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Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Author:  Caris Roane (aka Valerie King)
Plot Type:  SMR 
Ratings:  V4; S4-5; H3
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin’s
      Ascension (12/2010)
      Burning Skies (4/2011)
      "Brink of Eternity" (e-book novella, 7/2011)
      Wings of Fire (8/2011)
      Born of Ashes (1/2012)
      Obsidian Flame (4/2012)
      Gates of Rapture (12/12) (FINAL BOOK WITH ST. MARTIN'S)

     This post was revised and updated on 2/27/13 to include a review of the sixth book in the series, Gates of Rapture. That review appear first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first five books.

       BOOK 5: Obsidian Flame       
     This is the final book in the series to be published by St. Martin's. According to an entry on the author's web site, she plans to write the stories of the remaining three Warriors (Luken, Zacharius, and Santiago), but they will all be self-published. In any event, Roane decided to tie up all the loose plot ends in this book, so we can treat it as the finale.

     Here, we have the love story of Leto Distra and Grace Albion. Leto spent the last century as a spy within Commander Darian Greaves' army, but in doing so he was forced to drink dying blood, which crippled him when he returned to the Warriors' side at the end of the previous book. That situation was taken care of when Leto drank Havily's blood, and for the past several months, he has been training the militia in the mortal earth colonies so that they will be prepared for whatever Greaves serves up in the future. Leto has been trying to get over the fact that his breh (aka soul mate), Grace, unaccountably appears to have two breh and chose to go off with the other one, Casimir, at the end of the previous book.

     As the story begins, Grace realizes that it's time for her to go back to Leto. Casimir is in the middle of his redemptive process on Fourth Earth with Beatrice as his mentor and they have lost their breh connection, so Grace believes that she can safely leave him there. When she shows up in Leto's basement in the Seattle colony, he is in the middle of one of his "beast" attacks. He has been having episodes in which he transforms into an Incredible Hulk-type creature (but not green), and he fears for his sanity. The couple instantly hooks up and soon completes their breh-hedden (aka mating process). Their scents are forest (him) and meadow (her). (FYI: Mid-way through the book we learn why Grace appeared to have two breh—just one of the loose ends that gets tied up.)

     Weaving through the romance plot, the action plot follows the war between Endelle's Warriors and Greaves' death vampires. Since Grace is the third piece of the Obsidian Triangle, she spends some time learning to work with Marguerite and Fiona on synchronizing their powers and learning just how strong they can become. Greaves does everything he can to stop Grace and Leto, but (as you can guess) he isn't very successful. The final showdown resolves all of the issues with Greaves and sets the Warriors off on a new and peaceful life.

     This is a lengthy book (nearly 400 pages) and once again it is padded with extraneous descriptions of nearly every change of clothing that every character wears. For example, an entire page is devoted to just one one of Endelle's outrageous ensembles (which includes stilettos wired with clouds of bumblebees). Also, once again the characters take an inordinate number of showers. The most absurd (and useless) scene describes the reformed playboy and hedonist, Casimir, as he settles down in front of his TV to eat an apple and watch The View while he DVRs Criminal Minds (p. 142). I guess this is supposed to be funny, but for me it is just an annoying interruption of the action. 

     By this time, we are all too aware that every one of the Warriors and their women are noble, pure-hearted, kind, smart, courageous, and all-together splendid in every way and that Greaves and his minions are absolutely cruel, heartless, depraved, cowardly, and bad to the core. This would have been a much better series if the characters' personalities had been more nuanced and less one-dimensional. All in all, I'd say that if you can get through all of the clothing descriptions, shower scenes, and gooey lovey-dovey displays between each pair of lovers, the final few chapters of this book are well worth reading. Roane wraps things up in a believable and interesting manner that still leaves some room for possible future adventures—perhaps starring the next generation of Warriors, since the couples have begun to procreate.

     This universe exists on multiple levels, with mortal earth on the first level, and vampires on Second Earth, which is geographically and physically similar to mortal earth, but with a smaller population and with less environmental damage (e.g., the Colorado River runs free for its entire course, with no dams; the air is clean). There are also other "earth levels" above Second Earth, but those are populated by extremely powerful beings who have little to do with the First and Second levels (although a few appear in some books).

     In this world, the vampire mythos doesn’t follow all of the conventional rules. These vampires are only mildly sun sensitive; they don’t fall into a dead sleep during the day; they have wings; and the strongest ones can “fold” (dematerialize and teleport) with just a thought. Becoming a vampire is an honor bestowed only on mortals who are marked genetically with a special line in their palm, and even then they must demonstrate some type of supernatural power and prove that they are worthy of ascending to Second Earth. At the moment of ascendancy, two opposing vampire groups—one good and one evil—try to persuade the ascending mortal to join their ranks. The ascendancy process is overseen by a corrupt (of course!) council called the Committee to Oversee the Process of Ascension to the Second Society (COPASS). 

     The good guys of this world are the Warriors of the Blood (WOTB, nicknamed "Whatbees"), who are immortal vampire warriorsimmortal, in that they can live forever, BUT they can be killed by decapitation or severe injury. The Warriors are led by a powerful 9,000-year-old female vampire named Endelle, of whom I'll have more to say later. The bad guys are the death vampires (nicknamed "pretty-boys" for their eerie good looks), and they are led by the evil Commander Darian Greaves. Drinking the dying blood of mortals has corrupted the death vamps; if they do it just once, they are forever addicted. Greaves wants to defeat Endelle and her warriors, and he has succeeded in getting the corrupt Council on his side by providing them with dying blood along with an antidote to prevent them from turning into death vamps.  

     The series is set in the Phoenix area. In each book, a couple (ascending female and Warrior male) go through a mating process called breh-hedden. This is a typical soul-mate procedure that requires simultaneous orgasmic sex, blood sharing, and mind bonding. During the pre-breh-hedden time period, the couple is totally preoccupied with sex in a way that reminds me a lot of the couples in Lora Leigh's BREEDS series. In this series, though, each lover has a scent that can only be detected by his or her soulmate. This odor is extremely important to the breh-hedden because the strength of the scent is an indication of that person's current level of lust. After the breh-hedden is completed, both members of the couple gain power in unpredictable ways. In each book, the lovers fight hard against the mating bond because they feel trapped, don't want to give up their independence, hate the other person for whatever reason, etc., etc. This is where the angst-filled interior monologues blossom.  

     The series has many similarities to other immortal warriors series, such as J. R. Ward's BLACK DAGGER BROTHERHOOD series and Alexis Morgan's TALIONS and PALADINS series. The soul-mate relationships are similar to those of the couples in Lora Leigh's BREEDS series. Check out the extensive list on the CREATURE SEARCH page of this blog. (Just scroll down to "Immortal Warriors.") Each book ends with a glossary of terms.

      BOOK 1: Ascension        
    The first book follows a mortal, Allison Wells, as she approaches her ascendancy and goes through the entire process, constantly pursued by the death vampires. She also meets her soul mate, Kerrick, a WOTB who has had two marriages that ended with the murders of his wife and children. The story line is interesting, but the book is really about 50 to 75 pages too long. The couple has too many identical angst-filled interior monologues, too many repetitious descriptions of each other’s physical beauty, and, especially, WAY too many lustful murmurs about each other's scents (which turns out to be a problem in every book).

     Another excess that could have been edited out is the romance between Marcus Amargi and Havily Morgan, which doesn’t contribute to the overall plot of this book and could have waited until book 2, when their story is told. Not to nitpick too much, but there is a major glitch involving the special swords carried by the Warriors. According to Kerrick, "Once properly identified [with a Warrior] no one on Second or Mortal Earth can touch any part of the sword without dying" (p. 271). Unfortunately, this proves not be the case. The most egregious example comes in Allison's climactic battle with Leto, in which she slices his leg with her sword and he just heals it and keeps on fighting. (This issue is finally cleared up in book 3 when the rules change slightly so that death comes only to those who touch the hilt of the sword or attempt to use it.)

       BOOK 2: Burning Skies        
     Book 2 picks up Marcus and Havily's story as Havily's powers begin to develop, thus putting her in danger from Commander Greaves and his death vamps. Of course, Roane has to repeat everything that happened between the couple in book 1, so why did she begin their story there and not here? One of Greaves's top officers is the primary villain in this book: Crace, whom we met as a nasty, ambitious human in book 1. When Crace gets a taste of Havily's magical blood and discovers how powerful it is, he is determined to capture her for himself. In the meantime, Endelle tries to talk Marcus into coming back to help out on the battlefield, but he loves his business empire on Mortal Earth and doesn't want to risk the problems that would come with being that close to Havily. When Havily is attacked by Crace and his death vampires, however, Marcus changes his mind and heads for Second Earth. Along with all of the angst-filled ups and downs of Marcus and Havily's relationship, we also have the beginnings of Parisa and Medichi's story. I really don't understand why Roane insists on doubling up on her soul-mate stories. She will have to review most of the events in Burning Skies when she writes Parisa and Medichi's own book, so why not just introduce the characters briefly, keep the description of their relationship to a bare minimum, and confine the story in this book to the main couple?

     Once again, this book is WAY too long—by about 90-100 pages. are some suggestions to the author for paring it down. First, we are inundated with overblown musing about the lead couples' scents (in this case, honeysuckle and fennel for Havily and Marcus and tangerines and sage for Parisa and Medichi). We get it! The scents are a sign of the breh-hedden. Just mention it once or twice and we'll remember, I promise. (25 pages saved)

     Another reason that the book is so long is the fashionista component. We must suffer through unending, detailed descriptions of EVERY change of clothing by the lead characters. And when I say "detailed," I mean that Roane can't just tell us that Havily wore shoes and a scarf that matched her dress. We have to know that it was a gray silk watermarked scarf and that her gray shoes have 4-inch heels. We are told many, many times about Marcus' wardrobe: his Tom Ford suits, his Calvin Klein underwear, and his lovely short-sleeved silk shirts. Havily's wardrobe changes are also described meticulously, down to the color and height of every pair of heels. Here's Marcus mooning over Havily's appearance: "Havily was so beautiful and even in casual dress she looked stylish. She wore snug black leggings and a loose flowing gray silk shirt almost to her knees, reminiscent of Vera Wang, the latter a perfect complement to her peach-red waves." (p. 116) C'mon, do you really believe that a big bad vampire warrior would be rhapsodizing about how Vera Wang is the perfect look for his girlfriend? Does he even know who Vera Wang is? (35 pages saved)

     Brand names are also problematic. For example, at one point, Havily goes into ecstasy about her Clinique cosmetics. ("She may be a vampire and she may heal fast but she vowed she looked better because of Clinique"—two paragraphs on p. 149) (Why bother? 5 pages saved overall)

     Roane seems to think that her story is helped by inundating the reader with the minutiae of her characters' daily lives, even when those elements have nothing to do with the plot. Why do we need two full paragraphs describing how Havily and Marcus make their sandwiches? ("He stacked the meat. She washed the lettuce..." and on and on, p. 171) Why do we need to know that Havily and Parisa own the exact same La Perla nightgown (several paragraphs on p. 204). Why on earth do we need to know that Commander Greaves always wears Hugo Boss, that he smells of lemons and turpentine, and that he is partial to lavender shirts (p. 238)? (Stop with the commercials already! 25 pages saved)

     So...are you getting bored with all of the trivia that I've been giving you here? Well, multiply this by a thousand, and you'll be close to the number that Roane includes in this book. The problem is that the plot gets drowned in all of this nonessential information. In other words, please, Caris Roane, dial it DOWN!

     Some thoughts on characterization: In Burning Skies, Havily, for me, is a thoroughly unlikable and unbelievable character. She is way too sweetly "good"—always bringing coffee (Starbucks, of course) and doughnuts to the Warriors and wearing her designer clothes and being mostly submissive with Endelle (and everyone else). The Warriors are always looking at her rapturously and praising her goodness to the skies. And then there's the crying, which is her knee-jerk reaction to just about everything. I just couldn't get past all that. In general, the heroines of this series are extremely submissive. Only the Warriors get to carry weapons and fight the good fight. The women wait at home, promising sex and food when the battle is over. All of the heroines' magical talents are passive (e.g., empathy, visions, real-time voyeurism). Parisa can throw energy balls, but she's embarrassed by that ability. I wanted the women to fight back when they were attacked, not cower and cry. Can't the Warriors at least teach them how to wield a knife or shoot a gun?

     One last point: In the first two books, the character of Endelle, the Warriors' Supreme Commander, is a stereotypical big-mouth, urbanized shrew. She is the most foul-mouthed character in the series, with the F-bomb being her oh-so-favorite word. Endelle's wardrobe of outlandish fur skirts and slutty sequined tops would put a streetwalker to shame. I guess she's supposed to be the comedy relief, but I don't find her all that humorous, and I hate to see a strong female character trivialized like that. The submissive heroines in this series are presented in an extremely positive light, but the powerful and aggressive Endelle is generally characterized as a bitch (and the Warriors call her that constantly behind her back, even though they claim to admire her). That seems to echo our own society, doesn't it, where tough, self-assertive women are called bitches and battle-axes, while tough, self-assertive men are called board presidents and CEOs. (Sorry about the editorializing, but I just couldn't stop myself.)

       BOOK 3: Wings of Fire      
     In the third book, Parisa Lovejoy and Antony Medichi pick up where we left them in the previous book: with Parisa imprisoned in an unknown place by Rith, Greaves's second in command. Antony has been searching for death vampires who can tell him where Rith is hiding Parisa, and he eventually lucks out. For the three months of her captivity, Parisa has been able to open a voyeur window and see Antony every morning. These voyeuristic sessions push this book into a 5+ rating for sensuality. Parisa's breh-hedden scent is tangerines, so in order to amp up his sex drive to the point necessary for the voyeurism to kick in, Antony gets sexy with real tangerines. (It's similar to phone sex, but with fruit.) In the meantime, Greaves keeps busy by building up his army, making plans to attack Endelle's forces, and forcing a mind bond with Parisa so that he can watch through her voyeur window. As the plot advances, Parisa learns that Greaves has been kidnapping and partially ascending mortal women and then turning them into blood slaves, draining their blood until they die, resuscitating them, and then infusing them with some of his blood. His minions then package up the women's "dying blood" and peddle it to the death vamps.

     Eventually, Parisa is freed (not a spoiler—you KNEW she had to escape to get her HEA with Antony!), and the couple spends the next chapters in dialogues and interior monologues worrying about how they can't possibly give in to the breh-hedden, then having over-the-top sex, and then immediately turning their backs on one another for more worry sessions. This process occurs over and over again. They both have their reasons for not wanting to give in to the breh-hedden. Antony was forced to watch his wife and unborn child being murdered and does not want to risk loving someone again. Parisa has the most lame excuse for avoiding a close relationship that I've come across so far: Her family moved around a lot when she was growing up and she had a hard time making friends. (Really, that's her only motivation.) There is, of course, a climactic ending in which Parisa and Antony save the day. This book also includes the beginnings of the next breh-hedden romance, Born of Ashes, which will star Jean-Pierre and Fiona, one of the blood slaves Parisa met during her captivity.

     Several improvements have been made in book 3: fewer consumer product endorsements, less time spent on the trivialities of daily life, and better treatment for Endelle, who is portrayed in a much more sympathetic manner and is allowed to exhibit a few strengths. Thank goodness! Although Greaves is still portrayed as a completely evil monster, there is a big hint that his past includes some Mommy problems.

       BOOK 4: Born of Ashes       
     As book 4 opens, Fiona and Jean-Pierre are both fighting the breh-hedden. Fiona is avoiding it because she is concentrating all of her energy on trying to locate more of the imprisoned blood slaves and on capturing Rith, the villain who heads up Greaves's blood-slave program and who kept her captive for 100 years. Jean-Pierre is spending his nights battling the death vamps in the borderlands and his days guarding Fiona, who is now living with her daughter's family. Jean-Pierre refuses to give in to the breh-hedden because in his long-ago human marriage, his wife betrayed him and sent him to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Even though centuries have passed, he refuses to trust his heart to another woman.

     Early in the book, Fiona manifests a new talent, one that allows her to channel another person's powers into herself and use them. Endelle discovers that Fiona is one of three obsidian flames, long thought to be mythological. This obsidian triad is prophesied to wield great powers in the war currently being fought between the forces of Endelle and Greaves. A Third-Earth warrior (Casimir) appears on the scene to help Greaves, causing more than one complication for Endelle's team, especially for the lead couple. When Fiona is captured by Casimir, she is able to reach out telepathically to a second triad member, Marguerite, a powerful seer who is imprisoned in a convent. The main plot follows Jean-Pierre and Fiona as they go through the usual breh-hedden angst (at the usual great length) while the secondary plot follows Thorne and Marguerite as they begin their own rocky romantic journey. We have another fruit-sex scene in this book—strawberries this time—which pushes the sensuality rating up to 5+. The angst-filled monologues in this book tend to drip with gooey, over-sentimental mushiness.

     Marguerite, who will be the female lead in the next book, is an unusual heroine in that she is a total slut. She was put into the convent in the first place by her parents because she wouldn't stop lusting after every man who came within her reach—and nothing has changed after 100 years. Thorne, the head warrior of the WOTB, has been hooking up with Marguerite at the convent for most of her time there, and he considers her to be his woman. Marguerite, however, just wants to get free so that she can go back to sleeping with every man she can. 

       BOOK 5: Obsidian Flame       
     This book tells the love story of Thorne, the stalwart soldier who heads up the Warriors, and Marguerite Dresner, the slutty Seer who has been imprisoned in a convent where she and Thorne have been secret lovers for more than a century. We met Marguerite in the previous book when she and Fiona were identified as the first two parts of the obsidian flame triad. At the end of Born of Ashes when Marguerite was liberated from her captivity, she immediately turned her back on Thorne and their breh-hedden and headed off to Mortal Earth to hook up with as many handsome, sexy men as she could find. (This time the breh-hedden scents are red roses and cherry tobacco.) As Obsidian Flame begins, Thorne has followed Marguerite to Mortal Earth, going rogue as he leaves Endelle and the Warriors behind. The story switches back and forth from the lovers' story to the dire situation back on Second Earth, where Commander Greaves plans to show off his huge army in a spectacular celebration of his power. Owen Stannett, who attempted to rape and impregnate Marguerite in the previous book, teams up with Greaves as he tries to block Marguerite's visions of the future.

     Just as Marguerite makes up her mind to ditch Thorne once and for all and continue her sex-driven journey across the country, she has a vision in which she and Thorne rescue a group of Seers from an attack by death vampires. Before they leave (with only ten minutes to get to the hidden settlement  before the attack), the self-centered Marguerite makes Thorne wait while she puts on her black leather outfit, fluffs her hair, and applies make-up as she thinks to herself, "If she had to go to the edge of a battlefield, she damn well wasn't going without mascara, a lot of it." (p. 47) That little scene tells you everything you need to know about the shallow, self-indulgent Marguerite. After Thorne rescues the Seers from the death vampires, Marguerite has another vision that causes the couple to head back to Second Earth, much to Marguerite's displeasure. Endelle is, of course, furious with Thorne for leaving her in the lurch and for blocking their mind connection so they have a few unhappy confrontations. Thorne wants Endelle to realize that he's through doing her bidding because he knows that her ineffective military guidance is dooming Second Earth to defeat by Greaves's army.

     The plot is filled with angst-filled interior monologuesfrom both of the lovers, from Endelle, and from Thorne's sister (Grace), whose story begins in this book. Grace was Marguerite's friend back at the convent, and Marguerite's vision of Grace in danger is the reason that she and Thorne return to Second Earth. As it turns out, Grace is the third obsidian flame, and (just to complicate matters) she has a double breh-heddento Leto (the Warrior spy who infiltrated Greaves's camp) and Casimir (Greaves's powerful supporter from Third Earth). As usual, we get quite a bit of that love story in this book, although their full story will be told in the next book.

     This book follows the general pattern of the previous books as the lovers argue, go to bed, think anguished thoughts, go to bed, argue some more, and go to bedagain and again and again. As with previous breh-hedden couples, both Thorne and Marguerite experience a huge increase in their powers after they hook up. This book does give us something new about Endelle. She is deeply hurt by Thorne's departure from her side (after all, he's been her right-hand man for 2,000 years!) and she's depressed as she watches her Warriors find their true loves while she remains alone. Late in the story, she has a life-changing experience that, so far, has unknown consequences. 

     Although there are still a few silly situations in this book, there is a noticeable decrease in brand-name dropping, wardrobe descriptions, and references to the breh-hedden scents. Thank goodness. The silliest moment for me comes during a top-level strategy session involving Greaves, Casimir, and Stannett when Stannett's mind wanders to hair products. As Greaves is reviewing the previous night's battle, Stannett "couldn't imagine how much creme rinse the man had to use to keep his hair in order." (p. 301) Are you kidding me? Another silliness belongs to Marguerite as she constantly refers to her obsidian flame powers as her "obsiddy" powers. How cuteNot! And one other thing that struck me while reading this book: Have you noticed that all of the Warriors and the Ascended can just wave a hand to clean up the messiest mess and to remove or put on clothing? Yet, they take multiple showers every day. Why can't they just wave a hand and get clean? (Answer: Because then we wouldn't have the never-ending shower and bathtub sex scenes that are sprinkled heavily throughout every book.)

     Marguerite keeps up her bid for freedom throughout the book, almost to the end. For her, freedom means just one thingdrinking cosmos and hooking up with multiple sexual partners. As she tells Thorne, "I need to pick up where I left off during my wild college years." (p. 36) Even when she realizes that Second Earth needs her "obsiddy" powers to save them from Greaves, she still wants to run off and go her own sexual way. When she thinks that Thorne has slept with another woman, though, she goes nuts. She's allowed to be "free," but he is not. I just couldn't warm up to Marguerite as a heroine, mostly because for most of the book she shows no nobleness or honor. She's definitely a member of the "Me First" generation, always putting herself and her feelings right up front. If you enjoyed the previous books, though, you'll probably like this one, too.

1 comment:

  1. This series also has a novella, "Brink of Eternity" that is available now.

    Book 3, "Wings of Fire" is scheduled to be released 08/30/2011.

    Book 4, "Born of Ashes" is scheduled to be released 01/03/2012.

    Book 5, No Title, No schedule, is about Thorne.