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Monday, October 28, 2013


Author:  Debra Mullins
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2 
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
          Prodigal Son (10/2013)  
          Heart of Stone (10/2014)  
          Warrior of Fate (10/2015) (FINAL?)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/12/16 to include a review of Warrior of Fate, the third novel in this series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels. 

                           NOVEL 3:  Warrior of Fate                           
        FAIR WARNING: This review has spoilers for Heart of Stone.        
     Warrior Adrian Gray has dedicated his life in service to his people, and has never doubted his calling...until now. Three mystical Atlantean power stones were assumed lost for centuries, but one by one the Seers of Atlantis have tracked them down in a tireless race against the extremist Mendukati. Adrian's mission? To ensure that the stones are acquired and protected by the right people―his people. 

     Adrian has always been uncompromising in his dedication to the cause. But the True Seer Tessa Montana proves a sensual distraction in his quest, and he soon finds his discipline wavering. Torn between his sacred duty to the Warriors and his desire for Tessa, will Adrian and his secrets cost them the war? 

     Although Mullins weaves a few brief reviews of previous events into the narrative of this novel, she does not include enough details for a first-time reader of the series to make sense of the over-all series plot. Therefore, I do not recommend reading Warrior of Fate as a stand-alone. 

This time around, the romantic representative of the Montana family is 26-year-old Tessa, the spoiled, bitchy daughter who has been the most negative member of the Montana family since the series began. Tessa’s family has coddled her throughout her life, and she has turned into a self-centered sourpuss who blames her overprotective brothers and a long-ago failed love affair for her problems in dealing with life. She constantly complains that everyone treats her like a child, but even as she is complaining, she is behaving exactly like an immature teenager who wants life to go her way—and only her way. At one point, Tessa demands that Adrian stop treating her like a child, and he responds, “Stop acting like one.” Even her mother criticizes her imperious behavior. Tessa’s pouting personality certainly takes some of the shine off this romance, but I admit that she does become marginally more tolerable in the later chapters, although she continues with her on-again-off-again trust issues with Adrian almost to the very end. All in all, Tessa comes across like a steroidal version of Downton Abbey’s haughty Lady Mary. In one sequence, she stomps around berating her father and brothers because they excluded her from interviewing a new employee. Then, a few chapters later, when the family has a major strategy meeting in the aftermath of an attack, Tessa decides to skip it and go to bed because, “It’s been a really complicated night.” So much for wanting to be treated like a grown-up. 

     And now for the action part of the plot: In the previous book, Adrian retrieved the second stone from a cave in Belize, but lost it to his twin brother, Azotay, and was badly injured in the process. Adrian and Azotay were separated when they were ten years old, with Adrian accompanying his father—a council member—to America and Azotay staying behind in Santutegi (their homeland) with his mother. Until Belize, Adrian had no idea that Azotay was the hatchet man for Jain Criten—the villainous, power-mad President of Santutegi who wants to gather all three of the stones so that he can activate them and bask in their power. Now that Adrian knows the truth about his brother, he keeps it a secret, fearing that the Montana family—Tessa, in particular—will no longer trust him. The reader knows immediately that this is a very bad decision on Adrian’s part. Now that Criten has two of the stones, he is desperate to get the third, which is in the possession of the Montana family. Can they protect it in their secure compound, or should they entrust it to the Council of the Temple of Mneseus, stronghold of the Warriors of Atlantis (of which Adrian's cold-hearted father is a powerful elder)?

     Unlike the previous book, the action scenes in Warrior of Fate are scattered throughout the book and include a home invasion and a major kidnapping. The kidnapping is telegraphed way in advance, mostly because it is precipitated by the TSTL decision made by John and Maria Montana to leave the protection of the secure family compound and go off to a charity dinner. The rescuers of the kidnap victims cause their own TSTL moment (during the big showdown scene) when they fail to adequately analyze the means by which their people were initially grabbed by the kidnappers. These are supposed to be very smart people who specialize in developing security systems, so why do they make such dumb mistakes? 

     Just as in the other two novels, the love affair is very rocky—marred by feelings of distrust on Tessa’s part, bad memories of past tragedies for both lovers, and too many secrets kept by Adrian (especially the one about his brother). Tessa veers wildly from being overcome with passion to being completely distrustful of Adrian. There are many graphic bedroom scenes, so if that’s your thing, you’ll enjoy this book. But if you are looking for something new in the paranormal romance genre, you won’t find it here. Unfortunately, Mullins tends to go off on several overblown, melodramatic riffs during some of the interior monologues, like this one in which Adrian contemplates his feelings for Tessa: She was his…his instincts screamed whenever he got near her. It was a chant in his head and a thunder in his heart and the wanton agony of need that burned through his blood. It was the tremble in his hands and the thrust of his c**k and a primal, urgent demand to claim her.” This sounds like a quotation from a bodice-ripper from the 1970s. 

     I’m guessing from the ending that this is the final book in the series, but Mullins does introduce a new character—a gorgeous Atlantis Warrior named Larina Zarnakis—who seems to be quite taken with Rigo, the head of John Montana’s security team, so perhaps we’ll have more novels set in this world. 

     This has been a fair-to-middling paranormal romance series that relies on well-worn tropes and one-dimensional villains. In its defense, though, I’ll admit that Mullins has created an interesting mythology and that a few of her lead characters are developed with some complexity, even taking into consideration their unfortunate penchant for over-thinking every aspect of their developing romancesover and over again. Each book in the series is, essentially, an erotic love story draped over a relatively simple and straightforward plot frame. Click HERE to go to this novel’s page, where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

     The Montana family—the protagonists in this series—are descendants of a survivor of the destruction of the ancient city of Atlantis. All of them have some type of psychic powers that work on everyone but their own family members. I don't want to go into too much detail about the Atlanteans in this post because much of the information isn't revealed until very late in book 1, and I don't want to spoil the story for anyone. If you just can't wait to read about the Atlantis World, click HERE to read an on-line interview in which the author describes her world-building process and the major elements of Atlantean culture in great detail. 

     The series story arc includes three Montana siblings and three missing magical artifacts, so I'm guessing that each book will feature one sibling, one artifact, and one soul-mate romance.

                            NOVEL 1:  Prodigal Son                            
     Twenty-eight-year-old Rafael (Rafe) Montana is a Seer who turned his back on his family five years ago and has been working since then as a bounty hunter for Badda Bing Bail Bonds in Las Vegas. Because he can use his psychic powers to find anyone, he has a perfect record when it comes to tracking down bail skippers. Rafe can also tell when a person is lying, and he can shift into Hunter form (bigger, stronger, and more violent) to defend himself. "Seeing the truth was just the smallest part of what he could do, along with the way he sometimes knew things, like nuggets of information dropped into his mind by the universe. And he could focus on a person and immediately see that person's location. If the image was in color, the person was alive. Black and white, dead. All gifts, the family stories said, from some ancient ancestor in Atlantis. He could find anyone, anywhere. He was a Hunter." (p. 10)

     When Rafe checks the bail-skip files to choose his next case, he comes across the file for Danny Cangialosi and is shocked when he can't "see" Danny. This has never happened to him before, and so he takes the case—determined to figure out why Danny doesn't show up on his psychic radar. While Rafe is searching Danny's empty apartment, Danny's step-sister—Cara McGaffigan—shows up. She is also searching for Danny, who is the only family she has left. 

     Of course, there is instant chemistry between Rafe and Cara because this is, after all, a paranormal romance, despite the fact that it is being marketed as urban fantasy. Their attraction quickly grows hotter and hotter, and within a day or two, they've consummated their relationship, although both pretend (to themselves and to each other) that this is just a temporary fling.

     As Cara and Rafe set out to find Danny, strange things begin to happen. For example: The security director at the hotel that was Danny's former place of employment has hypnotizing powers. Jain Criten, president of the tiny island nation of Santutegi is staying at the same hotel with a team of thuggish body guards and a very bad attitude. Someone trashes Cara's hotel room. A car carrying two scary bad guys follows Rafe and Cara as they head for Flagstaff—Danny's last known location.

     Both the hero and the heroine have many angst-filled interior monologues dealing with their personal tragedies. Twenty-nine-year-old Cara lost her parents and then was rejected by her fiancé because she's too smart and independent (She has two college degrees and is a partner and primary programmer in a computer software company.). Rafe's problem is that five years ago, back when he was a hot-headed young man who couldn't control his powers, he accidentally caused the death of an innocent man and the paralysis of his older brother, Darius. Rafe has lived for years with overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame, and he fights against his attraction to Cara because he fears that being with him will eventually hurt or kill her: "When she was close, he could think of nothing but her. And that could get us both killed. Which was why he had to let her go. As much as he longed for exactly what she represented…he couldn't let her take the chance…what if he had to fight, to kill, and she got caught in the crossfire?" (p. 328) We've read iterations of these lines so many times that they are just not fresh anymore. Unfortunately, this book does not add any innovations to these overused tropes.

     Another all-too-familiar plot device appears when Rafe and Cara discover that their pursuers are after Danny because he stole a magical artifactan Atlantean gemstonefrom his bossan object that an even more evil villain is determined to take for himself. That villain is portrayed as a one-dimensional sociopath who will do anything to get the stone for himself and will kill anyone who gets in his way.

     Most of the plot follows Rafe and Cara as they take a road trip from Las Vegas to Arizona with the bad guys in hot pursuit. Towards the end of the book, we meet Rafe's family, including the two siblings who (I'm guessing) will inevitably be the stars of the next two books: Darius and Tess. 

     This is a run-of-the-mill paranormal romance with the usual attractive but flawed protagonists and one-note villains—all embroiled in a story line we've seen many times in other series. Cara and Rafe are moderately developed characters, but their dialogue is frequently stilted and their instantaneous lust/love relationship is improbable and stereotypical. Mullins' world-building is interesting, and the general plot is laid out well, but the search for ancient, magical artifacts has been done to death by now. I really had hopes for some freshness and innovation in this series, but so far, it’s just the same old thing. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Prodigal Son

                           NOVEL 2:  Heart of Stone                           

          FAIR WARNING: This review has spoilers for Prodigal Son.          
     The second book tells the love story of Darius Montana and Faith Karaluros. Darius is an empath who can manipulate emotions, and Faith is a Stone Singer who can "channel and utilize the energy stored in any kind of rock, everything from gemstones to the mountains around them to the Earth's core." (p. 11) Faith is supposedly the last Stone Singer on Earth, and her skills are crucial in the mission that is at the center of this series: finding and reuniting the three ancient Atlantean sacred stones and powering them up. The Montana family is the good-guy group, and the Mendukati are the bad guys. In the climax of Prodigal Son, the Mendukati attacked the Montana family's home in an attempt to destroy them and steal one of the stones, but were driven back after a huge battle. 

     A world-building note: Ever since Atlantis fell, the Mendukati have been on a mission to destroy all of the Seers because they believe that the Seers caused the fall. The word "Mendukati" is the Atlantean word for "revenge." The problem is that the Seers had nothing to do with the destruction of Atlantis. They have lived in fear of the Mendukati for centuries and keep trying to tell their side of the story, but the Mendukati leaders are by now so warped in their thinking that their entire focus is on killing the Seers, capturing the three stones, and taking over the world. In this book, we learn exactly what happened on the day that Atlantis fell and who caused its fall. 

     As this story begins, Faith is working at a store in the Old Town district of Albuquerque when two Mendukati warriors try to kidnap her. Faith had been part of the Mendukati during her brief marriage, but she left after killing her husband when he tried to steal her powers in order to destroy a family of Seers. Coincidentally, just as the kidnapping takes place, Darius and Adrian Gray are nearby meeting with Ben Wakete, Faith's beloved father-in-law. They rush to her rescue and convince her to take shelter at the Montana stronghold in Sedona. Meanwhile, the evil Azotay—top dog amongst the Mendukati warriors—figures out Adrian's true identity and makes plans to defeat Adrian and capture Faith.

     All of the action in this book occurs at the very beginning and at the very end. The bulk of the narrative concerns itself with the progression of the love affair between Darius and Faith, a romance that sparks as soon as they meet and flares into a roaring fire within days. Naturally, though, this wouldn't be a paranormal romance if it didn't have loads of angst. Both of the lovers have been through disappointing love affairs before and have dealt with betrayal and pain. Even though their mate bond is established early in the story, Darius compromises their relationship by withholding information from Faith about his empathic powers, so you know in advance that no matter how hot and heavy their romance gets that there will be a major setback when Faith learns the truth.

     This is not a stand-alone novel because it relies heavily on information from the previous book and is basically the transitional piece that connects the first and last parts of this trilogy. if you love traditional paranormal romances, you'll probably enjoy this one. The author does a fine job with her plotting and her character development. Darius is a noble wounded warrior looking for love, and Faith is an emotionally damaged outsider seeking acceptance and family bonds. Unfortunately, the villains continue to be one-dimensional, evil-to-the-core stereotypes—always a turn-off for me. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Heart of Stone.

     The next book will feature the third Montana sibling: Tessa. Her soul mate is Adrian Gray, a man with a hidden identity that is revealed in the final pages of Heart of Stone

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