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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Erica Hayes: SEVEN SIGNS SERIES

Author:  Erica Hayes 
Series:  SEVEN SIGNS  
Plot Type:  Apocalyptic Horror with Romance
Ratings:  Violence--5; Sensuality--4; Humor--1
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation
          Revelation (10/2012)
          Redemption (3/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 4/23/13 to include the second book in the series, Redemption. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

          BOOK 2:  Redemption         
     The romantic (if you can call it that) couple in the second book are Japheth of the Tainted and Rose Harley, a relatively new vampire who was tricked and bitten by Fluvium, the demon Prince of Thirst and the creator and master of the Babylon vampires. Ever since Rose was bitten, she has been trying to appease Fluvium so that he won't kill her and send her to Hell. To Fluvium's great delight, she has been killing angels—so many that her nickname is now Angel Slayer—and Japh is planning to hunt her down and take her out. When Japh attempts to kill Rose during their hostile first meeting, his lustful attraction to her distracts him so much that he lets her go. Rose is equally attracted (physically) to Japh, but that doesn't stop her from deciding to capture him and turn him to the dark side.

     Japh is one of the Tainted because Michael tossed him out of Heaven for reasons that Japh has never understood. Japh was Michael's greatest soldier, but he was humble about his successes in battle, never trying to outshine Michael. In Heaven, Japh was the "Golden Boy," always doing his duty and succeeding in everything he attempted (including becoming a talented classical pianist, if you can believe that). He has always been noted for his complete honesty and noble character, even during his centuries with the Tainted. Throughout the past 1,400 years, all Japh has ever wanted is redemption and a return to Heaven. Japh believes that Michael looked into his soul and saw how he repressed his darkest emotions, but he learns in this book that Michael had entirely different reasons for causing Japh's fall from grace.


     Rose was an up-and-coming Broadway dancer when she went out for a booze-filled night on the town and was seduced by Fluvium, who turned her into a demon vampire. In a moment of uncontrollable blood lust on her first night as a vampire, Rose killed a little girl she was caring for, and she has been carrying the grief and pain of that act ever since. At that time, she begged God for help, but He never answered her pleas, and she now hates everything connected with Heaven—especially angels, even Tainted ones.


     The main plot follows the erratic (and erotic) romantic and action-filled adventures of Japh and Rose as they come to a shaky and unreliable truce and work together (mostly) to take down some of the bad guys, including Fluvium. The book is filled with pages and pages of Japh and Rose's anguished, angst-filled dialogues and interior monologues, bemoaning their fate and lamenting that their relationship can never develop into anything positive.


     The book includes several sub-plots that add to our knowledge of the characters, particularly the villainous archangel, Michael, and Jadzia's demon boyfriend, Shaz. It turns out that Michael is even more evil than he seemed to be in the previous book, as he continues to plot against his brother, Gabriel, and betrays both the Tainted and the angels of the Heavenly Host. 


     The over-arching series story arc involves the demon King, Azaroth (second in command to Satan), and his dastardly plans for world domination. Those plans will lead to the ultimate Apocalypse as soon as all of the seven vials are emptied. We get a bit of a shocker at the end of the book about Azaroth's earthly identity (but please don't read ahead and spoil the story for yourself).

     This book is just as dark, bloody, and violent as the first one was, and few the characters (good and bad) demonstrate any admirable character traits. The bad guys are totally one dimensional—malignant to the core. The good guys are all arrogant, womanizing, hard-drinking boors, but I'm sure that each one will turn out to have a heart of gold when it comes time to star in his own book (with the possible exception of Michael). 
Click HERE to read the first chapter of Redemption.

          WORLD-BUILDING         
     Set in a mildly futuristic New York City (now called Babylon), which is hovering on the edge of the apocalypse, this is a dark and violent series based on the biblical prophecies that describe the emptying of the seven golden bowls—or vials—of the wrath of God, which portends the End of Days. Babylon is a wretched and perverted place where the underclass is made up of mutants ("muties") whose bodies and brains have degraded gruesomely in reaction to drugs, pollution, and demonic forces. Here's a description of the city: "Garbage littered the darkened street from an overturned trash can, a single streetlight flickering above rotting paper, cans, crushed takeout tubs, a scuffle of glint-eyed rats. An abandoned car lay in the road, burned black, panels and wheels missing. The crumbling apartment blocks cast misshapen shadows over rusted playgrounds and empty basketball courts." (p. 136)

Here is the biblical text that drives the series mythology: Revelation (16:1-21):


     1Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” 

     2 So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. 
     3 The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. 
     4 The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood.
      8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 
    10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. 
    12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 
   13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 
    17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying. “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell…

     Each book follows a dual plot line: (1) the circumstances and consequences of the demonic possession of one or more of the vials, and (2) the love story of one of the seven Fallen angels—the Tainted Ones, who are the heroes of these books. The Tainted
 have been tasked with keeping the seven vials safe from the seven demon princes and their minions, who want the vials for their own nefarious purposes. Each vial is in the safekeeping of one of the Guardian Angels, who are called Vial Guardians. According to the Book of Revelation, if the vials are spilled by Heavenly forces, God's righteous wrath will cleanse the world, but if the demons spill the vials, that wrath will be darkly twisted and will bring on a demonic apocalypse that will destroy the world.

     The Tainted were once angels, but each one committed a grievous sin and lost his or her soul. They still work on the side of Heaven as warriors because they live in hope for a chance at redemption. Click HERE to go to a page on the  author's web site with biographies of the Tainted. Here are the seven Tainted Ones—five males and two females:  

     > Dashiel ("Dash"), leader of the Tainted
     > Luniel ("Lune" (book 1soul mateDr. Morgan Sterling, human)
     > Japheth ("Japh") (book 2) soul mate—Rose Harling, vampire)
     > Jadzia ("Jaz") (female) (soul mateShax, demon)
     > Trillium
     > Iria (female)
     > Ariel  

     This series is unrelentingly dark, dark, dark—from beginning to end, with never-ending, scenes of explicitly graphic violence of the most degrading and dehumanizing kinds. The male Tainted Ones are mostly angry, womanizing louts, awash in bloodthirstiness and spouting endless profanity. And the Archangel Michael, who is God's overseer of the Tainted, is even worse. He deals and uses drugs, tortures with little or no thought, consorts sexually with demons, sexually abuses both men and women, betrays his fellow angels (and the Tainted), and is totally corrupt. This is the angel who has complete control over the Tainted, so we can foresee from the beginning that with Michael in charge, none of the Tainted has much of a chance to retrieve his or her soul.

          BOOK 1:  Revelation         
     As book 1 begins, Babylon has recently been overrun by by the "Manhattan virus," or "zombie plague," which causes its victims to become rotting, mindless, zombie-like creatures. In the opening scene, another crisis strikes the city when the New York Harbor (aka Babylon Bay) around the Statue of Liberty fills up with blood. As Luniel surveys the horrific scene, he realizes that the outbreak of the zombie plague and the appearance of the bloody waters signify that the first two vials of God's wrath have been spilled, but by demons, not by God. In desperation, Lune calls in Dash and tries to reach his twin brother, the Guardian angel Ithiel, who has been missing for a week.

     In the meantime, a human woman, Dr. Morgan Sterling, is working in her laboratory to try to find the cause of the virus. Morgan is a city pathologist, and she has been taking tissue samples from dead plague victims and mapping out the locations of their deaths so that she can trace the plague back to Patient Zero.

     Lune and Morgan meet for the first time when Lune traces his missing brother's body to Morgan's morgue, where she has just unzipped his body bag and discovered his wings. Ithiel was the Vial Guardian for the second vialand he has been killed by a demon prince's sword through the heart. When Lune flashes into Morgan's autopsy room, the first thing she does is shoot him, because she is a pragmatic city-dwelling woman with excellent self-defense reactions. Moments later, though, she sees Lune's bullet wounds heal and watches him raise sigils on his brother's body and then turn it to ash. Morgan believes in science, not in magic or religion, so she's sure that there is a logical explanation for all this, but before she can ask any questions, a gang of demons bursts through the ceiling to attack them. Lune has to fly her away to the safety of his apartment.

     The romance plot follows the very, very bumpy road to HEA for this difficult couple. Morgan despises everything about God and religion because her mother killed herself while under the mental control of a religious cult leader. She refuses to have faith of any kindpersonal or religious. Lune just keeps trying to cope with his life as a Tainted One, knowing that when he dies, he will just fade into oblivionno heaven or helljust oblivion. After awhile, as Lune proves over and over that he will do his best to protect Morgan, her unceasing stubborn attitude becomes extremely annoying and impossible to understand. Even after Lune gives up his life and then his hope of redemption for her, Morgan just keeps on screaming at him, accusing him of wrongdoing, and refusing to have any faith in him at all. Let's just say that Morgan is definitely NOT a sympathetic heroine, nor is she a smart heroine. Her TSTL moments are numerous indeed, getting Lune gravely injured and getting herself turned into a zombie at one point. Even though she is enraged at Lune much of the time, she's still hot for him (and vice versa), so for every scene of screeching anger, there's one of screaming lust.

     The demonic action plot follows the Tainted Ones as they track down the two demon princes responsible for spilling the first two vials. There is an illogical plot twist that makes Lune leave his fighting team behind and go off alone with Morgan. It is a blatant authorial plot manipulation, used to stretch out the story.

     I cannot over-emphasize the dismal darkness and joyless licentiousness that fill this book to the brim. To give you a sense of the books' tone, here are some descriptive examples, the like of which are repeated over and over again throughout the book:

     Here's the scene at one of Michael the Archangel's parties: "A few naked human girls and guys swam and splashed and...more lolled and dozed and smoked crack pipes....On the other side, a bunch of them were having lazy sex, kissing and thrusting and moaning. Dash could see at least two dildos,...and stuff he didn't even know the names for going on." (p. 24) (Much of the other "stuff" going on at this party verges too close to pornography to print here.)

     Here's Morgan during a typical zombie fightone of many: "Blood gushed, lumpy with clotting flesh. The stink made her gag. The zombie made a sick sound, halfway between a gurgle and a shriek. Red spit erupted form his grin, and he slammed into her, knocking her off balance, clawing with sticky thumbs for her eyeballs." (p. 139)

     Here's Zuul the loathsome demon as he goes on one of his numerous, disgusting rants as he watches Morgan fall from a great height: "To taste her anguish as she plummeted to her doom, the sick agony of her bowels releasing, the stabbing pain in her heart as it exploded, the lovely wet crunch of living meat slamming into earth...He'd nearly...fallen with her, just so he could be there." (p. 175) 

     Here's Lune as he flashes into the middle of a typical demon battle. Graphically gruesome scenes of this type are repeated over and over again: "The stink of dead flesh punched his guts and his feet slipped. He caught himself, hands sliding in muck. Blood. The floor was covered in blood. His oversensitive ears grated, screams, rending flesh, humans howling like ghouls in pain. His guts heaved...A screeching hellsnipe thrust sharp talons into his face. He tore it apart on pure instinct. Bones cracked...A vast basement, tainted with smoke, blood dripping down the firelit walls, In the center, a huge steel vat, crimson gore spilling over the sides. Corpses piled around it, throats slashed, their skin pale and drained. The air hung foul with screams and acid fear, the bitter stink of cursed souls that glowed sick scarlet in his angelsight...And everywhere, creatures of hell swarmed and feasted, hungry eyes, sharp claws, tongues drooling blood. In the corner, a rotting starvewraith tore at a child, crimson straining his beak. There, a gang of rubber-skinned bonecrushers raped a screaming girl, two holding her down while another had his way with her, munching on her throat at the same time." (pp. 275-276)

     If you like your urban romance with a big dose of mindless violence, disturbing depravity, repulsive degradation, and utter hopelessness, this is the series for you. Frankly, when I finished the book, I wanted to cuddle a kitten, or look for a rainbow, or watch an old DVD of The Sound of Music—anything to expunge those scenes from my memory. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Revelation.

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