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Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Author:  Jacquelyn Frank   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)   
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Ballantine
          Forbidden (10/2012)
          Forever (3/2013)
          Forsaken (1/2014)    
          Forged (5/2014) 
          Cursed by Fire: The Immortal Brothers (2/2015)

     This post was revised and updated on 5/27/14 to include a review of Forged, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 through 3:

          NOVEL 4:  Forged          
     In Chapter 1, which is really a Prologue that occurs 300 years ago, the gargoyle, Ahnvil escapes from his life-long enslavement at the hands of his forger, Kamen, a powerful Templar Bodywalker. In Chapter 2 (present day), we find Ahnvil in the custody of another Templar Bodywalker, this time Panahasi, one of Apep/Odjit's low-level minions. In Chapter 3, the author leaves out the details of Ahnvil's second escape and skips to a scene in which Ahnvil is lying unconscious in a snowbank in the mountains of Washington state where he is discovered by a young woman named Katrina (Kat) Haynes. Kat is a former emergency-room physician's assistant who suffers from a rare disease called xeroderma pigmentosum, a genetic disorder that causes the victim to be highly allergic to sunlight. Sufferers of this disease are sometimes called "Children of the Night." Alarm bells ring immediately in the reader's mind: She's allergic to sun, lives the dark…I wonder if she could possibly be….? 

     Even though the severely wounded Ahnvil spends most of the next few days alternately snoring loudly, gulping down great quantities of food, and jumping poor Kat's bones every time he wakes up, she falls in lust with him and vice versa. Unfortunately for the reader, Ahnvil speaks
 in that dreadful Scottish dialect so common to mass market romance novels. As is the case with most paranormal romance heroines, Kat deals with her new lover's Scottishness and supernaturalness rather calmly, even when Ahnvil explains that Gargoyles have three different states: the flesh state (human); the stone state (all stone but still looks human); and the grotesque state (all stone but looks like a traditional, monstrous Gargoyle). Most of the book deals with the lovers' tragic personal histories and their rocky road to romance. Towards the end, Panahasi sends a few warriors out to grab Ahnvil and the magical necklace he stole during his escape, but the villains are quickly dispatched in every scene in which they appear.   

     The important element in this plot is that midway through the book, Kat and Bella (from the original NIGHTWALKERS series) literally bump into each other. They can't see one another, but they are able to touch and to communicate in writing. It seems that the prophecy we first read back in Forbidden is beginning to come true. (See the World-Building section below for more details about the prophecy.)

     With the exception of the prophecy part of the plot, this is another typical paranormal romance with its chauvinistic, blustering, sex-crazed, über-alpha hero and its feisty, emotionally damaged heroine who insists that she is an independent woman but who is generally quite submissive during the frequent, graphically portrayed bedroom scenes. For awhile, I thought that Kat was smart enough to keep herself out of trouble, but towards the end, she has a major TSTL moment that puts her in the hands of the enemy (mostly because the author needed a way to trigger her newly developing powers).

     The most unlikely scene comes when Jackson/Menes flies in to rescue Ahnvil, who is in dire danger of permanently turning to stone because he has been out of contact with his touchstone for too long. You'd think that Jackson would have been smart enough to bring the stone with him on the plane, but no…poor 
Ahnvil has to wait until they get all the way back to the ranch before he can touch it. This didn't make any sense to me at all.

     If you've been reading the series, you'll see that this plot babysteps the series story arc forward a few degrees, but if you haven't been reading the series, you probably won't know what's going on when Kat and Ahnvil get back to the Nightwalkers' compound in New Mexico, although Frank does sneak in some mythology summaries when Ahnvil explains supernatural life to Kat. Thankfully, the quality of the copy-proofing of this book is much higher than some of the previous ones. The paperback edition contains an excerpt from Cursed by Fire;
 The Immortal Brothers, which (on is listed as being part of the WORLD OF THE NIGHTWALKERS series. Elsewhere, I have seen THE IMMORTAL BROTHERS presented as a new series. I'm not sure which is correct. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Forged.

     This series is a spin-off of Frank's NIGHTWALKERS series, which follows the trials and tribulations of various demons, vampires, and shape shifters as they fall in love and get their HEAs. In the prologue to Forbidden, two NIGHTWALKERS characters (Kestra and Bella) are reading an ancient scroll that tells of twelve nations of the Nightwalkers who will be "driven apart, and become strangers to one another." The scroll goes on to say that "they are lost to one another and will remain lost until a great enemy is defeated...and a new one resurrects itself." (Forbidden, p. 3) In Kestra and Bella's world, there are only six nations of Nightwalkers: Demons, Lycanthropes, Druids, Vampires, Shadowdwellers, and Mistrals (shape-shifting Sirens). The two women wonder what the other tribes might be, but conclude that "None of it has anything to do with us now." (p. 4) Oh boy, are they wrong! (Click HERE to read an overview of the mythology of the Nightwalkers along with my review of the sixth NIGHTWALKERS novel.) In Forsaken (book 3 of this series), we get more details on the curse that caused the split between the two groups of Nightwalkers (pp. 241-243). 

     The focus of this new series is on those unknown six nations, beginning with the Bodywalkers, a group made up of Ancient Egyptians whose bodies were mummified after death. That mummification has granted them eternal life. As one character explains: "The mummification process, instead of preserving us for the afterlife, ended up tethering us to the mortal plane. We had stumbled on a way to live forever." (Forbidden, p. 98) Although they are occasionally thrown back into the Ether for century-long intervals, Bodywalkers eventually come back in the body of a human who has just died. While the human is at the point of near-death, he or she is given the choice of either dying or being possessed by one of the Bodywalkers. If the human accepts the possession, he or she miraculously comes back to life and the Blending begins—the process by which the human mind and the Bodywalker mind become one.

     The Bodywalkers are Nightwalkers because they offended the gods when they allowed themselves to be mummified. "The gods had looked on it as an insult, as an act of greed and bribery, the way they tried to preserve themselves and take their riches with them. And so...they had given them exactly what they wanted. A way to preserve their youth. A way to carry wealth with them. All they could ever want or ask for...except true death, a peaceful afterlife, and the sun." (Forbidden, p. 293) As a result, the Bodywalkers have the same sun-sensitivity and day-weakness as all of the other Nightwalkers. Each Bodywalker has some type of magical power, varying from person to person in type and strength. They all heal well and are super strong, but they are also extremely allergic to orange juice, which—in large quantities—can actually cause death (which to a Bodywalker means a trip back to the Ether). 

     The villains within the Bodywalker nation are the Templars—the temple priests and priestesses who want to take power away from the Pharaohs and the Body Politic (the people). The Templars look down on humans and non-Templar Bodywalkers as inferior beings and view themselves as god-like. "They believe it is they who should be ruling the Bodywalkers in all...matters, as well as in religion. They believe they who are closest to the gods would make the truest of statesmen. They do not acknowledge the laws of ascension as was agreed upon many thousands of years ago." (Forbidden, p. 105)

     In addition to the Bodywalkers, the other Nightwalker nations in this world are the Djynn, Night Angels, Wraiths, Phoenixes, and Mysticals. Also part of the Nightwalker world are the Gargoyles, who are forged by Bodywalkers. As one Gargoyle explains: "Gargoyles are as much animal as they are human. When we're forged we are actually blended with an animal…" (Forged, p. 111) We meet a group of Gargoyles and one Djynn in book 1. (The Djynn is named SingSing, and she wears Hello Kitty pajamas and Cookie Monster slippers. Why...who knows?) Night angels, wraiths, and another Dijynn appear in book 3. 

          NOVEL 1:  Forbidden          
     In the first scene of Forbidden, Docia Waverly is forced to walk to work because her car is in the repair shop. As she is trudging across a narrow bridge, a car nearly sideswipes her and the rear-seat passenger leans out and shoves her off the side of the bridge into the icy, rocky riverbed below. As Docia is dying from her injuries, a beautiful woman appears and tells her: "You have a choice to make. To live or to die. Only now, on the brink of death, as you open enough to allow me in...only now do you have an opportunity like no other...If you let me in, it could help us both to evolve into the beings we wish to be." (p. 13) Docia chooses to live, and she miraculously wakes up in a hospital, covered with massive bruises and stitched-up gashes and minus half a head of hair where the doctors had to shave her head in order to treat her head wound. In other words, she's a messphysically from the accident and mentally from her strange encounter. 

     Just days later, Docia is attacked once more, but this time a tall, blond, sexy he-man comes to her rescue and drives her off in his SUV to an isolated, rural stronghold. That rescuer is Ramses ("Ram"), who is actually a Bodywalker who was originally Ramses II—the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Ram has been living for centuries, going back and forth from Earth to Ether and back, returning to earth each time in the body of a different human. His current human is Vincent, an ex-Navy SEAL who died back in the 1970s. Ram rescues Docia because he believes that she is the reincarnation of his queen, Hatshepsut, who is due to return to Earth. His king, Menes, will also be arriving any day now. Both were killed and sent to the Ether 100 years ago during a battle with the Templars.

     Ram gradually explains to Docia how she and Hatshepsut are connected: "This relationship is not about death, Docia. It's about a second chance at life. For you, the host...or the original, as we like to call you...and the Bodywalker within you, which we sometimes call a carbon." (p. 98) As Ram and Docia are thrown together by various circumstances, they fall for one another, even though Ram knows that Docia is the wife of his king. (This is the "forbidden" love of the book's title.) Needless to say, there's a twist about three-quarters of the way through the story that solves that problem, although it sets up a few more.

     The Templar villain in this book is the priestess, Odjit/Selena, who killed Hatshepsut 100 years ago. She is determined to defeat Hatshepsut and Menes once again, by any means possible.

     Also part of the story is Docia's brother, Jackson, who is a police K-9 officer. Jackson raised Docia after the death of their parents, and he considers himself her protector. All during Docia's adventures, the story switches back occasionally to Jackson as he copes with her disappearance, with the death of his long-time canine partner, and with his lust for Marissa, the police department's psychiatrist. Jackson will play the leading role in Forever, the second book of the series.

     The hero and heroine of this book are fairly typical paranormal romance leads: the handsome, alpha male protector and the air-headed, naive heroine who definitely needs to be protected—from both herself and from the bad guys. Docia is a bit sillier than most paranormal heroines. She keeps saying things like "Holy Sh**cakes," "Holy Crap,""Holy Guacamole," "Holy Merde," and "Holy Spitballs". If she's not spouting off cutesy interjections, she's nibbling her lip and giggling—always giggling. With her constant little-girlish behavior, it's tough to picture Docia either as a grown-up woman or as the object of a mature male's devotion. Ram is suitably kind but stern as he gently prepares Docia for her new life and then finds himself falling head over heels for this bruised, semi-hairless, air-headed woman.

     This is an inventive mythology, but I can also see that it might lose its novelty after a book or two of dealing with dual-personality heroes and heroines. Nonetheless, it works here as a fresh idea with with enough suspense to sustain a relatively complex plot. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Forbidden

          NOVEL 2:  Forever          

     This book tells the love story of Jackson Waverly and Dr. Marissa Anderson. Jackson is the brother of Docia, the heroine of book 1, and Marissa is a police department psychiatrist. In book 1, when Jackson was still fully human, he spent a lot of time yearning for Marissa, who insisted that they couldn't have a personal relationship because he was her patient (after he fell into a depression following the death of his beloved K-9 partner). In the scene that climaxed book 1, Jackson died and was immediately resurrected as the pharaoh, Menes, who heads up the Politic Bodywalkersthe good guys of this series. (Read the World-Building section above for more info. about the Bodywalkers.) Menes is still waiting for his soul-mate, Hatshepsut, to come out of the Ether and inhabit a mortal body. As the story begins, Menes has decided that Marissa will make a fine host for Hatshepsut particularly since Jackson is nuts about her. That means, of course, that Marissa must die, which highlights a big problem with Frank's mythology. As I read the book, all I could think of was how how Franks would kill off Marissa. Whenever Marissa appeared in a scene, my mind was working furiously trying to figure out if this would be where she bites the dustor, rather, ends up in the ether. That kind of gloomy suspense does nothing but weaken the plot.  

     It has been three weeks since Menes merged with Jackson, and their Blending is nearly complete. In an early scene, Marissa witnesses an attack on Jackson/Menes by a Templar mercenary and a Gargoyle, and he is forced to tell her his whole magical story. In these conversations, he sometimes speaks as Jackson and other times as Menes, and he refers to himself as "we." At first Marissa thinks that Jackson has had a psychotic break, but then she starts to believe his story. In order to keep Marissa and her sister, Angelina, safe, Jackson takes them to the Politic Bodywalkers' isolated stronghold in the New Mexico desert. At that point, their romance gets fiery, and Menes explains the 
Hatshepsut situation. In an understatement, he thinks, "Of course he didn't like the dying part any more than she did." (p. 192) As you can imagine, Marissa is completely opposed to that outcome, resulting in some major bumps in their relationship.

     In the meantime, Jackson's best friend, Leo Alvarez, has been kidnapped and is being tortured by the evil Templars. That story line is sprinkled in among the Jackson/Marissa chapters. I won't include a spoiler, but I will tell you that one of the Templars casts a spell that goes exceedingly awry, which changes the series story line completely and provides for the inclusion of more types of Nightwalkers in future books as the good guys must raise an army.

     This is a typical paranormal romance, with its tortured, alpha hero and feisty, vulnerable heroine. Based on not-so-subtle foreshadowing, I'm guessing that in future books, Leo will pair up with Diahmond, the beautiful Gargoyle, and Angelina will find a mate in Asikri, who is described as a "big hulking wall of surly muscle." (p. 149) The next book will tell Leo's story, so we will soon find out if I am correct on this prediction.

     This book has a number of word usage errors. I warn you that I'm going to sound like the English teacher I am, but I think that this is important because it represents an unfortunate trend, so here are a few examples:   

     In one scene, Franks uses the word "entendre" without its necessary accompaniment, "double": "double entendre," meaning double meaning. The single word, "entendre," rarely, if ever, appears alone.  

     In several places, Frank uses the word "gentility" when she really means "gentleness." "Gentility" means good breeding and politeness, while "gentleness" conveys tenderness and kindness.     

     A different misstep comes with this sentence: "a large amount of Gargoyles escaped...." As explained in a reliable on-line dictionary"amount" is used with mass or uncountable nouns (the amount of paperwork; the amount of energy) and "number" with countable nouns (a number of songs; a number of days)." So, the sentence should have read, "...a large number of Gargoyles."     

     In another scene, Franks uses the word "entendre" without its necessary accompaniment, "double": "double entendre," meaning double meaning. The single word, "entendre," rarely, if ever, appears alone.

     Then, there's this one: "...Odjit's mongering ways." The word "mongering" has a literal meaning of "peddling" or "selling." It needs a word partner because in modern usage, it is always part of a compound word (warmongering, gossip-mongering, fish-mongering). As it is used here, we don't know exactly what Odjit is "mongering."  

     At another point, Frank says that Jackson's desire for Marissa was a "volatile, virulent thing." "Virulent" means poisonous, hostile, bitter, or malicious, and I don't think that is what Frank means to say. I imagine that she was going for an alliterative phrase, but chose the wrong word(s). Perhaps "vigorous" or "vivid" would have been a better choice. As for the other word in that phrase, I don't believe that "volatile" really describes Jackson's feelings for Marissa.  

     The final example is the word "aggress," which Franks awkwardly uses in several instances instead of "attack." Frank also uses the word in a love scene: "He wouldn't aggress with her, sweeping her up in the passion he knew she craved." Most definitions of (and synonyms for) "aggress" mean hostile attack. Jackson is definitely not having hostile thoughts in this scene. The better way would have been to omit the questionable part of the sentence, changing it to, "He refused to sweep her up in the passion he know she craved." 

     I think Frank's problem is that she wants to use dramatic language, but she  (and her editor) aren't checking the true meanings of these imprecise and erroneous usages. Perhaps they don't see it as a huge problem, but to me this is representative of a disappointing decline in language skills that has become prevalent in the mass market paperback field in recent years, even among the big-name publishers like Ballantine. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Forever.     

         NOVEL 3:  Forsaken            
     Leo Alvarez, a mercenary and former Army Ranger, has been Jackson Waverly's best friend since childhood. Now that Jackson has become a Bodywalkerinhabited by the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, MenesLeo isn't sure how much of Jackson has been retained. In the previous book, Leo was horrifically tortured by the demonic Templar Chatha. As a result Leo has lost all trust in the supernatural world, and that includes Jackson and his sister, Docia, who has also become a Bodywalker. Jackson can't stop flashing back to his terrible torture, and he can't keep himself from hating the Bodywalkers, along with all the rest of the supernatural world in which he finds himself immersed. 

     In the first scene, Jackson is severelypossibly mortallywounded by the imp god Apep, who has inhabited the body of Odjit, the villain of book 2. When Apep/Odjit turns his powers on Leo, a Night Angel named Faith sweeps in to save his life. So…we add a new supernatural species to the mix. Here, Faith explains to Leo that Night Angels "see souls….It is our lot in life to ferry the lost ones to a portal leading them to the next stage in their lives." (p. 42) Faith also has the power to "reflect back to others whatever power it is they choose to use against me." (p. 171)  

     The plot follows the usually double path: the romance and the action. The angst-filled romance plot kicks off when Leo and Faith take a road trip to find a Djynn who has the power to heal Jackson/Menes. Leo hates and fears all supernaturals, so he doesn't trust Faith at all, even though he thinks she's hot: "neon yellow eyes….black-skinned from head to toe…not African American black, actual midnight black as black could be.…blue laser light wings stretched out behind her….and then there was her hair. Cleanly white, not a single touch of color or shading….bound in a figure eight…a thick, winding thing that told a tale of great length....And not a stitch to cover those unbelievable swells and hollows. From the slope of her shoulder to the cleft of her backside, there wasn't a single ounce of….anything but well-shaped muscle beneath all of those female curves." (pp. 35, 39) Faith has the ability to read all of Leo's emotions, so she understands him better than he understands himself, but she isn't sure that he can ever overcome the PTSD effects of his torture. At one point, the couple is sent briefly into a possible future world, and that provides them both with additional insights into their own and each other's feelings. 

    By the way, that bit of time travel is handled a bit awkwardly. One minute, the couple is in the present, and the next they are two years into the future, with no real transitional text to explain what's going on. It eventually becomes clear what happened, but for a minute, I thought that my book was missing some pages. The romance ebbs and flows throughout the story, all the way up to the final scene. In at least one scene, I thought that the couple had reached the beginnings of their HEA, but no…Leo's stubbornness keeps him from committinguntil it is almost too late.

     The action plot focuses primarily on Leo and Faith's attempts to save Jackson/Menes' life by tracking down Grey, a powerful Djynn. When they find him, they make a wish to save Jackson's life and then must pay the price for that wish, which involves a B & E at a wraith's stronghold and the theft of a magical artifact (and not the usual kind). A wraith's touch will instantly kill a Nightwalker, so this is a particularly dangerous mission for Faith.

     The plot also includes a few scenes with the villain, Apep/Odjit who is making plans to kill all Bodywalkers and other bothersome Nightwalkers and take over the world. Unfortunately, Faith's brother, Dax, becomes one of Apep/Odjit's victims as the demonic god takes the first dastardly step in his/her master plan.

     I had a hard time getting though this book, mostly because of the repetitive, angst-filled interior monologues from Leo and Faith. Those scenes dragged the pace down to a shuffle. The action plot served mostly as an interruption of the romance, although it did move the series story arc along a few notches.

     Once again, Frank's problematic vocabulary choices weaken the book. For example, just as she did in book 1, she continues to use the word "gentility" (good breeding or refinement) when she obviously means "gentleness" (kindly, soothing)(p. 12, p. 44). Additionally, there are quite a few errors probably caused by either auto-fill or spell-check. For example, a character muses that she misses "beautiful flowers like bulbs and hydrangea and more." (p. 9) Since "bulbs" are not "beautiful flowers," I'm guessing that Franks meant the phrase to have been "tulips and hydrangea," but auto-fill and a lack of human-eye copy proofing combined to allow the error to slip by. In another scene, Leo's "rear teeth [are] clutching tightly" (p. 12) I'm pretty sure that those teeth were clenching, not clutching. I won't include a lengthy list of additional examples because I already did that in my review of book 2. Suffice it to say that Frank's language is imprecise and that Ballantine's copy proofing is incompetent.  

     This is definitely not a stand-alone read because you need the details from the previous two novels to understand Leo's character. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Forsaken.

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