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Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Author:  J. K. Beck (pen name for Julie Kenner)
Plot Type:  SMR
Ratings:  V-4; S-4; H-1 
Publisher and Titles:  Bantam
       When Blood Calls (7/2010)
       When Pleasure Rules (9/2010)
       When Wicked Craves (10/2010) 
       "Midnight" (e-novella, 11/2011)
       When Passion Lies (5/2012)
       When Darkness Hungers (6/2012)
       When Temptation Burns (7/2012)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 9/19/12 to include reviews of the fifth and sixth books in the series, When Darkness Hungers and When Temptation Burns. Appearing first in this post is an overview of the world-building, followed by summaries of books 1-3 and reviews of books 4-6. The two newest reviews appear last, so you will have to scroll down to the bottom of the post to read them.

     In this world, humans are aware that supernatural creatures (vampires, werewolves, jinns, daemons) called the Shadow creatures exist alongside them. Ruling the Shadow creatures is the Alliance, with a council made up of members of the various races. The Alliance is currently dominated by the vampires. Their rivals, the weren (aka werewolves), are always trying to take over, while the humans just try to keep safe. The usual political maneuvering, racial biases, and internecine conflicts keep the Alliance always on the edge of falling into chaos.

     The mythology of the weren and the vampires traces back to three brothers. Two of the brothersone a vampire and one a werenconspired against and finally murdered the third brother, who cursed them as he died.

     Vampires have many of the traditional characteristics (e.g., sun sensitivity, shape-changing and misting abilities), but they also have one not-so-traditional weakness: hematite, which their enemies use offensively in their weapons and defensively in the structure of their homes. These vampires have another problem that they struggle with throughout their existence. When humans are changed into vampires, their souls are not destroyed, but are overpowered by a daemon that rises from within them. "The daemon lived in all vampiresa bone-deep malevolence that emerged from the human soul when the change was brought on. but some vampires were able to successfully fight it, to regularly battle it back down until their human will took precedence." (When Darkness Hungers, p. 2) Here, one vampire describes his daemon: "It takes control. It pushes you to do things you wouldn't do, and yet it's still you. It thrives on pain. On degradation....When the daemon's out that's when humans get killed" (When Darkness Hungers, p. 265, 266) For the rest of his or her existence, then, the vampire must constantly fight to keep the daemon under control

     In this world, the Shadowers have a multi-level governmental structure. There's the Alliance, which is kind of like a United Nations for the Shadow world. Then, there's the Preternatural Enforcement Coalition (PEC), the organization that investigates, prosecutes, and adjudicates crimes committed by Shadowers. In the U.S., the PEC operates as a secret branch of Homeland Security called Division Six. In addition to these two organizations, each geographic area has a governor.

     This is a typical paranormal romance series with each book telling one couple's love story with all of its anguished moments and lustful interludes. The action plots frequently involve Alliance and PEC politics and the Shadowers who oppose them, which generally makes for some vicious and bloody action.

These are the happy couples in each book:
   When Blood Calls: Sara Constantine (human) & Luke Dragos (vampire)
   When Pleasure Rules: Lissa Monroe (succubus) & Vincent Rand (werewolf)
   When Wicked Craves: Petra Lang (witch) & Nicholas Montegue (vampire)
   "Midnight" & When Passion Lies: Caris (vampire/were hybrid) & Tiberius (vampire)
   When Darkness Hungers: Alexis Martin (human) & Sergius (altered vampire)
   When Temptation Burns: Andy Terrant & Ryan Doyle (percipient paradaemon)

        SUMMARIES OF BOOKS 1, 2, & 3        
     If book 1 of this series had a melodrama rating, it would be over the top; the characters spend a lot of their time over-emoting about their lives, their relationships, etc. In When Blood Calls, Sara Constantine is a human prosecutor who gets promoted to Division 6 (aka the Preternatural Enforcement Coalition)the secret supernatural justice system in Los Angeles. She soon discovers that the Shadow creaturesthe spooky monsters of nightmaresare real and that she will now be prosecuting them. Sara's love interest is Lucius (Luke) Dragos, a powerful (and sexy, of course) vampire accused of murdering a crooked judge. The plot involves Lucius's ward (Tasha), a serial child killer, and various supernatural rivals within the Alliance.

     When Pleasure Rules tells the SMR story of Lissa (succubus) and Rand (werewolf assassin) as they track down a mysterious serial killer. 

     When Wicked Craves takes us through the romance of Petra (cursed witch) and Nicholas (vampire lawyer) as Petra tries to escape the death penalty, and Nicholas helps Petra escape and attempts save a friend's sanity as well as his life. Books 2 and 3 begin just days after the previous books end, and they definitely need to be read in sequence since characters and events from previous books play important roles in new adventures, without much explanation of their histories.

        REVIEW OF BOOK 4:  When Passion Lies        
     It's been two years since the last book in this series was published, and I must admit I had a hard time remembering the details of what happened in the first three books. Included at the end of When Passion Lies is the novella, "Midnight," which tells the story of how Tiberius and Caris first met, so I recommend reading that before you read the novel.

     As the story begins, Caris and Tiberius have been apart for 20 years. He banished her after she was captured by a werewolf scientist who experimented on her and turned her into a hybrida vampire/werewolf mix. Hybrids have a long, horrific history in the shadow world dating back to ancient times: "It was said to have started with a feud between two warring brothers who murdered a third brother to steal his power. Having done so, the two became the founders of the shadow worldthe first vampire and the first werewolf. But the blood of the third seeped into the ground, and from within the earth, he cursed them never to find peace. As a physical manifestation of that curse, any creature that was a weren-vampire mix had blood that burned through flesh." (p. 5) An even greater problem is that hybrids generate an air-borne virus that kills humans, vampires, and most other shadow creatures almost immediately. The only ones immune from the virus are the werewolves. According to this mythology, it wasn't infected rats and fleas that caused the Black Death, it was an out-of-control hybrid.

     At the time of Caris' capture, Tiberius was a leading member of the Alliance, and when she escaped from the werewolf's captivity and returned to him, he believed that he had no choice but to banish her. For Tiberius, the safety and security of his people have always come before his personal feelings. At the time she returned to him, Caris had no control over her inner wolf, and if she lost control even once, she could have spread the plague all over Londonand then the world. Although Tiberius sent Caris away, he kept her hybrid status a secret known only to the two of them. Bitter and alone after her banishment, Caris sought refuge with Gunnolf, the werewolf leader who was ejected from his Alliance position in the previous book. Gunnolf sympathized with Caris' plight and agreed to help her learn to control her wolf. They have kept her hybrid status a secret all this time, pretending that she is still a vampire and that she has turned against Tiberius. Caris and Gunnolf have even led everyone (including Tiberius) to believe that they are lovers.

     During these past twenty years, Caris has been trying to track down Cyrus Reinholt, the villainous werewolf who ruined her life. Early in this book, she finds him and kills him, only to have Tiberius show up moments later claiming that Reinholt was about to give him important information concerning the nefarious activities of Lihter, a werewolf who is trying to gain greater power in the Alliance and in the world in general. The plot follows Caris and Tiberius as they reunite, iron out their problems (way too easily), and work together to uncover Lihter's dark plan to destroy everyone on the earth except the werewolves. Click HERE to read the first three chapters. 

     This is a typical paranormal romance, with its angst-filled internal monologues and tortured hero and heroine. The weakest point in the story, for me, comes at the end when Tiberius makes a momentous and unbelievable decision about his life. What he does seems to make a lie of everything that he has professed to believe in for his entire thousand-year existence. Other than that huge glitch, the rest of the book follows the usual formula.

        REVIEW OF BOOK 5:  When Darkness Hungers        
     This book brings us back to Los Angeles and the original group of Shadowers that we met in the first three books of the series. The unlikely hero is 2,000-year-old Sergius ("Serge"), who was a mindless, daemon-cursed killer when we met him in earlier books. Now he is attempting to cope with his new life. After the death of the mad, monstrous master who controlled him, Serge discovered that, in addition to blood, he needed a constant supply of life-energy to keep his daemon under control. Whatever Shadow creature he kills and draws energy from, that is the creature he becomes. But underneath it all, a real monster hides. If Serge completely loses control, he becomes a clawed, scaly, mindless killer beast, so he's been sneaking around killing rogue vampires in order to suck their life-energy and stay as normal as possible.

     Alexis Martin is a former FBI agent who left her job and came to Los Angeles to find the vampire who killed her sister. She is accompanied by her friend, Leena, a powerful witch with a big secret. Together, they have been searching out vampires. Leena tracks them with her witchcraft, and Alexis stakes them. One night, Serge and Alexis track the same rogue vampire, and the romance begins. For the first half of the book, they eye each other from a distance, but they eventually meet (well into the story) and fall for each other.

     The action part of the plot involves the increasing number of humans being slain by rogue vampires and the increasing number of vampires who are either disappearing or turning up as desiccated shells. As it turns out, Derrick, one of Serge's old buddies, is in town and he's determined to change the rules laid out by the PEC. Derrick is an old-school vampire, viewing humans as nothing more than prey, and he's not about to follow the PEC's laws as they relate to humans or anything else. Although the romance between Serge and Alexis becomes important in the final quarter of the book, the bulk of the story follows Serge and Alexisseparatelyas they roam around the city at night killing rogue vampires, and Derrick as he acts on his own nefarious plans.

     The romance in this book is unusual in that it takes so long for the couple to finally meet, much less really get together. That's not a problem, though, because the plot is compelling and full of mostly unpredictable twists and turns. Pay particular attention to the Prologue because the scene depicted there has far-reaching consequences.

        REVIEW OF BOOK 6:  When Temptation Burns        
     In a story that is completely unrelated to the one in book 5, one of the familiar supporting characters from the PEC takes the starring role. That would be Ryan Doyle, whose technical PEC description is percipient paradaemonmeaning that he has the ability to perceive the last memories of the newly dead by touching them and that he is a half, not a full, daemon. Doyle also has powers over fire, wind, and water, but he is weakened by electricity. Doyle was conceived when his human mother was raped by a daemon back in 1730, and she brutally raised him to believe that he is, and always will be, totally evil. He fights hard against his demonic nature and hates the fact that he must devour human souls in order to continue living. Doyle is an agent for the PEC and frequently works murder scenes, touching the corpses in an attempt to determine the identities of their killers.

     Andrea (Andy) Tarrent is an investigative reporter who is always on the lookout for her next big story. Her father is a devil-hating preacher, and her mother was killed by a mugger (or so she has been told) when Andy was 12. Andy and Doyle meet for the first time when she is at a prison interviewing a vicious serial killer and Doyle pulls the prisoner away to interview him about a rogue vampire case. Andrea doesn't believe in the Shadow world. She's a jaded realist who only believes what she can see and touch. Unsurprisingly, in this book, she runs into many situations that are entirely new to her. 

     The romance plot follows Doyle and Andy as they quickly form a mutual attraction that leads to lust and love. In a false note, Andy accepts Doyle's daemon heritage much too quickly, especially when she learns about the violent acts he has committed in the past, one of which closely relates to her own family. (You'll be able to figure this one out long before it is officially revealed in the story line.) The action plot involves Andy's father and young cousin, both of whom have joined Paul Vassalo and his Dark Warriors (DW)human hunters of vampires and werewolves. When Doyle goes undercover to infiltrate the DW and learn their current plans, the situation gets dangerous and violent for everyone, both good and bad. By the end of the story, the DW learns way too much about the Shadow world, leaving the PEC to deal with human hate squads in the months (and books) ahead.

     Once again, this is a conventional soul-mate romance, with insta-love and a rough romantic road. The plot has some twists and turns, but most are predictable long before they are revealed. You could read this book as a stand-alone because it doesn't rely on much series history for its plot.

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