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Saturday, May 5, 2012


Author:  Stella Cameron
Plot Type:  SMR
Ratings:  V4; S4; H1
Publisher and Titles:  Forever (Grand Central)
       Darkness Bound (3/2012)
       Darkness Bred (5/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 7/11/13 to include a review of the second novel in the series, Darkness Bred. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

            BOOK 2:  Darkness Bred            
     The romance between Sean Black and Elin began in book 1 and resolves itself in this book. When they first met, Elin was in her animal form: a silver cat. Elin has had the requisite miserable childhood: kidnapped first by a demon and then by the fae queen and raised to believe that she is fae. In book 1, she was banished from the fae kingdom, and she now lives in the human/Hound world. Other than shape shifting, Elin's magical talents include flying, invisibility, and seduction. 

     Sean is second in command of the Hounds, and he spends most of his time bickering with Niles (the Hounds' leader) and keeping secrets from Elin, whom Niles and the other Hounds believe is a fae spy. Years ago, Sean was forcibly changed into a Hound by the villainous Aldo, who turns up as one of the villains of this book.

     Summarizing the plot is almost impossible because it rambles all over the place, as was the case in book 1. The book is actually a mishmash of awkward, stilted, disconnected dialogues among cardboard characters; attacks by various villains who fade in and out of the story line; a romance between two individuals who have absolutely no chemistry between them; and a murky, anti-climactic ending that leaves the reader unsatisfied. In other words, it's a train-wreck of a novel from beginning to end. 

     The main villain is a "living sorcerer vampire" called "the One," and he lives on "the Island." Late in the book, some out-of-town characters give him another name, but that's the extent of the information about his mythologyexcept for the fact that he wants to control the world (don't they all?). "The One's" minions are "a banished band of Austrian Verbols...members of the renegade Embran tribe...from the center of the earth." (p. 193) So now, we have middle earth creatures added to the supernatural mix, not that they add anything to the plotexcept more confusion.

     As I read some of the dialogue, I kept feeling that the author had left out whole chunks of conversation because even when I read over them several times, the scenes made absolutely no sense. Characters are aware of information that they couldn't possibly know; make huge leaps of logicor illogic; and make comments that have absolutely no relation to either past events or the present situation. My one-word mental reaction to most of those scenes was "What?" (To be truthful, but crude, it was actually more like WTF?)

     Here are some of the plot and characterization problems: Once again, the author dumps too many supernatural species into the plotfor no apparent reason and with no effort to connect them with her original world-building (which wasn't all that strong to begin with). The main villain's motives and mythology are unclear, as are his connections with the bad-guy vampires and werewolves on the island who appear to be bending to his will. The characters make a series of long and short journeysagain for no apparent reason (e.g., Elin's trip to New Orleans, which comes out of nowhere). The lead couple keeps so many secrets from one another that one can hardly believe that they are true mates. The three main female characters (Elin, Leigh, and Sally) have many cryptic conversations about "the Veil," but the author never explains its purpose or how it connects with the overall story arc. Niles, the hero of book 1, comes off in this book as an arrogant, narrow-minded, bigot. The Hounds are mostly misogynistic in their treatment of the women, although I must say that Elin comes across as kind of air headed, as she gets herself into way too many TSTL situations and for some reason always carries her pet guinea pig, Pokey, in her pocket.

     In summary, this book (and the series in general), has no coherent mythology. Its characters suffer from a lack of depth, and the dialogues are so disconnected and perplexing that they frequently make no sense. There is no obvious plot line; instead, the author throws in one villain after another to attack the good guys for whatever reason. Although book 1 had a few strong points, those disappeared in book 2. All in all, a disappointing book. 

     At the beginning of book 1, the paranormal beings of this world are limited to werewolves and werehounds. But then many other supernatural species show up, including vampires (both good and bad), various types of fae, and a few Middle Earth creatures. The series title refers to a magical rock off the coast of Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest.

     In this series, the werehounds are the good guys, and in book 1 we follow the soul-mate story of their leader and his heroine. The most obvious villains are the werewolves, whose leader has succumbed to that old familiar I-want-to-take-over-the-world syndrome, but there are actually villains popping up all over the placefrom almost every species.

     The vampires and fae show up in the middle of book 1. Most of the vampires are villainous blood-suckers, with the exception of Saul, the town's supernatural doctor, who hates his vampiric nature and tries to help the hounds, even though the leader of the Hounds never really trusts him. The fae take whichever side benefits them the most. No mythologies are given for the various supernaturals; they are presented as separate species with little or no explanation of their abilities or limitations.

     There are a few differences between the werewolves and the werehounds: The werewolves are stronger in their bestial form, while this particular team of werehounds is stronger in their human form, which they keep secret from the other species. How can they possibly keep this a secret when they have so many battles? That's just one of the impossibilities that is written into this series. The wolves look and act like traditional werewolvesbig, strong men who can shape shift and run at high speeds through the forest. The hounds are also big and strong, but they don't have to run on the ground. They can leap up into the treetops and swing through the forest like Tarzan. Some of them can actually fly.

     The Hounds are in a difficult situation because, decades ago, all of their females diedmostly in childbirthand they need to find mates who are compatible with their werehound blood. Why don't they mate with human women? That's never really explained. Instead, they search for women called Deseran, who are somehow compatible with werehounds and can presumably reproduce with them. In the first two books, the heroines are both Deseran. 

    The one part of the Hounds' mythology that is explained in detail is their mating rite. Before sexual union with their mates, Hounds must go through a sealing ceremony that involves imprinting a mark on the palms of each one's hand. This leads to all kinds of love scenes in which the couple metaphorically completes some steamy base hits but never a home runnot until they are sealed. As one character says, "There are many ways to pleasure a man and for him to pleasure you withoutbeing sealed." (Darkness Bred, p. 70) 

       BOOK 1: Darkness Bound       
     The heroine, Leigh Kelly, moves to her late husband's vacation home on Whitby Island 18 months after he dies (two days after their wedding) from injuries suffered in a car crash. She has a job keeping the books for a local bar/restaurant, and she hopes to recover from her grief and restart her life. The main conflict in her life concerns her interfering brother-in-law (Gib), who keeps trying to take over her affairs and is trying to force her to move in with him and her sister. Unbeknownst to Leigh, her blood makes her a compatible mate for a werehound. 

     The hero, Niles Latimer, is a former special ops soldier who leads the local werehound team. The hounds are in a difficult situation because, decades ago, all of their females diedmostly in childbirthand they need to find mates who are compatible with their werehound blood. Niles has learned about the compatibility of Leigh's blood, and he is determined to seduce her and win her over so that she will become his mate.

     At first, the story seems to be a typical pack vs. pack conflict, with the wolves attacking the hounds on several occasions. The hounds suspect that the wolves are responsible for the disappearance of several local women, but they can't prove it. The romance between Leigh and Niles soon kicks in, accompanied by many angst-filled interior monologues. But then, about halfway through the book, the author starts throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. First, Leigh gets captured by a blood-sucking, sadistic vampire. (The hounds are surprised to learn that this vampire is living in their tiny little town. How could they not be aware of his presence?) Then, a fae queen shows up out of nowhere and makes a deal with the wolves. Then a troll turns up at Leigh's house and begs for sanctuary. It's as if the author is trying to cram in every supernatural being that she can. And it gets worse near the end when someone from the hounds' past turns up unexpectedly and illogically to further complicate an already convoluted plot.

     This book would have been much more successfulnot outstanding, but solidif the author had either stuck with the wolves and hounds conflict or devised a better plan for adding the various supernatural species to the plot line. As it is, they are just plucked out of thin air and dumped into the action with no warning, no character development, and no mythology. For example, the main villainBrande, the wolves' leaderis mentioned by name many times, but we never really meet him (except briefly during a battle scene) and we certainly don't learn anything about him. To top off all of these difficulties, most of the all-too-numerous story lines are unresolved when the book ends. In particular, Leigh's obnoxious brother-in-law just kind of fades out of the story even though he done some horrible things to Leigh. Why is he trying to scare her? Why does he want her to sell her land? Why don't the police go after him? Then there is the situation with the wolves. How does that really play out? Do the wolves retreat or do they regroup with a new leader? We have the big battle scene, but no follow up. The story just grinds to a halt with no attempt to wrap things up. The only story line that achieves resolution is the romance.

     Just one more criticism and then I'm done: The plot line meanders from one incident/event to the nextfrom the struggles between the wolves and the hounds to the arrogant vampires to the wily fae queenwith no apparent direction or plan. The hounds, whom we are constantly told are superior tacticians, somehow never manage to develop a plan to deal with the wolves, or, for that matter, with any of their other problems. They don't even seem to know what is going on in their town most of the time. Even when the hounds concentrate their efforts on protecting Leigh, they fail when she wanders off during one of her frequent TSTL moments and is captured by the enemy. To sum things up, this book has the feel of a first draft, not a finished novel.

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