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Monday, December 3, 2012

Karen Marie Moning: THE DANI O'MALLEY TRILOGY

Author:  Karen Marie Moning   
Series:  THE DANI O'MALLEY TRILOGY 
Plot:  Urban Fantasy (UF)   
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor3
Publisher and Titles:  Delacorte Press
          Iced (11/2012)(FEVER SERIES, Bk. 6)
          Burned (1/2015)(FEVER SERIES, Bk. 7)
          Played (TBA)(FEVER SERIES, Bk. 8) 

This post was revised and updated on 3/11/15 to include a review of Burned, the second novel in the DANI O'MALLEY TRILOGY (which is also the 7th FEVER SERIES novel). That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of Iced.

          NOVEL 2:  Burned          
     While the previous novel was voiced primarily by Dani O'Malley, this one is told from many perspectives, including Mac, Kat, Lor, Christian, and a new character or two. Although Dani's first-person adolescent voice is included only at the beginning of the book, she is definitely one of the most important characters, along with MacKayla (Mac) Lane, Dani's former friend and current nemesisor so Dani believes. In the first chapter, Mac finally catches up with Dani, hoping to patch up their former friendship. Unfortunately, Dani believes that Mac is out to kill her in retribution for Dani's role in the death of Mac's beloved sister. During the chase, Dani leaps through a portal and then through another portal, believing that she will be going to a particular realm buttoo latediscovering that she has landed in another. That's the last we hear of 14-year-old Dani for awhile, but her presence is felt throughout the book, and when she reappears, we see an entirely new side of her personality.

     The novel begins with a scene that took place all the way back in book one of the FEVER series: a sexually charged meeting between Mac and Jericho Barrens that he forced her to forget. Events in this book cause her to remember it, and that memory causes some friction in their relationship (to put it mildly). Following that scene is a Prologue that tells the sad story of the Unseelie King and his soul mate, who have just been reunited after a centuries-long separation caused by the evil Prince Cruce. 

     The chapters are told from alternating perspectives, mostly Mac's, as Dublin begins to recover from the destruction wrought by the Fae during the Wall Crash. All over the world, cities have fallen, millions of humans have died, and survivors are living a hand-to-mouth existence. The world is now overrun with the seductive, insatiable Fae, who think of humans as prey. The book has several story lines, each featuring a different main character:

    > Mac is being followed by a horde of smelly ghouls, who crowd up against her and won't leave her alone. She doesn't know where they came from or why they won't go away. The only time she is free of them is in the bookstore, which is protected by Jericho Barrens' powerful wards. Mac is also dealing with the fact that she is now the carrier of the Sinsar Dubh, the book of dark magic that was the focus of the original FEVER novels. She has kept this a secret from everyone but Barrens, because she knows that if anyone finds out she will probably be entombed alongside Cruce in the bowels of the sidhe-seers abbey. Early in the book, Mac finds out the hard way that when she uses her magical spear against an enemy, the Sinsar Dubh takes over, turning her into an indiscriminate killer who learns what she has done and who she has killed only when she wakes up from a black-out and finds body parts strewn around her. Mac is desperate to find the elusive Unseelie King so that she can convince him to remove the book.

     >  Jericho Barrens is trying to pull together a group of leaders from opposing factionsSeelie, Unseelie, human, and the Nineto prevent outright war among the groups and to keep Dublin under control. That group includes two of the Unseelie princes who gang-raped Mac in an earlier FEVER novel, so you can imagine how tense those meetings are.

    > Christian MacKeltar, the unlucky young Highlander who ate Unseelie flesh and is turning into an Unseelie Prince, has been captured by the Crimson Hag, who has him chained to a mountainside and is periodically flaying him and pulling out his guts (which she uses as yarn to knit herself a dress). Mac and the MacKeltar clan members are trying to figure out where he is and how to rescue him before he goes completely insane.

    > Ryodan, the world's biggest control freak, is still keeping his eye on everyone and his fingers in everyone's business, but late in the story, Mac gets a chance to spy on him and learn some of his secrets. Ryodan is also worried about an expanding number of "cosmic deficits" that are manifesting in the areas that were frozen by the Hoar Frost King (in the previous book). These deformations are growing in size and number and are functioning like black holes, absorbing everything they come in contact with.

     > Lor's life hits some major bumps when he has a run-in with an Unseelie Princess and then with Ryodan. Ryodan has been sleeping with Jo for the past few months, but before he can break it off with her and move on to another woman, she breaks it off with him and turns to Lor for sexual gratification. Lor's best lines come when he explains to Jo the hierarchy he uses to select the women he beds for his frequent one-nighters (p.  292). His method is based on the premise that the color of a woman's hair (blond, not brunette) is extremely important to a man who wants to fulfill his sexual needs without romantic entanglements. Lor's monologue is totally sexist and crude, but humorous in its own way. He has obviously spent a great deal of time refining his sexual philosophy. 

     > Katarina (Kat), the new grand mistress of the sidhe-seers, is dealing with a number of problems that are connected with Cruce. When she goes to Ryodan for help, he takes matters into his own hands in that uber-alpha way that he does everything. Kat is also dealing with the fact that Sean, her soul mate, has turned to the dark side by taking over the Black Market in Dublin.

     > The Unseelie Kingthe one who forced the Sinsar Dubh on Machas found his long-lost Queen, but is shocked when she doesn't remember him. In exchange for a kiss, the Queen forces the King to strike a bargain that will have ramifications for Dublin's human world.

     > Several new characters are introducedincluding some new sidhe-seersbut I don't want to give any spoilers by telling you much about them. Suffice it to say that they change the course of the action by their mere presence

    This is another fast-paced, action-filled novel filled with well-developed characters, creative story turns, and a surprising ending that sets the stage for the next novel. We learn a great deal about Dani's background and her early relationship with Ryodan. In particular, we get an explanation for the way Ryodan treated Dani back in the earlier novels. He had his reasons for doing what he did, and we finally find out what those reasons were. Many reviewers, myself included, criticized Iced because of the way Dani's character was sexualized—after all, she is only 14 years old. In Burned, Moning "matures" Dani in a very unexpected manner. Although I had a little trouble accepting how Moning handled this, I soon found myself so engrossed in the story telling that it all began to seem possible—even probable. Plus, the series story arc couldn't have continued with Dani as an adolescent all alone on the wild and violent magical streets of Dublin. 

Several of the characters, including Mac and Christian, have crises of faith in this novel, and each is forced to accept the tragedies and pain of the past and  the present and make a conscious decision to survive and move on, no matter how uncertain the future may be. 

     Towards the end of the book, Mac muses, "I'm no longer certain what worries me more: the danger beneath Chester's, the one beneath the abbey, or the one inside me." She's talking about the black holes (one is beneath Chester's), the dark effect that Cruse's imprisonment beneath the abbey is having on its inhabitants, and the sly and dangerous Sinsar Dubh, which constantly taunts Mac and tries to goad her into using its dark magic. These three elements will no doubt be dealt with in the next book. 

     If you haven't read the earlier books in the FEVER series, you won't understand half of what's going on in Burned. If you're a regular series reader, you'll want to read this one because it moves the story line along some all-new pathways. FYI: This book has many graphic sex scenes; everybody seems to be doing it and having a great time. I'd rate it a 4 in sensuality. 

     Let's hope that the gap between Burned and Played is much shorter than the one between Iced and Burned. Whenever the next book arrives, I'm looking forward to the resolution of some old story lines and the development of new ones. As Ryodan says to Mac, "Welcome to war games…where the terrain never stops changing and he who adapts fastest wins." Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Burned on the book's Amazon.com page. Just click on the artwork or the "Listen" icon.

          WORLD-BUILDING          
     This series is a subset of of Moning's FEVER SERIES. It is set in the year 1AWC (After the Wall Crash)the first year after the Wall between Faerie and mortal earth came down. The Fae, in all their vicious glory, are swarming into Dublin, and Dani (Mega) O'Malley sees herself as the superhero who will save the humans of her city in a Batman kind of way. Here's Dani's analysis of the situation: "Imagine a world that doesn't know its own rules. No cell phones. No Internet. No stock market. No money. No legal system. A third of the world's population wiped out in a single night and the count rising by millions every day. The human race is an endangered species...All of the Fae are free: the deadly Dark Court and the imperious Light Court, who are every bit as deadly, just prettier....We're being hunted by voracious monsters that are nearly impossible to kill. Their favorite food? People....The Fae have no king, no queen, no one in charge. Two psychotic, immortal Unseelie princes battle for dominion over both races. Humans have no government...It's complete chaos." (Iced, p. 5) I recommend that you read the FEVER books before beginning this series because that mythology is the foundation of this new series, and it is very complex. (Click HERE to read the post that contains my reviews of the first five books of the FEVER SERIES. That post includes a more extensive overview of the world-building.)

     Now ordinarily, this would be a fine, exciting premise, but in this case, Dani is 14 years old, a fact that we are reminded of constantly throughout the book. Picture Dani as behaving like a typical middle-school-age child, with all of the slang use, pop cultural references, raging hormones, and sexual naiveté that implies. Now add in a bunch of adult (sometimes immortal), powerful men who view her in a sexual manner, and the situation gets a bit icky. The book is full of double entendre scenes in which either Dani (unknowingly) or the men (slyly) make verbal references that mean something innocent to Dani and something sexual to the males, and these scenes can be uncomfortable for the reader. Click HERE to read Moning's discussion of the DANI O'MALLEY TRILOGY, in which she says that it "straddles the line between YA and adult uneasily." 

     To review, here's some background on Dani, who was a character in the FEVER SERIES: Dani calls herself "human" but appears to be more than that. She has the ability to move very quickly from place to place by "freeze-framing." Here is Dani's description of that process: "I start at point A, lock down a mental snapshot of everything around me, hit the gas, and in a blink I'm at point B. It's only got a couple of downsides. One, I'm constantly bruised from running into things at top speed because some of the things I lock down on my mental grid aren't stationary, like people and animals and Fae. Two, freeze-framing requires a ton of food for fuel....You know those movies where folks wear rounds of ammo on their body? I wear protein bars and Snickers." (Iced, p. 15) Dani is extremely smart, able to pull together clues and analyze situations with great accuracy, and this is one of the reasons Ryodan needs her. Dani loves Dublin and she loves her life: "I love moving the way I do. I can't imagine life any other way. Whenever something is bugging me, all I need to do is zoom around the city, spy on all the slo-mo Joes trudging through, and I instantly feel a million times better. I've got the coolest gig in the world. I'm a superhero." (Iced, p. 13)

     When Dani was a small child, her mother always kept her in a cage to prevent her from freeze-framing away, and this is where Dani got her intense fear of being locked up. To keep Dani occupied during her cage time, Mom kept the TV on and gave Dani a remote, and this is the key to the frequent references Dani makes to old TV shows and movies (which she watched over and over again on cable). When Dani's mother died, Rowena (the former head of the sidhe-seers), moved her into the abbey, where she was controlled just as severely as she had been at home. Rowena used Dani almost like a tool to commit horrendous crimes against the people she wanted to punish, and one of those unfortunate victims was MacKayla (Mac) Lane's sister, Alina. (Mac is the heroine of the FEVER SERIES.) Rowena believed that Dani has "a neurological condition synesthesia..., with all kinds of cross regions of my brain talking to each other....She said my Id and Ego are best buds, they don't just live on the same floor, they share a bed." (p. 95)

     The situation between Dani and Mac is still hostile. Dani stays out of Mac's way because she is sure that Mac plans to kill her because recently (in Shadowfever), Mac discovered that Dani killed Alinathe event that was the reason Mac came to Dublin in the first place, way back in book 1 of FEVER (Darkfever). Both Mac and her lover, Jericho Barrens, are seen only on the far sidelines of Iced, but that will change in book 2.

          NOVEL 1:  Iced          
    The FEVER SERIES ended with the cataclysmic fall of the Wall on Halloween, and Iced begins in May of the following year. Dani has been approached by Ryodan (one of Barrens' best friends and an important character in the FEVER novels) to do a job for him, but she has refused. Dani hates the fact that Ryodan owns Chester's, a sex club where humans come to be preyed on by the Fae, and she does her best to kill as many Fae as she can near the club. It's obvious to everyone but Dani that Ryodan has plans for Dani and that those plans don't involve getting her permission or consent. Ryodan, who was cruel but self-controlled in the FEVER books, now comes across as a vicious and arrogant sociopath. He (and others) treat Dani like chattel to be possessed, punished, and locked away until needed. In addition, Ryodan loses control to the point that he hits Dani and abuses her physically in several scenes, once even chaining her up in an underground dungeonone of Dani's scariest nightmares come true.

     Another of the supernatural men obsessed with Dani also comes from FEVER, and that is Christian MacKeltar, the Highlander who was accidentally turned into an Unseelie Prince by Mac and Barrens. Christian goes through his final stages of transition in Iced, and he is determined that Dani is his, and his alone. Poor Christian. He was a nice enough guy in FEVER, but now the Unseelie death-through-sex mojo has changed him into a succubus-like creature who is consumed by his sexual needs all the while he is trying to keep Dani safe from Ryodan and the other Unseelie Princes.

     The actual story line of Iced focuses on Dani's search for the reason that various buildings and groups of people are being iced over by an unknown perpetrator. People caught in the ice soon die because each frozen tableau eventually explodes. Ryodan wants Dani to figure out who is doing the freezing and why. Here's a description of the first frigid scene that Dani visits: "Each person and Fae in the room is frozen solid, silent, white, iced figurines. Twin plumes of diamond-ice crystals extend from many of their nostrils; exhales frozen....These folks look like they somehow got frozen right where they stood." (p. 42) As the story advances, Dani and Ryodan visit one frosty crime scene after another as they search for clues and dodge the icy explosions.

     Dani's situation gets worse when the police chief, Captain Jayne, steals her Sword of Light, which is one of only two weapons that can kill a Fae. The sword has always been Dani's protection from all of the supernatural evils of Dublin, and without it she is at the mercy of just about everyone. "Without my sword the princes can take me hostage, turn me into one of their mindless sex-crazed slaves and use me as a weapon." (p. 248) Dani's swordlessness results in an appalling scene in which a Fae prince unleashes his sex glamour on Dani, and she rips her clothes off in a frenzy of lustvery disturbing, remember, she's only 14.

     There is one more man in Dani's life, and this one is (maybe) a human: Dancer, her long-time BFF. Dancer is a physicist and a genius, and he and Dani hang out together discussing Dublin's Fae situation, watching old movies, and eating junk food that they scrounge from closed-down convenience stores. Their relationship is close but platonic, although it appears to be on the edge of transitioning into something deeper. Needless to say, neither Ryodan nor Christian is a big fan of Dancer.

     Dani tells the story very effectively in the first-person voice. That voice is sometimes annoying, but, after all, she is an adolescent so being annoying is a given. Two other characters occasionally interrupt Dani to voice their own descriptions of events: Christian, the soon-to-be Unseelie Prince, and Kat, the new Grand Mistress of the sidhe-seers, who is being visited in her dreams by the imprisoned Cruce, another of the Unseelie Princes. Cruce's identity and imprisonment played an important part in the final scenes of Shadowfever. He wants out of his dungeon cell, and he uses all of his magical powers in his attempts. Christian's story is interesting as he tries desperately to hold on to his human characteristics as he unwillingly slides into his new Unseelie identity, but Kat's clash with Cruce and especially her relationship with her human lover, Sean, don't add much to the plot of this book.

     This book pulled me straight into the action and kept me reading in a can't-put-it-down mode until the unpredictable and very exciting finale. Although the age of the heroine is a minus, I still recommend the book highly for its well-developed characters, compelling action, and plot inventiveness. Moning is a masterful writer who maintains beautifully effective control over her story lines, and this book is no exception. The reader should be sure to pay attention to every detailparticularly the quotations from the Book of Rain that appear on the first page of each of the three sections in which the book is dividedbecause every one of them has meaning and provides clues. 

     Click HERE to read the first chapter of Iced. You can scroll down to read the excerpt on your screen, or you can click the "Download or Print" button for a pdf copy. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Iced on the book's Amazon.com page. Just click on the artwork or the "Listen" icon.

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