all, this is a sample of the type of writing you'll find in novel 1 of the series, so let that be a warning to you. This novella is only worth reading if you plan to go on to the main part of the series. In that case, it does serve as a nice introduction to the Drekar and the Kivati. Unfortunately for me, I read novel 1 first, and I had a tough time wading through the world-building.

            NOVEL 1:  Hearts of Darkness           
     The first novel opens in the 21st century as Kayla Friday journeys to Seattle from Philadelphia to identify her dead sister's body. (This is the one and only similarity to Moning's heroine in the FEVER series.) Although the coroner has ruled Desi's death a drug overdose, Kara knows from her experience as a nurse that something far more violent caused her sister's demise. As she stands next to Desi's body, Hart, a huge, sexy man appears, sniffs her, and demands that she hand over a necklace. Then, he trash-talks her and goes through Desi's belongings without Kayla's permission. Kayla doesn't have a clue as to what's going on. She's human and knows absolutely nothing about the existence of supernaturals. She also seems never to have heard about the conditions in Seattle, which is a bit surprising since Philadelphia appears to have escaped the wraith problem completely. Wouldn't newspapers and TV cameras have broadcast videos and stories about Seattle's problems to the rest of the world? Anyhow, moments later, a group of "hulking brutes with chiseled features and dark hair" (p. 17) burst in—also demanding the necklace. These are Kivati thugs, and when they rough up Hart, Kayla jumps right in to protect him (Why?), but to no avail. Eventually, Kayla makes a bargain with Rudrick, the leader of the gang, that she will get back the necklace for him if they don't harm Hart. This kicks off the plot, as Kayla and Hart search for the necklace and then deal with the consequences.

     The most obvious villain is Sven Norgard, the Drekar Regent (ruler). He has plans to open the Gate to the Land of the Dead using the necklace that Kayla's sister stole from him. Norgard has been Hart's master for the past 15 years, meaning that Hart is magically bound to follow Norgard's every command. Hart was born to a Kivati mother, but was cast out when he became a werewolf during his first change. According to Kivati beliefs, werewolves are wild animals who live a life of mindless blood lust. (This, by the way did not appear to be the case in the prequel novella.) Norgard promised to end Hart's moon-related periods of violence, and he has kept that promise, but in exchange, Hart has been compelled to do unspeakable things. As the story advances, Hart must make some painful decisions about his future, since Norgard has his lusty eye on Kayla. 

     The story culminates in a stereotypical scene of human sacrifice in a cave far beneath the earth that we've seen countless times in other series. New villains emerge. An old villain seeks redemption. The Babylonian gods want out. And the stage is set for the next book. The silliest part of the big climax, for me, is the moment when Kayla asks, "What happened?" and Hart answers her by quoting Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." (p. 314) This is the one and only humorous moment in the entire book, and I'm not sure that it was meant to be funny. 

     Although I've seen some over-the-top ecstatic reviews of this book, I can't agree with them. The mythology is an awkwardly regenerated mishmash of bits and pieces from other series. The steampunk affectation seems like an afterthoughtjust a means of getting on the bandwagonbecause there is no real commitment to the gears-goggles-gadgets ethos that defines true steampunk fiction. The hero is an off-the-rack TDH guy with a tragic past. He keeps describing his heroine as fierce, but she comes across more fearful and fragile than anything else. The romance follows the stereotypical quick-start passionate path to sex that is found in many paranormal romances, and it's hard to feel much empathy for the couple. All in all, I'd rate this as a C-level series. 

     Just one more thing: If you read this book, you'll need to know what an aptrgangr is. Click HERE for the definition that you won't find in this book.   (The book definitely needs a glossary.) Click HERE to read an excerpt from chapter 1 (scroll down a bit to find the excerpt). Click HERE to read an on-line blog essay that Brady wrote about the eerie

            NOVEL 2:  Hearts of Shadow           
     The lead lovers in this book are Grace Mercer, a human with some mysterious powers, and Leif Asgard, the brother of Sven Norgard, one of the villains of book 1. Sven was a depraved, power-mad warlord, but Leif is just the opposite—a nerdy, pacifistic inventor. Sven enslaved Grace, and when he died at the end of book 1, her slave bond transferred to Leif, the new Regent. In the six months since Leif took over as the Drekar leader, he has paid little attention to his duties and is dragged into the political chaos of Seattle only when the humans begin making unreasonable demands on the supernaturals.

     The primary story line in this book centers on Kingu, a Babylonian demigod who was released during the conflagration that climaxed book 1. Kingu was the lover of Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess of chaos who was the mother of all dragons. After being freed from his imprisonment, Kingu assembled a huge army of vicious wraiths who have descended on Seattle to wreak havoc on the human citizens. When a wraith takes possession of a human body, it becomes an aptrgangr that feeds on human flesh. Here, Grace explains how a wraith becomes an aptrgangr: "Unlike ghosts, which haunted their former territory wishing they could touch and taste and smell again, wraiths aggressively sought to regain their living senses. That meant acquiring a body, preferably a still mostly living body. Wraiths sought out weak or injured individuals, pushed their souls aside, and climbed in the driver's seat. Wraiths became aptrgangr, and aptrgangr crushed their victims with their superhuman strength and ate their flesh." (p. 19)

     At this point, Seattle is divided into five groups, two supernatural and three human. The two supernatural groups are the Drekar (shape-shifting dragons) and the Kivati (shape-shifting raptors), who are bitter, long-time enemies. The humans are divided among Admiral Jameson's militia, Reverend Edmund Marks' religious fanatics, and the remaining ordinary, unaffiliated citizens. In general, the humans hate and fear all supernaturals, while most of the supernaturals view humans as annoying prey. When Kingu comes to town, though, all of the groups are forced to cooperate in order to defeat him.

     In the midst of the problems with Kingu, Leif falls for Grace in a big way as soon as he meets her for the first time in the opening scene. Although Grace feels some physical attraction to Leif, she is extremely wary and hostile towards him because his brother, Sven, abused her emotionally and physically and treated her as a sex slave. Leif and Grace's romantic path is incredibly arduous, with misunderstandings and distrust constantly threatening to shatter their fragile emotional connection. At first, Grace believes that all Drekar are like Sven and sees Leif only as a new threat to her existence. Leif realizes that he will have to tread lightly in order to change Grace's mind about him. Sven trained Grace as an assassin, and she spends much of her time on Seattle's streets slaying aptrgangr, who seem to turn up wherever she goes (and that's a big clue to the source of Grace's mysterious powers). Leif wants to keep Grace safe, so he begins to protect her and tries to keep her from danger, which infuriates Grace. When Leif and Grace discover what Kingu is searching for in Seattle, their efforts to defeat him become very personal. In the end, one of them must risk certain death in order to save the world.

     In this book, we get an explanation of the reason for the soullessness of the Drekar and learn that there is one way that a dragon can acquire a soul. Here, the dragon Longren explains the situation: "Marduk decreed that...dragons were doomed to walk the earth for eternity, forever alone, forever without the solace of knowing their heart and soul. But Ishtar, the goddess of love...felt sorry for the dragons, and after Marduk had laid his curse, she worked one of her own...If a dragon can convince a mortal woman to love him, she can choose to bind her soul to his forever. The dragon will no longer need to feed from the souls of others, for he will share in his love's life force. Together, they will be one body, one soul." (p. 140) You can guess how this little story plays out in the romance between Leif and Grace.
     The Kivati story thread is a continuation of one that began in Hearts of Darkness as Lucia, the emotionally damaged bride-to-be of Emory Corbette, the stubborn and arrogant Kivati leader, makes friends with Grace and begins to yearn for independence. 

     This is a much better book than Hearts of Darkness, but only if you understand the mythology. The interweaving of the Babylonian, Norse, and Native American lore is still a bit awkward, but once you get accustomed to the weird mixture, the plot moves along at a compelling pace. Character development is also better in this book. Grace is a brave-but-tortured heroine who strives constantly to win her freedom, and Leif is the perfect picture of a geeky peace-lover forced to deal unwillingly with the power that has been thrust upon him. The book ends with an incident that identifies the villain for book 3, although the way that villain attains a powerful magical object makes little sense. That object was in the hands of the good guys in Hearts of Shadow, and was misplaced during the climactic showdown scene. It is impossible for me to believe that they just walked away and didn't try to find it after the battle was over.  

     Hearts of Shadow contains the full text of the prequel novella, "Hearts of Fire," which was originally available only in e-book form. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Hearts of Shadow (scroll down a bit to find the excerpt).

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