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Thursday, June 14, 2012


Author: Anya Bast
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V4; S4; H1
Publisher and Titles: Berkley Sensation
        Embrace of the Damned (5/2012)

     This is a world of witches, shamans, Valkyrie, demons, and immortal warriors who are are members of the Brotherhood of the Damned. One of the Brothers explains that they are “a group of men who committed brutal acts in our days as Vikings and have been punished by the god Loki to an immortal life battling the Blight.” (Embraced of the Damned, p. 41) Since Loki is the trickster god, he delights in tormenting the brothers as much as possible. At the moment of their initial punishment, Loki embeds each Brother with a sliver of demonic ice. The only way that the Brother can free himself from Loki is to kill the demon from which that icy sliver was taken—an impossible task, since there are millions of demons all over the world. Here, Broder (the hero of book 1) explains: “Kill the agent of the Blight from whom Loki had extracted the sliver lodged in Broder’s soul and the sliver would die, too. The countdown clock of his physical life would resume.” (Embrace of the Damned, p. 13)

     Loki also tells each condemned man that if he proves worthy, he will be allowed to have a woman—after one thousand years of service, that is, and then only temporarily. Naturally enough, Loki makes sure that each woman’s situation is full of danger, for her and for the Brother.

     The witches (female), shamans (male), and Valkyries (female) are, in general, on the same side as the Brotherhood—the side of the good. They are all enemies of the demons, who are called the Blight. A single demon is called an agent. Among the Blight, one rogue demon, Dmitri, claims to be one of the good guys, but nobody really trusts him.

     The Blight are fanged creatures who are created from ice by Loki’s daughter, the goddess Hel. Loki has given each of the Brothers a dagger that will kill the Blight with just one thrust. In the absence of that dagger, the only way to kill the Blight is through decapitation. When they die, the Blight fracture into shards of ice and melt away. Loki’s task for the Brothers is to keep killing the Blight as long as Hel keeps creating them. Here, Broder explains why the Blight must die: “The mission of the Blight is to bring about Ragnarök….Sort of like the Christians’ version of Armageddon. Ragnarök is an apocalypse for the gods.” (Embrace of the Damned, p. 40)

        BOOK 1: Embrace of the Damned               
     One thousand years ago, Viking Berserker Broder Calderson murdered a group of people in a rage-filled bloodbath and was punished by forced servitude to Loki. The book begins on the one-thousandth anniversary of the day of Broder’s enslavement to Loki—the day he will be allowed to meet his perfect woman. That woman turns out to be Jessamine (Jessa) Hamilton, a witch who is mourning the death of her guardian, having been orphaned when she was an infant. Unfortunately, Jessa’s emotional grief has attracted the attention of the Blight, who attack her in a parking garage, where she is rescued by Broder. Broder then takes her to the house he shares with the Brothers, all of whom are huge, handsome, Vikings. Here is Jessa’s first reaction: “Was it a halfway house for wayward underwear models? Some secret organization of crime-fighting superheroes? Oh, crap, the set of a Norwegian porn movie?” p. 39) Although Jessa doesn’t realize that she is a witch, she does know that she can easily persuade people to do what she wants, and she can control electrical current.

     Broder and Jessa are physically attracted to one another, and as soon as Broder kisses her he knows from her taste that she is a witch. Here, Broder explains to Jessa, “You are seidhr, one of the rare Norse witches and shamans left in the world. The Blight have been systematically wiping them out because the seidhr are a powerful force in preventing Ragnarök. That’s why they want to kill you.” (p. 67) Broder takes Jessa to his castle in Scotland, where they continue to research the seidhr and where Broder is unhappy to learn that Jessa is directly related to a coven with which he has an extremely difficult past. The story follows the couple as Jessa falls under the control of her seidhr relatives, and Broder is forced to confess the crime that caused him to be punished by the gods.

     The world-building is inventive, and the story is compelling, with lots of angst and plenty of action. The part that turned me off is the behavior of the heroine. Jessa keeps coming on to Broder time and time again, and when he reacts by trying to bed her, she pulls away again and again. There’s a name for that type of girl, and it’s not a pretty one. She keeps telling him that she’s not the type of girl to fall into bed with a man as soon as she meets him, but she has no problem grabbing him for a seductive kiss just after she comes out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel. Early on, she licks her lips, stares at his mouth, and says, "there isn't much I don't want you to do right now," (p. 81) but when he tries to follow through, she pushes him away, accusing him of trying to take advantage of her. At another point she responds passionately to his kiss, and then as she, once more, shoves him away, she thinks, "Denying a man who'd gone this long without sex [1,000 years!] was a little cruel, maybe, but she couldn't have her heart broken by a meaningless fling again." (p. 119)—"a little cruel"—talk about an understatement! These shenanigans go on for 2/3 of the book before Jessa finally gives in to their mutual lust. This pattern of behavior just didn’t ring true for me. Supposedly, Jessa is still upset over being dumped by a former lover, but really...she shouldn't keep leading poor Broder on if she's not planning to follow through. In one ironic (and ridiculous) scene, Jessa is captured by a demon, and the ONLY thing she  worries about is that "She couldn't die before she slept with Broder. She just couldn't." (p. 156) Even more ridiculous is the scene in which Jessa plans a big surprise for Broder, who assumes he'll be getting lucky. Nope! Jessa has ordered in a load of popcorn and movie candy from the U.S. (Goobers, Raisinets, etc.) along with a movie (Outlander). Again, poor Broder loses out...again.

     Except for the annoyingly coy heroine, though, this is the beginning of a solid paranormal romance series. If you love to read romantic stories about anguished immortal warriors, click HERE to go to the CREATURE SEARCH page on this blog. Just scroll down to the section entitled IMMORTAL WARRIORS for clickable links to my review of lots of similar series. Click HERE to read an excerpt of Embrace of the Damned.

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