Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—3-4; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: Dutton
FAIR WARNING: Reviews may contain spoilers for previous books.
When Olivia's life exploded—after she found out she was not the adopted child of a privileged Chicago family but of a notorious pair of convicted serial killers—she found a refuge in the secluded but oddly welcoming town of Cainsville, Illinois. Working with Gabriel Walsh, a fiendishly successful criminal lawyer with links to the town, she discovered the truth about her parents' crimes in an investigation that also revealed the darker forces at work in the place that had offered her a haven. As if that wasn't enough, she also found out that she, Gabriel and her biker boyfriend Ricky were not caught in an ordinary sort of love triangle, but were hereditary actors in an ancient drama in which the elders of Cainsville and the mysterious Huntsmen who opposed them had a huge stake.
Now someone is killing street kids in the city, and the police have tied Ricky to the crimes. Setting out with Gabriel's help to clear Ricky's name, Olivia once again finds her own life at risk. Soon the three are tangled in a web of betrayals that threatens their uneasy equilibrium and is pushing them toward a hard choice: either they fulfill their destinies by trusting each other and staying true to their real bonds, or they succumb to the extraordinary forces trying to win an eternal war by tearing them apart.
Please note that this is the fourth novel in a series that is based on a complex story arc that Armstrong began building in the first novel, so I recommend that you don't try to read Betrayals as a standalone. If you haven't read the previous novels, you will get lost in the intricacies of the mythology, and you won't have the knowledge about past events and characters that you need in order to fully appreciate the nuances of the story told in this book.
Let's get the relationship issue out of the way first since it is at the center of the series story arc. (Beware of SPOILERS ahead!) Now that Liv, Gabriel, and Ricky have learned that they are the modern-day stand-ins for three tragic fae figures from the past, they are determined not to make the same mistakes that those long-ago lovers made. In this book, we see Gabriel finally begin to open up to Liv about his feelings and we watch Liv begin to realize his deep feelings for her. Meanwhile, Ricky—who loves Liv deeply—makes a painful decision to keep his romantic impulses under control and to always act in Liv's best interest, even when her best interest doesn't mesh with his dreams for their future. (I know that this sounds as if I'm talking in circles, but I don't want to spoil Ricky's story line for you.) Even though the romance situation seems to be settled near the end of the book, the final scene suggests that there is more to come on the romantic front.
Here's how Liv describes the two men: "Gabriel is that moment before a storm when everything seems preternaturally calm but you can feel the electricity in the air, and know you'll get no exact warning when danger and destruction comes. Ricky is as warm and calm as a summer's day, and while there can be storms, you'll get plenty of warning, and it'll be a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, passing quickly, the sun blazing bright again." Liv loves them both, but has committed to neither. She adores the excitement and sensuality of life with Ricky, but when she finally coaxes a rare smile from Gabriel, she thinks that "winning that smile is like acing my SATs and running a marathon all in the same day."
The primary story line focuses on a group of lamiae, fae creatures who hide their true snake characteristics behind human glamours. The lamiae are succubi who need sexual energy to survive, so they are living on the streets as prostitutes. The girls come to Liv's attention first in a violent vision in which two of them are murdered. Then, the police take Ricky in for questioning about the disappearance of a man and the murder of a woman, both of whom have connections to the lamiae. As Liv, Ricky, and Gabriel investigate the case, Liv continues to drift in and out of visions, sometimes dragging Ricky or Gabriel into her spiritual visits to other times and realms. The investigation soon turns up a suspect—a rogue fae who has confiscated one of the Hounds of the Hunt. As the intrepid trio gets closer and closer to the truth and to their suspect, suspense builds and danger lurks everywhere—from desolate, abandoned tunnels to deep, dark forests.
Meanwhile, the Cŵn Annwn and the Tylwyth Teg are both still trying to persuade the three to take their rightful places:
> Gabriel as Gwynn ap Nudd, the king of the Tylwyth Teg—the faery King of Annwn
> Ricky as Arawn, king of the underworld realm of Annwn and leader of the Wild Hunt.
> Olivia as Mall-t-Nos—Matilda of the Night—the bride of one of the two men. Her genetic heritage has given her a mixture of Cŵn Annwn and Tylwyth Teg blood.Patrick (Gabriel's father, although Gabriel doesn't know it) is the spokesman for Cainsville's Tylwyth Teg, and Ioann (Ricky's grandfather) is the spokesman for the Cŵn Annwn. Each wants his champion—Gwynn or Arawn—to accept his mythological role and hook up with Matilda because, "Whichever side possesses Matilda will win the battle for survival...The champions do battle for the hand of the maiden, and the winning side takes all, gaining the most precious gift for the fae: the power to survive in the modern world." Liv sums up the current situation: "We've decided we don't particularly like our roles. Gabriel isn't the jealous and treacherous Gwynn. Ricky isn't the reckless and impetuous Arawn. And I'm sure as hell not the hapless and helpless Matilda."
The titular betrayals occur on more than one level and in more than one of the story threads. You might recall that Gabriel has a history of betraying Liv, and that is why their relationship is civil rather than friendly as the novel begins. But at this point in the story, Liv is keeping a secret from Gabriel and she is afraid that he will react badly when she finally comes clean about his parentage. And then, of course, Gabriel can't help but betray Liv again just one more time. Other betrayals occur in the murder mystery story line. And let's not forget Liv's mother, who tried to frame Gabriel for murder in the previous book. She is a longtime betrayer who remains opposed to Liv's friendship with Gabriel, so she is still a danger.
Armstrong has taken all of this mythology, intrigue, and angst and created a marvelous novel that contains enough compelling action, spine-tingling suspense, and fully developed characters to keep you reading it straight through in one sitting—which is exactly what I did last night. At this point, I think that I can see where Armstrong is headed with the romance, but the very last scene raises a red flag because anything can happen when Liv and Ricky go off on their own together. Plus, Gabriel has been building his mile-high, stone-hard, anti-relationship wall around himself all his life, so I can't help but wonder if he has the ability to continue to be emotionally available to Liv—even if he truly wants to. Here is an illustration of the distance Gabriel places between himself and everyone else: In one scene, Liv requests Gabriel's permission to ask him a personal question. When he agrees, she asks him about the fireplace in his office, and Gabriel is astounded, protesting that that is not a personal question. Liv replies "Sometimes, with you, I think 'Would you like fries with that' is too personal."—which is my favorite humorous line in the book.
To sum things up, whatever happens next, it can't happen soon enough for me. Click HERE to go to the Betrayals page on Amazon.com where you can read an excerpt by clicking on the cover art.
Click HERE to go to a Character Guide for CAINSVILLE provided by Wicked Scribes. Click HERE to read my review of Armstrong's OTHERWORLD SERIES. Click HERE and HERE to read my two reviews of Bitten, the TV series based on OTHERWORLD.
PREQUEL: Cainsville Files (A Game App)
In the Amazon.com Editorial Reviews of this book, Booklist calls it a “reverse Cinderella story,” and that’s exactly right. In the first few pages of the book, 24-year-old Olivia (Liv) Taylor-Jones is enjoying her luxurious, happy life, attending a charity dinner with her handsome and wealthy fiancé, James Morgan, and thinking about spending some quality time with him as soon as they get back to his place. As the only child of wealthy parents, Liv is well educated and able to devote much of her time to volunteering at a women's shelter in Chicago. In just a few weeks, she and James will marry and live happily ever after. But then, Liv's mother phones her, asking her to come straight home, and at that point, Liv’s wonderful life shatters into a million tragic pieces.
NOVEL 2: Visions
> Side Note: After I finished reading Visions, I looked up some of the Welsh words to see whether I had figured them out correctly, and in almost every case I had—just from the context and the explanations in the narrative. If you do decide to check out the definitions, click HERE or HERE for two different easy-to-use Welsh-to-English on-line dictionaries. Also, you can usually find the names of mythological beings on Wikipedia (e.g., bean nighe).
Gabriel is an exceedingly damaged man. He grew up alone, fending for himself most of the time because his mother, Seanna, was either stoned on drugs and alcohol or in bed with one of her many men. Seanna disappeared when Gabriel was only fifteen, and he’s been on his own ever since. Early in his life, he built a high wall around his emotions, and he has never let anyone inside. He has vowed never to put himself in the position of needing another person for any reason because he’s not sure that he would recover from being left alone once again. Here, Gabriel muses about his early years: “Life itself became a game, a con, a swindle. Not just against marks, but against everyone—from teachers to landlords to any person with the power to lock him up, either in jail or in a group home. He’d lived like a shark then, always moving, stop and perish.” (p. 233)
> Side Note: I just finished reading and reviewing Fearless, the third novel in James Elliott’s terrific PAX ARCANA series in which the hero’s friend uses the same metaphor to describe the hero—John Darling: a shark, who “stay[s] in constant motion, wandering and killing until they die.” John takes an entirely different, but equally entertaining, approach to dealing with long-term emotional fallout from the horrific events of his early years. Both John and Gabriel have the same lone wolf complex (although in John’s case that term is quite literal), and both find it difficult to let anyone get past their emotional shields. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.Now, Gabriel locks himself away in a luxury high-rise condo stocked with food, weapons, and money: “Gabriel Walsh hadn’t sailed out of that life unscathed. The frightened and hungry kid who’d lived on the streets wasn’t gone. He was hiding up here, with his security blankets.” (p. 354) He lives entirely alone, never allowing anyone into his home. Gabriel enforces his self-inflicted isolation so strictly that even inviting Liv to his condo turns out to be so painful that he cancels the invitation while they are on the elevator just yards from his door. Gabriel’s behavior hurts Liv deeply, causing her to stalk away from him in a barrage of angry words.
Although there is a murder plot at the center of this novel, the real fascination is in the developing relationships among the characters as they get to know one another and begin to learn that they have been born to play roles in a world they never knew anything about…until now. Armstrong provides just enough new information to appease our curiosity temporarily, but she leaves us begging for more. I can’t say enough about Armstrong’s character building (and world-building, for that matter). By the end of Visions, we have a clear picture of all of the lead characters, and what a relief it is that they are so original, so realistic, and so very different from the usual one-dimensional, good-against-evil heroes and heroines who battle their way through most urban fantasy series. Of course, they are on the side of good, but which side is the “good” side? And is one side all good and the other all bad? No, I don’t think so. These are nuanced characters placed in an extremely ambiguous world that is built on centuries of cultural traditions, all of which they are unaware…for now at least. The Cainsville elders still have to reveal their true motives, as do the two mysterious men who try to coax Liv to their sides. This series just keeps getting better and better, and I can hardly wait for book 3!
NOVEL 3: Deceptions
Olivia Taylor Jones' life has exploded. She's discovered she is not only adopted, but her real parents are convicted serial killers. Fleeing the media frenzy, she took refuge in the oddly secluded town of Cainsville. She has since solved the town's mysteries and finds herself not only the target of its secretive elders but also her stalker ex-fiancé.
Visions continue to haunt her: particularly a little blond girl in a green sundress who insists she has an important message for Olivia, one that may help her balance the light and darkness within herself. Death stalks both Olivia and the two men most important to her as she desperately searches to understand whether ancient scripts are dictating the triangle that connects them. Will darkness prevail, or does Olivia have the power to prevent a tragic fate?
Armstrong once again tells her story from several perspectives, mostly in Liv's first-person voice, but also in a handful of third-person chapters written from the point of view of Gabriel, Tristan, Ricky, and Rose. Armstrong interweaves three key story lines in this book:
> The Men: The evolving relationship involving Liv, Ricky, and Gabriel—both in the folkloric past and in the real-life present—becomes more and more complex. Adding another level of difficulty to the situation is James Morgan, with his unwelcome attentions toward Liv. As the story unfolds, opposing factions put intense pressure on Liv to make an impossible choice. As various groups and individuals try to force her allegiance to one or the other, tragic events ensue.
As the story advances, Liv's visions become much more frequent and intense, and some of them are truly frightening in their malicious savagery. Along with dealing with her visions, Liv has to deal with the men in her life. Liv loves both Ricky and Gabriel, but in different ways—at least that's what she thinks at first. But as she interacts with the two men and deals with the information from her visions, her feelings become much more complicated. Ricky is her lover, who always says and does exactly the right thing to calm her down and make her feel safe. Gabriel is her prickly, emotionally crippled friend, who promises he will never leave her and always comes up with a solution to her problems, although he is unable to provide any kind of emotional support. But "friendship" and "love" are points on a constantly fluctuating relationship continuum, and Liv's inner conflicts about her feelings for the two men remain unresolved (even though she tries to tell herself that she has made a major decision in the matter). I have to say that I have no idea how Armstrong is going to resolve these complicated relationships with all of their mythological baggage, and that makes waiting for the next book even harder than usual. Here are the basic facts about the men in Liv's life:
> Liv: Positive traits: bright, perceptive, intuitive, and independent. Negative traits: can be cold-hearted, critical, and cynical—depending on the situation.
> Ricky: Positive traits: generally energetic, passionate, adventurous, active, visionary, and honorable. Negative traits: sometimes acts in haste, is easily frustrated, and can be ruthless in certain situations.
> Gabriel: Positive traits: symbolized by control, power, security, and discipline. Negative traits: has a tendency to be controlling, authoritative, and domineering.
> Tylwyth Teg: The "fair folk" of the Fae world. The elders of Cainsville belong to this group. (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
> Cŵn Annwn: The Fae-related group that is affiliated with the baying hounds of the Wild Hunt. They are responsible for handing down justice to fae lawbreakers in this world (but not to humans, which is the reason that Liv's parents are in prison). (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
> Mall-t-Nos (aka Matilda of the Night): a female figure from Welsh mythology. In this series, her role is very different from the one she plays in traditional folklore.
> Gwynn ap Nudd: In Welsh mythology, he is the king of the Tylwyth Teg—the faery King of Annwn. (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
> Arawn: In Welsh mythology, he is the King of the underworld (aka otherworld) realm of Annwn and leader of the Wild Hunt. (Click HERE for an audio pronunciation.)
> boinne-fala: A Welsh phrase that literally means "a drop of blood." I couldn't find the term in any mythology or folklore sources, but the phrase is used to describe Liv and her parents, so I assume from context that the term refers to a mixed-blood Fae/human.
Click HERE to go to the Deceptions page on Amazon.com where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.