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This blog entry was updated (8/14/11) with the addition of a review of the third book in the series: Shadow Fall.
The mythology in this series is centered on ancient Egyptian goddesses, particularly Ma'at (goddess of truth, balance, and order) and Isis (goddess of nature and magic). The theme of the series is the balance between light and dark, order and chaos. The series heroine, Kira Solomon, is a Shadowchaser who protects humankind by battling various demonic (aka Shadow) forces. Kira uses her psychometric talents and her fiery power to track down and defeat various Shadow spirits, particularly the Fallen, whose spirits can possess human bodies and turn those bodies into Avatars (aka possessed bodies). Kira is the Shadowchaser protector of Atlanta, where she reports to a Section Chief of the Gilead Commission. Kira became a part of Gilead when she was twelve years old. Like many UF heroines, Kara was adopted, and she doesn't know the identities of her biological parents. Her adoptive parents dropped her off at the Gilead when her powers erupted at the start of puberty. Those powers can drain the life force from any person she touches, so Kira must wear gloves at all times, unless she is facing an enemy. The Shadowchasers could be called the Special Ops troops of Gilead's enforcers.
Here's a quotation from Shadow Blade explaining the role of Shadowchasers: "Shadowchasers were sent in when upper echelon Shadow creatures attempted to disrupt the Universal Balance and tip the world into Shadow and Chaos, usually in ways that involved high body counts." (p. 11)
One of the weirdest things about the series is the name of the person who heads the Gilead Commission. She is called Balm (as in Balm of Gilead, from the spiritual and the bible verse). Balm is Kira's surrogate mother and protector as well as being the leader of Gilead. As Kira says at one point, "There has always been a Balm in Gilead...." (Shadow Chase, p. 154) To me, it just seems very strange to name a character "Balm of Gilead."
As a side job, Kira is a freelance antiquities expert who also collects a variety of ancient objects and texts. As Shadow Blade opens, Kira's mentor (Bernie Comstock) has brought her an ancient, magic-infused dagger to identify. When Bernie is murdered by a demon sent by a Fallen who wants the dagger, Kira vows to avenge his death. Shortly thereafter, the owner of the dagger turns up: a 4,000-year-old Nubian warrior who has the ability to come back from the dead—over and over again. Naturally enough, Khefar is tall, dark, and handsome. (Isn't that always the case with these ancient immortal warriors?) After a rough start, Kira and Khefar team up to go after the Fallen who is responsible for Bernie's death. They are aided by Khefar's traveling buddy, the West African trickster demigod, Anansi (aka Nansi or Nansee). Also assisting are Kira's two best friends, both human, who are weapons experts: Wynne, a metalsmith, and her husband Zeroun (aka Zoo), a witch. By the end of the book, the dark forces have gone down in defeat, but they have left a bit of themselves within Kira.
In Shadow Chase, Kira and Khefar head for London to pay a last tribute to Bernie Comstock, but they are sidetracked by a vision in which Ma'at and Isis charge them with retrieving a stolen amphora and returning it to the god Nun. In the urn isn't returned quickly enough, the Nile River will flood and cover the entire earth with endless depths of water. In other plot threads, Kira learns a great deal more about her parents and about her genetic heritage, and she and Khefar become lovers.
Based on book 1, I have to say that this is a mediocre series—not bad, but certainly not great. Kira's character doesn't feel fully developed. Although she has many angst-filled interior monologues, they are unenlightening, and so whiny that they are more annoying than revealing. Kira's relationship with Khefar lacks passion and deep emotion, perhaps because his character is relatively one-dimensional. Khefar spends most of his time in a perpetual scowl, while Kira makes one egocentric decision after another, as if she is the only person on earth who can save the world—an unfortunate characteristic common to many UF heroines. For me, the most interesting character is Anansi, the trickster demigod. He, at least, has a multifaceted personality—full of humor, compassion, cunning, and solicitude.
In Shadow Fall, Kira gets in touch with her Shadow side when an Egyptian museum exhibit goes horribly wrong. Ever since Kira absorbed Shadow power during the climactic battle in the previous book, both she and Khefar have worried that her Shadow side will grow stronger than her Light side. Recently, Kira has been having nightmares in which the evil god Set and the Lady of Sorrows (Myshael) try to force her to submit to them and do their bidding. They call Kira "daughter" and tell her to give in to her dark Shadow heritage. In the meantime, Balm sends Kira a mysterious box containing letters and a necklace that belonged to Kira's mother, and when Kira examines them, she learns the shocking circumstances of her conception and birth. When the Shadow forces cause innocents (including Kira's BFF, Wynne) to fall into comas after visiting the Egyptian exhibit, Kira and Khefar take a stand against Set, Myshael, and Marit (their Shadow opponent from book 1). As the book ends, Kira begins to accept the fact that she will never be rid of her Shadow side, so she must maintain a balance between the Shadow and Light sides of of soul.
In this book, Khefar has stopped scowling all the time, and we learn a bit more of his history, so at least his character becomes more developed. Kira continues to be mostly mouthy, and she has one of the most ridiculous I-feel-so-guilty moments that I've seen recently.
Here's the set up: Wynne has been rushed to the hospital in a coma of unknown origin, and Kira and Khefar have just arrived to see what's going on. At this point in time, no one knows what's wrong with Wynne and no one knows that others have fallen ill as well. Here is the quotation: "Tension hung on Kira like armor. Khefar saw the set of her shoulders and knew she blamed herself. It didn't matter that they had no idea what had happened to Wynne Marlowe. All that mattered to Kira was that her friend had fallen ill and she hadn't been there to prevent it." (pp. 212-213) Wow! Wynne could be ill from any number of natural or magical causes, but Kira immediately takes full responsibility and assumes all guilt for Wynne's condition without a single fact on which to base her misguided conclusions. It takes a mighty big ego to believe that you, and you alone, are responsible for the health issues of all of your friends. This tendency for illogical, all-consuming guilt is a chronic problem with many paranormal heroines, and I find it annoying that authors create such absurd, irrational protagonists. It's like they have a psychotically exaggerated earth mother complex. Also part of that scene is an implausible confrontation between Zoo and Kira in which Zoo blames Kira for causing Wynne's illness with her magic. This is totally preposterous because Wynne is Kira's best friend in life, and it is obvious to everyone that Kira would never harm Wynne. I'm sure that the author is going to use the distrust between Zoo and Kira for some type of plot thread in the next book, but she should have set it up in a much more believable manner. So...still not enjoying the series very much.
Click HERE for links to excerpts from the three books. Click HERE for profiles of the main characters in the series.