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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stephanie Tyler: ETERNAL WOLF CLAN

Author:  Stephanie Tyler
Plot Type:  Soul Mae Romance (SMR)
Ratings:   Violence--5; Sensuality--5; Humor--2
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
          Dire Warning (e-book novella prequel, 2/2012)
          Dire Needs (3/2012)
          Dire Wants (11/2012)
          Dire Desires (7/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 8/9/13 to include a review of the third novel in the series, Dire Desires. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels:

          NOVEL 3:  Dire Desires         
     As in the previous novels, Tyler gives us several story threads, but the primary story features the romance between the immortal Dire wolf, Jinx, and Gillian Black. Jinx and his twin, Rogue, have the ability to communicate with ghosts (Jinx) and spirits (Rogue). In the previous book, Jinx was tricked into opening a portal into Purgatory, allowing some dangerously demonic creatures to escape. In order to keep his actions secret from his fellow Dires, Jinx manipulates Rifter (the Dire pack leader) into banishing him from the Dire Mansion so that he can go off and hunt down the escaped monsters on his own. As the book opens, Jinx is living in a penthouse with his new partner, Jez, a vampire. When Jinx learns that a supernatural monster from Purgatory is terrorizing a local psychiatric hospital, he and Jez go after it, but instead, Jinx finds Gillian, a young, unshifted, Dire female who has been incarcerated there for the past five years. Jinx rescues Gillian, only to discover that she is the adopted daughter of a rich and powerful family who posts a huge reward for her return, causing all sorts of problems for the Dires. The fact that Gillian is adopted rings all sorts of warning bells for paranormal fiction readers, who know right away that Gillian's  biological heritage will be an important part of the plot. (And we'll be absolutely correct about that.) Gillian's adoptive family believes that she is a violent, mentally ill schizophrenic, and they will do anything to put her back in her locked cell.  

     The primary plot follows the romance, along with the connected story of Gillian and her mysterious family heritage. Gillian, who is on the verge of her 21st birthday, has her first shift soon after Jinx rescues her. Within days, she is stunningly adept with her new Dire powers and with the ins and outs of the Dire culture. This all happens way too quickly, with no transitional learning period to speak of.  

     The book includes several secondary story lines. One involves Rogue's awakening from his long-time coma and dealing with the fact that the tattoos covering his body connect him directly with Hell. Rogue and Jinx begin to regain their twin-sibling relationship but find that the empathic powers that have always connected them have changed. An additional story line for Jinx involves his guilt about opening Purgatory and his attempts to corral the monsters that escaped through the portal during the brief time it was open. This Purgatory story thread is connected with another story line involving Jez and his brothers.   

     And then there's the story line involving the ongoing romance between the werewolf Cain and the FBI agent Angus Young, a relationship that continues to have its ups and downs and which winds up in a cliff-hanger at the end of this book.  

     We also follow the progress of Liam, the new werewolf king as he establishes his authority, fights off rebellious wolves, and resolves the situation with his ex-mate, Max, who gives birth to a child in this book. You'll be surprised when you learn the identity of that child's surrogate father. We also meet Violet, the Were female who will probably become Liam's mate in a future book.  

     As in the previous novels, the two weaknesses in this book are in the handling of the dialogue and in the numerous story lines. In the dialogues, Tyler frequently fails to signal who is speaking, and this is exacerbated by her frequent failure to include paragraph breaks between speakers. But then other times, she places paragraph breaks between two speeches by the same characterall with no textual clues as to the identity of the speaker. Frequently, even after re-reading a dialogue section, I couldn't figure out who was saying what. Then there's the problem of having too many unconnected story lines. I imagine that each one will be developed in a future book, but in this book, they feel fragmented and disconnected, and they frequently interrupt the action of the primary plot.  

     One other plot problem involves the constant ambushes by the weretrappers. We are constantly told that the Dires possess extraordinarily strong scenting abilities. For example, they can get a villain's scent from a key after much time has passed and many other people have handled it. But the weretrappers are able to sneak up on the Dires time and time again, and the Dires are completely shocked and surprised each time it happens. The Dires are always on the defense with the weretrappers, never on the offense. Another problem with the weretrappers is that they are presented as a faceless villain. Groups of them hide in the Dires' forest and shoot them with tranquilizer darts, but we never meet any of them or get any back stories, which makes them an annoying plot contrivance that doesn't really support the plot in any substantial manner and certainly doesn't do much for the Dires' big, strong, alpha reputation. The weretrappers are like noxious mosquitos who could be swatted away for good if the Dires would just use the proper defensive maneuvers.

     The sensuality for this book is "5," primarily due to the inclusion of sexually explicit homoerotic scenes between Cain and Angus. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dire Desires (scroll down the page a bit to find it).        

     This series comes across as an knock-off ofor, at the very least, a borrowing fromseveral venerable paranormal romance series. There are distinct similarities to both J. R. Ward's BLACK DAGGER BROTHERHOOD (BDB) and Gena Showalter's LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLDright down to the cute male names, the sarcastic gibes among the alpha heroes, the fancy homes, and the bitter curse of immortality. Sprinkled throughout are traces of other series, including Lora Leigh's BREEDS (i.e., a very special male mating characteristic). So...the series is complicated, and it is definitely derivative. Click on the pink links above to read my reviews of the Showalter and Leigh series. Read my review of BDB in my book, Fang-tastic Fiction: 21st Century Paranormal Reads

     Set in the Catskill Mountains of upstate of New York, the series follows a pack of six Dire wolves as they protect regular Werewolves (aka Weres) and safeguard humans. The immortal Dires are over-sized, extremely strong werewolves, each having a particular magical talent. Currently they have disguised themselves as big, bad biker dudes. Their history goes back to the age of the Vikings—specifically, to the Norse trickster god (Loki), his son (Fenir, the wolf), and Fenir's son (Hati). The Dires are ruled by a council of three cranky Elders. This small pack of Dires survived the Elders' purge of the remaining Dire population while the six were off on their Running, which is a take-off on the Amish custom of Rumspringa, in which adolescents are allowed to go off and mingle with the general population as they decide whether they wish to join the community or go off on their own.  

     Here is Rifter as he explains the Dires' history to Gwen in book 1: "The Elders council was created six years before they instigated the Extinction, and they told the Dires to revere the abilities found in some young Dires, not fear and destroy them. They were told that Harm would be their new king and that they should not harm any more humans. But the Dires didn't heed the warnings...and the Extinction was put upon them....We were spared because the Elders asked Hati to do so. We work with the Elders to keep the Weres in line and to help the humans our kind once hurtand we also keep Hati happy. The Weres were created to continue to worship Hati and chase the moon with him." (p. 183)

     The villains are an alliance of two diverse groups: witches and weretrappers. The witches are dabbling in black magic by summoning demons to help them control the Weres, and in some cases, the witches themselves are possessed by demons. The weretrappers are human fanatics who capture and/or kill Weres in order to experiment on them for various nefarious reasons.

     Another group—the Hunters—is made up of humans who police the supernatural world. "Hunters were like Switzerland. They were equal opportunity, believing live and let live. They policed humans and shifters alike. They lived above human and shifter law, hated by trappers and rogue wolves, tolerated by most Weres and other shifters. Most humans didn't know who or what hunters were, as they were also still in the dark about the existence of the supernatural world." (Dire Desires, p. 103) The Hunters don't show up until book 3.
Here are brief biographies of the Dires:
  >  Rifter (Rift): The reluctant king of the Dires. He was cursed by a shaman at birth to dream walk—to go into the dreams of other werewolves, push back their nightmares, and absorb their pain and fear.
  >  Harmony (Harm): The appointed king of the Dires, who refused to return after his Running and has spent his life living with humans. His ability is to charm and control people and Weres with his singing.
  >  Vice: Born with all of the seven deadly sins as a part of his sexy body and dark soul, he is ruled by his vices, but can sometimes use those extremes to help others find their balance.
  >  Jinx: Twin brother of Rogue, he has the ability to communicate with ghoststhe dead who are still earthbound.
  >  Rogue: Twin brother of Jinx, he can communicate with and control spiritsthe dead who have gone on to the afterworld. As the series begins, he is in a coma-like state that was induced by a witch's spell.
  >  Stray:  He is not an original member of the pack, but was found on the streets and adopted by the Dires. Although he has not admitted his talent as the series begins, he has the ability to read minds. He and his brother, Killian, are the key to a prophecy that foresees world destruction.
These are the continuing supporting characters:
  >  Sebastian (Seb): An Adept, or master witch who was Rifter's best friend for centuries but then turned his back on the Dires and joined the witches' coven. Now he is one of the Dires' greatest enemies. He is the witch who put the coma spell on Rogue.
  >  Cyd and Cain: Werewolf twins who were driven from their pack for moon madness, they have been adopted by the Dires.
  >  Liam: The new werewolf king. In book 1, the Dires save his life after from a brutal attack by weretrappers and witches.
            NOVEL 1:  Dire Needs            
     As the book opens, Rifter (the hero) picks up Gwen (the heroine) in a Were biker bar and takes her back to her home for a night of sex that is interrupted when Gwen has one of her increasingly frequent seizures. Gwen is a medical resident who has been told that she has a terminal brain tumor, which is supposedly what is causing the seizures. When Gwen's home is attacked by witches and weretrappers, Rifter moves her into the Dires' home for protection. The plot follows the couple as they fall in lust/love in between attacks by their enemies, who are desperately trying to capture Gwen for reasons unknown to either Gwen or the Dires. The romance is the first and foremost focus of the plot, with the attacks as the secondary story line. Eventually, even the FBI gets involved. There is one more slender plot thread that follows Liam's doomed love affair with a human nurse who works with Gwen. The bedroom scenes between Gwen and Rifter are graphic enough to earn a "4" in sensuality, but I bumped up the book's overall sensuality rating to "5" because of a detailed threesome scene involving Vice and a Were couple. 

     One of the major problems with book 1 is that it is overstuffed with exposition, much of which is repeated several times. This is a series that could definitely have used a Prologue to get the mythology out of the way once and for all, because the Dires' history is told, retold, and told again throughout the bookway too many times. Also repeated ad nauseum are the cutesy wolfy phrases "big bad wolf" and "huffing and puffing."  

     Additionally, there are several holes in the plot. I can't go into detail on many of the plot problems because I want to avoid spoilers, but I will describe one of the worst. (Although it is a spoiler, I don't think that it will ruin the story for you because I am confidant that you will have figured out Gwen's situation long before it is formally revealed.) Throughout most of the book, Rifter and the rest of the Dires believe that Gwen is fully human, and she comes to live in their house very early in the story. Then, very late in the book, we learn that their house is visible ONLY to supernaturalsthat NO humans can see it. Now, I ask youhow could these supposedly intelligent Dires not wonder why the supposedly "human" Gwen had no trouble living in and walking in and out of their "invisible" house for days and days? My guess is that the author needed the house to be invisible for a key scene near the end of the book, but she didn't bother to restructure the story to deal with Gwen's habitation of the house. The author tries to fix things up in a six-line dialogue between Gwen and Rifter in which Gwen tells Rifter that the house was never invisible to her (Duh!) and he says, "If you'd said that earlier, it would've been my first clue that there was something going on with you." (p. 342) Totally illogical and unbelievableand very sloppy story plotting. conclusion, I'm not really impressed with this series. It is a mash-up of the mythologies of several other (better) series, and book 1 is overloaded with repetitious exposition. This first book is nearly 400 pages long, and it could easily have been edited down by 40 or 50 pages just by telling us about the mythology just once. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dire Needs (scroll down the page a bit to find it).    

           NOVEL 2: Dire Wants           
      The second book tells the romantic story of the mind-reading Dire, Stray (aka Steele), and the witch, Kate Walters. The Dires have been searching for a powerful witch to assist them in overcoming the villainous sorcerer, Seb, and his army of Dire ghosts. When Stray finds Kate, she is being pursued by Shimmin, the leader of the weretrackers. Stray carries Kate off to the Dire's magically hidden house, where the two fall in lust/love almost immediately. The romance is the primary focus of the plot, but it is closely connected to all of the action story lines: the upcoming battle with the Dire ghost army, the rescue of Rogue from the evil spirit who has him paralyzed, the mystical prophecy regarding Stray and Killian, and Jinx's attempts to close the portal to Purgatory that he inadvertently opened at the end of book 1. In addition, there are a few other thin story threads, the most substantial of which is the developing romance between the FBI agent, Angus, and the young werewolf omega, Cain.

      Once again, we have an extremely cluttered plot with multiple story lines and numerous points of view. Although the primary narrators are Kate and Stray, we also have many scenes narrated by Jinx, Gwen, Cain, Angus, Seb, and Killian. Trying to juggle so many POVs and story lines is a difficult task—one that the author mishandles more times than not. Time after time, the chopped-up narrative bumps along an error-filled path. Characters answer questions that aren't asked. They do things that don't track with what happened a paragraph or two earlier. For example, on page 235, Kate begins to read a grimoire that she and Stray just found that very night. In the same scene, on the next page, the narration says, "As she got to the chapter she'd stopped on originally a few weeks back...the same nervous feeling...fluttered in her stomach..." Wait just a minute! She is not reading the witchcraft book that she was reading a few weeks ago; she is reading her newly discovered grimoire. This is one of many examples of sloppy writing/editing.

      Copyproofing errors compound the problem, especially when a reference to a particular character is made using a different character's name. For example, on page 263, we have this dialogue between Stray and Kate:
      "Don't use your powers out here," Stray admonished. "you don't know who's watching. Bad enough we had to bring you out."
      "I can't stay locked inside forever."
      "It's not the time to argue with me. Stay close," Stray told her... He turned to talk to Stray for a minute, his hand still on hers.

      Notice that in the final sentence Stray turns to talk to Stray—to himself—when the line should have said that Stray turns to talk to Killian (his brother). If this were the only mistake of this type I would be more forgiving, but it is just one of many. All in all, this is not an easy or a pleasant reading experience.

      The lead characters—Stray and Kate—are barely developed. Yes, we get the details of their back stories, but we never really get to know them as the people they are now. They fall in love almost as soon as they meet (which is a stereotypical action in paranormal romance novels), but they spend so much time mistrusting and misunderstanding each other that it's hard to see how their deeply professed love could develop so quickly under such unpleasant personal circumstances.

      Kate is definitely a TSTL heroine who puts herself and her mate in danger more than once. And then there is the manner in which Kate develops her witchy powers, which is totally unbelievable. When the story begins, Kate doesn't even know that she is a witch. Then, as soon as she touches the grimoire she is instantly able to chant in strange languages and cast all kinds of spells. This might have worked better on the page if the author had developed some kind of mythology to explain it all, but that doesn't happen. That is quite surprising, because the author spares no ink when it comes to detailing the whole mythology of the Dires, which she explains over and over again, both in the narration and in an extensive glossary.

      Another problem is that the Dires' planning process for their battle with the ghost army is slapped together so haphazardly by so many different players that it's difficult to understand exactly what is going on. I found myself going back and rereading paragraphs just to figure out who was saying what to whom and what was really happening. Unfortunately, when that battle scene finally arrives, it turns out to be the same old wolf-on-wolf combat that we've seen so many times before—in this series and in many others. You'd think that a Dire-vs-ghost battle would have a little something extra going on, but no, it's the same old thing. I was hoping that this series would improve, but that hasn't happened. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dire Wants (scroll down the page a bit to find it).

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