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Saturday, February 18, 2012


Author:  Elisabeth Staab
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
        King of Darkness (2/2012)
        Prince of Power (1/2013)
        Hunter by Night (6/2014)  

     This post was revised and updated on 2/1/14 to include a review of Prince of Power, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.  

            NOVEL 2:  Prince of Power            
     The romantic leads in this novel are Tyra Yavn Morgan, the vampire king's half-sister, and Anton, the head wizard's son. As the story opens, Tyra is just coming out of a lengthy state of torpor caused by a battle that took place at the end of book 1. While Tyra lay unconscious, Anton watched over her and kept her safe, even though he was originally sent by his father to kidnap her. He is madly in love with Tyra, but realizes that he has little hope that she will ever trust him, much less love him. Their relationship has several threats: the traditional hatred between vampires and wizards, the fact that Anton is the Master's son, and the glowering presence of the warrior Siddoh—Tyra's former lover. This is the primary story line, but it's not the only one.

     Just as in book 1, this vampire clan is like a soap opera—overflowing with couples in various stages of their romances. Here are the ones that are part of this book:

   > Thad and Isabel: She is now pregnant, and he is trying to keep his clan together in the face of a developing rebellion by some of his old-school Council members.

   > Leeland (Lee) Goram and Alexia (Lexie): She is Isabel's human BFF; he is a 700-year-old vampire warrior who is Thad's second in command. Their lives are complicated by the fact that his ex-lover (a vampire/succubus) lives on the vampire estate and is the clan's oracle. Lexie has a crush on Lee, but he treats her like a troublesome child. Both have tragic secrets that will be uncovered when their HEA story is told in the third novel, Hunter by Night.

   > Alexander (Xander) and Theresa: Both lost their mates in book 1 and are having a tough time dealing with their grief. In book 1, Thad assigned Xander to guard Theresa because she is pregnant with her dead mate's child and has been showing signs that she intends to kill herself. In this book, the child is born, and they begin to have tender feelings for one another.

     These romantic story threads are woven through the primary love story and its accompanying action plot, which involves more attempts by the wizards to capture Tyra. They want Tyra because she can absorb powers from other vampires when she takes their blood. In this book, Tyra learns—to her horror—how and why she has this power.

     Anton and Tyra travel an extremely bumpy road to their HEA because Tyra can't bring herself to truly trust Anton, even though he keeps saving her lie, killing wizards left and right, and professing his love. Anton describes himself as "a twenty-seven-year-old almost virgin," (p. 67) while Tyra has already gone through two previous lovers, so their bedroom scenes are as interesting as they are sensuous (although Anton seems to have way too much expertise to be as inexperienced as he claims to be). The two have led totally different lives. Anton lived a sparten life under the cruel domination of his father, who frequently beat Anton and forced him to participate in wizard ceremonies that disgusted and frightened him. Although Tyra grew up under her father's loving care, she has always wondered who her mother was and why she abandoned her. These characters have some similarities to the lovers in the first novel: Like Thad, Anton tends to dissolve into tears during emotional moments, and like Isabel, Tyra tends toward TSTL moments, going off into dangerous situations alone and without back-up. 

     Although Staab has a good tale to tell, she is juggling so many story lines and supporting characters that her story is chopped up into tiny, disjointed bits and pieces, and that destroys the pacing and constantly interrupts the flow. The situation is further eroded in several instances when characters' names are used incorrectly. For example, as Xander is heading off to find Anton, he programs the "address Xander had given him" into the car's GPS. (p. 268) No…Xander didn't give himself the address; someone else did, but a staffer at Sourcebooks let the naming error slip by in the editing/proofing process. 

    Almost a year has passed since the first novel, and with all the characters and their complicated story lines, I found it hard to remember just what was going on. For example, in the very first scene, Tyra is regaining consciousness from….what, exactly? I couldn't really remember the details of the previous novel well enough to recall what happened to her and how she and Anton got together at the homeless shelter. Unfortunately, Staab doesn't provide even a brief summary of pertinent past events, so the reader is on his or her own. For me, this overload of story lines and lack of recapitulation seriously weakens this series. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     In this typical paranormal romance series, the vampires are the good guys, and the wizards are the villains. In this world, vampires sustain themselves on vampire blood—preferably the blood of their mates—because human blood isn't as nutritious for them as the blood of their own species. They are most active at night, due to sun sensitivity. They seem to reproduce through pregnancy rather than by biting humans—again, not clarified. They have varying magical powers, including teleportation, healing, fire power, and creating force fields. One new and different vampire trait in this world is their sensitivity to red wine, which acts as a powerful drug and gives them a marijuana-like buzz with overtones of lust.

     The wizards have all sorts of magical skills as well, and their powers grow stronger when they imbibe vampire blood. In fact, if they eat a vampire's heart, they instantly inherit that vampire's magical talents. The head wizard (aka the Master) sends his minions out to capture vampires so that he can drain their blood, eat their hearts, and dissect them to learn more about their magic. So far, there are no evil vampires, but almost all of the wizards are totally evil, with a single exception.

            NOVEL 1:  King of Darkness            
     As the series opens, Thaddeus ("Thad") Yavn Morgan is the new vampire king, and he is searching for his queen, who was promised to him in a prophecy when he was born. I have to admit, this is the very first vampire I've ever met in paranormal fiction-land by the name of Thad, which seems like more of a surfer-dude name than a vampire-king moniker. Isabel Anthony is a vampire party girl in Miami who has led a solitary but social life since her teenage years, when her parents were killed in an automobile accident. She thinks Thad is sexy enough for a one-night stand, but the whole queen thing is a bit much for her to handle. Unfortunately, the wizards track Thad down while he is in Isabel's apartment, so he and his men must whisk Isabel and her human friend, Alexia, off to his mansion in rural Virginia. The main plot line follows the development of their romance. 

     Secondary plot lines are threaded through the romance scenes. First is the action-filled plot that focuses on the wizards and their attempts to capture Tyra, Thad's half-human half-sister. (They share a father.) Second, is Tyra's relationship to Siddoh, one of Thad's top soldiers. (They are former friends with benefits.) Third is Alexia's relationship with Leeland ("Lee"), Thad's second in command. (They are mutually attracted, but don't follow through because of the difference in species.) By the end of the book, Tyra begins a relationship with Anton, the repudiated son of the head wizard, and their story will be told in the next book (which is a year away from being published).  

     About the only thing that is not stereotypical about the characters is that Thad is portrayed as extremely sensitive and very uncertain about his new kingly powers. At several points, he is actually in tears. It's nice to see a rough and tough hero tune into his feminine side, but maybe not quite this much. Siddoh and Lee are the usual arrogant, alpha males, but they show some softness when they are dealing with the women (no tears, though). The female characters are a mixed bag, with Isabel being the most unlikable. The relationship between Thad and Isabel is based primarily on physical attraction, with no real emotional connection. Isabel whines a lot, both in dialogues with Alexia and in interior monologues. Late in the story, she has a TSTL moment and walks out into the totally unfamiliar countryside so that she can subject us to yet another interior monologue about the unfairness of her current situation. Naturally enough, an evil wizard sweeps in and snatches her up, and the final action builds to a magical duel between the vamps and the wizards.  

     Although there are a few instances when the dialogue doesn't quite synchronize with the characters' actions, the story is generally well told, although, I could really do without two of the author's annoying quirks. First, the frequent use of "K" when a character means to say "O.K." (As in "You get some rest, K?" p. 134). Just too cute for words (not). Second, the frequent use of "male" or "female" to refer to various characters seems awkward. For example, this passage comes when best friends Alexia and Isabel are in a store when Isabel feels ill: "Izzy, can I get you anything? Like a damp paper towel or a ginger ale?" The young female proffered a six-pack of Canada Dry." (p. 327) Why call her "the young female" here? Why not "her friend proffered" or "Alexia proffered"? "The young female" just sounds weird. At other points, characters' mates are referred to as "her male" or "his female." The usage seems false and artificial.

     If you are an indiscriminate reader of paranormal romance, you might enjoy this one, but it's definitely not in my top 10. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

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