Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon
Series: CHRONICLES OF NICK
Plot Type: Young Adult (YA) Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—5; Sensuality—2; Humor—3-4
Publisher and Titles: St. Martin's Press
This post was revised and updated on 5/13/14 to include a review of Illusion, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels.
NOVEL 5: Illusion
As Illusion begins—moments after Inferno ends—Nick wakes up to find himself at a high school prom in an alternate life. Instead of being a tall, dark, Malachai demon, he is a short, blond, wimpy human with absolutely no powers. Instead of being named Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier, his name is Nicholas Michael Burdette because this alternate Nick's father is not the Malachai demon Adarian, but Michael "Bubba" Burdette, Nick's real-life mentor. Although Nick's friends exist in this strange realm, they are not quite the same as they are in Nick's real world. Not even his mother is the same person. In this alternate realm, she is a high-powered realtor, and Bubba is a wealthy businessman. This new, non-magical Nick has spent his entire life as a human boy who has been loved and cherished by both his parents.
Nick's enemies are after him in both realms, and the story switches back and forth between them. The blond, human Nick—who has the real Nick's mind and memory—immediately begins trying to figure out what has happened and how to solve his identity problem, while the tall, dark Nick—who is completely bewildered about his new circumstances—basically whimpers a lot about wanting to go hime and hides from his attackers.
I know that I'm going against the critical flow in this review, but really, this book feels like a transitional segment that could have been dispatched in a few chapters as part of a book with more of a plot. As it is, the plot revolves around getting the two Nicks back into their respective bodies—although that task turns out to be far from simple. What bulks this book up to 400+ pages is that various demonic groups keep attacking the two Nicks and their allies—over and over again—in repetitive battle scenes that are frequently interchangeable in their descriptive language. These demons are attacking because they are part of the usumgalllu (aka the great snake) and were set free with the death of Adarian: "Whenever the elder Malachai dies, his generals are summoned together from their prisons for one task...to end the world…Only his son, a full-fledged Malachai, can command the combined forces of the usumgallu and send them back into their holes." (pp. 64-65) If Nick were in full possession of his Malachai powers, he could control those generals and put a stop to their attacks, but his powers are bound up and his Malachai soul is residing in a powerless human body. Both Nicks are an easy target for the armies of the seven demonic generals, all of whom want to kill him and take his powers for themselves.
Granted, we do get some new information here, particularly when Nick is able to make contact with his dead father. And we meet some new characters, one of whom may either destroy Nick or help him save himself. Mostly though, the story is a confusing jumble in which characters in one realm frequently have different histories, futures, and personalities than they have in the other realm. When characters begin jumping between realms, the situation becomes even more of a mishmash. Most of the new demonic characters have the abusive childhoods that have become obligatory in Kenyon's novels. (The darkest, most miserable example of this trend is Styxx, Kenyon's latest DARK-HUNTER novel. I started to read it but couldn't make myself finish because of the constant persecution, torture, rapes, beatings, more rapes, stabbings, even more rapes, betrayals, and agony that the title character undergoes throughout his life.)
Kenyon's life lesson for Nick in this novel has to do with his constant craving for a normal life. In Illusion, he gets his wish; he's a teenager living in a beautiful home with with loving parents and no ugly Hawaiian shirts. But Nick learns that no life is really "normal" and that everyone has enemies of some type. He even starts to miss those awful shirts. By the end, he learns that he must take his appointed place in the universe, but that the choices he makes of his own free will can make the difference between using his demonic powers for good rather than for evil.
If you aren't familiar with the characters and mythology of the DARK-HUNTER series and/or if you haven't read the previous NICK novels, you will probably get lost in the morass of characters' names, dual personalities, and references to characters and events from past novels. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Illusion.
INTRODUCTION AND WORLD-BUILDING
This is an action-filled series—dark but humorous, just like D-H, but with even more comic by-play (sometimes sophomoric) among Nick and his friends and acquaintances. I'm not sure how well a reader would understand the story without prior knowledge of D-H. Maybe it would work, but it's hard for me to tell since I've read all of the D-H books. In any case, if you've ever wondered about the earlier history of some of the D-H cast of characters, here's your chance to get some details. Particularly interesting in Nick's case is his relationship with Acheron. When the two meet for the first time in book 1, they become friendly—a far cry from their eventual relationship in D-H. Can Nick change his future? Will Acheron make a different decision about Cherise—if and when that occasion arises? Tune in to the next books in this series for some of the answers.
In the meantime, a zombie plague has hit New Orleans, and it's centered at Nick's school. The plot follows Nick as he helps his friends catch the zombies while trying to be a good son and make his mother proud of him. As the story plays out, Nick is approached by several different supernatural creatures, all wanting Nick to choose their side in the battle between good and evil. Some of these creatures are good, but some are totally evil.
By the end of the story, Nick is in the supernatural world up to his neck, and he makes a decision as to which side he wants to fight for. Now, he just has to keep his dark side under control. Click HERE to go to a page on Kenyon's web site with links to excerpts from Infinity.
As the story moves along, Nick is forced to think about some major issues that directly affect his life: the importance of free will; the repercussions of the tiny decisions we make every day of our lives; the ways in which we affect other people's lives; and the effects of a person's genetic heritage versus his upbringing (nature vs. nurture). Nick's "Uncle Ambrose" appears in a few scenes to drop some clues as to why he is interfering with Nick's life.
By the end of the book, it is clear that both good and evil forces are vying for Nick, and we're not sure at this point who will win. At one point, Caleb tells Nick, "You were born the most cursed and blessed of any creature. An abomination that should never have been created, and yet, here you are. Like an unprotected infant who has no understanding of the world that created it. No understanding of the power and destruction you're capable of." Kody counters Caleb's words: "...human will is the strongest force ever created. There are those born to succeed and those who are determined to succeed. The former fall into it, and the latter pursue it at all costs. They won't be denied. Nothing daunts them." So...like every human being, Nick has a dark side and a light side, but he also has free will. The question is, which side will Nick choose, and what events will drive him toward his final choice(s)? Click HERE to go to a page on Kenyon's web site with links to excerpts from Invincible.
NOVEL 3: Infamous
Book 3 opens with a Prologue in which Nick learns that he is a demon and that "Ambrose" isn't really his uncle. Ambrose explains that he and Nick are really the same person—with Nick being a version of Ambrose's younger self, before Ambrose made all the wrong decisions that ruined his life. Ambrose explains that this is the fourth time that he has tried to replay his life, and that the other three didn't go well. He explains that both Nick and his father, Adarian, are Malachai demons—the sum total of all evil—and that by law and tradition, only one Malachai demon is allowed to exist at any one time, as a balance to the single Sepherii (good) demon. Ambrose warns Nick that the bad guys of the demonic world will try to take him down, because any demon that kills Nick can absorb his powers. As you can imagine, Nick is stunned by these revelations.
NOVEL 4: Inferno
As book 3 ended, Nick learned, to his shock and dismay, that Kody is actually an assassin who has been sent to kill him. When Nick confronts her, she can't deny it, and he turns his back on her and walks away with a broken heart. In the meantime, Nick keeps having strange and shivery feelings and hearing voices in his head that forecast his death. When a huge chandelier falls from Kyrian's ceiling and nearly hits him, Nick begins taking the voices seriously.
As the story plays out, Nick is under constant attack, both by humans and supernaturals. Now that he is sixteen, his powers are beginning to grow stronger, but he still has to learn to control them, particularly his ability to set things (and people) on fire. Eventually the attacks expand to include Nick's mother, and he must go into the nether-realm to rescue her.
The action in this book moves along nicely (except for the preachy interruptions). The plot development, though, is somewhat uneven. Some of the plot points are quite obvious to the reader well before Nick and his friends realize what's going on. For example, Casey's total turn-around is highly suspicious from the very beginning. In other cases, characters behave in unlikely ways. For example, Adarian's actions in the final scene are improbable. Other plot points—specifically the identity of the villains and their motivations—remain obscure until they are neatly explained away in a single paragraph on page 334. For me, the strongest element of this book is the fleshing out of Kody and Caleb's back stories, providing information that explains how past events continue to affect the decisions they make and the emotions they feel today. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Inferno.