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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nina Bangs: CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS SERIES

Author:  Nina Bangs  
Series:  CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS   
Plot Type:  SMR  
Ratings:  V3; S4; H4
Publisher and Titles:  
          Wicked Nights (4/2005)  
          Wicked Pleasure (2/2007)
          Wicked Fantasy (5/2007)
         "Hot Summer Bites" (e-novella, 2/2012; originally in Surf's Up anthology, 5/2009)
          My Wicked Vampire (9/2009)
          "Color Me Wicked" (e-novella, 1/2012; originally in Men at Work anthology)
          Wicked Edge (3/2012)
          Wicked Whispers (10/2012)
          Wicked Memories (6/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 7/25/13 to include reviews of the sixth and seventh books in the series: Wicked Whispers and Wicked Memories. Those reviews appear first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the fifth book.

          BOOK 6:  Wicked Whispers          
     This novel tells the love story of Murmur, the music demon who saved the day in book 5, and Ivy Lowe, Sparkle's new human (or maybe not) assistant. Murmur can use his music to invade the brains of humans and supernaturals, forcing them to dance themselves to death. The music can also do other terminal damage, but Bangs doesn't really make Murmur's personal mythology as clear as it could have been.

     As the story opens, Murmur has agreed to help Bain (another demon) get back his old girlfriend from the Sluagh Sidhe, who captured her centuries ago. Assisting them is Tirron, a Fae who has his own dark agenda. 


     Murmur has been living among humans so long that his demonic traits have begun to fade. His Master realizes this and sends another demon to force Murmur to become a fierce, immoral demon once again. Meanwhile, Murmur begins to have protective (and also lustful) feelings for Ivy, and he is determined to fight his demonic side.

       Ivy comes from a semi-broken family. Her father has always been unable to hold a job because he hears voices and behaves strangely. Ivy has come to Galveston with a determination to stick with this strange new job, proving to her mother that she is a strong person. You'll realize immediately that Ivy's father (or at least his strange personality traits) will play an important part in the plot, and you will be correct. 

     There is one major continuity problem with a supporting character: Asima, the messenger of the goddess Bast. In one scene she has "long, shining white-blond hair" (p. 251), but in a later scene she has "long black hair." (p. 274)


    The real action doesn't start until the end of the book, when Murmur has a showdown with his Master, and the supernatural gang at the Castle have a battle with the Fae. This is one of the weakest books in the series, particularly when it comes to delineation of the hero's powers. This series was much stronger in the early books and now has reached a stage when the love stories have become rather formulaic and repetitive.


          BOOK 7:  Wicked Memories          
     As the story opens, there's a new vampire in town, and he has built a magical amusement park called Nirvana across the road from Sparkle's Live the Fantasy theme park, blocking her view of the sea. That vampire is Thorn Mackenzie, who has a thousand-year-old grudge against Sparkle and is determined to get his revenge by closing her down. Thorn's goal is "to make sure Sparkle's Castle of Dark Dreams became the Castle of Shattered Dreams." (p. 4) In retaliation, Sparkle hires Kayla Stanley to spy on Thorn and perhaps do some minor sabotage on Nirvana. As Sparkle and Thorn strike out against one another, a third party emerges—one who wants both of them gone.
     Each supernatural hero in this series has some type of serious problem, and Thorn is no exception. His primary vampiric talent is persuasion—the ability to convince others (both humans and supernaturals) to do his bidding. That's a great talent to have, but in Thorn's case, it is extremely addictive. For centuries, he used his talent to get what he wanted, but then life became too boring for him and depression followed, to the point that he considered going for the true death. At that point—two hundred years ago—Thorn stopped using his persuasive talent and, like most addictions, that cold-turkey cessation resulted in a long period of severe withdrawal symptoms (which mirror the withdrawal miseries faced by alcoholics and drug addicts). Since then, Thorn has never used persuasion again, but in this book, he is forced to use his talent several times, with predictably awful results.

     The romance plot follows Thorn and Kayla through the development of their not-too-bumpy relationship. The action plot involves the nonhumans' attempts to fight off the dangerous villain who comes from the sea.

     If I'm remembering correctly, this is the only book in the series that has a cliff-hanger ending that leads into the next book. It's a shocking one, too, as Sparkle and Ganymede break up, with catastrophic results for the world at large. Ganymede is "one of the most powerful beings in the universe. He's the cosmic trouble-maker in charge of planet-changing chaos—volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, meteor strikes, the big stuff" (p. 55), so when he's in a bad mood, the entire planet is in jeopardy.

 
          WORLD-BUILDING          

     The Castle of Dark Dreams is part of Live the Fantasy, an adult theme park in Galveston, Texas, where its purpose is to offer willing participants a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take part in sexy role-playing productions. The first three books introduce and tell the love stories of the three immortal hunks who run the Castle: Eric McNair (vampire), Brynn McNair (immortal love slave), and Conall O'Rourke (demon living under a curse). All three handsome rogues play different characters in a series of daily fantasy performances. 

     Live the Fantasy is owned by Sparkle Stardust, a kooky, fashion-obsessed cosmic troublemaker who specializes in creating sexual chaos throughout the universe, and especially in Galveston. Sparkle began her literary life in Bangs' One Bite Stand (book 4 in the MACKENZIE VAMPIRES SERIES), where she ran the Woo Woo Inn and found a wife for Declan Mackenzie. Sparkle's long-time lover, and fellow cosmic troublemaker, is Ganymede, who spends much of his time in the form of a fat, furry, gray cat. 

     Each book focuses on each one man's personal paranormal problem as well as the wooing and winning of his soul mate. Book 4 tells the romantic story of a woman who fantasizes about a vampire lover and finds herself confronted with a real, very sexy, vampire. A few bad guys are thrown into each plot to keep the soul-mate relationships from proceeding too smoothly.   

     Here is a list of the happy couples in each CASTLE book. Click on a title below to read an excerpt:

    >  Wicked Nights: Eric McNair (vampire) & Donna Nolan
    >  Wicked Pleasure: Brynn McNair (immortal love slave) & Kimberly Vaughn (demon hunter)
    >  Wicked Fantasy: Connall O'Rourke & Gerry Kavanagh, hunter of evil supernaturals)
    >  My Wicked Vampire: Dacian (vampire) & Cinn Airmid (magical botanist)
    Wicked Edge: Edge (Cosmic Troublemaker specializing in Death) & Passion McBride (an angel? Or something else?)
    >  Wicked Whispers: Murmur (demon) & Ivy (human + ?)
    >  Wicked Memories: Thorn (Mackenzie vampire) & Kayla Stanley (human)

          BOOK 5:  Wicked Edge          
     One regular character in the series is the pompous Holgarth, a powerful wizard, who manages the Castle for Sparkle. In Wicked Edge, we learn Holgarth's back story.

     As the story opens, Passion McBride is an angel who has been banished temporarily to earth—to the Live the Fantasy theme park, to be exact. Her crime is that she tried to liven up the heavenly halls, which got her into trouble with her boss, Ted the archangel, who is a humorless stick-in-the-mud kind of guy. Here, Passion explains why she chose the name Passion: "I have a streak of defiance that's gotten me in trouble a few times. Anyway, sensuality is frowned on....So when I chose a name, I picked one that was ambiguous enough that they couldn't deny my request...But whenever anyone says my name, they think of the sexual meaning. Archangel Ted hates it." Ted has ordered Passion to find some humans at the theme park to turn toward the good. When Passion meets Edge (aka Death, and also a cosmic troublemaker), she sees by his black aura that he is irredeemably bad and beyond salvation, but that doesn't stop her from being incredibly attracted to him. As it turns out, the attraction is mutual. When Passion meets Ganymede in his talking cat form, she panics and calls for assistance from her Heavenly boss. Help arrives in the form of Hope, an obedient angel who takes to earthly life quickly. (She's especially fond of Facebook and shopping malls.)        

     In the meantime, two of the three troublemakers at the Castle (Ganymede, and Edge) are having some strange episodes where a powerful voice inside their heads is forcing them to lose control of their powers and create their special kinds of chaos, ranging from earthquakes to violent physical attacks on each other. When the mysterious voice causes Edge to go mindlessly berserk, Hope manages to calm him down temporarily with her voice, and when Passion touches him, he calms down completely. As the story moves along, Passion, Edge, Ganymede, and Sparkle try to figure out which guest is causing their problems, and they narrow their suspect list down to three male hotel guests: a sorcerer, a demon, and an immortal with unknown powers. Eventually, the troublemakers' head honcho—called the Big Boss—shows up to see what's going on and stays to lend a hand. By the end of the story, Passion and Hope learn some devastating truths about their idyllic angel life. The requisite final showdown between the good guys and the villainous forces has all of the usual hold-your-breath moments.       

     As usual, this story is full of snarky, sarcastic, humorous dialogue among all the characters and lusty love scenes (mostly between Edge and Passion as she definitely lives up to her name). Bangs knows exactly how to write a light, humorous romance with sympathetic heroes and heroines and compelling, if outlandish, plots. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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