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Saturday, July 23, 2016


Author:  Christine Feehan 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4.5; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Jove
          Shadow Rider (6/2016)
          Shadow Reaper (6/2017)

I have revised and updated this ongoing post to include a review of the second novel, Shadow Reaper. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

                      NOVEL 2: Shadow Reaper                    
     Billionaire playboy Ricco Ferraro knows no other life. Being a shadow rider is in his blood—but so is a haunting desperation stemming from the secrets of his dark past. His recklessness puts not only his life at risk, but also the future of his entire family. To save them all, he must find a woman who can meet his every desire with a heat all her own.

          Just when Ricco has given up hope, he meets her—a mysterious woman whose shadow connects with his. She’s someone looking for a safe haven from the danger that has stalke her over the last several months. In Ricco’s embrace, she finds one. But the darkness in which they so often find sanctuary can also consume them. 

     In typical Feehan fashion, she constructs the plot around the romance, with the first two-thirds of the book featuring scene after scene of simmering foreplay and the final third culminating in a lengthy consummation scene followed by more graphic bedroom athletics. Threading through this sexual montage is a story line that reaches back to a time in Japan when Rico was a teenager and Mariko Majo was just a toddler. Rico was in a shadow-rider training program, and his initial introduction to Mariko came under horrendous circumstances that have haunted them both ever since. As the truth of that encounter comes out, we get wave upon wave of angst-filled interior monologues as both characters deal with the emotional fallout that has tormented them for so long. (I can't tell you any more than that because I don't want to give away any spoilers.)

     Unfortunately, Feehan indulges in her bad habit of repetition: endlessly repeatingsometimes word for wordthe horrifying scenes from Marika's childhood and the gruesome details of the scene in which she and Rico first met. Also repetitious are the many foreplay scenes between Rico and Mariko. Without all of that unnecessary repetition, this book would have 350 pages rather than 400. 

A very tame example
of a shibari rope pattern
     Rico, a dark and brooding man, tamps down his ever-present angst, rage, and frustration by indulging in shibari, a Japanese bondage technique in which the rope master (dominant) ties up the submissive using decorative patterns. In another instance of unnecessary repetition, Feehan tells usnot once but MANY times and in the same wordsthat the rope "was always there, an extension of him." Rico initially hires Mariko to be his shibari model, but they both realize immediately that they are soul mates. Most of the repetitive foreplay scenes involve Rico tying up Mariko with silk rope in a series of intricate patterns that get more and more sensualeach accompanied by sexual touching, and (eventually and inevitably) deep, deep kisses and graphically portrayed consummation. Feehan is one of the best when it comes to writing sensual erotica, and she's at the top of her game in this novel.

     Meanwhile, someone is trying to kill Rico. First, someone sabotages his race car. Then someone runs him down with a truck. Finally, groups of heavily armed mercenaries go after all of the members of the Ferraro family. At that point, Rico spills his secrets about the terrible experiences he had in Japan and about the horrific secret he has been keeping for two decades. This story line is resolved in the inevitable showdown scene at the end of the book. The villain behind the war is relatively easy to identify well before Feehan reveals the true identity, but there is enough suspense to keep you turning the pages to be sure that you guessed correctly.

     Rico is yet another of Feehan's alpha heroes who constantly profess their respect for and admiration of women, but who absolutely dominate "their" women in every aspect of life. Although Mariko is a skilled, well-trained shadow rider, Rico over-protects her every chance he gets, and when it comes to the shibari and the sex, he is definitely in charge 100% of the time. Like his brother, Stefano, Rico has bedded innumerable women, but he promises Mario that "I don't bring women to this house. Ever. I've never had a woman in my bed. I don't sleep with them. Or want to hold them all night. I don't tie them here. I just created this hopes of finding you." Naturally, Mariko's reaction is to become convinced that Rico will never settle down with an inexperienced virgin like herself, thus adding another layer of angst to poor Mariko's life. 

     Feehan teases us with several hints of romances that are developing for other Ferraro siblings. It's fairly obvious that Taviano and Nicoletta will become a couple, as will Emmanuelle (Emme) and Val Saldi.

     The characters and story line are easily recognizable as typical Feehan creations, so if you enjoy alpha male domination and female submission, you'll probably enjoy the novel. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt on the novel's page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Shadow Reaper is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own. 

    The Ferraro family functions like the Cosa Nostra, with the eldest son of the family acting as the godfather. In addition to their public—legal—businesses (e.g., hotels, race cars), they serve as hit men who take contracts to target and eliminate bad guys who are beyond the law—those who manage to beat the justice system. For example, the first contract fulfillment we see in Shadow Rider is the snap-the-neck killing of a church-going, supposedly upstanding citizen who is actually a wife beater and child abuser and who also hires and tortures prostitutes.

     The five male siblings who run the Ferraro family are all gorgeous, charismatic men who are mobbed by the paparazzi as they mingle with the rich and the famous on the club circuit, posing as idle, rich playboys to make themselves seem harmless and to distract attention away from their undercover deeds. 
>Stefano: the eldest brother, carries the responsibility for his family's financial empire and for its death-dealing underworld jobs. He is the hero of The Shadow.
>Rico has the darkest nature and is "prone to violence and chance taking." To satisfy his sexual needs, he has turned to multiple sexual partners and to Shibara (Japanese rope bondage). Stefano views Rico as "a ticking time bomb" who is holding some very dark secrets. Rico is the hero of Shadow Reaper.
>Vittorio is a peacemaker with a savage core beneath his cool exterior.
>Giovanni is the most volatile, going from rational to raging in just seconds.
>Taviano is a gentle, kind guy who will probably be forming a romantic relationship with Nicoletta, a young woman he rescues from harm late in Shadow Rider.
>Emmanuelle (aka Emme) is the youngest sibling and the only sister. Although she participates in the Chicago club scene, her brothers are very protective about preventing the development any possible male relationships. In Shadow Rider, we learn that Emme has a frenemy-type history with Valentino Saldi, a member of a rival crime family.
     In the very first book, Feehan makes it clear that the brothers (but not their sister) follow "rules. Lots of rules" when it comes to the opposite sex: "They didn't romance women. They had their fun, made certain the women...had fun as well, but they didn't date. They didn't make promises. They never, never took advantage of a woman who didn't know the score or the game....The brothers were highly sexual and they had no compunction about finding women who were more than willing to see to those needs in return for the same, but there were never emotional entanglements." (from Shadow Rider)

     Also in Shadow Rider, we learn that Rico, Vittorio, Giovanni, and Taviano each spent a full year in different training facilities in Europe when they were in their late teens. Apparently, their trainers were cruel, unfeeling men who left indelible scars on the personalities of all four men. I'm sure that those emotional scars will be important factors that will complicate their love stories.

     And now for the paranormal part of this mythology: The Ferraro siblings (and their mother) are all shadow riders, which means that they have the ability to slide into shadow "tubes" and "ride" them from one place to another. This means that they complete most of their criminal activities at night. Here's how Stefano rides the shadows: "Stefano felt the pull of each of the shadow tubes. Openings he could slide through. The pull was strong on his body, dragging at him like powerful magnets, the sensation  uncomfortable, but familiar...Even small shadows drew him, pulling his body apart until he was streaming through light and dark to his destination." (from Shadow Rider) Click HERE and scroll down a bit to view the book trailer for Shadow Rider, which includes a shadow-riding scene that will give you a visual image of riding through the shadow tubes.

     The part of the shadow rider mythology that is most important to this series is the fact that rider children can only be born to rider women, and women riders are quite rare. Naturally, the Ferraro brothers are desperate to find rider women in order to keep their dynasty going. That means that when a male rider comes across a female rider, he has to quickly claim her (with sex, of course) and convince her to give up her life plans because she has to become part of the Ferraro family and begin having babies in order to establish the next generation of Ferraros. In Shadow Rider, Francesca has no idea that she is a rider. In fact, she knows nothing about shadow riding at all, and I assume that will be the case with some, and possibly all, of the females in this series.

                         NOVEL 1:  Shadow Rider                          
     Christine Feehan is back with a sexy new series starring a Chicago crime family that hides a dark, mystical secret. 

     Whether it’s fast cars or fast women, Stefano Ferraro gets what he wants. When he’s not fodder for the paparazzi, he commands Ferraro family businesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. 

     While their criminal activity is simply s rumor yet to be proven, no one outside the family knows the real truth. The Ferraros are a family of shadow riders capable of manipulating light and dark, an ability Stefano thought ran in his family alone until now. 

     With little left to her name, Francesca Cappello has come to Chicago in hopes of a new life. She wasn’t expecting to attract the attention of a man with primal hunger in his eyes, driven to claim her as his to protect and to please. And if he discovers her secret, it could ruin her.

    This book contains the usual expositional information that is necessary for all books that begin a new series. Feehan has to introduce the heroine and the members of the Ferraro family in addition to explaining the mythology of the shadow riders. She does this without too much info dumping, but she does include a LOT of repetition in her descriptions of the Ferraro men (frequently word for word)—their six-pack abs, their gorgeous musculature, their handsome faces, and their hard, dark, murderous life style that must be accepted completely by the woman they select as mates. 

     Much of the repetitive language focuses on the Ferraro males' deep need to protect woman. We get lots of statements like these: "He was a protective man. He had been born that way. Every rider was. The need to protect and control was bred into every single one of them. Those two traits were so ingrained in them, there was no getting either characteristic out. No getting around them." The men actually "control" more than they "protect." In fact, they are total control freaks when it comes to women, accepting no refusals of their demands and no arguments whatsoever. Unfortunately, this makes them come across as misogynistic jerks of the highest order, and it makes their women—in this case, Francesca—come across as weak, dependent dimwits. 

     The romance plot begins with Stefano's love-at-first-sight moment when he first encounters Francesca, who has come to Chicago in search of safety and security. She is on the run from a nasty villain and is completely penniless, with no possessions whatsoever except for the thrift-store clothes on her back. Regardless of her own desperate situation, she gives away her winter coat (also from a thrift store) to a homeless woman, so when Stefano sees her shivering in her thin shirt and her ragged jeans, he insists that she put on his cashmere coat. He also fills the coat pocket with money so that she can buy proper shoes and other clothing. Stefano comes across as one of Feehan's typical über-alpha males—an arrogant rich guy who always gets what he wants—so when Francesca makes a few weak attempts at sarcasm and refuses (for a minute) to accept the coat, he is intrigued, but overrides her objections without a second thought. Stefano continues his rude, crude, demanding, arrogant behavior throughout the book.

     The Ferraros have absolute rule over their section of Chicago's Little Italy, where everyone knows them, respects them, and fears them. So when Stefano singles out Francesca for his attentions, her social status immediately goes way up, particularly after he publicly claims her as "mine."

     Francesca has mixed feelings about her encounter with Stefano. She appreciates the warm coat, but her pride won't let her accept charity and her morals won't let her accept the fact that he might be helping her out in exchange for future "favors." The road to their eventual HEA is semi-rough as Francesca struggles with her nightmares about her horrific past, her overwhelming sexual attraction to Stefano, and her need to be an independent woman. Naturally, the sexual attraction quickly wins out over the need for independence, as is usual in Feehan's books.

     Percolating in the background are some action-based story lines, the most important of which deals with the reason that Francesca is on the run. These plot threads are dealt with relatively quickly once they make their way to the surface, each resulting in a bit of pain and suffering for the heroine (just enough to give Stefano the chance to heroically shadow in to rescue her).

     This is a typical Feehan novel: the dangerous, conflicted alpha bully-hero who both protects and dominates women; the helpless, submissive heroine who claims to want independence but loves to be dominated (and rescued); and the good-old-boy male womanizers who would never treat their sister like they treat their one-night-stand women. This book follows Feehan's trend of increasing darkness both in the behavior of the male characters and in aspects of the plot, with brutal murders that are immediately forgotten and lots of glowering men (all Italian Americans) who strut around their turf like lords of the manor. No one with whom they come in contact has any doubt that it's their way or the highway (i.e., serious injury or death). All the while, though, Feehan keeps up her commentary about how much they love and respect "their" women. 

     The sexual scenes between Stefano and Francesca are not at all romantic. Although Francesca is just one unfortunate experience away from being a virgin, Stefano turns their first joining into a prolonged weekend of rough sex and bondage. Stefano admits to having had sex with thousands of woman, but, implausibly, he promises Francesca that she is the only one he has tied up because "they didn't belong to me. You belong to me." Feehan definitely includes some 50 Shades details in this book. For example, all of the Ferraro brothers dress in bespoke gray suits, gray shirts, and gray ties, supposedly to help them blend into the shadows. All of them are oversexed and several are into bondage. And the very first time Stefano ties Francesca's hands together, he uses one of those gray ties.'s kind of derivative.

     If you are a fan of Feehan's male-dominant paranormal romances, you won't be disappointed in this novel, but if you are looking for a truly independent, free-thinking heroine and a reasonably romantic hero, this isn't the book for you. Click HERE to read or listen to an except from Shadow Rider on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

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