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Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Author:  Kait Ballenger
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence4-5; Sensuality4; Humor1-2 
Publisher and Titles:  Harlequin
          "Shadow Hunter" (novella in After Dark, 6/2013; e-book, 8/2014)
          Twilight Hunter (8/2013 )
          Immortal Hunter (e-book, 4/2014; paperback, 8/2014)
          Midnight Hunter (Kindle, 2/2015)  

     This post was revised and updated on 6/16/14 to include a review of Immortal Hunter, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by reviews of the prequel novella and the first novel.    

             NOVEL 2:  Immortal Hunter             
      This story plays out according to the same pattern as the first novel: two angst-filled lovers stumble along a self-constructed rocky road to their HEA while solving a series of brutal murders. Once again, the lovers keep secrets from one another, misunderstand each other, say the opposite of what they really feel, and engage in an endless litany of anguished, egocentric internal monologues in which they either blame each other for their unhappiness or take on the guilt for every awful thing that happens to everyone in the story. The guilt-driven lover is David Aronowitz, the exorcist and demon Hunter for the Execution Underground (EU), who blames himself any time a demon kills someone in Rochester. He also blames himself for his ex-fiancee's torture at the hands of the villain of the first novel. We get a lot of this type of self-pitying narrative: "David blamed himself. For all of it…All of it was his fault." (chapter 9) And here's another example: "Lately guilt was becoming David's new best friend. As he glanced over the crime scene photos yet again, he couldn't help but feel as if it was his fault these people had been murdered. Logically, he knew that there had been nothing more he could do to track the demon's next target, but the weight of all those deaths weighed on him nevertheless." (chapter 14) The phrases "my fault" and "he blamed himself" are used multiple times in nearly every chapter.  

     David's ex-fiancee is Allsún O'Hare, a half-Fae who keeps a painful secret from both the reader and from David for much of the book. The reader learns the secret halfway through, but Allsún doesn't let poor David in on the secret until much late, all the while blaming him for what happened to her: "It didn't matter that she knew the events of that night weren't David's fault; no amount of reason could convince her heart otherwise." (chapter 11) I am truly sympathetic to the tragedies of Allsún's life, but it's impossible to get past the fact that she handles her trauma in the worst possible manner: by blaming David, by refusing to accept responsibility for her own actions, and by shutting David completely out and then being angry at him for conceding to her wishes.   

     Both lovers act like adolescents as they agonize and brood about the other's behavior. It is hard to believe that their love is so very deep and strong because they never once tried to reconcile after Allsún walked away from the relationship five years ago. Even though they both live very close to one another in Rochester, neither made a single attempt to patch things up. Allsún is the worse of the two in all relationship issues. She keeps leaving David or shouting at him to leave her alone, and then she is furious with him for not following her and saving her from two separate tragic situations that occur primarily because she left him. Even though she particularly blames him for the first tragedy, she refuses to tell him what actually happened: "She couldn't tell him without risking his safety, and she would never allow that to happen. Not after the threat she'd received" so long ago. (chapter 7) So…in Allsún's convoluted thought process, she believes that David is at risk, but she thinks he'll be safer if he doesn't know about the threat. Outside of the fact that her reasoning is insane, my question is this: What threat? I reread that scene several times, and there is no threat made against David, so Allsún's behavior makes absolutely no sense. After all the angst and chest-beating, both of the lovers eventually have a dramatic revelatory scene about four pages from the end of the book in which they come clean with each other, vow to keep no more secrets, and swear to love each other forever. (Note: This is the same pattern followed by the lovers in the first novel.  

     Early on, we learn that the serial killer is a demon named Sammael who needs to complete a series of ritual killings in order to bring his Master/Mistress (both terms are used) from hell to the mortal plane. Sammael is just as soulless and evil as the villain in the first novel. Here, Sammael enjoys watching the death of one of his victims: "Black blood. Dirty human liver blood. It was a filthy, wonderful sight to see him wallow in it as he died. His favorite parts were the sounds: the squelching, the screaming, the pleading, the wet pitter-pattering of blood on overpriced hardwood flooring." (chapter 11) All of the murder scenes contain this type of graphic, blood-and-guts description, so be prepared. Sammael needs Allsún because she is the last Fae on mortal earth and will be of vital importance in the vengeance-seeking bloodbath that his Master/Mistress is planning.  

     As was the case in the first novel, this plot has a couple of holes. For example, at one point, the EU comes up with a plan to identify every family in Rochester with either a pregnant wife or a child under the age of a year. As one of their computer experts explains, "We'll be able to see the insides of their homes with thermal imaging" and have "a couple trainees" monitor the screens to watch for demonic activity. (chapter 12) Rochester has a population of about 211,000, so how could a couple of people possibly watch a few CCTV screens  24/7 to search out a demon among the thousands of homes that would probably meet the criteria for either pregnancy or infant children? Talk about implausible plot elements!

     This is a disappointing series that features identical plots, an overload of angst, unrealistic characters, and stereotypical horror elements. Click HERE to go to this book's page to read an excerpt by clicking on the book cover at top left.

     Just as in the first novel, a secondary romance plot line begins as Dr. Shane Grey, the EU's computer expert, meets his soul mate, Vera Sanders, a witch who is one of his students. Their story will no doubt be told in the third novel.

      The Execution Underground (EU) is a clandestine organization staffed by humans and devoted to protecting humanity by eliminating all supernaturals. EU warriors are trained extensively in combat, and they are also injected with a serum that gives them an extended lifespan, increased strength, and extra healing capabilities. Some of the Hunters have psychic talents, but others are non-enhanced humans. As the series opens, supernaturals are portrayed as being evil, but that will change asone by onethe EU hunters find supernatural soul mates. Unfortunately, there's not much inventiveness in the world-building because we've seen this type of mythology many times before.   

     The series follows the love lives of the EU Hunters assigned to Rochester, New York. In general, each Hunter is alpha in nature, violent in temperament, suffering from past emotional or physical  trauma, and skilled in the bedroom.  

Here is a list of the Hunters, their specialities, and their soul mates (to date):      
     Prequel novella and novel 6: Damon Brock (vampire Hunter & Rochester EU leader/founder) & Tiffany Solow (human)
     Novel 1: Jace McCannon (halfbreed werewolf; werewolf Hunter) & Frankie Amato (werewolf pack leader)
     Novel 2: David Aronowitz, exorcist and demon hunter & Allsún O'Hare (half-Fae veterinary technician)
     Novel 3: Dr. Shane Grey (computer geek, college professor, occult specialist) & Vera Sanders (witch, college student, bartender in a strip club)
     Novel 4: Ashley (Ash) Devereaux (medium, ghost/poltergeist Hunter) & ???
     Novel 5: Trent Garrison (Hunter of mono-werewolf shifters) & ???
     Novel 6:  resolution of the Damon/Tiffany story that began in the prequel  

     This team of Hunters includes the usual types: the dark and angry-to-the-bone leader (Damon); the stubborn, profane troublemaker (Jace); the sarcastic but loyal friend (David); the nerdy computer genius (Shane); the hard-drinking PTSD sufferer (Ash); the once-handsome but now disfigured warrior (Trent). Click HERE to read more about the Rochester EU team on the author's web site.

             PREQUEL NOVELLA:  "Shadow Hunter"                
     This story is one of two novellas in After Dark, and it introduces us to Damon Brock, founder and current leader of the Rochester, NY, division of the EU. In this novella, we meet Damon and his soul mate, Tiffany Solow, sister of his late best friend. Damon blames himself for his friend's death, and he fears that Tiffany feels the same way. Needless to say, this initial part of their romance is short-lived and filled with angst and tragedy. The couple's complete story will be told in book 6 of the series.  

     After Dark was originally published in June 2013, but is apparently being republished with a 12/31/2013 publication date. The two books appear to be identical, but have different prices on, with the newer edition being cheaper, both in paperback and in e-book form. So…be careful which one you order. The second novella in After Dark is a LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD story by Gena Showalter.

     Click HERE to read my review of both novellas in After DarkClick HERE to go an excerpt from "Shadow Hunterat the Manga Maniac Cafe web site.  

             NOVEL 1:  Twilight Hunter                    
     After the events in the novella, Damon is in a perpetually bad mood, which he takes out primarily on Jace McCannon, a half-breed werewolf who is hiding his animal side from everyone in the EU except his best friend, David Aronowitz. Jace is a hard-drinker and a heavy smoker who is the group's werewolf Hunter. As the story opens, a serial killerbelieved to be a werewolfis butchering attractive young women on the streets of Rochester. So far, Jace has not been able to catch the killer, and Damon is hard on his case, threatening to fire him if he doesn't catch the perp and stop the murder spree.   

     At the scene of one of the murders, Jace captures Frankie Amato, a female werewolf (and local pack leader), and takes her to his apartment to question her further. A major plot hole occurs at this point: Jake interrupts his journey home with his captive to attend a meeting with Damon and his fellow Hunters. Why then, doesn't he mention the fact that he has a werewolf imprisoned in his car? In any case, he takes the werewolf home, where she begs him to free her because she is about to reach her annual sexual peak (aka estrus) and any male with werewolf blood will be unable to resist her. She has picked up on the fact that Jace is a halfbreed (human mother; werewolf father), a fact that Jace hates about himself. His father was a vicious wife-beater who abandoned the family when Jace was 16, and Jace hates his werewolf side with a passion, vowing never to give in to his bestial nature.   

     The story, as usual, follows two branches: the romance and the action. The romance is one of those incredibly anguished affairs during which the hero and heroine ALWAYS misunderstand and misread each other's words and actionsevery single time. Although they have several hot and heavy sexual encounters, each of those is followed by some type of emotional friction that drives them apart. This cycle continues until almost the end of the book, when they finally have their stereotypical mutual confession-of-love scene and go off on their HEA.   

     In the action plotwhich is really a textbook horror storyJace and Frankie team up with David, and eventually Shane, to track down the identity of the killer. But as events unfold, the killer makes it clear that Jace is his real target. In the closing chapters, Jace learns some shocking facts about his genetic heritage that drive him further apart from Frankie and put him in the killer's cross hairs. The villain is a brutal psychopath with no redeeming qualitiesa raving maniac who could have oozed out of any horror novel.   

     Towards the end, we get the beginnings of the love story between David Aronowitz and Allsún O'Hare, the stars of novel 2.   

      Based on the novella and the first novel, this is going to be an old-school paranormal romance series with macho, alpha heroes and feisty females who love to be dominated in the bedroom. The Hunters are the usual profane, back-slapping buddies, all with tragedy in their pasts and violence in their futures. The author provides plenty of character development, but the problem lies in the fact that the characters are all too familiar, and their actions and reactions are all too predictable. There's nothing new or inventive in the mythology or the characters, and I'm guessing that each book will follow a similar path in the romance plot: lots of angst caused by past tragedies and constant misinterpretations of each other's words and actions followed by a rhapsodic HEA. We've seen it all before, so the author will have to work hard on the action plots to make them interesting enough to keep readers' interest. 

     EXCERPT: Click HERE to go to this book's page to read an excerpt by clicking on the book cover at top left.

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