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Monday, March 17, 2014


Author:  Jaime Rush (aka Tina Wainscott)
Series:  THE HIDDEN   
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality4; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Forever/Hachette
          "Dragon Mine" (e-novella, 6/2013)
          "Dragon Rising" (e-novella, 10/2013)
          Dragon Awakened (12/2013)
          Magic Possessed (1/2014)
          Angel Seduced (2/2014)  

     I have spent the past few days reading all of the novellas and novels in this series, and my reviews follow the introductory "World-Building" section below. I'm not sure if Rush has finished this series. The series story arc is resolved in the third novel (Angel Seduced), but several story lines are left unsettled. My advice is to skip the novellas and begin reading the series with the first novel, Dragon Awakened. In my reviews of the novellas, I give my reasons for this advice.

     The supernatural characters in this series call themselves the Hidden—as in hidden from human knowledge. Rule Number One in the world of the Hidden is this: never reveal your presence or your magick to Mundanes, under penalty of death. Here is the history of the Hidden in a nutshell, direct from Rush's web site:       

     "Once upon a time there was an island called Lucifera in what is known as the Devil’s Triangle (aka Bermuda Triangle). It was governed by Dragon gods and magick gods, called Deuces. A confluence of natural and supernatural events created a shift that allowed them physicality on the Earth plane. Some of those gods took advantage, and to their surprise, they became human and fell prey to the sensual lure of humanity. Angels dispatched to regulate the situation also fell to the lure of human love.

     The Tryahan Angela Deuce and a Dragontried to stop the proliferation of half-human/half-god offspring, known as Crescents, by inciting war. The violence caused the energy to shift back so suddenly that the island sank. The inhabitants made it to the mainland, but the wayward gods and angels were trapped between their home and the Earth plane.

     Over these last centuries, Crescents have learned to keep their magick hidden. Because of their god essence, they can see demons and creatures Mundanes (humans) cannot. Crescents straddle the razor’s edge of the Hidden and the normal world, fighting dark elements as well as the dissension between the three classes of god progeny. It doesn’t help that they are all confined to the Miami area, because they require the energy in the Triangle to feed their god essence. Technology has made it much harder to hide their true natures. And their passions."      

     The force, or energy, that still emanates from the Triangle is called the Deus Vis, literally the god force. If a Crescent stays away from the Deus Vis for too long, he or she will eventually wither away and die. That's why most of them live in South Florida. A few pockets of Deus Vis exist in other parts of the world, including Alaska (for reasons not explained), but they are very small and widely scattered.

Again from Rush's web site, here is the cast of characters: 

GODSThe tribal gods: They consider humans to be lower beings at worst, entertainment at best—even their own descendants. Luca is the supreme god of Lucifera. These gods are bored stiff on their current plane of existence, so they frequently interfere in the affairs of the Crescents, stirring up trouble and providing entertainment for themselves, all the while longing for their former glory. Three of these arrogant and meddlesome deities play important behind-the-scenes roles in the continuing series story arc: Demis, God of the Angels; Fallon, God of the Deuces; and Drakos, God of the Dragons. They're just like puppet masters, pulling the strings of some of their more greedy, power-hungry descendants—always keeping control and forcing their Crescent allies to dance to their tunes.    

CRESCENTSThe aforementioned descendants, human by nature, but with the god essence of their ancestor. There are three types of Crescents:

  Deuce CrescentsSorcerers/witches, they use illusion and fiery orbs as weapons, and possess a variety of other talents. Using their powers of illusion, they can shape shift into any form. Deuces can summon entities, gods, and demons, but at great risk. The lure of their magick can be hard to resist.

  Dragon CrescentsTheir Dragon is a separate yet integral part of them that allows them to become Dragon. Their Dragon tattoo represents their particular nature and is the physical connection between human and beast. Only Crescents can see that it moves on their skin, watching over their human. When the Crescent wills it, the Dragon’s essence transforms him into the magnificent creature through a process called Catalyzing. The Crescent must keep his Dragon under control, as its animal nature struggles to fight, play, and act on its sensual nature.
 Dragon Crescents can speak to their Dragons either telepathically or out loud, but their Dragons can only communicate telepathically.

  Caido CrescentsLike Adam and Eve paid for their betrayal, the progeny of the fallen Angels also pay a price: emotions are painful, even as they are compelled to help others. Their preternatural beauty bedazzles, yet desire is excruciating. Because of this, they usually isolate themselves from non-Angels and become asexual (or so they think!). Females are rare. Caidos can "Leap" (aka teleport) from one place to another. When a Caido invokes his angelic essence and pulls out one of his feathers, it turns into a dhagger—a very sharp knife that can be used as a weapon. If a dead Caido isn't interred promptly and properly, it turns into a Wraith—"shadows with fangs and teeth." (chapter 5, Dragon Rising)

ELEMENTALSFire, water, earth, and air, these beings are real but invisible to Mundanes. They can affect the physical dimension in pesky, aggressive, and even dangerous ways. There are no human hybrids of these, and they are mostly incidental to the main stories.

MUNDANESNormal humans who are affected by these various beings but don’t know why. They often think they are being haunted by ghosts or other pests and are sometimes mortally affected.

THE GUARDThe Hidden’s police force, more concerned with those who threaten to expose their world than ordinary police matters. For Crescents, the penalty for exposing their magick is death. Sometimes the motives and integrity of the Guard are suspect.   

THE CONCILIUMThe powerful high council of the Hidden, comprising the oldest individuals from each of the three classes of Crescents. The identities of its members are kept secret, and its integrity is often questioned.

Analyzing the names of the various groups: The name "Crescents" comes from the fact that "they inherited a sliver of their sire's godly nature" (Chapter 1, Dragon Awakened). Then we have the names of the three classes of Crescents: Dragons, Caidos, and Deuces. Two of the three names make sense to me, but the third does not. Dragons, of course, are self-explanatory. Caido is the Spanish word for "fallen," and the Caidos are descended from the fallen angels of Lucifera, so that name makes sense as well. But what about the Deuces? I checked a variety of dictionaries and mythology sources, but couldn't find any references to Deuces in connection with magic, so I'm not sure how Rush came up with this weird name for her third Crescent group. The word "deuce" actually derives from ancient words for "two": the Middle English dewes, the Anglo-French deus, and the Latin duos. How a word meaning "two" transmogrifies into a name for a group of witches and sorcerers is a mystery to me.  

THE NOVELLAS: I have included plot summaries and reviews of the two novellas, but my advice is to skip both novellas. All of the mythology is explained more clearly in the novels. You don't need the stories of the main characters from the novellas because none of them play any part in the plots of the novels. Although one or two of the supporting characters from the novellas turn up in the novels, you don't really need to have read the novellas to understand their roles.  

            NOVELLA 1:  "Dragon Mine"            
     The lead couple in the opening story used to be lovers, but a series of unfortunate circumstances broke them apart. Kirin Slade is a Carnelian (red) Dragon Crescent who returns home to Miami as the story opens because his twin sister, Lyra, notifies him that their father has gone missing. On the drive home, Kirin stops at abandoned factory that belongs to his former lover's father. His Dragon is pushing at him to be let out, so he stops there to give it some freedom. Surprise, surprise, Elle Becker, his former girlfriend just happens to be at the factory looking for her own father.

     So…two fathers are missing, but that's not all. Some months ago, Elle's mother, Tara, also went missing. In fact, that was the cause of the break-up between Elle and Kirin because there was some circumstantial evidence that Elle's mother had been having an affair with Kirin's father. Sounds like a soap opera, doesn't it?  

     The situation gets murkier when a black, shadowy creature attacks and tries to kill Kirin while he is in the factory. Elle rescues him with one of her fiery orbs, and they spend the rest of the story trying to figure out how to identify it and then destroy it. In the process, Kirin is forced to make a hard bargain with one of the true gods, who seems to spend his time watching the Crescents as if they were characters in a sit-com or a reality show.

     The story ends with all kinds of cliff-hangers. They do manage to locate and rescue one of the fathers, but the other is nowhere to be found. By the end, not only are Kirin's father and Elle's mother still missing, but Kirin's sister isn't answering her cell phone.

     I don't mind it when authors write prequel novellas or even mid-series novellas, but I hate it when the novellas don't stand on their own. This novella could have been edited down and inserted into the first full novel in the series, or it could have been combined with the second novella (which follows the adventures of Kirin's sister) to form a single novel (or long novella). Both of the novellas are stuffed with exposition—introducing the Crescents, their mythology, and their various traits. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Dragon Mine."

            NOVELLA 2:  "Dragon Rising"            
     This novella tells the rest of the story that began in "Dragon Mine," but this time the main characters are Lyra Slade (Kirin's twin sister, a Citrine Dragon Crescent) and Archer Grant  a Caido. Lyra meets Archer when she traces the ownership of a purple Lamborghini that was left parked in front of her father's house the day he disappeared. She discovers that the car belongs to Jeremy, Archer's brother. Lyra's friend, Cyntag, sets her up with a meeting with Archer, and the two discover that Jeremy, too, is missing.

     The story line follows Lyra and Archer as they investigate all of the disappearances and try to figure out how they are connected and what is really going on. At this point we have the following missing persons: Tara Becker (Elle's mother), Stein Slade (Kirin and Lyra's father), and Jeremy Grant (Archer's brother). The fourth missing person—Huff Becker (Elle's father)—was lost and found in the first novella.

     Of course, the love story is just as—or even more—important than the missing persons case. Lyra and Archer fall almost immediately in lust, but all of the inherent difficulties in Archer's Caido nature make consummation—or even close friendship—an impossibility. Luckily, though, they eventually find a magical way to solve their problem. The character who assists them is Kye Rivers, the heroine of the third novel, Angel Seduced.

     This pair of novellas is rife with plot problems. First is the fact that the connection between Jeremy and the rest of the missing people is so strained and so deeply hidden as to be ludicrous. This novella is one of those stories in which the reader must rely on an extremely unreliable third-person narrator who leaves out critical parts of the story. Then, at the very end, a character pops into the scene and explains everything in a big info dump. There is really no way for the reader to figure out Jeremy's connection with the Slade and Becker families until the big reveal, and if you don't read carefully, you'll miss it even then. This is a prime example of bad plotting. The author has centered a convoluted plot on this gigantic missing persons case and then piled on layers and layers of exposition—definitely not a good idea. There is so much going on—especially in the second novella—that character development is completely lost in the shuffle. The two lead couples (one set of lovers in each novella) are cardboard cut-outs with little or no charisma and no depth at all. Another problem is that the world-building is awkwardly inserted into the narrative in clumps. Frequently, it feels like the author constructs various scenes just so that she can explain yet another aspect of the HIDDEN mythology. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Dragon Rising."     

            NOVEL 1:  Dragon Awakened            
     The lovers in the opening novel are Cyntag Valeron, a 260-year-old Obsidian Dragon Crescent, and Ruby Salazaar, a twenty-something Carnelian Dragon Crescent. The novel opens with a a Prologue that takes place 15 years ago, a time when Cyntag was a high-level assassin for the Guard. One night, he gets an assignment to swim out to a yacht off the coast of Miami and kill everyone aboard. After Cyntag kills a Deuce man and a Dragon woman, he discovers that their nine-year-old daughter is aboard. As cold-hearted as he is, Cyntag can't bring himself to kill the little girl.

     Fast forward 15 years and we are introduced to a grown-up version of that little girl, who now runs a salvage yard in Miami. After the deaths of Ruby's parents, she was raised as a Mundane by a family friend, a Deuce Crescent named Moncrief. During all of those years, Moncrief blocked Ruby's inner magic and raised her as a human without any knowledge of the world of the Hidden. One day, Ruby gets an urgent call from Moncrief to come to his home, but when she she arrives, she finds him being attacked and then killed by an orb—a glowing, green, fiery ball of light that shoots out lethal lightning bolts. In the ensuing days, Ruby's "normal" life comes to an end as she learns the truth about her genetic heritage—that her parents were Crescents and that she is a Carnelian Dragon Crescent. That information comes to her from Cyntag, who has sworn to be her Protector. 

     Cyntag realizes that Moncrief's murder and subsequent demon attacks on Ruby are the work of the man who ordered her parents' deaths, and he vows to awaken Ruby's dragon and teach her the fundamentals of warfare so that she can protect herself. Eventually, he plans to admit to her that he was the one who killed her parents, but first he has to get her trained. As the story line moves along, the two try to figure out why her parents were killed and why the person who ordered their deaths is now targeting Ruby. Eventually, they learn that Ruby's father had been doing research on the effects of the Deus Vis and may have inadvertently created a deadly invention. In this novel, the Deuce God Fallon is the one who works behind the scenes with the primary villain, a Crecent who is desperately trying to rebuild and activate Ruby's father's invention before an oncoming solar storm arrives. Meanwhile, Cyntag and Ruby have to deal with their growing sexual attraction. The themes of the story are love, vengeance, and forgiveness.

     The author does a decent enough job with her world-building—to the point that you really don't need to read the previous two novellas to understand the mythology of this world (and, believe me, that's a good thing!). Unfortunately, though, both the mythology and the plot can be compared to a knitting project created by an unskilled beginner—very loosely woven, with ragged gaps appearing every once in awhile. On the good side, the author does a much better job with characterization than she did in the novellas. Although Ruby is a naive, over-reactive, hard-headed heroine, she is also brave and intelligent. Her lover, Cyntag, makes a satisfyingly tragic hero who has had to come to terms with the horrific choices he made in his earlier life.

     So far, this is just a so-so series, with strained plot lines and uneven world-building. The mythology is inventive, but not very interesting. It would have been helpful to have had a glossary at the end of the book, along with an appendix summarizing the history of the Crescents. Both of those appear on Rush's web site, and I have included them in full within the "World-Building" section this post, but it's always easier just to flip back a few pages to remind yourself of who's who and what's what. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Dragon Awakened.  

            NOVEL 2:  Magic Possessed            

     This novel is set in exactly the same time period as Dragon Awakened—in the days leading up to the solar storm. We also met the hero of this novelKane Kavanaugh—in that novel when he helped Cyntag and Ruby translate her grandfather's book. Kane is a powerful Deuce Crescent who is a Vega (high-level enforcer) for the Guard. Kane's sister, Mia, is also a Guard officer, but at a lower level. Their tragic and scandalous family history has had a heavy emotional effect on both their lives. Their father, a high-ranking official, was accused of helping a prisoner break out of a Guard prison and was murdered under mysterious circumstance during that break-out. Their mother killed herself shortly thereafter. After his father's death, Kane was reduced in rank and spent the next five years working his way back up to his Vega position. Whereas Kane used to be a happy-go-lucky, rule-bending kind of guy, he is now a by-the-books enforcer who never questions his boss's orders.

     The heroine is Violet Castanega, the only daughter in a family of four siblings. The Castanega family, along with a handful of other Crescent Dragon clans, live on the literal and figurative fringes of Crescent society. They make their homes in the Fringe, an area of marshy land along the outskirts of Florida City and Homestead. Most Crescents—especially Deuces—look down upon the Fringe Dragons, viewing them as ignorant, in-bred marsh rats. Like Kane, Violet's father was killed under mysterious circumstances. Many years ago, he was murdered by the neighboring Garza family when he trespassed on their land. In retaliation, the Castanegas wiped out the entire Garza clan. That incident was the catalyst for a complex blood feud among all of the Fringe clans, resulting in many deaths over a period of years.

     The event that sets off the conflict in this novel is the murder of Violet's brother, Arlo. Although there has been a ten-year break in the feuding, things are heating up again. Arlo's murder is not the first that has happened in recent weeks. Not only is someone murdering Fringe Dragons, but the killer is also "breathing" them—that is, breathing in and absorbing all of their dragon powers as they die. Violet's brothers want to go off and kill someone in revenge (and they're not particular about who), but Violet convinces them to give her a day or two to investigate the crime. Although she knows she shouldn't, she goes to the Guard for help. As soon as she walks in, the Guard officers treat her like trash. One even hums the banjo theme from Deliverance as she walks by his desk. When Violet appeals to the man in charge (Lieutenant Ferro), he listens to her plea and then sends her away. Then, he calls Kane into his office and orders him to kill Violet immediately because she is a psychopath who is at the center of the murders and because he wants her death to be a warning to the rest of the clans.

     As you can probably tell, the themes for the novel are the evils of prejudice, bigotry, and vengeance. The bigoted Guard officers view all Fringe citizens as inferior, uneducated, drunken law-breakers, and the Fringe clan members view all Guard officers as prejudiced, narrow-minded outsiders who are out to get them. As Violet says to Kane at one point, "We both suffer from others' prejudices." (p. 125) 

     Kane and Violet have met before because she is always having to bail her brothers out of jail for various minor offenses (typically drunkenness and bar-brawling). Years ago, she gave Kane a black eye when he tried to subdue one of her brothers, but he hasn't seen her for awhile. When their eyes meet across the Guard office when she comes in to discuss her brother's murder, they have that typical paranormal romance "zing" moment, so you know right away that he's not going to kill her, no matter what his boss commands him to do. And then there's the fact that in the previous novel, Kane's friend, Cyntag, advised Kane to "Trust your gut above all else. If it doesn't feel right, it's probably not." (p. 39) This doesn't feel right to Kane, and he needs to find out what is really going on.

     The story follows Kane and Violet as they attempt to figure out who is killing the Fringe dragons and why. There are also a number of humorous, but violent, scenes featuring Kane at the mercy of Violet's brothers. After all, Kane is a Deuce and a Guard, neither of which is welcome in the Fringe. Once again, it turns out that the Crescent villain who is masterminding the murder scheme is being manipulated with false promises by one of the gods.

     This is the best of the series so far, with quirky characters in an interesting setting (although the "hillbilly" situational humor is somewhat stereotypical and exaggerated). The soul mates are well-developed characters, both with tragic family histories that they have managed to overcome. I find it interesting that so far in this series we have had mysterious disappearances or mysterious deaths of five different fathers. Is this going to be a continuing trend? Click HERE to read an excerpt from Magic Possessed.  

            NOVEL 3:  Angel Seduced            
     Once again, the time period for this novel is the brief time period just before the solar storm. The hero of the story is Kasabian Grey, a Caido who has an inner darkness that he has always feared and never understood. He calls it his Soul Shadow. Caido works as a bartender and spends his spare time volunteering at a youth center for underprivileged Crescent kids. When Kasabian first meets Kye Rivers, he is smitten. Kye is the Zensu Deuce who helped Lyra and Archer with their mate-bond in "Dragon Rising," the second novella, and her magical ability has to do with sensuality, In fact, she is a certified sex therapist with a doctorate in clinical sexology.

     The plot of this novel is extremely convoluted, overstuffed with characters and story lines that wind around and sometimes strangle each other, twisting and turning into so many knots and tangles that eventually I stopped caring about how all of the many conflicts would be resolved. The primary conflict centers around the series story arc—the fact that the gods need Crescent energy, or essence, so that they can return to their original glory. This time, they are depending on a Caido villain to drain the essence from as many Crescent children as possible and then feed it to them at the height of the solar storm. 

     When Kasabian finds out about the missing children, he asks Kye to perform the Cobra with him so that he can get back memories from his childhood when he was kidnapped and held in captivity for four years. The Cobra is a process invented by Kye that allows a Caido to exchange his magic essence with a Dragon or a Deuce so that the Caido will cease to be harmed by the absorption of emotions from his bondmate. A side effect of the Cobra is that the Caido is bombarded by every emotion he's ever repressed. Kasabian wants his repressed (locked) memories to be released because he believes that if he can remember who kidnapped him and where he was taken, he can rescue the children that are currently being held hostage somewhere in Miami. Unfortunately, when they perform the Cobra, Kasabian's Soul Shadow grabs onto Kye's essence and forms a permanent bond. Kasabian keeps trying to push Kye away from him because he fears that his darkness will hurt her, but she is already in love with him, so she won't leave (not to mention the fact that he is also in love with her).  

     As Kasabian and Kye try to find and rescue the children, they pull in various friends and acquaintances to assist them. This results in all kinds of relationship issues among their allies—each requiring a separate story thread. Here are some examples: a possible love triangle involving two Caidos and a Dragon, parental interference by Kye's mother and father, and ambiguous visions from Kye's best friend. Then there's the fact that one of the villain's cohorts has the hots for Kasabian. Yet another entire story thread focuses on Kasabian's Soul Shadow—What is it? Who else has it? What can it do? Where did it come from? (The anticlimactic answer to the last question is handled in a single ambiguous sentence.) In the midst of this confusion of story lines, the author also introduces a sub-class of Caido: the Muses (one of whom happens to be part of the love triangle).    

     As the action swirls around and around, both Kasabian and Kye are put in mortal danger several times each, as are some of their friends. Mostly, this plot just jumps from one crisis to another, each one slightly more outlandish than the next. For me, this novel dropped in quality back to the low levels that I saw in the novellas. Although the first two novels are relatively well plotted, this one is not. Characterization is also an issue in this novel. We spend a great deal of time with Kye and Kasabian, but we really don't get to know them because they are always leaping into or out of dangerous situations. Much of the time they aren't even together.    

     I'm not sure if this is the final book or not. This novel resolves the series story arc, but that love triangle I mentioned earlier is not resolved, and neither is the situation with Jeremy Grant, Archer's brother (whose angel essence was stripped from him in "Dragon Rising"). And then there's the probable romance between Kane's sister and Violet's brother (from Magic Possessed). If there are more novels in this series, I can only hope that they are at the level of Magic Possessed, the best of the bunch. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Angel Seduced.

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