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Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Author:  Sylvain Reynard 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          "The Prince" (e-novella, 1/2015)
          The Raven (novel, 2/2015)
          The Shadow (novel, 2/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 2/18/2016 to include a review of The Shadow, the second novel in the series. That review appears first followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first novella and the first novel. 

                         NOVEL 2:  The Shadow                         
    Raven Wood’s vampyre prince has returned, pledging his love and promising justice for every wrong done to her. In the wake of their reunion, Raven is faced with a terrible decision—allow the Prince to wreak vengeance against the demons of her past, or persuade him to stay his hand. But there is far more at stake than Raven’s heart. 

     A shadow has fallen over the city of Florence. Ispettor Batelli will not rest until he uncovers Raven’s connection to the theft of the priceless art from the Uffizi Gallery. And while the Prince hunts a traitor who sabotages him at every turn, he finds himself the target of the vampyres’ mortal enemy. 

     As he wages a war on two fronts, he will need to keep his love for Raven secret, or risk exposing his greatest weakness.

     Once again, Reynard's melodramatic writing style wipes out any chance of effective story telling. Her lead charactersRaven Wood and William, the vampyre prince of Florenceexhibit every single stereotype that exists in paranormal fiction: the ancient, lonely vampyre who fears that he can never love again; the plain young woman with a tragic past and low self-esteem who just can't believe that a handsome, virile vampyre prince has fallen in love with her; traitors within the hero's realm who seek to usurp his power and steal his "pet" (aka Raven); religious fanatics whose primary purpose in life is to destroy all vampyres; and finally, a couple of mysterious characters who hang out on the edges of the plot, one who strategically sweeps in to save the day and the other whose role will become clearer in the next novel. Even the spellingvampyre instead of vampireadds to the overblown melodramatic essence of this series. This is like something Stephenie Meyer or E. L. James would write on a very bad day.

     The book begins with William's misguided attempt to give Raven revenge against her evil step-father (the one who raped her younger sister and pushed Raven down the stairs, resulting in her crippled leg). After Raven responds to William's plan by getting hysterical and then going into a catatonic fit, we have to suffer through innumerable scenes featuring Raven's over-the-top emotional reaction to the step-father situation while William tries to understand why she doesn't appreciate the fact that he tracked the evildoer down, broke his leg (to match Raven's injury), and chained him in a dungeon. Talk about communication problems!

     Raven has more irritating traits than I have seen in a paranormal heroine in a long, long time. Although she is thirty years old, she behaves like a whiny, self-centered sixteen-year-old. Reynard gives Raven that dreaded trait of feeling guilty for tragic events that are completely out of her control, which is a sure sign of narcissism. If you constantly beat yourself up for not protecting everyone in your life from harm, that's a sure sign that you live in a delusional emotional world that revolves completely around yourself. Raven is supposed to be a renowned art conservationist and historian, but I truly do not understand how Reynard can expect the reader to believe that she can function in such a demanding international career when her personal life is such a wreck. 

     Eventually the lovers make up (and then lie down a number of times), William has to contend with the traitors among his closest advisers. Meanwhile, the police inspector keeps harassing Raven because he is certain that William is behind the theft of the pictures that were the focus of the plot in book 1.

     This book was a total strike-out for me, as was book 1, so I will not be reading or reviewing any more books in this series. I will, however, continue to update the title list. I will also add the publisher's blurb for each new book as it comes along. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Shadow on its page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Audible Narration" icon.

     This series appears to be an offshoot of Reynard's GABRIEL'S INFERNO TRILOGY. (I did not read that series, which began as Twilight fan fiction.) The FLORENTINE SERIES is set in present-day Florence, Italy, where humans live in happy ignorance of the supernatural underworld that flourishes throughout the city at night. The leader of the supernatural world in Florence is the Prince (aka William York, aka William Malet), a powerful vampyre born in the thirteenth century. This is a world of political intrigue, envy, and greed, and there are always upstarts who believe that they can challenge the Prince and win.

     To assist him in keeping his principality in order, the Prince established the Consilium, a council of six members who oversee various affairs of state. Some important members of the Consilium are Niccolò (an extremely ambitious vampyre version of Niccolò Machiavelli); Aoibhe (pronounced Ay-vuh), a beautiful Irish vampyre who is one of the Prince's allies and on-and-off lover; and Lorenzo (probably a vampyric Lorenzo de' Medici), the Prince's second in command. Although the Prince relies on the Consilium to take care of everyday matters, he trusts no one, and if someone fails in an assignment, he or she is soon deadbeheaded in front of the entire Consilium.

     Other than the princes of other cities, the Florence vampyres have two primary enemies: the Hunters, who kill supernatural beings for their blood and body parts (which they sell to the highest bidder), and the Roman Curia, which in real life is the central governing body of the Catholic Church.

     This is a soul-mate romance series, with the Prince and Raven (aka Jane) Wood, his human lover, as the primary characters. Just as the GABRIEL hero and heroine are loosely based on Dante and Beatrice, the Prince and Raven are based on Cupid and Psyche.

                         NOVELLA .5:  "The Prince"                         
     This introductory novella introduces us to the Prince of Florence. Throughout this novella and much of the first novel, he is never namedjust called "the Prince." Unfortunately, that serves only to dehumanize him and turn him into a cardboard character rather than a man to whom we can relate. The story has two plot lines, one personal and one political. 

     In the prologue, which takes place in 1870, an anonymous man steals a collection of priceless Botticelli illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy from the Prince's residence. The action then skips to 2011, when Gabriel and Julianne Emersonnow the owners of those illustrationsloan them to Florence's Uffizi Gallery for a special exhibition. The Prince is determined to punish the Emersons for their crime against him, even though Gabriel has no idea that the illustrations are stolen property. Throughout the story, the Prince stalks the Emersons through the city streets and spies on them in their bedroom, mostly watching them make love every chance they get. When he discovers that Julianne is extremely ill (with an unnamed illness), he decides to leave her untouched and kill only Gabriel. Then, he will steal back the illustrations (which is where the first novel begins).

     The other plot line features an attack by the Venetian Prince, Marcus, who kicks off a war by sending a team of assassins to kill the Princean unsuccessful attempt, because the Prince is a cartoonish superhero when it comes to swordplay. Soon it becomes obvious that one of the Prince's Consilium members is a spy for the Venetians, feeding them information about the Prince's security system. The Prince has to pretend to be dead in order to lure Marcus and his warriors into an ambush.

     Basically, what this novella does is introduce us to the Prince and his top supporters, along with linking this series to the GABRIEL series (for whatever reason). We learn that the Prince is both respected and feared. He is powerful, dangerous, and ruthless, but during his centuries of rule, his citizens have enjoyed prosperity and peace. We also learn of the existence of the Roman, a mysteriousalmost mythicalman who serves as the King of Italy (of supernatural Italy, that is). And one last thing: When the Prince pays a visit to the Spanish Chapel, we learn that his long-ago mentor was St. Thomas Aquinas (the central figure in the fresco that the Prince addresses).

     The novella is a weak introduction to the series given that most of the crucial details could have been included in a prologue to the first novel. The ongoing sex scenes between Gabriel and Julianne are gratuitous, melodramaticand entirely unnecessary to the story. The war with Venice is also unnecessary. It is mentioned briefly in The Raven, but it appears to have only one purposeto alert the Prince (and the reader) that there is a spy within the Prince's ranks. That fact could have been inserted into The Raven without all the sword fights and beheadings that Reynard has crammed into this novella. (Note to the author: On the printed page, one beheading is just like the nextno real drama after the first one.) Click HERE to read an excerpt from "The Prince" on the book's page by clicking on the cover art.

                         NOVEL 1:  The Raven                         
     The first novel begins about two years after the Prince and his warriors defeat the Venetians. His intelligence officers have not yet been able to determine the identity of the spy, who is still working behind the scenes to take down the Prince and usurp his throne. 

     Dr. Raven Wood is an American art historian and conservationist who is currently restoring Renaissance paintings at the Uffizi Gallery. Here is how Raven describes herself: "…she was overweight, her extra pounds compounded by baggy garments and well-worn sneakers that added little to her five-foot-seven height. Her hair was dark,…and carelessly pulled into a ponytail that swept her shoulders. In comparison to the many attractive…well-dressed women who inhabited Florence, she was considered plain." Raven, who is thirty years old, is also mildly disabled, forced to lean on a cane when she walks: "Her right leg was somewhat shorter than the other and her foot turned outward slightly, at an unnatural angle…She knew it was painful to watch her walking." Her disability is the result of a childhood tragedy that we don't learn much about until late in the book.

Primavera, by Sandro Botticelli
The painting plays an
important role in this novel.
     One Friday night as Raven limps painfully home from a party with her friends, she intervenes when a trio of drunken thugs beats up a mentally challenged homeless man. The thugs then go after Raven, dragging her into an alley and attempting to rape her. Suddenly, a mysterious man interrupts the attack, and the next thing Raven knows, it is ten days later and she is back in her apartment with no memory of what happened to her. Also, she no longer has a deformed leg, her eyesight is perfect, and her physical appearance has changed dramatically so that she is now a slender, gorgeous woman. Implausibly, Raven wastes little time worrying or even wondering about these big changes in her physical make-up. She just shrugs it all off and heads for the gallery. When she reaches the Uffizi that Monday morning, she learns that the night of the party, someone broke into the gallery and stole Gabriel Emerson's Botticelli illustrations without leaving a trace of evidence behind. Given the fact that Raven disappeared that same night and hasn't resurfaced since, she is the main suspect. And don't forget the change in her appearance, which is so extreme that even her best friends don't recognize her, and her passport picture and her real-life face no longer match. 

     Of course, the reader can figure out what happened. The Prince rescued her and gave her a dose of vampyre blood to heal her. Now, the Prince starts showing up in Raven's apartment, refusing to identify himself or tell her what happened. At first, she doesn't remember him at all, but then she begins to have some vague memories of his flying her away to safety. For many chapters, the two go through a tired, repetitive series of confrontational meetings in which he insists that she is in grave danger and that he will protect her while she resists his attentions, demands answers, and generally behaves as if she were an adolescent airhead. Granted, Raven has been through a lot, and the Prince is one of those strong, silent, uber-alpha vamps that permeate paranormal romance fiction, but still, she comes across as the worse kind of TSTL female characterone who makes terribly wrong decisions at every turn. If there were a forest in this story, Raven would go out into night…in her nightgown...without a flashlight. 

     As the story plays out, Raven learns more and more of the Prince's secrets and the two fall in love/lust with one another. The Prince keeps bragging about what a great lover he is, and Raven keeps pulling back from him for one reason or another, mostly because he refuses to tell her his deepest secrets. Both have their share of angst-filled interior monologues and dialogues, with Raven demanding that the Prince use the "L" word, rather than just telling her that he cares for her, longs for her, and feels affection for her. The Prince laments the fact that vampyres cannot truly feel love, and fears that he will lose Raven forever. Meanwhile, Raven faces attacks from other vampyres (regular and feral), and the Prince has to deal with new dangers from the Hunters. And don't forget, some of the Prince's vamps are actively plotting against him.

     Supporting characters in this novel are the Consilium vampyres and Raven's friends from the Uffizi. Making some cameo appearances are Gabriel and Julianne Emerson, the lead characters from Reynard's GABRIEL series. 

     I really tried to like this book, but in the end, it just didn't work for me. Raven and the Prince never really connect on an emotional level, and the dialogue among all of the characters is stiff, awkward, and artificial in tone. There are also a few plot holes. For example, when Raven comes back to the gallery after having been AWOL from work the previous week, she finds an active crime scene, with police officers all over the place. The street is barricaded by local police officers, and Interpol agents and "carabinieri in their signature dark blue uniforms roamed the…courtyard. A number of men in dark suits stood in a small group, talking to one another near the entrance...Journalists from around the world gathered around the perimeter." I believe that this massive police presence would have been true on the days immediately following the robbery, but not a full 10 days later (2 weekends plus one work week). By that time, all of the crime scene analysis would have been completed, and the only thing left at the scene would be some crime scene tape. 

     Another problem is Raven's strange attitude toward her disability. When the effects of the Prince's infusion of vampyre blood wears off, Raven once more becomes painfully dependent on her cane, wincing every time she tries to bend her foot. When the Prince offers to cure that pain with another small dose of blood, she replies, "I would be betraying other disabled persons if I took the blood…I'd be saying I'm not good enough." Say what? How on earth would she be betraying other disabled people by having her pain taken away? Real people with painful, crippling disabilities actively seek relief. They may not be looking for vampyre blood, but they do seek medical help. No real person is so altruistic and self-serving as to refuse relief from pain because others can't be cured. Not even Mother Theresa would have been so masochistic. 

     Reynard tries to portray Raven as an earth-mother typenurturing, forgiving, kind-heartedand much too good to be true. Raven even does volunteer work at an orphanage, just like Julianne Emerson. Unfortunately, Raven comes across as naive, immature, and vacuous. Even though she has a PhD. and a responsible position at the gallery, she defines herself solely through her physical appearance, and particularly how the Prince perceives her looks. To put Raven's insipid personality in context, she is a non-virginal version of Anastasia Steele, but with more insecurities, more passive-aggressiveness, and more self-absorption.

     Reynard bases this new series on an inventive idea, but struggles in the execution. Some of the problems with The Raven are those of any introductory book in a new series, but the problems of plot and character development need a lot of work. Additionally, some of the art history content is so obscure that it slows down the pace. If Reynard can flesh out her main characters and make them more realistic and less stereotypical and melodramatic, the next book might be more successful. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Raven on the book's page by clicking either on the cover art of the "Listen" icon.

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