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Thursday, August 16, 2012


Author:  Gena Showalter
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin
          Wicked Nights (6/2012)
          Beauty Awakened (2/2013)
          Burning Dawn (4/2014)

     This post was revised and updated on 5/22/14 to include a review of Burning Dawn, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and review of novels 1 and 2.  

              NOVEL 3:  Burning Dawn                 

     Thane and his two BFFs, Bjorn and Xerxes, bonded long ago after they escaped imprisonment in a demon's dungeon. The demons tortured Bjorn and Xerxes, but not Thane because they wanted to feed off Thane's guilt and rage as he watched his companions being beaten, stabbed, and tormented. Since then, Thane has been filled with an inner rage and an insatiable need for violence that he fulfills through savage, S&M one-night stands with anonymous women he picks up at his club, the Downfall. He conducts his rough liaisons in a special room that has built-in chains, handcuffs, and torture devices. Thane is the most feared assassin in the Army of Disgrace because of his fearlessness and his lack of mercy. Bjorn and Xerxes have been dealing with their emotional damage in other ways, which I'm sure we'll see in more detail when their books are written. Meanwhile, the three men have an extremely close relationship, and their bromantic dialogue can get ridiculously sappy at times. Here Bjorn and Xerxes are trying to cheer up Thane, who just awakened from a nightmare: 
     "The pair piled onto the bed, unwilling to leave….They were willing to forgo much-needed rest in the hope of distracting him….
     'Anyone else feel like girls at a slumber party?' Xerxes asked dryly. 
     Thane's heart calmed. Grinning, he sat up and leaned against the headboard. 'If you start talking about cute boys and prom dresses, I might shoot you both in the face.'
     'Wait. We're having a prom?' Bjorn asked. He gave a fist pump. 'Finally, a chance to be king.'
     'If anyone's going to be prom king,' Thane said, voice stern, 'it's me. Look at this face. It's a money-maker.'" (pr 60)
     And these guys are supposed to be thousand-year-old winged warriors. (They also play air chicken while flying themselves to demon battles.)  

     As this novel opens, Thane is under the spell of Kendra, a Phoenix princess who entrapped Thane by having sex with him numerous time, each time emitting a poison that bonds him to her, taking away his free will. Kendra has convinced Thane that his name is "My Slave" and that he lives only for her touch. Each time Thane is chained in her dungeon, he breaks out and returns to her for more sex. 

     One of the princess's slave girls is the halfling Elin Vale (half human, half Phoenix). A year ago, she was captured after Phoenix warriors murdered her father and husband and enslaved her and her mother—all because her mother had mated with a human. As a result of witnessing this gruesome murder scene, Elin now reacts violently to the sight of blood and violence (lots of screaming, vomiting, etc.) Elin's mother died months ago in childbirth after having been forced to breed with multiple Phoenix soldiers. When Elin sees Thane stalking through the princess's compound during one of his break-outs, she sees a way for them both to escape. She steals an antidote to the princess's sex poison, gives it to Thane, and voilà!…they're free. In gratitude, Thane gives Elin a job waitressing at his club. 

     The two story lines involve the development of the romance between Thane and Elin and the efforts of the Army of Disgrace to take down a demon prince who wants to take over the world. (Don't they all?) The romance follows a typically bumpy road as the two lovers constantly keep secrets from one another, misunderstand one another's actions and words, and try to fight off the lust that is pulling them together. Even with all their love problems, though, they indulge in plenty of X-rated bedroom scenes, highlighted by Thane's silver bar-bell piercings (12 in all) in his major man part. The action scenes involving the demon hordes are few and far between, with the biggest one serving as the requisite climactic showdown at the very end. That scene also provides the usual solution to the problem of Elin's mortality. Once again we have a huge age difference between the two lovers: Thane is more than a thousand years old, while Elin is in her early twenties (with the Millennial worldview and amazballs vocabulary to match her tender years).  

     The adolescent-level humor in the story comes from Elin's relationship with the four supernatural women (a Vampire, a Fae, a Harpy, and a Siren) who are her roommates at the Downfall. Their scenes are filled with silly, dated-slang, repartee, and they spend a lot of time playing dodge-boulder matches against other supernatural female teams. (They've named their team the Multiple Scorgasms.)

     This novel is typical of the others in the series. It has all the usual ingredients: hot love scenes, gorgeous warriors, flighty females, and a handful of villains, all of whom get their proper comeuppance. If you're a reader of this series, you won't want to miss this book. Click HERE to go to Burning Dawn's page where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.

     This series is a spin-off of Showalter's iconic LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD SERIES (LOTU), which features sexy demon-possessed men who constantly defy their dark demonic urges and fight on the side of the good. For a look at the mythology of both series, click on the pink-link LOTU series title above to read my overview of the world-building.

     In the later books of LOTU, we meet the dour angel Zacharel, who has lived for thousands of years and has never allowed himself to feel any emotions (except the negative ones). This cold emotional detachment has gotten Zacharel into serious trouble with his Deity because it has caused him to ignore human collateral damage during his battles with demons. At first Zacharel just receives verbal reprimands. Next, the Deity punishes Zacharel by causing a constant storm of snowflakes to fall from the feathers of his wings. Finally, when Zacharel doesn't pay attention to any of those indications of displeasure, the Deity settles on a more severe punishment;  "For one year, Zacharel would lead an army of angels just like him. The ones no one else wanted under their command. The rebellious ones. The tortured ones. His assignment: to teach them the respect that he himself had yet to demonstratefor the Deity, for the sanctity of human life. And to ensure that he took his responsibility seriously, he alone would bear the consequences of his warriors' actions. If any of his angels killed a human, he would suffer a whipping....At the end of the year, if Zacharel's good deeds outweighed the bad, he and all of his angels would be allowed to stay in the heavens. If the bad outweighed the good, he and all of his angels would lose their wings and their place in the sky." (Wicked Nights, p. 30) No pressure!

     In book 2, we learn more information about Zacharel's army, which is known as the Army of Disgrace. Zacharel's warriors are Sent Ones, men and women who look just like angels, but are not angels. "Yes, Sent Ones were winged. Yes, they waged war against evil and helped humans, but in actuality, they were the adopted children of the Most High, their lives tethered to His. He was the source of their power, the essence of their very existence. Like humans, Sent Ones battled the desires of the flesh. They experienced lust, greed, envy, rage, pride, hate, despair. Angels...were servants and messengers of the Most High. They experienced none of these things." (Beauty Awakened, p. 20)

     The series tells the love stories of Zacharel and members of his bad-boy angel army as they try to fight off increasing numbers of demons without killing any humans in the process. Each angel is, of course, ultimately saved by the love of his soul mate

              NOVEL 1:  Wicked Nights              
     As the story opens, Zacharel is dealing with his recalcitrant angel warriors, who spend their time arguing with him, failing to follow his orders, and "accidentally" killing humans. Zacharel has already suffered through eight whippings as punishment for those "accidents." When Zacharel is ordered to wipe out a pack of demons who are trying to enter a hospital for the criminally insane, he becomes curious about what is attracting those demons. He learns that they are all after one person: Annabelle Miller, who has spent the past four years locked up there because she has been found guilty of brutally murdering her parents. Unfortunately for Annabelle, the real murderer was a demon high lord, but when she described a ten-foot tall red-skinned monster with horns and a tail as the perpetrator, the justice system responded by sending her off to the mental hospital for the rest of her life. 

     During all of the time that Annabelle has been imprisoned, demons have continually attacked her and she has beaten them off time and time again, suffering serious injuries in the process. Zacharel immediately recognizes that Annabelle is a demon consort—marked and claimed by a demon. He assumes that she willingly submitted to the demon because he believes that all demon-possessed humans are responsible for their own demonic predicaments. When a perverted doctor tries to attack Annabelle, Zacharel rescues her and takes her away to his cloud home, even though he believes her demon marking is her own fault. As the two spend time together, though, Zacharel soon realizes that Annabelle must have been tricked somehow into her demonic relationship, and he is determined to discover which demon is responsible. The story follows Zacharel and Annabelle through a series of life-or-death adventures as they undertake their investigation while constantly under the attack of the numerous minions of the very demon they are pursuing. 

     As Zacharel and Annabelle get to know one another, they (of course) fall in love. Both are strongly defined characters, with enough flaws to make them interesting and enough strengths to make them appealing. We also get to know a few of the other angels in Zacharel's army, specifically Thane, Bjorn, and Xerxes, all of whom have been tortured horribly in the past by demons. A fourth angel,  Koldo, has a different problem. He is trying to track down and punish (i.e., kill) the angel who cut off his wings, and it's a huge shock when we learn the culprit's identity. (Koldo's full story will be told in book 2.) As Zacharel softens up emotionally, his warriors also begin to change for the better.

     Showalter always tells a good romantic story, and with a few of the LOTU dropping in from time to time to lend their support, I'm sure that this series will be a strong one. The main problems are the usual ones that turn up in paranormal romance series: the huge age gap between the ancient hero and the immature heroine, the couple's too-quick slide into all-consuming love, and—most of all—the fact that Zacharel is still a virgin after all these millennia. (Impossible to believe.) Also, if you remember Zacharel from the LOTU series, you'll probably have a hard time believing how rapidly he changes from an icy cold automaton to a warm puddle of love. So...the plot has a few minor bumps and scratches, but, on the whole, it's a compelling, action-filled romantic caper with a promise of more to come.  

              NOVEL 2:  Beauty Awakened              

     The second book tells the love story of Zacharel's warrior, Koldo, and a 22-year-old human woman who lives in Wichita, Kansas: Nicola (Co Co) Lane. Koldo first sees Nicola in a demon-infested hospital room where she is visiting her terminally ill twin sister, Laila (La La). Although both girls were born with defective hearts, Koldo immediately recognizes that the demons are killing both girls by filling them with fear and foreboding. If they can overcome their fears, their hearts will heal and they will live normal lives. Koldo is instantly attracted to Nicola, so he vows to teach her to fight off her fears, and in the process, she can teach her sister. Of course, the demons do everything they can to stop Koldo from succeeding, and that's what makes up much of the action. This central idea—that good thoughts have the power to physically heal you when medicine can't—is a major weakness in the story line because it is so contrary to reality. Yes, optimism and hope can help a person overcome some of life's problems, but a congenital heart defect is what it is, and the best that can be said is that positive emotions will help a person deal with such a condition—but will not make it go away. In that sense, I'd have to say that this part of the story is really and truly a fantasy.  

     Koldo has his own problems. He was born to a vicious pair: Cornelia, his mother, is a Sent One who beat him, starved him, emotionally abused him, and cut off his wings in punishment after he disobeyed her by daring to go outside their home to gather a bouquet of flowers for her. Koldo's father, Nox, is a Nefas—a psychotic, soul-sucking death dealer who beat Koldo constantly and once threw him into a pit filled with snakes to toughen him up. Dad also forced Koldo to kill humans, a shameful sin for which he will never forgive himself. Eventually, Koldo was rescued by the Sent Ones and became one of Zacharel's warriors, but he is always close to the breaking point. Koldo believes that "He was never what the people he most wanted to love him needed, and couldn't ever be." (p. 114) In book 1, Koldo rescued his mother from Hell and imprisoned her in a cage in one of his homes. He wants to kill her—or at least punish her gravely—but he's not sure that he can live with himself if he does so, and his hatred for both parents constantly eats away at him.  

     At first glance, this might seem to be a terrific, angst-filled plot, and it could have been if it weren't for the lead characters. In the first place, we learn that Koldo is a virgin (carrying on a theme from book 1), which is just silly. And then, we discover that Nicola is also a virgin. What's with the virginity theme? Koldo has been around for a long, long time, so why even bother setting him up as a totally inexperienced lover? The couple spends most of the book blushing furiously as they murmur adoring compliments to one another, sneak passionate kisses, and then quickly back away from each other, not seeming to know what to do next. Even with all their adolescent groping, however, they have absolutely no chemistry together. Unfortunately, Nicola's heart is so weak that, at first, she passes out during the kisses, so they never take the action any further until almost the end of the book—after they speak words of marriage. (This relationship reminded me of the couples in most of Amanda Ashley's paranormal romances.) The couple's scenes together are actually painful to read. At one point, Laila walks in on them and says, "If you guys get any more love-dovey, I'm going to puke." (p. 298)  I have to confess that I completely agreed with her on that. I can only hope that Showalter drops this virginity theme ASAP. When she tells the stories of Thane, Bjorn, and Xerxes, she won't have any choice because those bad boys are having as many as three sexual liaisons per day. (It's either sexual feast or sexual famine in this series.) Nicola and Laila act more like adolescents than twenty-somethings as they engage in giggly slap fights and watch TV marathons of How I Met Your Mother.   

     Another problem with this book is the sudden changes in the mythology, with all kinds of rules and regulations that have never appeared before in this world—not in book one of this series and definitely not in LOTU. There is an overload of preachy, inspirational messaging, followed by the good guys doling out horrific punishments to Koldo when he tries to do something good for Nicola's sister. All in all, Beauty Awakened is not an enjoyable read.  

     The book includes the beginnings of story lines for more of Zacharel's warriors, particularly Thane and Bjorn, and a nod to the next LOTU novel, which will tell Kane's story.

1 comment:

  1. Does anyone know if there is going to be a book four? I a thinking so because Bjorn is still stuck with the evil queen.