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Friday, April 13, 2012

Sherrilyn Kenyon: CHRONICLES OF NICK

Author:  Sherrilyn Kenyon
Plot Type:  Young Adult (YA) Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality2; Humor3-4
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's Press
        Infinity (2010)
        Invincible (2011)
        Infamous (3/2012)
        Inferno (3/2013)
        Illusion (3/2014)

     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            
    Here's an update on Nick's circumstances as Inferno ended: "He, along with Kody and Caleb, had fought off the huge demonic werewolf Zavid and demons to get [his mother] and his father out [of the world behind the veil]. His dad had died in the fighting and he'd given Nick all of his Malachai powers. Powers Caleb and Kody had bound up tight until Nick could learn to use them, and to better protect him from the supernatural predators that wanted to kill him and take those powers for themselves." (p. 16) 

     As Illusion beginsmoments after Inferno endsNick 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 Nickwho has the real Nick's mind and memoryimmediately begins trying to figure out what has happened and how to solve his identity problem, while the tall, dark Nickwho is completely bewildered about his new circumstancesbasically 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 alliesover and over againin 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 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.  

     This young adult (YA) series is directly related to Kenyon's DARK-HUNTER (D-H) series, with the setting and most of the characters (e.g., Ambrose, Kyrian, Acheron, and Nick, himself) coming directly from that series. If you're not familiar with D-H, you will miss some of the nuances of this series because many references are made to the characters' histories, all of which are detailed in various D-H books. Set in New Orleans, the huge cast of characters includes dark hunters, daimons, shape shifters, and more. If you want to read brief biographies of the characters in the D-H world, click HERE to go to the "Characters" page on Kenyon's web site. Click HERE to go to my review of the D-H series.

     The lead character of this series is Nicholas (Nick) Ambrosius Gautier (pronounced Go-shay), son of Cherise, a human woman, and Adarian, the Malachai. The Malachai is a powerful demon who is born in violence to wreak violence. For all eternity, each Malachai has been born to an unwilling mother who hates her child and pours that hate into him as he matures. Although Nick was born in violence (a rape is implied), his mother does not hate him. Instead, she loves him more than her own life. Nick's future, therefore, may not follow the usual evil path of previous Malachai, depending on how he lives his life.

     As the series opens, Nick's Cajun mother works as an exotic dancer, and his father is in prison. If you are at all familiar with D-H, you will recognize Nick, who appears as an adult in D-H, as Kyrian's squire, then as a dark-hunter, and eventually as a daimon. As Nick goes through his tortured life, he makes one really bad decision after anotherwhich is the whole point of the CHRONICLES OF NICK series. The premise of this series is that Nick has the option of making different choices, which may or may not affect his destiny and the future of the world.

     This is an action-filled seriesdark 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 friendlya far cry from their eventual relationship in D-H. Can Nick change his future? Will Acheron make a different decision about Cheriseif and when that occasion arises? Tune in to the next books in this series for some of the answers. 

           NOVEL 1:  Infinity           
     As the story opens, Nick is a ninth grade scholarship student at an expensive private school, and he's not having an easy time of it. The jocks constantly pick on him for his thrift-store clothing, and he's always getting into fights that start when someone insults his beloved mother. Nick has some friends on the street who are into some shady deals, and one night he goes along with them on a whim. When they attack an elderly tourist couple, Nick stops them and his friends turn on him. Kyrian sweeps in to rescue Nick, and from that point on, Nick's involvement with the supernatural world is nonstop.

     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

           NOVEL 2:  Invincible           
     As this book opens, Nick and his friends are recovering from injuries suffered in the big zombie fight that climaxed the previous book. Nick's school has a new principal, who is just as intolerant of Nick as the last one, and a new coach, who seems O.K. at first but then becomes threatening. Coach Devus forces Nick to choose between stealing personal possessions from his schoolmates or being framed for the thefts and going to jail, or worse. As Nick tries to strategize a way out of his dilemma, he learns new truths about himself; his demon bodyguard, Caleb; and his girlfriend, Nekoda (Kody). He also discovers that he has some magical talents that are in the early stages of development, and he gets some supernatural tutoring from a creature named Grim.

     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." 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.

     As the first chapter begins, someone hacks into the school's computer system and posts obscene pictures of one of Nick's friends. The perpetrator has also set up a website full of lies and misleading information about other schoolmates. The plot follows Nick and his friends as they attempt to track down the villain. In the meantime, Nick has a meltdown with his mother about the fact that she doesn't trust him and always sees the worst in him. As the story advances, Nick finds that his dark side is getting harder and harder to control. He also begins to manifest some of his Malachai powers and, unfortunately, is forced to use those new powers against a variety of hostile demonic creatures, both in New Orleans and in other realms. At one point, Nick is forced to make a deal with a supernatural creature in order to save Kody's life, and you'll be quite surprised by the identity of the rescuer. Nick has a tough time in this book. Among his travails are being badly beaten (twice), being sent to Hell, and being accused of a horrible crime. He also learns that his father is out to kill him and absorb Nick's power for himself. At one point, Nick is so worn down that he considers ending his own life. Not to worry, though, Nick's friends support him through all of his bad times and he even reconciles with his mother in a touching scene. Just when you are beginning to believe that Nick's life might be getting better, though, along comes the Epilogue with a new challenge for the next book.

     This is the most preachy book of the series (so far), with its non-stop philosophizing about how everyone has a dark side that must be controlled, and that every single decision a person makes—no matter how small—has ripple effects that may not be clear at the time. In addition, there are lengthy diatribes against the selfishness of suicide and the horrors of Internet bullying. Although Nick and his friends are entertaining and the action can be compelling, the "message" part of the story is beginning to get tedious. On her web site, Kenyon has lists of discussion questions for the books, many of which deal with these topics. Click HERE to go to the links. Click HERE to go to a page on Kenyon's web site with links to excerpts from Infamous.  

           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.

     All through this book, Nick is put into situations that trigger his Malachai side, and he has a harder and harder time keeping his increasingly violent temper under control. As he questions Kyrian, Ash, and Caleb about various aspects of the demon world, each one lectures him at length on the theme of this series: that peopleand demonshave choices, that no one is all bad, that people control their own destinies, etc. Sometimes the "sermons" go on for a page or more, which brings the action to a complete halt. Here's a brief excerpt from a typical lecture, this one from Caleb: "You can blame it all on fate and the universe, but in the end you alone decide if you're going to lie down and let hell take  you under, or if you're going to stand strong in defiance of it all....If you muster the courage to stand under fire and not go down, you will amass an inner strength that no one can touch." (This little chat covers pages 324 & 325) In another scene, Brynna starts an anti-bullying club at school and asks Nick to read the essay that she plans to print in the school newspaper. That essay is included in full text and covers 7 1/2 pages. I realize that Kenyon is pushing some pertinent topics for young adults, but this seems to be overkill, especially since we never hear any more about the club and it is not integral to the plot.

     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 pointsspecifically the identity of the villains and their motivationsremain 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.

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