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Monday, September 20, 2010


Author:  Dianne Sylvan 
Publisher and Titles:  Ace
          Queen of Shadows (8/2010)
          Shadowflame (7/2011)
          Shadow's Fall (3/2012)
          Of Shadow Born (3/2013) 
          Shadowbound (3/2014)

     This post was revised and updated on 5/2/14 to include a review of 
Shadowbound, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels.      

               NOVEL 5:  Shadowbound                   
     This novel begins about ten days after the final events of book four and is divided into two sections based on a of tarot-card reading: Part 1, "The Eight of Pentacles," and Part 2, "The Ten of Swords." The identities of the characters  represented by these two cards are critical to the novel's plot, so when you come to the tarot card scene, read it carefully and keep it in mind as the plot thickens. 

     The primary problem facing Prime David Solomon, Queen Miranda, and their allies is a series of attacks by the Order of the Morningstar, a cult-like group whose goal is to exterminate every vampire in the world. As this novel opens, the Morningstars have learned that if they kill a Prime and destroy the Signet, they can drain his or her power and use it to create powerful human soldiers. As one Prime after another is murdered, David tries to convince the more conservative Primes around the world that they need to beef up their security and take extreme precautions. Unfortunately, they are so arrogant that they refuse to believe that mere humans can possibly be a danger to them…and so the killings continue.

     In the previous novel, David and some of his allied Signets became part of a magical Circle who are descendants of those who subdued Morningstar centuries ago: Devon (Prime of the West) and his consort, Jonathan Burke; Jacob Janousek (Prime of Eastern Europe) and his Consort, Cora; and Olivia (Prime of the East). They need one more member to complete their Circle: a consort for Olivia. Once they have all eight members, the powers bestowed on them by Persephone will fully develop and they will be unbeatable. At that point, Persephone, the creator of the first vampires, is expected to manifest herself on Earth. Meanwhile, most of the Circle members are already demonstrating new powers
especially Miranda, David, and Cora.      

     As usual, the novel follows a number of interwoven story lines:           

   >  David: He is hot on the trail of the Morningstar group, but he is also emotionally troubled by the events of Deven's life. (Remember, they were lovers for a decade back in the 1930s.) David is also trying to translate a mysterious book that Stella helped him find within a wall of his Haven. Here, David muses about the recent changes in his life: "In the space of a few short years, here he was, an entirely different kind of vampire, dealing with amulets that could bring back long-forgotten gods and turn humans into supernatural warriors…Witches who could speak with said gods face-to-face…and he himself had been resurrected from the dead. Now there was a magic book to contend with. What next?" (p. 157) Be careful, David, that question never has a pleasant answer in an urban fantasy.    

   >  Miranda: She and David are both dealing with the consequences of their new powers, particularly their need to drain (i.e., kill) a human at every new moon…for the rest of their immortal lives. This is particularly difficult for Miranda because her feelings of humanity are still quite strong. She also has to deal with a tragic situation involving her long-estranged sister. As if that's not enough, Persephone keeps sending Miranda dreams about a silvery web. (Miranda's web reminded me of Nalini Singh's PsyNet in her PSY CHANGELING series).    

   >  Deven: The Prime of the West is trying to recover from a deep depression that threatens his life. Late in the book, Deven makes a major change in his relationship with his Consort. He also has a tragic run-in with the Morningstars.

   >  Jonathan: Deven's Consort is a precognitive (a person with future sight) who has had a vision of an upcoming tragedy, but doesn't tell anyone what he has foreseen.

   >  Nicolanai (Nico) Araceith (aka the Weaver): He is an elf from Avilon, a parallel universe, and he has the ability to go inside Deven's mind and weave a matrix that strengthens Deven's soul and brings him out of his depression. He is also in love with Deven. Nico plays a key role in this novel in a number of ways. 

   >  Stella Maguire: The young witch has become an integral part of Miranda and David's lives as she tries to help them complete their circle. She also serves as a conduit for Persephone's messages to Miranda.

     The two main story lines are the ones that involve Devon's mental condition and Morningstar's escalating terrorism. When asked to describe what's wrong with Deven, Nico responds, "Entropy. A vampire's soul is different from a human's, but it was made from a human's, and one characteristic both share is a limited life span. You simply aren't made to live this long. Essentially the Prime is falling apart as if he had already died, but he hasn't, and the dissolution is driving him mad. In most deaths the body and mind die together. Not so here." (p. 22)

     As the plot plays out at a fast pace, the Morningstars become stronger and more numerous and make some direct hits on members of the Circle. Sylvan handles the multiple story lines well, with few missteps, but the reader must pay attention because the point of view (POV) changes very frequently and there are no print cues for the POV changes—just a few extra line spaces. Sometimes I had trouble figuring out the identity of the characters as new POVs popped up. This was particularly true of the first scene with Miranda's sister.   

     This is another solid addition to a series that I am enjoying more and more. In fact, it is a much stronger novel than some of the earlier ones. The Morningstar story arc is just in its early stages, so I'm sure that we'll be learning much more about them in future novels.  

    In this world, the vampires are divided into 27 territories around the globe, each ruled by a Prime. (Click HERE to view Sylvan's map of the Signet Territories of the U.S.) Although humans and vampires exist together in the mortal world, they live separate lives, with humans mostly unaware of the vampires and their Shadow World, and vampires interacting with humans only for nourishment. Primes are powerful male vampires, identified by the Signet each one wears around his neck—a huge gemstone (e.g., ruby, emerald). Primes are actually chosen by the Signets. If the right vampire hangs the Signet around his neck, the ruby flashes, signaling that he is indeed the Prime. If a Prime's Signet flashes when he meets a particular woman, that woman becomes his Queen and his soul mate, and she wears a matching Signet. Here, a Prime explains to his newly discovered—and very nervous—Queen that the Signets "are a badge of office to show the world who the strongest vampires are, but they choose their bearers themselves. It's magic as old as the world—there are even some vague references from biblical times. When a Signet finds its Prime, it flashes and continues to glow...and then when that Prime finds his Queen, it flashes again." (Shadowflame, p. 279) Each Prime lives in a Haven—an estate that provides living quarters for a huge staff, including massive security forces.

     Although this series may turn out to be urban fantasy (one hint: the heroine is a redhead—de rigueur for UF), at this point I'm calling it SMR because the first two books focus heavily on Miranda and David's romantic relationship.

     Click HERE to go to a page on Sylvan's web site with links to extras and deleted scenes. Click HERE for profiles of leading SHADOW WORLD characters. Click HERE for a primer on the SHADOW WORLD mythology. Click HERE for Sylvan's Q&A on the series.

            NOVEL 1:  Queen of Shadows            
     The first book of the series takes place in Austin, Texas, where Miranda Grey (human, as the story begins) is a locally well-known singer who is rapidly losing control of her life because her empathic abilities are overwhelming her. After being victimized in a street crime, Miranda is rescued by David Solomon, a computer geek (but really hot) who is the local Prime. David, who has lived for more that three centuries, has some very modern ideas about vampire life that many older vamps actively oppose. For example, he wants to use modern technology to set up surveillance systems throughout his territory (the American South) so that he can keep track electronically of where each vampire is—24/7. David's interest in technological innovations is an important part of the plot. He is portrayed as a man of high morals whose focus is on keeping his people safe from danger and safe from discovery by humans.

     The rest of the plot deals with a group of rogue vampires (the Blackthorn) who (of course) want to use humans as blood sources (they call humans "meat"). The rogues generally kill their donors without a second thought. Although David and his followers drink human blood, they never drain their donors to death (because otherwise they wouldn't be the good guys, right?). The story follows Miranda and David as they battle the rogues and fall in love along the way.

     Except for one or two illogical episodes, the plot is solid and moves at a fast pace. But really, would you send your girlfriend away to live alone if you knew that a bunch of rogue vamps were after her? Would you e-mail the good guys to tell them a traitor is in their midst, but not give them his name, even though you know it? I hope that future books in the series will tighten up on the logic. Otherwise, though, this is an enjoyable read. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Queen of Shadows.

NOVEL 2:  Shadowflame            
     The book follows Miranda and David through the early months of their marriage. At first, all is well, but then Miranda discovers that David had a ten-year romantic relationship with a man—a Prime from another territory—before he came to Texas. The introduction of this romantic entanglement strikes a resounding wrong note because of David's off-handed manner when Miranda accidentally finds out about the affair. David is very surprised at Miranda's strong negative reaction and nonchalantly tells her that he thought that Faith (his second in command) would had told Miranda all about the affair long ago. Here's how the conversation goes when Miranda asks David about his relationship with Deven, who is currently visiting their Haven for the first time: 
David blinked, mouth opening slightly, as though he had no idea how to respond. Then he said hesitantly, "I thought Faith told you."
"Told me what." Now he looked actively sheepish. 
"That Deven and I were lovers."  
She knew she must look like a stranded fish, but she couldn't help it. "When?"  
"When I was in California...[for] about ten years...." 
"Ten years?....And it never occurred to you to bring it up?"  
"As I said. I thought you knew. I didn't realize it would be such a problem." (p. 104) 
     Now wait just a minute—he thought that the best way for his wife to find out about his long-term homosexual affair would be for someone else to tell her? And now he doesn't understand why she is upset? I don't think so. Up to this point, David has been characterized as a loving, caring straight male who is deeply, madly in love with Miranda. For him to behave this badly just doesn't jibe with that earlier portrayal. The affair comes back to haunt David when the ex-lover pays a visit to the Haven and they re-ignite their relationship. Much of the story line revolves around the actions surrounding this love triangle. The secondary plot involves an unknown assassin who makes an attempt on Miranda's life and then goes on to attack—and sometimes kill—several of her friends. One final story thread involves the fact that both David and Miranda are picking up new powers from each other, something heretofore unheard of in the world of the Primes. Miranda gets David's telekinesis and David gets her  prescience.   

     Because the badly handled love affair plot took up most of the story line, I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first. By the end, David and his ex-lover have cooled things down and agreed to sever their physical relationship, so perhaps the next book will have less relationship angst and more complexity and depth. A clue at the very end tells us that another figure from David's past will be turning up, but this time, at least, it's not a former lover. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Shadowflame.            

              NOVEL 3: Shadow's Fall                
     Book 3 begins three years after book 2 ends. David and Miranda are preparing to host a Council meeting, which is held every ten years and will bring Primes from across the globe to their Haven. One of the Council members who will be attending is Hart, their sworn enemy, and they expect that he has some type of dastardly plans in mind to strike out at them. Hart stays true to form, and his actions play a huge part in the tragedy that ends the book.

     Meanwhile, an ancient cult of witches is preparing for an Awakening of their goddess, Persephone, who is considered to be the creator of the vampire race. Out in California, Jonathan has had a vision about something terrible that is going to happen to the Pair—either David or Miranda or both—so Deven spends much of his time trying to change their fate, which is always risky and rarely successful.

     As the story progresses, the plot becomes more and more complex and mysterious, and it's not constructed very well. The action shifts abruptly from one set of characters to another without any warning (except for an extra line space), so sometimes it's difficult to grasp just what's going on. Near the end, the primary villain explains the whole situation to a major character just before he plans to kill her, so the reader gets a summary of the entire plot, all in one big chunk. Even with that explanation, though, I'm still not exactly sure what the Awakening will mean for the vampire world or why David and Miranda were chosen by the witches. A young witch (Stella Maguire), who is unrelated to the witch cult, is introduced early on, and it is obvious that she will play a major role in the next book, but in this book, her scenes are awkwardly sprinkled throughout the story without adding much to the meaning to the plot. 

     As events play out, David's sire, Lydia, shows up in Austin and gives him a ring that she claims is magically related to Persephone, the Firstborn vampires, and the origin of the Signets. Lydia warns David and Miranda that "Change is coming....The Council has lost its way. A grave threat looms against all our kind." (p. 190) In the middle of all of this, Faith has a passion-filled one-night stand with Jeremy Hayes, head of Hart's Elite warriors. Unfortunately for her, Jeremy plays a sinister role in the tragedy that unfolds in the final climactic scene. In a moment of foreshadowing earlier in the book, Miranda muses about her current life: "So I'm a vampire, a musician, an empath; I sword-fight; I can move stuff with my mind and sometimes sort of halfway see the future. What's next?" (p. 154) As we all know, it's not wise to ask questions like that because tempting fate can be very dangerous. 

     I will not try to summarize the cliff-hanger ending in any detail, but I will say that the vampire community of Austin will never be the same after these events. Here is one hint: If you're up to date on Chloe Neill's CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES, you'll know what happens to the lead couple in this book and, presumably, the next because Sylvan comes close to poaching Neill's plot twist. All in all, this is probably the weakest of the three books, with a strung-together feel to the plot and an ending that is borrowed from another series. It seems more like a transitional piece, or a prequel to the next book. Click HERE for an excerpt from Shadow's Fall.     

            NOVEL 4:  Of Shadow Born            
As the fourth book opens, Miranda is unconscious after having been rescued from the explosion that has apparently killed David. Her rescuer is Stella Maguire, the young witch who popped up for the first time in book 3. When Miranda gets back on her feet, she is faced with a life without her Prime and with the responsibility for keeping the South Haven operating at peak levels. The villains of the series are still out there: Jeremy Hayes, the traitor who set the explosion that killed Faith and David; James Hart, the New York Prime who sent Jeremy to kill David; and the Order of the Morning Star, humans who are dedicated to wiping vampires off the face of the earth. Each of the villains has a part to play in this book.

    I won't be too specific about plot points in this review because there is too much of a risk of accidentally giving you a Spoiler. I'll just say that the bonds connecting the good-guy Primes and their consorts are becoming stronger and stronger, and some of them are gaining some wild and crazy powers.

     The story follows Miranda and her allies as they try to figure out why their bonds are getting stronger and stronger. Meanwhile, Jeremy is out for vengeance against Hart and his cohorts for murdering his wife and kidnapping and torturing his daughter. The Morningstar lurks in the background through most of the story, but at the end, we learn why they were so eager to break into Hart's Haven and what dastardly deeds they are planning for the near future.

     This book has a huge emotional range: from agony, grief, and heartbreak to compassion, joy, and hope. The ending leaves most of the good-guy characters in positive circumstances, with the possible exception of Deven, who is afraid that he is going mad. To his rescue comes a brand new character (from a very different species) who seems ready and able to help him through his troubles. 

     We learn a lot of new information about vampire history in this book, along with an explanation of Persephone's role in their creation. Specifically, we learn what happened to the first generation of vamps and why the second generation was created to replace them. We also see the creation of the first two members of the third vampire generation.

     As always, the plot is fast-moving and complex and each character plays an important part in the development of the series story arc—which, by the way, is defined in much more detail in this book. We can finally see where the action is taking us, and it looks like we have a wild ride ahead in the next book. This book is a real page-turner, and I highly recommend the series. Don't start with this book, though. Go back and read the first three installments before you read this one. Click HERE for an excerpt from Of Shadow Born. Click HERE for a second excerpt.            

1 comment:

  1. Book 2, "Shadowflame" is currently available.

    Book 3, "Shadow's Fall" is scheduled to be released 03/27/2012.

    There are some deleted/extra short stories on the author's Website.