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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Katie MacAlister: TIME THIEF SERIES



Author:  Katie MacAlister
Series:  TIME THIEF   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)    
Ratings:  Violence-3; Sensuality-4; Humor-3-4 
Publisher and Titles:  Signet
          Time Thief (5/2013)
          "Time Crossed" (novella, 8/2013)
          The Art of Stealing Time (9/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 10/25/13 to include reviews of the novella "Time Crossed" and the second novel, The Art of Stealing Time. Those reviews appear first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.  

             NOVELLA: "Time Crossed"             
     This story was first published in August 2013 as an e-novella, but now it has also been included at the beginning of the paperback version of The Art of Stealing Time

     All you need to know about this novella is that it tells the story of the first meeting between Gregory Faa, who has joined his cousin Peter as a member of the Watch, and Gwenhwyfar (Gwen) Byron Owens, an alchemist who has two  screwball mommies—both wiccans who are always getting themselves (and Gwen) into trouble with the authorities as well as with their "clients." 


     Click HERE to read an excerpt. This link will take you to the amazon.com page for "Time Crossed" where you can click on the book cover to read a few pages of the story.  


             BOOK 2: The Art of Stealing Time             
     This novel defies plot summation. It begins as Gwen is once more trying to keep her moms from being arrested by the Watch. In the process, Gwen is murdered and then resurrected when Gregory steals some time. You might think that after this incident Gwen's life will become a bit more calmbut no, that is definitely not the case. Almost immediately, the moms kidnap an elderly woman from a nursing home, and Gwen has to help them escape from both the mortal police and the Watch enforcers (that would be Gregory and Peter). When Gwen, her moms, and old Mrs. Vanilla escape through a portal into Anwyn (the Welsh underworld), things get even crazier.

     The plot—if you can call it that—follows Gwen and Gregory around Anwyn as they fight on both sides of a civil war, try to keep Gwen from being captured by her original mortal enemy (the one who killed her back at the beginning of the story), and avoid getting caught by a representative of Death who wants Gwen's soul. The story line consists of a string of repetitive adventures, each a slightly different version of hide, be captured, escape, and get captured again...and again...and again.


     The frenetic action never stops (or even slows down), and the dialogue overflows with lame wisecracks and unrelenting attempts at humor that just don't manage to be funny. The heroine is a total airhead; the wacky moms are clueless sit-com stereotypes; the one-dimensional supporting characters are either silly nitwits or evil wenches; and the plot is a nonsensical mishmash. It you're searching for fiction that is feather-light, completely implausible, and overwrought to the utmost degree, then this book will fit your needs. The novels in MacAlister's earlier DRAGONS series were much funnier and had better plots, so I recommend that you go back and read them if you want some laugh-out-loud chuckles. Her DARK ONES series has an even more effective mix of humor and action. After reading all of the books in both those series, I have to say that this latest series just doesn't make the cut.


     One editing error: On page 23, Gwen lands briefly in Anwyn where she describes some wildlife: "Bunnies pattered to and fro on lupine business." I believe that the author meant to say "lapine," since "lupine" is the Latin word for wolf, while "lapine" is the French word for rabbit and can also be used to describe rabbit society. "Lapine" is also the language of the rabbits in Richard Adams' classic fantasy novel, Watership Down


     Click HERE to read an excerpt. This link will take you to the amazon.com page for The Art of Stealing Time where you can click on the book cover to read most of the first chapter.


             WORLD-BUILDING             
     The titular "time thieves" are Travellers, and according to MacAlister's addendum to the first book, "The Travellers are a mortal race that possesses immortal abilities." (p. 334) Travellers are frequently confused with Gypsies or Romani, but those two groups are completely human, while the Travellers are Otherworlders who can steal time from other people, both humans and supernaturals. The Travellers are a nomadic people who travel in familial groups, shunning the public eye as much as possible to avoid human knowledge of their abilities. For centuries, they have suffered persecution, both by humans and by other supernaturals in the Otherworld.

     The Otherworld is policed by the L'au-dela Watch, who are always suspicious of the Travellers because their group has the highest percentage of theft than any other supernatural group.


     MacAlister explains the Travellers' time thief talents as follows: "The Travellers claim that their ability to extract amounts of time from willing or unwilling targets is not so much a theft as it is a manipulation, a re-channeling of existing time from one individual to another, conducted on a subatomic level. Although most victims of such manipulations refer to the phenomenon as having 'lost time,' in fact the time is not lost; it is simply gained by the Traveller, who may then use it in any number of ways," (p. 337) including adding it to his or her own life, thus attaining near immortality. 


     This is definitely a soul mate series. When two Travellers are destined for one another, they experience porrav, which (according to the glossary) is a Traveller word that "literally means 'to open up' or 'blossom.' In Traveller culture, it refers to the joining of a man and woman, and their shared abilities mingling to form something greater than the parts." (p. 341)


     Along with her explanation of the cultural history of the Travellers, MacAlister includes a glossary of Traveller terms that are used by her characters.


     Click on the following pink-link series titles to read my reviews of MacAlister's other paranormal romance series: the DRAGONS SERIES and the DARK ONES SERIES.


          BOOK 1:  Time Thief          

     This is one of those problematic paranormal romances in which the hero and heroine pledge life-long devotion to one another within 48 hours of meeting one another for the first time. The book also features one of MacAlister's patented heroines, who ramble incoherently most of the time and are overcome with lust for random handsome men. The heroine in this book is Kiya Mortenson, a 30-something woman who is stumbling from job to job with no apparent plan for her life. When her 45-year-old Volkswagon Bug (which, of course, has a nameEloise) breaks down on a highway in Oregon logging country, she gets a lift from a handsome man named Gregory Faa, who mentions that his grandmother needs a dog sitter. (Note: Don't be fooled; Gregory is not the heronot of this book anyway.)

     When Kiya arrives at the Faa family's RV camp, she is met with hostility from everyone except Grandma Lenore and her five pugs. When Kiya takes the dogs on a walk to the lake, she meets up with Peter Faa, who is a member of the Watch as well as being Lenore's banished grandson. The lust between Kiya and Peter begins with their first meeting and builds quickly.


     Peter is investigating a series of murders, and he is certain that one of the Faa clan is the killer (whose identity is telegraphed from the beginning). The plot follows Peter and Kiya as they investigate the murders and fall in love along the way. I need to mention that both Kiya's and Peter's parentage are key plot points, particularly since Kiya is an orphan. 


     The real action doesn't get going until the final quarter of the book. Up to that point, most of the story consists of nonsensical dialogue and inane interior monologues featuring Kiya, who is the type of person who constantly uses silly phrases like these: "Holy hand grenades" and "For the love of little green turtles," and "Not on your tintype," and, especially, "Holy jebus." She also spends a great deal of time in silent, mental conversation with her id, ego, and superego, which is supposed to be humorous, but isn't. Kiya's conversations with Peter are unbelievably asinine. In one of their early scenes together, Kiya remarks to Peter, "You have really nice thighs. I like the bulgy muscle parts of them" and "That  [referring to his penis] looks painful," to which Peter replies, "I don't mind if you say the word penis. I would happily reciprocate with a mention of your vagina, if it would put you at ease." (p. 176) Mostly she refers to his primary manly part as "beefy," which doesn't make for a very sexy image. This is definitely not typical first-date small talk. Kiya's relationship with Peter moves along way too quickly, particularly given the fact that they don't spend all that much time together until the final chapters of the book.   


     Based on this book, this looks to be a typical MacAlister paranormal romance series with forced, over-the-top chatter from its kooky heroine and a relatively transparent plot with an obvious villain. Click HERE to find a link for an excerpt.

     The next two series entries will be a novella and a novel that tell Gregory's story.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A. A. Aguirre: APPARATUS INFERNUM SERIES

Author:  A. A. Aguirre (pseudonym for Ann & Andres Aguirre)
Series:  APPARATUS INFERNUM
Plot Type:  Steampunk; Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality2; Humor2  
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          Bronze Gods (4/2013)
          Silver Mirrors (4/2014)    

             NOVEL 2:  Silver Mirrors               

     At the climax to Bronze Gods, the hero and heroine of this series "thwarted an attempt to steal magic from young House scions and in the process, open a door for spirits that have faded, flooding this world with their energy." (p. 37) Unfortunately, the consequences of the interruption of a powerful ritual during this "thwarting" event are now being felt across the Summer and Winter Isles.

     In this world, elemental magic is used like electricity is used in our world. It fuels communication systems, transportation systems, and other conveniences of life. Access to this elemental energy is controlled by several of the wealthy families who own mines in the Northern mountains. They mine (i.e., capture) the elementals and then convert them into usable form (for example, by trapping air elementals in mirrors that are then used for long-distance communication). As this novel opens, it has been a month since the end of book one, and something has gone extremely wrong with the elementals. As Commander Gunwood of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) explains, "There's a freak thunderstorm hovering over the Mountain District. Just the Mountain District; the bloody cloud ends at the wall. Something's making the trains wail like damn'd souls between Temple and North stations. And every car, bus, and trolley that tries to make its way past Golden Way starts looping faster and faster around the park until they crash or break down." (p. 7) Additionally, the communication mirrors are no longer working and elemental-fueled machines all over the world have developed self-destructive minds of their own.  


     Based on their success in interrupting Lorne Nuall's ritual to summon all the lost Ferisher spirits, CID inspectors (and partners) Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko, are assigned by the Council to travel to Northport, a town on the coast of the Winter Isle, to determine what is causing the elemental spirits to be so unsettled. Their instructions are to "travel there, find the root cause to all this, and deal with it as you see fit." (p. 26) The key phrase in these instructions is "as you see fit," which will come back to haunt both the Council and the investigators by the time this case is resolved. A secondary part of their assignment is to discover why the cragger pirates (named after the craggy coastline along which they hide) are boldly attacking ships traveling between the Summer and Winter Isles.

     Both the Council and the inspectors suspect that the elemental problems are somehow connected with Mikani and Ritsuko's interruption of an ancient ritual in the climax of Bronze Gods. Their assignment forms the core of the plot, but before the intrepid couple ever reaches Northport, they are attacked by pirates. As their investigation proceeds, Mikani and Ritsuko find themselves under constant attack by several other groups, including, golems, fiery salamanders, murderous mercenaries, and warships. Then, Ritsuko falls off a cliff; both are trapped deep within a fire-elemental mine; and both suffer a series of severe injuries.   

     What makes their trip even more exciting and dangerous is that they are traveling across the ocean on a ship piloted by Mikani's old girlfriend, Alexandra Braelan (aka Saskia). Saskia is a weather witch who can control the winds with the aid of her sylphs. Of course, the fact that Saskia and Mikani are former lovers complicates the relationship between the Mikani and Ritsuko, who had begun to have some slightly romantic feelings for one another by the end of book 1. The gradual  (and somewhat bumpy) development of the couple's budding romantic attachment is woven through the events of this novel, growing stronger each time one or the other is injured or in danger.  

     And here's one more element that adds spice to the plot: Ever since their adventure with Lorne, Ritsuko has been hearing odd sounds in her head that allow her to determine whether or not a person is telling the truth. She soon learns that she absorbed this ability from Aurelia Wright, the Architect's daughter, at the moment Ritsuko pulled Aurelia out of Lorne's diabolical machine just in time to save her life. (The Architect, as Ritsuko explains,  "was the closest thing to a king Dorstaad had ever known." [p. 11]) From this point on, Ritsuko's new ability will play an important role in all her investigative work.      

     A strong point of the series is its strong female heroine. Ritsuko is a formidable fighter in every sense of the word, and she and Mikani always have each other's backs. In Ann Aguirre's CORINE SOLOMON series, the title heroine is also courageous and intelligent. It's refreshing to find a heroine who is able to have a loyal and loving relationship with her partner/lover/friend without being dependent on him to fight her battles or pull her out of danger.  

     Once I got past the first few chapters, which rely heavily on events from book 1, the story really took off, but trying to remember all of the mythology plus the characters and events from Bronze Gods was mind-boggling because I read that book a year ago. Thank goodness I could review my "World-Building" section (below) to jog my memory. If you didn't read Bronze Gods, you will probably have trouble figuring out what's being discussed in the early chapters, but by the time the real adventures begin, the story will draw you into a series of all-new characters and situations.   

             WORLD-BUILDING             
     The series mythology is based on the legends of the Sidhe—the fey (aka Ferishers, aka fairies). According to the Prologue, long ago ten princes lived in the land of Hy Breasil, where they ruled the wild fey folk. Hy Breasil was separated from the mortal earth by the Veil. Eventually, they divided in two Courts, the Summer and the Winter, and spent their time plotting against each other. Then came an unexpected invasion of barbarianshumans who were swept off sinking ships and washed up on the shores of Hy Breasil's islands. These accidental immigrants had weapons of iron, and they fought against the fey of both Courts. In order to bring an end to the long  and bitter Iron War, in which the iron-equipped humans fought against the magic-armed fey, the two sides agreed to begin intermarrying, thus creating a lasting peace and a new people. As a result of this treaty, the first ten great Houses were founded, although not all of them were strong enough to last until the present time. This mythology is introduced in the Prologue and then details are added as the series hero dreams of long-ago events. 

     Currently, the two most powerful houses are House Magnus, which controls earth elementals, and House Skarsgard, which control the fire elementals. "For…two centuries, House thaumaturges had bound elemental spirits into physical objects: silver mirrors allowed communication, amber spheres powered steam engines in ships and carriages. Hulking stone golems with the strength of twenty men built roads and bridges….Elementals had always been just another facet of life, like cattle or horses: intangible, but mere beasts nonetheless." (Silver Mirrors, p. 193) 

     Naturally enough, some of the Ferishers were opposed to the treaty, believing that it diluted and weakened their bloodlines. "The two Courts fell into disarray, and eventually, eons later, only a handful could claim more than a flicker of fey blood." (Bronze Gods, p. 2) Here, a character discusses the old magic with the series hero, who has some Ferisher blood in his veins, "What magic remains to us today is a shadow of the old ways. We must work with rituals and patterns to call and shape the power. It's more like riding the waves...you need to have a feel for it, or it will drown you....Ferishers didn't ride the waves, they made them. Even after centuries of mingling with ours, their blood runs strong....You should know that better than most." (Bronze Gods, p. 240)

     That series hero is Janus Mikani, who struggles daily with his magical empathic powers, evidence of his fey bloodline. He can "read" people and objects, but suffers from migraines, bloody noses, and exhaustion whenever he uses his talent. Mikani is a charming ladies' man as well as being an alcoholic and a substance abuserhis way of dealing with the after effects of using his powers.

     This world has the feeling of an alternate, late 19th century London, although it takes place in the island country of Hy Breasil in the city of Dorstaad, which is part of the Summer Isle. Summer Isle and Winter Isle are the two largest islands. Although the series has been labeled "steampunk," there are actually few steampunkish details, primarily the steam-driven carriages. So far, there are no dirigibles, no gear-driven gadgets, and no weird weapons.

    The series heroine is Celeste Ritsuko, Mikani's partner, who is the first female inspector in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). She earned that position through a decade of hard work, moving up the ladder from her original position as a file clerk. Along the way, she has had to take a lot of chauvinistic guff and verbal abuse from most of her male colleagues—but not from Mikani, who admires and respects her. The two have been partners for three years, and they've worked out an effective system. Ritsuko, who is purely human, handles the interviews and uses her logical mind to tend to the details, and Mikani reads the suspects, witnesses, and crime scenes, and signals his conclusions to Ritsuko. So far, their partnership has been so successful that they have the best case-closing record in the CID.
 
Emma Peel &
John Steed
     As I viewed the cover art of book 1 and read the story, I was reminded of the original Avengers TV show, where the hero and heroine have many of the same characteristics as Ritsuko and Mikani. Mikani even wears a bowler and carries a walking stick, just like Steed, and Ritsuko has mad fighting skills and a wicked sense of humor, just like Emma Peel. Check out the similarities between this Avengers publicity photo and the cover art for book 1.    

     Ann Aguirre is the author the five-book CORINE SOLOMON urban fantasy series, which was finalized in March 2013. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.     

             NOVEL 1:  Bronze Gods             
     As the first book opens, Mikani and Ritsuko are assigned a potentially volatile missing persons case that turns into multiple homicides. The initial case involves the disappearance of the young female scion of the powerful Aevar House. Much of the story reads like a police procedural as the partners gather clues and follow various leads, only to discover that they are dealing with a psychopathic killer who is using magic to achieve his lethal goals. As young women are kidnapped and murdered in magically horrific ways, the partners are under great pressure to solve the case.

     Another key character is Aurelia Wright (aka Aurelia Olrik), who is the scion of the Olrik House. Aurelia has turned her back on her family connections and has become a choreographer in the human world. As the story opens, she is working on a new musical theater production, and in a nod to The Phantom of the Opera, her partner is Leonides (Leo), who wears a mask to cover the horrible scars on his badly burned face and who lives in the tunnels under the theater. When Aurelia develops a new relationship with a mysterious and dangerous man who has seemingly impossible magical talents, she fears for her life and goes to Mikani and Ritsuko for help.

     Eventually all of the story threads come together into the requisite climactic showdown between the major characters and the serial killer. The ending is mostly unpredictable, primarily because crucial details do not appear until the end is near. The book ends with a soft cliff hanger that leads into book 2.


     Now to the relationship between the lead characters: Mikani and Ritsuko are trained police detectives who have built a strong partnership that, until now, has been completely platonic. Currently, though, both are free of their former lovers, and a mutual attraction is beginning to bloom. No physical contact yet, but you can be fairly sure that it is coming.

     This is not a slam-bang, profanity-filled urban fantasy tale. Instead, it's more like Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES in its gritty but civilized tone and in its well-bred and well-educated lead characters. I don't want to give the impression that the story is boring—because it's not. The pace is moderate, but steady, and the character development is handled very well, with details creeping into conversations and thoughts all the way through the book. This looks to be a solid series with an inventive mythology and a fresh approach to urban fantasy. I'm looking forward to book 2. 
Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Bronze Gods.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cat Devon: ENTITY SERIES


Author:  Cat Devon (pseudonym for Cathie L. Baumgardner, who also writes as Cathie Linz)

Series:  ENTITY SERIES   
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) with a dose of Chick Lit (CH)
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality4; Humor3  
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
          Sleeping with the Entity (6/2013)
          The Entity Within (7/2013) 
          "The Entity Who Came for Christmas" (e-novella, 10/2013)
          Love Your Entity (12/2013)  
          Tall, Dark, and Immortal (9/2015)

This ongoing post was updated and revised on 9/30/15 to include the publisher's blurb for Tall, Dark, and Immortal, the fourth novel in the series. That blurb appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and  full reviews of the first three novels. For all future novels in this series, I will continue to post the publisher's blurbs, but not full reviews.

                    NOVEL 4:  Tall, Dark, and Immortal                     

PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
HE'S TAKING A BITE OUT OF CRIME.
Alex Sanchez is more than just an ordinary detective. He's on the prowl—as a vampire. Alex uses his unique gifts to police the mean streets of Chicago like a natural predator. But when he learns that local blood banks are being robbed, he's not sure what rattles him more: the bizarre crime wave or the stunningly beautiful journalist who's reporting it. 

SHE'S RISKING HER NECK FOR A STORY.
Keira Turner is dedicated to her job—and determined to uncover the truth. Dangerously, out-of-this-world handsome Detective Sanchez seems oddly fascinated by the crimes—and obsessed with Keira. Alex might not have a clue who's stealing blood but he's sure of one thing: Keira is no mere mortal. She's descended from a long line of vampire hunters. And if they try to solve this case together, he'll have to fight the urge to kiss her…or kill her. 

                       WORLD-BUILDING                       
    Don't let the cover art fool you into believing that this is an urban fantasy series. It's definitely paranormal romance with a big dose of chick lit. The series is set in an alternate Chicago where a small vampire clan lives alongside humans without revealing their true identities. In this world, vampires live in clans in cities across the country. The Chicago vamps are unique in that they have magical tattoos that allow them to walk in the sun, and they have a blood source that allows them to bypass human donors.

     This is a lightweight paranormal romance series that relies heavily on snarky dialogue and the type of thin story lines that we've seen in other paranormal romances. In each book one couple will stumble along the bumpy road to their HEA.  


               BOOK 1:  Sleeping with the Entity                   

     Daniella Delaney is just weeks away from opening her brand new bakeshop, Heavenly Cupcakes, in a building her father owns in a quiet Chicago neighborhood. Daniella is one of those familiar chick-lit type of paranormal romance heroines with quirky, anthropomorphized transportation, in this case a "perky pink Vespa" named Shirley that she rides while wearing a pink bicycle helmet. Daniella is a brand-name dropper (e.g., OPI nail polish, Pellegrino, Skittles), and she eats sandwiches made with "tomato basil Parmesan artisan bread" created especially for her by a baker friend. Unfortunately, these details do little or nothing to add any substance to her character.

     Unluckily for Daniella, the head of the neighborhood business association is trying his best to keep her new business from opening. Nick St. George is the centuries-old head of the Chicago Vamptown, and he's afraid that the cupcake shop will draw too many humans into the neighborhood. Nick's motives are difficult to understand, though, because there are already a number of other businesses that attract humans, like the tanning salon run by the slutty vampire, Tanya. When Nick discovers that Daniella cannot be compelled by vampire mind control, he decides to make the best of it, so he grudgingly allows Daniella to go ahead with her plans.  


     The romance is the focus of the plot, but there is a related story line that concerns Daniella's resistance to vampire mind compulsion. When the California vampire clan finds out about it, they make several attempts to abduct her, which forces Nick to move in with Daniella to "protect" her—and much, much more. This is a story line we've seen many, many times before, and it always plays out in exactly the same way. Then, we learn that Daniella was adopted (another familiar paranormal romance trope), and we know exactly where this story is going. 


     Here's the problem with the mind compulsion story line: At one point, Daniella is taking cupcake samples to some of the neighborhood business owners, and she thinks to herself, "Some, like Pat from Pat's Tats, she'd known since she was a kid." (p. 49) Pat Heller is a vampire, as are most of the other business owners, so if these vamps have known Daniella since she was a child, how can they just now be discovering that she can resist their mind compulsion? Also, how does that bit of information spread so quickly (almost overnight) to the California clan? Answers to these questions are not provided.

     In the opening pages, the author does an information dump in the most awkward manner possible: by having various characters explain aspects of the world-building to each other in lengthy conversations, even though each one already knows all of the information that the other is explaining. In fact, awkward dialogue is used to carry many scenes throughout the book. These conversations can be painful to read because friends just don't converse with one other this way.

     Here's just one example of that awkward info dumping in a conversation between Nick and his long-time (centuries long) friend, Pat the vampire tattoo artist.           

     "Her name is Daniella, right?" 

      Nick nodded. 
     "It's a lovely name." Pat sat back in his chair. "I knew a Daniella in Paris before the Revolution. Ah, those were the days..." He paused..."Of course his real name was Daniel. I've been gay for a long time. But I've never been happier than I am with my current partner, Bruce. it helps that he's a vamp, too. Not that he's been around as long as I have." (p. 16)

     Now remember, Nick and Pat have been close friends for centuries, so Nick has known about Bruce from the beginning of his relationship with Pat. And he certainly knows that Bruce and Pat are gay and that they're both vamps. These two old friends would NEVER have this conversation. It's just a very klutzy and inexpert way for the author to give us, the readers, the gay vampire information. Later in that same conversation, Pat explains to Nick that Doc Boomer is a dentist and that he invented a formula for taking blood from corpses and then filtering out all the impurities so that the Chicago vamps can drink it. Nick knows all of this—he is, after all, the head of the clan, so (once again) this is a ridiculous conversation for them to be having. The early chapters are filled with this type of nonsensical dialogue.

     Another problem is the overload of cupcake-baking information. The discussion of flavors, bowls, methodology, ingredients, and decorations is never-ending, and it's entirely unnecessary to the plot (as well as being annoyingly interruptive).  That element of the story reminds me of those lightweight culinary-themed mystery series that are currently the rageall sugar and spice, with no substance. 

     One last nit-pick: Why do we have to have a gay stereotype as a supporting character? Poor Bruce: He's obsessed with fashion (LOVES Project Runway) and Broadway musicals and generally comes across as the most one-dimensional gay character I've seen in a long time. Here's Bruce's reaction to a security video of some vampire thugs who threatened Daniella: "Look at the hair on that short one. It's like steel wool. A good conditioner and an eyebrow wax would make a world of difference." (p. 61) Another stereotypical character is nerdy Neville Rickerbacher, the resident geek vampire, who spends all of his time with his computers and uses duct tape to patch up his eyeglass frames. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sleeping with the Entity


               BOOK 2:  The Entity Within               
     Several months have passed since Daniella and Nick's happy ending, and the vamps have hired a new security chief: Damon Thornheart, who became a vampire 150 years ago at the Battle of Gettysburg. When Damon was  a newbie demon hunter, he was betrayed by a witch and wound up in Hell, so he hates both witches and demons.

     That's not good news for Zoe Adams and her grandmother, who are both witches. In addition to being a witch, Zoe has a home-based business selling homemade herbal soaps and body lotions. She and Gram have come to Chicago because they've been banished from Boston by their coven for breaking a few rules. From the very beginning, Damon treats the pairespecially Zoelike criminals who can't be trusted. Damon wants the witches out of Vamptown immediately, but Nick has been a long-time friend of Gram's, and he insists that they can stay. The situation gets even worse when a mysterious spellbook turns up in Zoe's personal witchy library. When Gram opens it, a portal from Hell opens to release a group of demons into the tunnels under Vamptown. What the demons want is a mystery that isn't revealed until nearly the end of the book. In the meantime, Damon puts surveillance cameras and microphones into all of Zoe's rooms, including her bathroom and bedroom and then accuses her of deceit and trickery when she protests that she wants some privacy. In an early scene, Damon trashes Zoe's housedumping out bedroom drawers and throwing her freshly packaged soap products on the floorall because he believes that since she is a witch she can't be trusted and must be in cahoots with the demons. 

     Damon is a truly unlikable hero. He's like the sixth grade bully who throws rocks at a girl and pulls her hair to show that he is attracted to her. No, he doesn't hurt Zoe physically, but he certainly dumps a lot of verbal abuse on her, all the while thinking lustful thoughts about her. The dialogue between the two is filled with childish disparagements and insults that could be taken directly from a conversation between two unruly adolescents. I suppose that this dialogue is supposed to be humorous, but it isn't, because surly Damon comes across as a mean and vindictive brute, and Zoe acts like a wimp because she never really stands up for herself (except for her silly, smart-mouthed wordplay, which, incredibly, includes vampire pinkie swearing). When Damon's abusive behavior suddenly ceases and turns to love near the end of the book, the switchover is too quick and without any apparent catalyst (except for the fact that hero and the heroine are required to get together forever before the final page). Here is an example taken from their very first conversation (and believe me, their dialogues never progress beyond this childish point): 
     "You think this is very funny, don't you?"
     "Not particularly. Annoying as hell, yes. Funny, no."
     "What do you have against witches?
     "Everything."
     "That's no answer," she said.
     "Its the only answer you'll get from me."
     "What's the matter? Are you afraid I'll cast a spell on you."
     He laughed. "I'd like to see you try." (p. 8)

     The convoluted demon plot introduces a multitude of apparent red herrings and then attempts to wrap them all up in a neat package at the end of the book. Unfortunately, a series of too-convenient coincidences and extremely tenuous connections strains the story line and weakens the resolution of the conflict. In other words, much of the plot resolution is completely unbelievable. At one point, Pat Heller sums up the plot situation as follows: "We're still trying to put this intricate puzzle together, and it's got so many pieces that it is turning out to be quite difficult." (p. 238) Substitute the word "incomprehensible" for "intricate" and "implausible" for "difficult" and you have the plot problem in a nutshell.


     This book has the same type of hero-heroine gimmick that the first one had in that the inevitable consummation of Zoe and Damon's relationship has a direct effect on their magic and their mortality (or immortality). Let's hope that this plot contrivance isn't used in every book in the series. Another hope for future books is that the slutty Tanya (the tanning salon vamp) dials down her hots for each hero and hatred for each heroine. Tanya comes across like a mean-girl cheerleader from high school—yet another stereotypical character in a series that's loaded with them. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Entity Within.


                  NOVEL 3:  Love Your Entity                  

     The story line in this book bumps along a convoluted path filled with choppy transitions, awkward dialogue, and shallow charactersmuch like the first two novels. This time, the heroine is a slightly overweight entity empatha person who can see and communicate with ghostsby the name of Sierra Brennan  Sierra is also an author of a mystery series about a ghost hunter. As the story opens, Sierra arrives in Chicago's Vamptown to claim her inheritancea house owned by her late great-uncle. The uncle's will specifies that the heir must live in the house for 30 consecutive days and nights or lose the inheritance. That's a problem because the house is haunted by two ghosts from the 1930s: Ruby, a good-hearted prostitute, and Hal, an evil gangster from Al Capone's gang. 

     When Sierra unlocks the door to the house, she is met by a hot, sexy, and naked man named Ronan McCoy, who turns out to be a vampire. Ronan's family originally built the house, and he insists that under vampire law, the house is his. Ronan is a newly freed indentured vampire, and he has a deadline for finding a mysterious key that is hidden somewhere in the house. If he doesn't turn the key over to Baron Voz (his former master), Ronan will be indentured to Voz for all eternity, and his long-dead sister's soul will never be allowed to go into the light.   

     As the story bumps its way through to its unlikely conclusion, a disparate collection of plot elements pop up, including a mad refugee from the Russian Revolution, a silly seance involving one of Hal's greedy descendants, the ghost of a bearded woman from a circus, a demonic hybrid vampire, a strip-teasing vampire, a European master vampire, a gay clown vampire, the ghost of Sierra's abusive father, a treasure map, a sparkly pair of shoes, and a magical muraleach of which is introduced randomly into the story line. 

     The tortuous plot has lots of holes. For example, Ruby claims to have been unable to leave the house since she was murdered on February 14, 1929the day of the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacrebut when Sierra asks her about Hal's murder (which took place soon after Ruby's death), she doesn't know anything about it, even though he was killed in the house. Ruby knows the details about everything else that happened in the house since her death, but not this. That is because the author needs the details of Hal's death to remain a secret from the other characters, no matter how implausible this is to the reader. The author doesn't even bother to come up with a reason why Ruby can't remember this single event but can remember everything else that happened.

     The story is told in the third person mostly through artificial, unnatural dialogue. No one speaks this way. This has been a problem in the previous novels, and it gets even worse in this one. All of the characters speak in short, choppy sentences that just don't synthesize into realistic conversations. Also, we get several info dumps on topics unrelated to the plot. For example, Sierra muses at length about the problems of the modern paperback author, what with e-books and free downloads cluttering up the publishing market. She also goes on and on about the importance of building a street team to amp up her "likes" on Facebook. (It seems likely that the author herself is probably having these problems and took this opportunity to vent.)

     Sierra is a heroine who needs some strong medication to get her hormones and emotions under control. She constantly goes from lusting after Ronan to shouting at him to resenting his presence and back to lustingusually with no real impetus. The relationship between Sierra and Ronan is antagonistic through 80% of the book. Then all of a sudden, they both declare deep love for one another, which is implausible to say the least. About halfway through the book, Ronan muses about what first attracted him to Sierra: her breasts and her bad attitude. Sounds like a really deep relationship, right? NOT! Mostly she shouts insults at him and he verbally snipes at her. Their love scenes are (thankfully) brief, but embarrassingly melodramatic. (For example: "She broke off their kiss with a breathless cry of impending ecstasy. Primitive needs took over….His animalistic snarls of pleasure didn't frighten her. They empowered her. Because this was what she'd been waiting for her entire life."  [p. 277]) 

     I don't plan to review any more of the novels in this series (if there are any more), but I will update the title list at the top of the post.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

UPDATE! Nina Bangs: CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Nina Bangs with a review of the sixth and seventh novels in her CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS SERIES: Wicked Whispers and Wicked Memories

Click on the series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gena Showalter and Kait Ballenger: "After Dark" Anthology

Authors:  Gena Showalter and Kait Ballenger
Title:  After Dark
Plot Type:  SMR     
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin (2013)
          
     This is a lopsided, two-novella anthology, with one very old story from a well-known author and one brand new one from a rookie. Apparently, Harlequin's plan is to is kick-start Ballenger's new series by using Gena Showalter's name to draw in readers. Unfortunately, it's hardly worth spending the money to get an expensive reissue of Showalter's 2009 LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD novella, particularly since there have been several novels printed in that series since then, and most of the couples who play supporting roles in the novella have long since paired offgiving the story a stale, been-there-done-that feeling. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in Showalter's LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD series. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in Showalter's related ANGELS OF THE DARK series.

Gena Showalter: "The Darkest Angel" (Ratings: V2; S4; H3)
     This novella originally appeared in the anthology, Hearts of Darkness (12/2009), and tells the light-as-a-feather love story of Lysander, leader of the Sent Ones, and Bianca, a Harpy.

     Lysander views Bianca as his one and only temptation, so he kidnaps her and imprisons her in his cloud-based home in the skies hoping to change her into a good person worthy of his love. Bianca, on the other hand, wants to change Lysander into a not-so-good person who will join her on her larcenous adventures. Naturally, the two immediately fall into a love-hate relationship (as do most of the LOTU heroes and heroines) and inevitably get their HEA with no interference from any outside villains to detract from their romance.

Kait Ballenger: "Shadow Hunter" (Ratings: V3; S4; H1)
     This is a prequel for Ballenger's new series, THE EXECUTION UNDERGROUND. In her introduction to the novella, Ballenger explains that this is an origin story for Damon Brock, vampire hunter and founder of the Rochester, New York, division of the Execution Underground, a clandestine organization devoted to protecting humanity by eliminating all supernaturals. EU warriors are trained extensively in combat, and they are also injected with a serum that gives then an extended lifespan, increased strength, and extra healing capabilities. In this novella, all supernaturals are portrayed as being evil, but that will change asone by onethe EU hunters find supernatural soul mates. Unfortunately, there's not much inventiveness in the world-building because we've seen this type of mythology many times before.

     As the story begins, Damon has come to Rochester in pursuit of Caius Argyros Dermokaites, the powerful ancient vampire who murdered his best friend, Mark Solow. When he discovers that Tiffany, Mark's younger sister, is hunting vampires, he takes her under his wing and (between bouts of passion) teaches her some of the finer points of vampire fighting. Inevitably, Damon and Tiffany are immediately attracted to one another and fall into bed just hours after they first meet.

     Damon and Tiffany have a history. Back when Damon and Mark were off fighting supernaturals, they were pen pals for a number of years. Damon used only the first letter of his last name when he signed his letters, so (unbelievably) Tiffany never knew his full name. (Wouldn't Mark have mentioned Damon's name to Tiffany since they were long-time BFFs? I guess that would have spoiled Ballenger's plot.) When Mark was killed, Tiffany stopped responding to Damon's letters. Damon feels responsible for Mark's murder, and he believes that Tiffany blames him for her brother's death, so he doesn't tell her his true identity at first. 

     Meanwhile, a virus is sweeping the vampire population, creating many vicious new vampires who are killing the citizens of Rochester. Damon and Tiffany try to track down the origin of the virus, with tragic results. According to the author, Damon's full story will not be told until the final book in the series. 

     The first full-length novel in the series is Twilight Hunter (9/2013), which will tell the love story of werewolf EU hunter Jace McCannon and his werewolf soul mate, Frankie Amato. That will be followed by Immortal Hunter (1/2014), the story of EU exorcist David Aronowitz and his demonic lover, Allsún O'Hare.

Monday, July 22, 2013

UPDATE! Jenna Black's NIKKI GLASS/DESCENDANTS SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Jenna Black with a review of the first novella and the third novel in her NIKKI GLASS/DESCENDANTS SERIES:  "Pros and Cons" and Rogue Descendant.

Click on either the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lindsey Piper: THE DRAGON KINGS SERIES

Author:  Lindsey Piper
Author's Other Identities:
    Carrie Lofty—her real name
    Ellen Connorin partnership with Ann Aguirre
    Katie Porterin partnership with Lorelie Brown
Series:  THE DRAGON KINGS
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)    
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor1 
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket
          "Silent Warrior" (prequel e-novella 5/2013)
          Caged Warrior (6/2013)
          Blood Warrior (7/2013)
          Hunted Warrior (4/2015) (FINAL) 

This post was revised and updated on 5/16/15 to include a review of Hunted Warrior, the third and FINAL novel in the series. 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: Hunted Warrior            
     The final novel in the series tells the dramatic love story of two characters we met in earlier books, Malnefoley (Mal) of Tigony and the Pet. Mal is the Honorable Giva (aka the Usurper), leader of all of the Dragon King Clans, but he has been an ineffective leader because he is so arrogant and has kept himself far removed from the real issues facing the Dragon Kings. Mal has been so immersed in Council politics that he has allowed the human cartels to decimate the ranks of low-level Dragon Kings, who scramble to subject themselves to slavery and to life-and-death gladiator fights simply to win a chance to conceive a healthy child. 

     The Pet is a beautiful young Dragon King woman who was sold into slavery to the Aster cartel when she was twelve years old and lived as Dr. Heath Aster's personal slave for 25 years until she was liberated when Dr. Aster's laboratories were destroyed in book 1. The sociopathic Dr. Aster dressed the Pet in a black latex cat suit and paraded her around on a leash. The rest of the Asters' enslaved Dragon Kings hated the Pet because they thought that she assisted Dr. Aster in his gruesome experiments. After the destruction of the labs, the Council believed that the Pet knew Dr. Aster's secret for solving the Dragon Kings' fertility problem, so Mal imprisoned her in the Tigony stronghold in the mountains of Greece for interrogation until she somehow escaped. As the story opens, Mal tracks her down in the middle of an ancient labyrinth on the island of Crete with the intention of recapturing her.

     We know from the first page that Mal and the Pet will fall into the usual lust-to-love relationship both because this is a paranormal romance and because the Pet has foreseen this in a vision. But before they reach their obligatory HEA, get ready for a rip-roaring adventure that takes them on a dangerous trip from Crete to Italy to London for a climactic showdown that brings back all of the major characters from previous books (including the loathsome Hellix from book 1who finally gets his comeuppance) and resolves the outstanding issues. Early in the book, Mal decides that the Pet deserves a real name, so he names her Avyi. (You will have to read the book to find out what "Avyi" means in the Tigony language.)

     The love story is terrificfull of sharp personality contrasts, dark secrets and tragedies from the past, and enigmatic prophecies for the future. Mal is a cynical, jaded, pessimistic, haughty politician who hates himself for some horrific past deeds and who has lost his belief in the Great Dragonthe theological foundation of the Dragon Kings culture. Mal trusts no one and has lived his adult life suspecting every person he meets of being a potential trickster. He is definitely a cup-half-empty kind of guy who sees only chaos and bitter rivalry in the future of the Dragon King clans. At this point, he is so apathetic that he has done nothing to stop the human cartels from their gradual enslavement of the dwindling Dragon King population. Mal's gift from the Great Dragon is the ability to siphon off electrical energy from any source and absorb it into his body for various uses, particularly as a fiery weapon. 

     In direct contrast to Mal, Avyi always maintains hope and faith in a better future, even though her life of slavery has sometimes beaten down that hope. Avyi was gifted by the Great Dragon with second sight. She is a seera prophet who constantly visualizes future probabilities. Based on her prophecies, she believes in the power of the Dragon King clans to find their place in the world and to live in harmony. She follows her visions compulsively and insists that Mal follow along with her. As they travel, she lectures him on his arrogance and apathy and vows to prove to him that her prophesies for the future are true. Unfortunately, her visions include a fatal confrontation with the cartels that will claim the lives of many Dragon Kings. Will that come true, or is it just one of many probabilities? Piper spices up Mal and Avyi's blossoming relationship with frequent (and graphic) love scenes, beginning when they hardly know one another and ending with their inevitable vow of eternal love.

     The primary vision that drives Avyi centers on a young female Dragon King named Cadmin. Avyi foresees that Cadmin will be the one who saves the Dragon Kings from extinction in the midst of a huge battle. As the story opens, Avyi is searching in the labyrinth for an unknown artifact that she must find, recognize, and give to Cadmin, and she refuses to be deterred by Mal's insistence that he will be dragging her back to his prison in Greece. Mal views Avyi's search as a flimsy excuse to avoid imprisonment, but he soon becomes intrigued with both the woman and her visions. Even through he is skeptical and wary, he agrees to accompany Avyi on her search. All during their travels, he sneers at her opinions and belittles her hopes and visions every chance he gets, always goading her to prove herself and then denying that proof. 

     The ending of the book answers a number of questions raised throughout the series. Why did the Pet (Avyi) assist Silence in the Prequel novella, and why did Silence trust her? What is relevance of the riddle of the chasm that is frequently mentioned throughout the series ("the chasm can be fixed""the chasm is still broken")? Will that broken chasm ever be fixed? What is the true significance of the golden idol that appears in the prequel and assumes more importance in book 1? What is the solution to the infertility crisis suffered by the Dragon Kingsthe cure supposedly discovered by Dr. Aster? Is it possible for the Dragon Kings to overcome the Cartels without decimating their own population any further? Will the Clans ever stop fighting amongst themselves and come together as a unified race?

     Piper has outdone herself on this final chapter of the Dragon Kings story. The starring lovers are multi-faceted and interesting as they attempt to deal with the tragedies of their pasts and their contradictory views of the future. The plot twists and turns as they search for magical artifacts that will be instrumental in defeating the enemies of the Dragon Kings, including whoever is sending assassins after Mal all during their trip from Crete to London. We learn much more about the history and traditions of the Dragon Kings from the conversations between Mal and Avyi, from flashbacks to Mal's youth, and from Avyi's visions. Piper has crafted an elegantly calibrated conclusion to her series by weaving together elements that she introduced (but never fully explicated) in earlier books along with new revelations. Now, everything becomes clear, and it is obvious that Piper had this all planned out from the very beginning. This is a great finale, and I was enthralled from the very first page. 

     If you haven't read the first two DRAGON KINGS novels and the prequel novella, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. I definitely do NOT recommend this book as a stand-alone because it is meant to tie together the series story lines that have been building, book by book, from the very beginning of the series. (For example, you could never fully appreciate Silence's gut-wrenching battle with Hellix if you haven't read "Silent Warrior.") Do yourself a favor by starting with the prequel novella and then going on to the novels. This is a terrific seriesdark and dangerous, savage and seductiveand I highly recommend it. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

                       WORLD-BUILDING                       
     Although the lead characters in this series are called Dragon Kings, they do not shift into Dragon form. From the author's web site, here is a description of the origins of the Dragon Kings: "Millennia ago, the Great Dragon was born high in the Himalayan Mountains, gave birth to its children, and dove back into the fiery Chasm of its birth. In the years since, those children coalesced into the Five Clans and spread across the globe, influencing, aiding, and shaping human civilizations. The Clans have their own representations of the Dragon's physical traits and conduct different means of worshipping their maker." Centuries ago, the Dragon Kings were a powerful force in the world, but over time they have weakened, beaten back by hostile humans and decimated by their own reproductive problems.    

     The Dragon Kings are divided into the Five Clans, each with its own particular talent. The clans tend to be reclusive and hostile to one another, with little cross-breeding. The suggestion in the first book is that the Clans would be better served by more cross-clan breeding because Dragons with mixed genetic heritages appear to be much stronger than purebred Dragons. Here are the Dragon King clans:   

    >Tigony: The Tricksters, who prefer politics and manipulation over violence: Their talent lies their ability to pull electrical current from the air, amplify it, and use it as a devastating weapon.  

    >Sath: The Thieves, also called Keepers of Secrets: They gather and guard information about the history of the Dragon Kings, and they can temporarily steal powers from other Dragon Kings. They originated in Egypt. 

    >Garnis: The Lost Clan, a small Clan with just a few scattered members, and their talents include speed, stealth, and amped-up reflexes.  

    >Pendray: The Reapers or Berserkers, a Clan nearly as small as Garnia. They live in the mountains of Great Britain and Scandinavia and are always on the edge of frenzied violence.

    >Indranan: The Heartless, who are telepaths who can enter a person's or dragon's mind and delete and/or change memories. The Indranan are divided into Northern and Southern factions and have been engaged in a bloody civil war for three thousand years. (That war is the primary focus of book 2.) They are generally born as twins, with the stronger sibling usually killing the weaker one in order to absorb the weak one's powers.

     The Clans are ruled by the Council of the Five Clans, which has managed to maintain an uneasy peace among the Dragon Kings for thousands of years. The Council is made up of two Senators from each clan and is headed by the Honorable Giva. As the series opens, the Giva is Malnefoley, a Tigony who is a cousin of the heroine of book 1. Each pair of Senators includes one woman and one man. In a chauvinistic touch, women are "referred to as Wisdom for their sagacity and maternal patience, while the impetuous men were dubbed Youth for their spirit and eagerness to go to war." (p. 55)

     In this alternate world, there are three crime cartels. The Aster family cartel is the most powerful because it has discovered the most reliable means of Dragon King conception. The other two cartels are the Townsends of London and the Kawashimas of Hong Kong. The cartels make money from Cage matches—gladiator fights between highly trained Dragon Kings. Some Cage fighters are born into this world; others are enslaved for nonpayment of debts. Many are hard-core criminals who choose to enslave themselves to the cartels to avoid imprisonment or execution in the real world. Most fighters choose to participate in the hope that they will win a chance to conceive a child. The Dragon fighters are forced to wear power-damping collars unless they are in the ring. They live in underground cages under Medieval conditions, never seeing daylight. Dr. Heath Aster, son of Old Man Aster (leader of the Aster cartel), is a sociopath who revels in torturing captured Dragon Kings in his laboratory—performing gruesome surgeries on them by carving them up, breaking their limbs, and worse.  

     Added to the mix is a group of Dragon Kings who have separated from their Clans and are operating as an underground network of rebels. This group refuses to align with any Clan and has its own agenda. In book 1, they are instrumental in resolving the conflict.

    This is a pitiless, dark world, and the enslaved Dragon Kings have little hope of ever leaving it—except through death. In an interview, the author describes it as "violent and earthy." Although this is a paranormal romance series, don't expect much sweetness in the stories. Even the love stories are dark and oppressive. For an in-depth look at the series mythology, click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site entitled "The World of the Dragon Kings."      

     This series is profiled in the August 2013 issue of RT Book Reviews. Click HERE to read the article, which is displayed on the author's blog. Click HERE to read an RT Book Reviews interview with the author about her multiple identities.

                    PREQUEL E-NOVELLA: "Silent Warrior"                    
     This novella sketches in the framework of the world-building as it tells the love story of Hark and Silence (aka Orla), both of Clan Sath. The two meet as opponents in a fight staged in a bar in Hong Kong. Silence is a collared Dragon King who has been sent by the Aster Cartel to Hong Kong to track down and capture an Indranan Dragon King, and Hark is a free Dragon King who is fighting to earn money to pay off his debts. When a Pendray Dragon King attempts to take their winnings from them, they team up to defeat him, thus beginning their inevitable fall into lust, love, and mating.

     The love story is the focus of the plot, but the author also scatters some explanatory information about the series mythology that will be helpful to the reader of the introductory novel. Chief among these bits of information is an explanation of the story behind the dragon-shaped idol that becomes a key plot element in Caged Warrior. We also learn Hark and Silence's backstories, which explain their eccentric personality traitsHark's incessant snarky chatter and Silence's muteness. Here, Hark muses about their differences: "Basically, despite the fact they'd been born to the same clan, they were entirely opposite. Manic to quiet. Blue eyes to black." One last connection to the plot of Caged Warrior is Silence's message from the Soothsayer that tells her that she has to wait for the living gold before the chasm can be fixed. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.

                    BOOK 1:  Caged Warrior                     
     The very first scene plops the reader down in one of the Asters' subterranean cages, where a bound woman has just been dragged in and dumped naked on the filthy floor. That woman's human name is Audrey MacLaren, but her Dragon King name is Nynn of Clan Tigony. She was living as a human in New York City when the Asters' thugs invaded her home, murdered her human husband, and kidnapped her and her son, Jack. Jack and Audrey were first placed in Dr. Heath Aster's infamous laboratory, where both underwent a series of horrific experiments and where Audrey was repeatedly assaulted sexually by the guards. Eventually, her rage built to the point that she released her explosive Dragon King powers and blew up the laboratory, after which she was sent to the Cages. She has no memory of that event, and as the story opens, she believes that she has no Dragon powers. In the story, Audrey is called by her human name during the first part of the book, but after she accepts her Dragon heritage, she is called Nynn.

     Nynn's trainer is Leto of the Garnis, who has spent his entire life in the Asters' cages. Leto is the Asters' star gladiator, having won all of his fights. Old Man Aster tells Leto that if he trains Nynn well enough that she lives through three fights, he will provide medical care for Leto's sister, who has been comatose for decades. Leto knows no other life than the cages, and he is treated like a trusty, with privileges that others do not have. As the book begins, Leto is loyal to the Asters and believes all of their promises. He is determined to whip his new neophyte (or as he calls her, "lab filth") into shape, and he's not going to be gentle about it.

     The story follows Nynn and Leto through the training process, as they get to know one another and share their life stories. The plot has a number of twists and turns as the Asters keep a tight control on their Dragon King slaves, constantly coming up with new tortures. This is a very dark and intense story, with a supporting cast of cold-hearted guards and hardhearted Dragon King gladiators. 

     Because this is first and foremost a paranormal romance series, we know from the beginning that Nynn and Leto will fall for one another, and eventually they do, although there are some brutal scenes between them before that happens. Leto's training methods are harsh, and at first he despises Nynn because she has renounced her Dragon King heritage. As the plot advances, Nynn must deal with the horrors of her childhood, which have been repressed up until now, and Leto must accept the fact that the Asters are not the honorable men he always thought they were. 

     Early in the book, there is a scene in which the Council of the Five Clans meets to discuss Nynn's situation. Just before she blew up the lab, she was able to help one of the Dragon Kings escape with a note to Malnefoley explaining her situation and begging for help. In this scene, the Council is considering whether to help her. That's the last we see of the Council as a whole, but keep that scene in mind because it does have a connection with a climactic scene at the end of the book.

     So far, this looks like it will be a solid series. The plot of this first book is filled with compelling, page-turning (and stomach-churningly violent) action, but it also has a few tender moments and several hot love scenes. If you are searching for something different from the usual cookie-cutter paranormal romances, with their lonely heroes, sassy heroines, and overload of sardonic dialogue, you'll probably enjoy this fresh and inventive series. Click HERE to and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt read the first five pages of Cage Warrior.

                    NOVEL 2: Blood Warrior                    
     The hero of the second novel is Tallis of Pendray (aka the Heretic), who is the outcast uncle of Nynn, heroine of book 1. Twenty years ago, Tallis began having sensuous vision dreams in which the Sun spoke to him, telling him that she had chosen him to make the world a better place for the Dragon Kings. The Sun taunts Tallis with promises of sexual favors as she orders him to murder (i.e., behead) a long string of Dragon Kings, all of whom were, supposedly, guilty of horrible sins. He was forced to turn his back on his family and has lived as a pariah ever since. Then, (in the first novel), the Sun lies to Tallis, asking him to put Nynn and her son into a situation that eventually separates them and threatens their lives. For the past few months, Tallis has been searching for the Sun in real lifein the daytime, not in dreams—so that he can take his revenge. Tallis has convinced himself that he has found his dream goddess in the form of Kavya of Indranan, a Dragon King who has formed a cult-like following based on her promise that she can reunite the Indranan. It helps Tallils' cause that Kavya's followers call her "the Sun."

     Just as Kavya calls together a meeting of the two opposing groups of Indranan, Tallis finds her and imprisons her in his tent, accusing her of being his long-time tormentor. Of course, Kavya doesn't know what he's talking about, but that matters not at all to Tallis. As Tallis harasses Kavya, her brother, Pashkah, shows up with his warriors and attacks the gathering, murdering the men and carrying off the women. Tallis, Kavya, and her bodyguard manage to escape just in the nick of time, but now Pashkah has a mental fix on Kavya and will be able to find her anywhere.

     To review the Indranan mythology: This Dragon King clan is called the Heartless because they can easily slip into the minds of others, reading their thoughts and memories and using excruciating psychic pain as a weapon. Indranan women always give birth to twins or triplets. When the children come into their psychic powers at adolescence, one sibling invariably kills the other(s) and absorbs their powers. Many families separate their children early in life, sending them long distances away, so that they won't be able to find one another. Pashkah has already killed one sister, and now he's after the other. With the absorption of Kavya's powers, Pashkah will become even more demented than he already is. His goal is to round up every set of Indranan siblings and force them into death fights. Then he plans to use the survivors as a powerful psychic army to take control of all of the clans of the Dragon Kings.

     The story follows Tallis and Kavya as they go on the run. Tallis soon realizes that Kavya isn't the Sun of his dreams, and they begin their lust/love relationship as they try to escape. Eventually, the requisite show-down scene arrives to provide resolution to the Pashkah problem and to the love affair.

     Compared to novel 1, this one has a much simpler, less violent plot: run away from the bad guy and fall in love along the way. The complexity comes in the two lead characters, each of whom has suffered horrific tragedies but has managed to survive with mind intact (although sometimes I'm not so sure about Tallis, especially in the early chapters). Tallis "is a Pendray. He harbored a nasty beast down deep where most men stored ugly things. Fantasies about inflicting pain. Fantasies about rape and murder and theft and running away, because cowardice was just as ugly, just as worth of concealing. Those uncivil fantasies glimmered like a distant miragemoments where the mind took a backseat to very old instinct." (p. 216) He must constantly fight to keep his Berserker side under control, but is not always successful. Meanwhile, Kavya must live with the fact that her brother wants to kill her and that the birth of her and her siblings caused their mother to go mad because of her fear that they would kill one another (which they did). So...lots of angst-filled interior monologues.

     This book provides in-depth coverage of the eccentricities of the Indranan and Pendray clans, just as the novella spotlighted the Sath, and book 1 focused on the Tigony and the Garnis. If you enjoy paranormal romance, this is a solid series with an inventive mythology and well-drawn characters. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt.