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Saturday, January 14, 2012


Author: Juliet Dark (pseudonym for Carol Goodman)
Plot Type: Romantic Fantasy
Ratings: Violence--3; Sensuality--4; Humor--2-3
Publisher and Titles: Ballantine
        The Demon Lover (12/2011)
        The Water Witch (2/2013)
        The Angel Stone (9/2013)       

This post was revised and updated on 8/29/13 to include a review of The Water Witch, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two books:      

               NOVEL 2:  The Water Witch              
    Callie is trying to get used to life without Liam, her live-in boyfriend who turned out to be an incubus. At the end of book 1, Callie banished poor Liam to a painful and lonely existence in the Borderlands, although he is still visiting her in her dreams. (Note: The author needs to resist comparing Liam's abs to "water streaming over smooth stones in a stream," a metaphor she uses more than once.)

     As the book opens, the fey in Fairwick are facing a huge problem. The sinister witches of the Grove are planning to close Fairwick's  portal to the land of Faerie, supposedly the last portal in the world. In an attempt to bolster their power, the Grove has allied itself with a group of powerful wizards from England. Both groups fervently believe that all of the fey must be banished back to the land of Faerie because, supposedly, they prey on humans. Since Callie's grandmother is a leader of the Grove, Callie is expected to do her grandmother's bidding and close the door forever. Another group of supernaturals
the Institute of Magical Professionals (IMP)has been in favor of keeping the portal open, but the Grove has begun to convince the IMP leaders of the dangers that the fey pose to the mortal world. 

     This situation poses a dilemma for Callie's fey friends, who rely on a supply of Aelvesgold, the substance of Faerie, to maintain their human appearance and longevity. If the door to Faerie is closed, they would have to decide whether to stay in the mortal world and eventually fade away (due to the absence of Aelvesgold in this world), or to cross over into Faerie before the portal is closed and stay there forever. As a result, Callie spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself: "I was alone in an ancient house that was falling apart....No one was coming to fix it. Certainly not Liam, because I didn't love him. I probably wasn't capable of love. My friends were all going to leave me and go back to Faerie. I was going to grow old all alone while my house decayed and fall apart around me." (p. 108)

     In the meantime, Callie's friends enlist her services to solve another supernatural problem. The undines (aka water nymphs) are the spawn of an undine mother and a human father. The female lays her eggs in the (fictional) Undine River near Fairwick. Their early metamorphosis resembles that of salmon: fingerlings mature into smolts and journey to the sea. This "sea," though, isn't on Earth; it's in Faerie. As the young undines travel through the watery, underwater passage to Faerie, they lose their tales and become beautiful young women. When they are ready to breed, they leave Faerie through the same underwater tunnel and find a human husband. This entire cycle takes about a century. It's now time for the undines to head down to Faerie, and they need Callie
who is a doorkeeperto open the underwater portal. As Callie tries to open the door, one of the undines drags her along with them, and she winds up in Faerie, where she nearly drowns before Liam swims up to save her. After Callie frees Liam from the iron manacles binding him to the Borderlands, he joins her in Faerie and they have a passionate reunion. Liam keeps telling Callie that all she has to do is tell him she loves him and he will become human, but Callie still doesn't trust her feelings for Liam. She's afraid that he is using his incubus powers on her, and she is still not sure that she can ever love anyone. When a vicious undine attacks Callie, she escapes back to Earth through the tunnel, inadvertently allowing some supernatural creatures to escape with her.  

     Because Callie had some problems with controlling her powers during this episode, her friends enlist the aid of a renowned wizard to help her learn more about how to control and expand her talents. Duncan Laird is a powerful wizard
and sexy to boot—and Callie is, at first, attracted to him. Another new man in her life is Bill Carey, the handyman she hires to fix the leaks in her roof. Bill is handsome and kind and seems to want to take care of her. Neither man is what he seems, though, and, unfortunately, their real identities and motives are transparent from the beginning, which is a drastic blow to the story's level of suspense.

     The plot thickens as young men begin disappearing in the forests around Fairwick, only to be found mutilated and dead. The Grove blames the deaths on the fey, and Callie blames herself for letting the undine who attacked her get through the portal to Earth. Although Callie has a few TSTL moments, she develops enough power and control to save the day, as we always knew she would. (In one scene, the author briefly gives in to the current zombie trend and includes some zombie beavers to add a bit of risk to one of Callie's danger-filled treks through the woods.) The climactic ending brings all of the story lines together with events that result in heartbreaking changes in Fairwick. In the process, Callie learns she has much more magical talent than she
or anyone elserealized.  

     This is an O.K. series
a bit melodramatic in places, but with an inventive mythology and interesting characters. If the villains and the good guys were portrayed with more subtletyparticularly in this bookthe plots would be more suspenseful. Additionally, Callie is a relatively wimpy heroine who could use a little more backbone and a lot more common sense. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Water Witch.

    The heroine, Callie (full name, Cailleach, pronounced Kay-lex) McFay, is an literary scholar specializing in Gothic novels and folklore. She wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled "The Demon Lover in Gothic Literature: Vampires, Beasts, and Incubi" and then achieved minor fame when a major publishing house retitled it The Sex Lives of Demon Lovers and marketed it as popular nonfiction.

     All her life, Callie has listened to and loved folk and fairy tales. In her younger years, she heard them from her parents (both archaeologists), and after her parents died (when she was quite young), she heard them from a handsome man who came to her in her dreams. Now, with college behind her, she takes a position at Fairwick College, a small school in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that is renowned for its folklore department.

     As the series opens, Callie's long-time boyfriend, Paul, is in California finishing his doctoral thesis. They agreed early on that their careers were more important than their relationship, and, consequently, they have spent much of their time apart. 

               BOOK 1: The Demon Lover                      
     The series opener begins with a steamy three-page excerpt from the unpublished manuscript of a novel written by Dahlia LaMotte, one of Fairwick's most famous citizens, and that excerpt introduces us to the titular character. Dahlia was a prolific writer of Gothic novels, and she was a former owner of the Victorian house that Callie falls in love with and purchases early in the story. I must warn you that the first third of this book moves at a glacial pace. Although the reader quickly understands that Fairwick is teeming with supernatural entities, Callie is extremely slow on the uptaketo the point of obtuseness. Callie keeps having lurid, lustful dreams about a sexy man who makes passionate love to her in a flood of moonlight. Even though she keeps waking up with the graphic physical evidence of his reality, she keeps playing ostrich, telling herself that these are just dreams. This goes on and on until you want to take Callie aside and explain the facts of life to her. If you can make it past the first 14 chapters, I promise you that the pace begins to accelerate. 

     As chapter 15 begins, Callie learns that Fairwick and, especially, the woods behind her house, are hives of supernatural activity. Oddly enough, Callie doesn't question this at all. Wouldn't you think that she'd show some surprise, shock, or even disbelief when her new Fairwick friends tell her that they are not human and that she's being drained dry by an incubus? Nope! She accepts this as if it were an everyday thing. Here, Callie muses about the group who gathers at her house for Thanksgiving dinner: "I looked at the gathering in my kitchen: a witch, a demon, a fairy, a...what was Casper? He looked, I suddenly realized, a lot like the ceramic gnomes people put in their gardens. The most normal person in the kitchen was an alcoholic, bipolar memoir writer. How much stranger could it get?" (p. 160) 

     As the story progresses, three of Callie's new friends insist that she must forcefully send her lusty incubus back to Fairyland. With some misgivings, Callie goes along with the program. During the banishing ceremony, though, Callie has second thoughts and begins thinking about some "if onlies": if only he were more decent and caring, if only he "would know that talking was at least as important as lovemaking." (p. 147) In essence, she thinks to herself that if the incubus were more like the dream man from her childhood (who has become her ideal man), maybe things would be different between them. The rest of the story unwinds from that point, dealing with the consequences of Callie's wishful thoughts during the banishment. The ultimate villain of the book is easy to spotfor the reader, that is, but not by Callie and her friends. That, for me, is a severe weakness in the book.

     This is a difficult book to categorize. Much of the plot centers on romance: between Callie and Ben and between Callie and her dream lover. But without an HEA, I can't really call it a romance, so my final label is romantic fantasy. The sensuality level is 4, but the scenes don't have quite enough graphic details to be called erotic fiction. I'm hoping that book 2 will move along at a faster pace than book 1, and that Callie will somehow become smarter. The book is crammed with popular cultural references (Charlaine Harris and Sookie Stackhouse are mentioned more than once), and it's fun to see how Callie gives Gothic and paranormal fiction some credibility.

     For me, the most interesting and arresting character in the book is Liam, who becomes Callie's boyfriend in the final third of the book. His character is fully developed and extremely complex; he is likable and yet disturbing. Callie's supernatural women friends are not as fully developed and tend to be more stereotypical (e.g., the wholesome Diana Hart, who bakes a lot of muffins and runs the tchotchke-filled bed and breakfast across the street.) By the end of the story, the multiplicity of sub-plots (all of which develop in the final 2/3 of the book) become somewhat overwhelming. Some of them are resolved by the end, but others are left loose, to be tied up, perhaps, in the next book(s). click HERE to read an excerpt from The Demon Lover. Click HERE to read a different excerpt.

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