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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gena Showalter: OTHERWORLD ASSASSINS SERIES

Author:  Gena Showalter
Series:  OTHERWORLD ASSASSINS   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence-4-5; Sensuality-4; Humor-2 
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket
          Last Kiss Goodnight (1/2013 )
          Black and Blue (10/2013)


     I just got around to reading this series, so this post includes reviews of the first two books.

             WORLD-BUILDING             
      In this world, humans live alongside otherworlders who have arrived on Earth from other planets. "Otherworlders…from different planets…had come to earth almost a hundred years ago to enjoy protected, peaceful lives. Sadly, there had been nothing protected or peaceful about their earthly 'welcome.' Worldwide war had broken out, nearly destroying this planet. And even though a truce had been reached eventually allowing otherworlders to live alongside humans, the innumerable races were still an oddity. Some were strange colors, some abnormally shaped. Some had powers beyond imagining." (p. 2)  

     The heroes of the series are part of a secret black-ops team of assassins. Led by Michael Black, the team (as of book 1) includes Solomon (Solo) Judah, Corbin Blue, and John No-Name. (John refused to take the surname of his adoptive parents.) Michael has trained the men since they were boys, and over the years, the three developed a close, brotherly relationship. They are all skilled, stone-cold killers who have been trained to use all kinds of weapons and to take down their targets on command. Near the beginning of book 1, Michael and his team are ambushed during a secret meeting and become separated. Each book tells one man's story as he recovers from his injuries, deals with the new developments in his life, and finds his soul mate.

             BOOK 1:  Last Kiss Goodnight             

     The hero of this book is Solo, a hulking brute of a man whose Allorian parents were murdered when he was a child. Michael Black rescued Solo from the murder scene and found adoptive parents for him. Solo is a large mantaller than both Corbin and John and not at all good looking. Here's what happens when Solo gets mad: "Solo's skin would darken to a frightening shade of crimson….His teeth would elongate into something far worse than fangs. His cheekbones would double in size and his ears would grow and develop sharp points at the ends. Metallic claws would sprout from his nails. By the time the last of the physical changes occurred, no one would be able to calm him. He would rage until becoming too weakened to move, everything in his path already totally and completely obliterated." (p. 13)

     The book's heroine is 20-year-old Vika Lukas, the downtrodden virginal daughter of Jecis, a demonically evil circus owner whose circus is called the Cirque de Monstres. When Vika was 14, her father murdered her beloved menagerie of animals, forcing her to put the killing bullet in the brain of her favorite lion. Since then, Jecis has grown darker and darker. He now buys kidnapped otherworlders and puts them on public display in cages. Each otherworlder wears power-damping cuffs with bone-piercing needles that constantly inject drugs that keep them under total control. Jecis forces Vika to care for the otherworlders, and even though she tries to keep them as safe and comfortable as possible, they hate her because she is their jailer. Vika is deaf as a result of one of her father's beatings that took place several years ago when she set some of the otherworlders free and tried to run away herself. Jecis caught and killed the escapees and beat Vika brutally, promising that if she did anything like that again, he would take away her sight. Since then, Vika has been biding her time, saving her money and hoarding the jewelry Jecis showers on her to assuage his guilt. She plans to buy a new identity and run so far away that Jecis will never find her.

     After the bombing of Michael's office, Solo is drugged, kidnapped, and sold to Jecis. He wakes up in his cage, but as soon as he sees Vika, he knows that she is his soul mate. At this point, the story becomes a beauty and the beast parable (Vika and Solo) with elements of the David and Goliath story (Vika vs. Jecis). In a heavy-handed authorial attempt to guide the reader towards the good-versus-evil theme of the book, Solo has two tiny guardians (or consciences) who pop in and out of his life: X and Dr. E., who offer conflicting advice at every opportunity. At first, only Solo can see or hear them, but as Vika and Solo become closer, Vika sees them as well.

     The book has the usual two plots: the romance and the action. The romance proceeds slowly but surely as Vika and Solo begin to trust and then lust for one another. The action plot revolves around getting Solo and the other otherworlders free. Dallas Gutierrez, a character from Showalter's ALIEN HUNTRESS series makes a very brief appearance at the end of the book.

     What Showalter has created here is a lengthy morality talea parable, really. The problem is that she creates a series of repetitious situations that she uses to reinforceagain and againthe concept that people must do the right thing, that they must fight off evil, even the evil within themselves. "Everyone battles their thoughts at some time or another. Negative thoughts, wrongful thoughts, wicked thoughts. You have to cast them down and refuse to dwell on them." (p. 265) Rather than using subtlety to present and reinforce her theme, Showalter uses a hammer-like haranguesermonizing and moralizing the same message over and over againthat we must fight both inner and external darkness in order to see the light and overcome evil. Solo, Vika, and Jecis are not flesh-and-blood characters. Instead, they are thinly developed, one-dimensional allegorical tropes, and as such, they have no complexity at all. Solo and Vika are completely good-hearted and courageous, while Jecis is totally black-hearted and monstrous, with no redeeming character traits whatsoever. When a simplistic plot like this one is combined with shallow characters, the result is an uninteresting, repetitive story that fails to capture the reader's interest, particularly when the story is told in an over-long 436 pages. 

             BOOK 2:  Black and Blue             
     Welcome back, Gena! When I read book 1 of this series, I feared that the Gena Showalter who wrote the terrific LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD series was gone forever, but…no…she's back in this book with all of her familiar talents: snarky dialogue, fascinating love-hate relationships, and oh-so-passionate love scenes.

     The story opens with the same ambush-bombing scene as the previous book, but this time, we follow Corbin Blue as he escapes from the scene horribly burned and barely alive. At this point, Blue doesn't know who to trust, so he decides to seek refuge with Evangeline (Evie) Black, Michael Black's sharp-tongued, sarcastic daughter. Blue is an extremely handsome Arcadian playboy and a star football player for the team Michael owns. Like Solo, Blue was also rescued in childhood by Michael, placed with an adoptive family, and trained in black ops skills. Over the years, Michael has sent Blue on many assignments that took advantage of his charm and good looks, and Blue now has the reputation of being a sex-addicted man-whore who seduces any woman who attracts him. 

     Evie Black is Michael's biological daughter by a woman he refused to marry. In retaliation, she took Evie to live in England and threatened to disappear with Evie if Michael demanded visitation rights. Evie doesn't know the reason why Michael rarely visited her, and she has some serious daddy issues as a result. When Evie was in her early twenties, she became one of Michael's agents, but when her arrogant methods led indirectly to the death of Claire, her beloved half-sister, she turned her back on that job, got a medical degree, and now is a respected surgeon. Evie and Blue have always had a strong physical attraction for one another accompanied by an equally strong personality clash. As Showalter says in an on-line interview: "It was lust at first sight, followed by hate at first conversation." Evie sees Blue as a womanizing, egotistical tomcat, and Blue views Evie as a foul-mouthed, rage-filled, judgmental harpy. What an entertaining way to begin a romance!

     Once again, there are two story lines: the romance and the action. Unlike the first book, Showalter eases way back on her moralizing. That's a good thing, because this story zips right along, buoyed up by lots of sarcastic verbal needling and simmering sexual tension. The action plot revolves around the recovery of the third man on Michael's team, John No Name, who is still missing after the bombing. Blue and Evie soon discover that the man who set up the bombing and kidnapped John is a local millionaire businessman named Gregory Star. The couple begin their investigation on their own, but then Michael joins them, and eventually Solo and Vika show up to help as well. This is an extremely violent story, with some truly gut-wrenching scenes of torture, but those scenes are all tied closely to the action plot, which moves along so quickly that you read right past the violence before you even realize how gory it is. Several characters from Showalter's ALIEN HUNTRESS series turn up in this book (Dallas Gutierrez, Eden Black, Hector Dean, Noelle Tremain, Kyrin en Arr), but they play minor roles, sometimes even off-stage roles.

     This is a much better book than the previous one. The story moves along at a compelling pace, and both of the fascinating lead characters are talented, courageous warriors who are willing to take some exciting risks. Blue is not one of those smothering alphas who constantly has to rescue his true love from TSTL situations. In fact, Evie rescues him a few times because she's just as fierce and adept as he is. Both Blue and Evie have flaws, and that gives dimension to their characters that was missing from the lead characters in th previous book. I almost didn't continue reading this series after the fiasco of book 1, but now I'm glad that I persevered. I'm guessing that the next book will tell poor John's story as he recovers from his horrific torture experience. And we still have to hear Michael's story as well.

1 comment:

  1. loved the first two books: when are the next books coming out?

    ReplyDelete