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Thursday, December 9, 2010


Author:  Christina Henry
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality2-3; Humor—2-3
Publisher and Titles: Ace
          Black Wings (11/2010)
          Black Night (7/2011)
          "Red Isn't Really My Color" in Kicking It (12/2013)
          Black Howl (2/2012)  
          Black Lament (10/2012)  
          Black City (2/2013)   
          Black Heart (10/2013)  
          Black Spring (11/2014) (FINAL)       

     This post was revised and updated on 11/18/14 to include a review of Black Spring, the seventh and FINAL novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first six novels.

         NOVEL 7: Black Spring             
     In this final novel in the series, the author ties up all the loose ends that have been dangling for the past few books and resolves Maddie's problems with the four demonic brothers: Daharan (the eldest: a dragon), Alerian (a giant squid), Lucifer (ruler of Hell), and Puck (the youngest: an egocentric trickster). Just to get the relationships straight, Maddie is Lucifer's many-greats-granddaughter, and Nathaniel is Puck's son. At this point, Daharan has appointed himself as Maddie's protector, although Nathaniel and Beezle suspect him of dark motives. Two more of Maddie's entourage show up early on in the story: Jude (aka Judas Iscariot), the werewolf, and Samiel (Lucifer's deaf grandson). Hail! Hail! The gang's all here. (And that's always a good thing.)

     As the story begins, Maddie is well along in her pregnancy, so you know from the start that there will be a dramatic birthing scene before the book ends, along with a resolution of Maddie's love life. In the opening scenes, we watch Maddie and her housemates (Daharan, Nathaniel, and Beezle) enjoy a few moments of peace before the inevitable trouble begins. As Beezle tells Maddie, "It's been ages since you've cooked anything….It's always 'apocalypse this, apocalypse that' with you."

     The first problem that crops up is a mysterious shapeshifter who is out to get Maddie. Maddie learns that the shifter is similar to three creatures created by Alerian eons ago as weapons to use against his enemies. "The creatures were born of his own blood, the power and changeability of the sea, mixed with the blood of humans and of shapeshifters...They could be human or animal or bird." According to Daharan, he personally forced Alerian to destroy all three of his original shape shifters centuries ago. Although Maddie doesn't think that Alerian has sent the shifter to kill her, she knows that one of her enemies is controlling it, but which one? The shifter's magic is so potent that it can attack and injure without even touching its target.

     The next problem occurs when Alerian magically persuades the Chicago mayor to begin rounding up all supernaturals and putting them under guard in camps. After the round-up, Alerian plans to take control of the supernaturals and start killing off the human population. When Maddie confronts Alerian about his devious plans, he sends a giant squid to kill her. Meanwhile, someone murders Samiel's true love, Chloe, in Maddie's basement, an event that is witnessed by Jack Dabrowski, the clueless blogger who latched on to Maddie in the previous book. Jack is a complete idiot who stumbles from one TSTL moment to another all through this book.

     At this point, Beezle summarizes the situation: "Alerian is unhappy with you and will probably send another monster to kill you soon since the first one didn't do the job. The city's plan for locking us all up is going forward…The shifter has way more power than we first thought and we have no idea who its master is. The most famous supernatural blogger in the city witnessed a horrid killing in your house….And the first of the fallen is getting married in two days and all of your friends and enemies are invited to the party." 

     That party is being hosted by Lucifer to celebrate his marriage to Evangeline and the imminent birth of their child. Needless to say, that gathering brings together a dangerous and volatile group of supernaturals, many of whom would like to do away with Maddie and her child. The second half of the book deals with the events that occur during Lucifer's party and in its violent aftermath. The biggest surprise is the identity of the shapeshifter's mastera major plot twist that is absolutely shocking.   

     One of the strengths of this series has been its well-drawn cast of characters. From quirky Beezle to tragic Gabriel to loyal Jude, the author has done a fine job of creating many memorable characters, including complex villains with multiple motives for their actions. In the last few books, Maddie has had to fight hard to keep her dark magical powers under control as they become stronger and stronger. That problem, along with many others, is resolved during her final showdown with Lucifer. Maddy has matured tremendously since the early books, going from an annoying whiner to a strong and independent woman in the course of the series. The character who has grown and changed the most, though, is Nathaniel, who began as a total jerk and ended as a stand-up guy who has Maddie's back at all times, no matter which enemy is attacking her. Who would have thought back in book 1 that Nathaniel would become the person that he is in book 7? Congratulations to the author for this drastic, but believable, character building.

     This series has been a wild ride from the very beginning with its connections to heaven and hell, goodness and evil, love and hate, and birth and death. If you haven't read any of the books in the series yet, don't start with this one. Begin at the beginning and immerse yourself in Maddie's complicated world. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read chapter 1 of Black Spring.

     Madeline (Maddy) Black is a 30-year-old virgin (yes, that's right, she's a virgin) in an alternate Chicago, where she shares her home with a sentient, and often humorous, gargoyle (Beezle). Maddy is a reaper...a soul agent of death—a no-choice career that she inherited from her mother. In that role, she works for the Agency, which employs a host of reapers. In her reaper form, she has huge wings and can fly around the city, invisible to most of the population. Ongoing characters include many of the familiar denizens of Hell, including angels, nephilim, and Lucifer and his many minions.  

     This is a by-the-numbers urban fantasy (UF) series that includes all of the usual UF stereotypes. Nevertheless, I plan to keep reading the series in the hope that the author will make Maddy less of a bratty adolescent and more of a mature and independent woman as the series moves along.  

     Click HERE for links to several free BLACK WINGS short stories. The author has sold a total of six BLACK WINGS books to Ace.   

         NOVEL 1:  Black Wings         
     As the series opens, Maddy gets a new tenant for her downstairs apartment: Gabriel Angeloscuro, the proverbial tall, dark, and handsome hero-with-a-tragic-secret type that frequently shows up in urban fantasy (UF) novels. In another nod to common UF plots, Maddy's mom was murdered some years ago by an unknown assailant and her father is unknown. (I would LOVE to discover a UF heroine who has had a happy childhood with two parents. Is that against the UF rules?) Soon, demons show up and try to kill Maddy, and they keep showing up, again and again. As Maddy battles the demons and deals with her growing magical powers (another common UF characteristic), she discovers important facts about her mother's death, her father's identity, and Gabriel's sad life.  

     By the end of Black Wings, Maddy has three romantic involvements: a going-nowhere love for Gabriel; a hateful forced betrothal to Nathaniel, her father's assistant; and an out-of-the-blue date request from Jacob (J.B.) Bennett, Maddy's mean-spirited, by-the-book boss. This last relationship is a huge surprise to the reader since the author gives us absolutely NO hints of ANY level of affection between these two characters. In fact, Maddy seems to view J.B. as an ambitious bureaucrat with little or no empathy for his employees, and he seems to view her as an insubordinate slacker. Usually, in these situations, if the characters are destined for a romantic relationship, the author includes at least a few moments in which they let down their guard and show a minimum level of attraction, but not here. Supporting characters are other reapers, a variety of demonic creatures, lots of fallen angels and nephilim, and the head honcho of the Underworld (Lucifer). Click HERE to read chapter 1.

         NOVEL 2:  Black Night         
     As the story begins, Maddy and Gabriel discover the body of a dead and mutilated werewolf in an alley and then are attacked by a mysterious force. More dead werewolves and force attacks follow, each leaving an essence behind that reminds Maddy of Ramuell, the villainous nephilim (and son of Lucifer) she killed in the previous book. Soon, both Gabriel and Beezle disappear, and Maddy asks Nathaniel to help her find them. In the meantime, Lucifer orders Maddy to lead a diplomatic mission to the faerie court of Queen Amarantha. In a climactic scene in a horrific faerie maze, the plot is resolved, but the relationship between Maddy and Gabriel suffers another blow. 

     In the first half of the book, Maddy is so petulant and perverse that I really didn't care if she solved the mystery or not. But later on, her character rallies and begins to make better, more thoughtful decisions. Maddy is still flirting with all three men in her life. She claims to love Gabriel, although their romance is still doomed, but she also has feelings for J.B. and even for Nathaniel (although Nathaniel does some awful things in this book). As the story unfolds, we discover many new facts about J.B. and learn that he is a major player in the supernatural world. Who would have thought it? And a new supporting character appears when Maddy befriends an enemy and brings him home with her from the land of faerie. We don't see much of Gabriel in this book, and even in his few scenes, he doesn't have much to saynothing like the forceful personality he was in book 1. J.B. and Nathaniel are the real supporting characters for Maddy in Black Night.   

         NOVEL 3: Black Howl         
     As the story opens, Maddy is still the target of the Grigori because of her actions at the climax of the previous book. To make matters worse, the Grigori arrest Samiel and drag him away to be executed for his actions in that same battle. When Jude, second in command of the local werewolf pack, comes to Maddie for help when his alpha and the pack's cubs are kidnapped, she and her crew set out to rescue them. What they discover is a mysterious set of clues that include Charcarion demons, gigantic spiders, state-of-the-art cameras, and screaming victims who can't bear to be separated from those cameras. 

     Now, let's discuss Maddy's romantic situation. She has thoroughly dumped a furious Nathaniel, subtly rejected a saddened J.B., and would love to consummate her relationship with sexy Gabriel—except for one little thing: Now that Gabriel is her thrall, the situation between them has, understandingly, become a bit awkward. Soon enough, though, Lucifer enters the picture and changes their relationship to suit his own nefarious plans—never a good thing for the persons being manipulated.  

     This is another action-filled episode in a series that, for me, is getting better and better. Maddie is not nearly as annoying as she was in the first book (although Beezle needs to zip it up!). In this book, Maddie must face the biggest heartbreak in her life so far and find the strength to go on. Many of the plot threads are left unresolved—to be dealt with in book 4. Click HERE to read chapter 1.  

         NOVEL 4: Black Lament         
     Maddy is dealing with heavy grief as this book opens, and she's not sure how she can go on with her life. Almost immediately, she is once more the target of various fearsome monsters (because someone is always after her for one reason or another). This time, she learns that there's a price on her head because she killed Amarantha, the faerie queen (back in book 2). Even though Maddy was acting in self-defense at the time, some of the faeries want her dead, and they're sending various faery monsters to take her down. As soon as she kills one, they send another. Maddy soon gets tired of being attacked every time she leaves her house, so she goes directly to the faery court of King Oberon and Queen Titania to settle things once and for all. Unfortunately, even though Maddy agrees to what she believes is a fool-proof contract with the royal couple, the terrorizing continues.

     In the meantime, Maddy is dealing with several real-world problems. First, Lucifer has sent Maddy's nemesis (and former fiancé), Nathaniel, to serve as her round-the-clock guardian. Second, the Agency appears to be out to get her. They forbid her from seeking vengeance against her murderous, power-mad father, Azazel, but that's not going to stop Maddy. The story line follows Maddy, Nathaniel, Jude (the werewolf alpha, who is also guarding Maddy), and Beezle to the land of faerie and eventually to the Forbidden Lands, where they have the requisite climactic showdowns with their arch enemies.

     As the story ends, Maddy's future is uncertain as her relationship with the Agency changes dramatically, and she deals with the fact that her approaching motherhood puts her in an extremely vulnerable position, particularly when so many factions either want her dead or want possession of her baby. 

     We meet three new characters in this book who will no doubt turn up in future story lines. First is Puck, the ancient magical being who helps Maddy when she runs into trouble in the faery court (for a yet undetermined price). As Puck explains to Maddy, "I am older than this earth, older than the stars....I have walked all the ways of the universe...And I have counted Lucifer as my enemy since time untold." (This could get interesting, since Lucifer is Maddy's grandfather.) The other two new characters work for the Agency. Sokolov is the assistant to the chairman of the board of the Agency, and he doesn't like Maddy at all. In fact, he views her as a rogue Agent who needs to be taken down a notch or two. Sokolov's tool for doing this is Bryson, a legendary Agent with superhuman hunting skills—an over-the-top mercenary who agrees with Sokolov that Maddy is evil and must be stopped, by which they mean killed/destroyed/annihilated/wiped out. 

     Maddy has been maturing in the past two books; she's not nearly so whiny and annoying as she was in books 1 and 2. On the surface, this book has no love interest for Maddy, but we can see that as Maddy and Nathaniel are thrown together they begin to rely on one another, and Maddy's deeply hostile feelings for him are already softening. Click HERE to read chapter 1. Click HERE to read an excerpt from chapter 2.  

         NOVEL 5: Black City         
     In the opening scene, hordes of mindless, vicious vampires pour into the streets of Chicago, all hopped up on Azazel's blood-based formula that allows them to day-walk. The vampires become Maddy's sole focus for most of this book as she tries, with Nathaniel's assistance, to destroy them. In related side plots, Maddy has to make a quick trip to the faery realm to rescue a friend and an even quicker trip to the realm of the dead to run an odious errand for Lucifer. 

     As Maddy and Nathaniel work together (for once), their mutual (lustful) attraction grows stronger and stronger, and Maddy has to face the fact that she may be falling for her former enemy. This, of course, causes all sorts of emotional anguish because poor Gabriel has been dead only a month. As the story plays out, Maddy and Nathaniel learn more about their powers, and Nathaniel has a shocking revelation about his genetic heritage. Meanwhile, Maddy's growing powers are bringing her dark side to the surface, and she finds that she has fewer and fewer qualms about completely destroying her enemies. By the end of the book, Maddie has alienated many of her friends, and, in a cliff-hanger ending, she is left in a very dangerous position with little back-up. And don't forget: Maddy lost her wings (in the previous book), and she is in her first trimester of pregnancy, so she's battling vampires and all kinds of other monsters while trying to keep her unborn son from harm. 

     Maddy's life gets darker and darker as the series moves along. She is a pregnant widow now and is being hunted down by her former Agency colleagues. She has two attractive men who want her (but she still loves Gabriel, doesn't she?). And what's she going to do about Lucifer and Puck and their brother (who turns up at the end of this book)? Plus, Maddy knows in her heart that her dark side is getting much stronger. In a nutshell, there's not much joy in Maddy's life, and there never really has been. Although this makes for compelling story-telling, I sometimes wish that the author would break up the grimness with some comic relief. Beezle used to serve that purpose, but in this book even he is gloomy and pessimistic most of the time. If you enjoy this series, though, I'm sure that you'll like this book as it carries Maddy along to the next step in her difficult life. Click HERE to read chapter one.  

     Maddy's battle with her dark side reminds me of Kim Harrison's HOLLOWS series, in which Rachel Morgan, the heroine, fights that same conflict within herself. In Rachel's case, her darkness (aka smut) shows up on her aura for everyone to see. Click HERE to read my review of the HOLLOWS series. 

         NOVEL 6: Black Heart         
     The story opens with a bang as Maddy and Nathanial find themselves under attack by the Retrievers, a trio of deadly, black, shadowy assassins who cannot be stopped once the Agency commands them to kill.  At the last moment, Nathanial sends Maddy through a portal into a strange and exotic realm—a place that is largely uninhabited, except for some hungry, hostile water demons and a village of unfriendly Fae. When Maddy wakes up from a good night's sleep, she finds herself surrounded by Fae soldiers, who tie her up and accuse her of being a spy for Lucifer. Eventually, Maddy is rescued by one of the Fae, who turns out to be one of her nemeses in disguise, and she manages to kill a flock of dangerous insectoid creatures before making contact with a friendly dragon who helps her get back to Earth. Shockingly, Maddy's home is gone—destroyed completely by the Retrievers. 

    Luckily for Maddy, her gargoyle, Beezle, has been keeping watch for her, as has J.B., even though J.B. had been told by the Agency that Maddy was dead. Just as Maddy reunites with Nathanial, who has been living with J.B., the apartment building is bombed, more insectoid creatures turn up, and J.B.'s half-brother disappears.

     The first 150 pages (more than half the book) describe Maddy's adventures in the land to which Nathanial teleports her. This part of the story moves very slowly as Maddy agonizes over what's going on at home, grieves some more for Gabriel, worries about the safety of her developing baby, and tries to figure out how to get back to Earth. The remainder of the book takes place back home where Maddy and her allies try to retrieve J.B.'s brother, an adventure that forces Maddy into a once-and-for-all showdown with Titania, the ancient and powerful Faerie Queen.

     The basic theme of this book revolves around whether Maddy's innate goodness will be overwhelmed by the darkness that she has inherited from Lucifer. As Maddy goes from one battle to the next, that darkness grows stronger and stronger, and Maddie begins to feel quite comfortable with all of her new power.

    At the very end of the book, two things happen: The first is an explanation by one of Maddy's ongoing nemeses that explains many of the past events in Maddy's life. That explanation is brief and to the point, describing the connections between most of the bad things that have happened to Maddy in the past few years—all the way back to book 1. Here is Beezle's summary of those events: "You killed Ramuell….You defeated Baraqiel. You survived the Maze and the Grimm. You…massacred a whole bunch of demons and giant spiders….You beat Amarantha and Violet in a fight to the death. You killed the Hob, Antares and Azazel….You wiped out an entire population of vampire….You unlocked your magical legacy from Lucifer." (p 179) Beezle's summation only serves to make Maddy worry even more about the increasing darkness within herself: "It was fairly horrible to hear a list of creatures that I had killed….In every case I'd either been protecting the greater population of humanity from a dire threat or just trying not to get slaughtered myself. But when all the incidents were listed out like that, one thing became pretty apparent. I was a killer. No matter how you prettied it up, no matter how I tried to justify it. I was a killer. And with that much blood on my hands, how could I not go dark side?" 

     The second thing that happens is that Maddy catches the attention of a human—a fanatic blogger who is nuts about the supernatural world and plans to force his way into Maddy's life one way or another, whether she is willing or not.

     The best part of the book is the explanation of the reasons for and the connections among all of the bad things that have happened to Maddy. The weakest part is the first half of the book that takes place in the other realm—mostly because it felt padded and drawn out and unnecessarily lengthy. Since that trip lasted 3 1/2 months (in Earth time), Maddy is now close to half way through her pregnancy, and she is, understandingly, extremely defensive about keeping her baby safe. I'm looking forward to the next book to see what happens next. I just hope that there are no more digressive teleportations to drag down the action. Whatever happens, you can be sure that it will include the four demonic brothers: Daharan (the eldest: a dragon), Alerian (a giant squid), Lucifer (ruler of Hell), and Puck (the youngest: a demonic trickster who keeps messing with Maddy's life).

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