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Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Author:  Virna DePaul
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)     
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality4-5; Humor—1 
Publisher and Titles:  Bantam 
          Turned (4/2014)  
          Awakened (7/2014)    

This post was revised and updated on 7/14/14 to include a review of Awakenedthe second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1.  

In the future, I will add new novels to the list above as they are published, but I won't be reviewing or summarizing any of them, primarily because the numerous implausibilities and inconsistencies in the mythology and in the plots make the books too painful for me to read. Sorry to be so harsh, but that's my opinion.  

            NOVEL 2:  Awakened              
     This novel tells the love story of Barrett Miles, a Belladonna agent, and her ex-lover, Nick Maltese, who is working for another one of the FBI's secret vampire-related departments. When Barrett learns that Jane Small, the orphaned daughter of Barrett's best friend has been captured by vampire slavers, she is determined to rescue Jane. Barrett's mysterious boss, Carly, hints that "it's very possible Nick Maltese has information you can use. If not, maybe he'll be motivated to help you find it." Barrett understands what Carly is hinting at: "It wasn't lost on her that even as pimps and Rogue vampires were selling the bodies of girls like Jane to the highest bidder, Barret had been, if not technically, at least essentially whoring herself for her country. But no regrets. Sex was just…sex." (p. 18) So...essentially, Carly is suggesting that Barrett should seduce Nick into helping her. After all, Barrett is just coming off an assignment in which she had to be a blood whore to a powerful vampire, so why not seduce a human agent? It's all a part of her job. Wow! I can't believe that the author degrades the image of agents of the FBI like thisnot to mention women in general. 

     In any case, Barrett sets off to find Nick, who is sequestered in a bunker at the top of a government-owned mountain in Tennessee. Does Carly get in touch with Nick's boss to clear the assignment? Does Barrett or Carly or Nick's boss call, e-mail, or text Nick that Barrett is coming and what she needs from him? Does Barrett have any written orders to share with him? No to all of those questions. Barrett just drives up to the mountain and starts climbing. After being attacked by a turned vampire halfway up the mountain and being rescued by a very surprised Nick, Barrett asks Nick for his help in finding Jane, but gives him very few details about Belladonna. He's just supposed to take her word that the scraps of information she reluctantly divulges are true. In return, Nick doesn't explain anything about his work for the FBI, which entails killing turned vampires. Nick knows that turned vampires eventually disintegrate physically and mentally into monstrous killers, but apparently his branch of the FBI has failed to share that bit of information with Belladonna. Meanwhile, Barrett knows that the FBI's vampire-turning program is still in operation, while Nick believes that it has been closed down.Sorry, but it is totally impossible to believe that these two FBI departments are working in complete isolation from each other. 

     A few details are added to the world-building: 
   > Wearing pure gold will prevent a vampire from reading your mind. 
   > If a vampire turns a human, that vampire may or may not die. (Sometimes, the author says "might die"; other times she says "would die.") 
   > Vampires are "biologically incapable of uttering falsehoods." (p. 297)

    Based on the information they are receiving from their respective bosses, Barrett and Nick have widely differing viewpoints on the vampire problems facing the government.

Barrett believes that the U.S. government has four vampire problems: 
      1. Turning humans is against vampire law, so the government has to hire Rogues to do the turning. 
      2. The turner might (or will) die, so the Rogues are probably victimizing other vampires to do the turning. 
      3. The FBI needs to track down and eliminate the Rogues who are defying the government and preying on humans. 
      4. There is a strong possibility that there is a mole in the FBI who is providing insider information to betray Belladonna agents.

Nick believes that the FBI has three sets of vampire enemies: 
      1. Born vamps who want to remain hidden and live peacefully but refuse to give up their secrets.
      2. Rogue vamps, many of whom used to work for the FBI but are now criminals who are targeting humans.
      3. Turned vamps that the Rogues created for the FBI "had become so violent and mentally imbalancedin official lingo, a clear and present danger to innocent citizensthat they were add on 'The List'"a kill list that requires Nick to "put [them] down like sick, useless animals." (p. 24) 

     Anyhow...the rest of the book follows the couple as they reignite their love affair and rescue Jane from a vampire with connections to the sex/blood-slave organization that was central to the plot of book 1. Here's one more silly and implausible scene: For unclear reasons, Nick and Barrett leave Nick's mountain top by jumping into a handy helicopter and heading for Atlanta. When they arrive at a hotel, Nick hands Barrett his credit card so that she can buy a few essentials because her car, which held her luggage, was blown up back in Tennessee. This is what Barrett considers "essential": "a black maxi skirt and a gauze top in white, costume jewelry that wasn't too gaudy, makeup, brush and toothbrush, and toiletries. And...a really nice bikini and black wedge flip-flops." (p. 50) I'll bet he never gives her his credit card again! 

     And here's a final crazy story element that turns out to be scientifically impossible: The FBI has supposedly developed a way to dip knives and arrows in liquid nitrogen, which will instantly kill turned vampires. The problem here is that liquid nitrogen is a cryogenic liquid that rapidly evaporates at temperatures above minus 326 degrees Fahrenheit (-360F or -196C). So carrying around a nitrogen-dipped knife or arrow would be absolutely impossible because the nitrogen would be gone—evaporatedwithin minutesif not seconds after being removed from its way-below-freezing storage container. DePaul doesn't even bother to include storage containers, though. Nick just carries his "special" arrows in a quiver on his back. I realize that this is fiction, but please, Ms. DePaul…do a little research and try to come up with something that might actually be possible.

     If you love hard-core graphic sex scenes and don't mind one-dimensional characters and a total lack of comprehensible plotting, you might enjoy this book. But if you want a believable plot and characters with depth, I recommend that you skip this one. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

     In this world, the FBI has a tiny secret agency named Belladonna. Here, a Belladonna agent explains to a woman how the agency got its name and why he wants to hire her: "Belladonna is Italian for 'beautiful land.' It is also a plant whose berry juice was used in Italy to enlarge the pupils of women, giving them a striking appearance….I'm trying to explain why I want to hire you, specifically. Someone who is both beautiful and deadly." (Turned, p. 37). The sole purpose of this agency is to cover up a huge mistake the FBI made when it got mixed up with some Rogue vampires.

     As the series opens, only a few people know about Belladonna: 
   >  Assistant FBI Director Rick Hallifax
   >  Special Agent Kyle Mahone, Hallifax's right-hand man
   >  Carly, the rarely seen head of Belladonna, who generally speaks to her agents via a speakerphone
   >  Peter Lancaster and Ty Duncan, two "turned" vampire agents, both of whom were FBI agents before they were attacked and unwillingly turned by Rogue vampires. 
   >  In the first novel, four beautiful women are added to the crew, each with a connection to Carly and to a tragic event that occurred seven years ago.

     In this world, the FBI has known about born vampires for years. These vampires live among humans but keep their vampire nature hidden. Most vampires live under the rule of Bianca Devereaux, the Vampire Queen, but some vamps (called Rogues) have chosen to live outside vampire law. The FBI has a Strange Phenom Unit that tries to keep the peace between humans and vamps. Both sides know that vampire law forbids vampires from turning humans into vampires, but despite knowing this, the FBI secretly created their own Turning Program in which they hired Rogue vampires to create new vampires that the FBI plans to use for their own purposes. Unbelievably, the human FBI agents don't know how to kill vampires because Queen Bianca won't tell them, and they don't know how humans are turned into vampires because the Rogues insist on doing it privately with no humans present. Still, they go right on creating their own turned vampires and then are shocked when the Rogues go completely out of control. This mythology gets more and more unbelievable as the author rolls out the details. 

     The FBI's vampire-turning program backfired when the Rogues set up their own "turning" operation. As soon as the FBI discovered that the Rogues were secretly turning their own human recruits, they went into damage-control mode and created the shadowy Belladonna Agency to clean up the mess: "No more human recruits would be turnednot until the Rogues were contained. Failing to do so would not only put the whole operation at risk, but might alert the general human population about a vampires before the U.S. government was ready for that to happen." (p. 5, Turned)

     The Vampire Queen never fully explained vampiric powers to the FBI, so when they created their turned vamps, they had only partial knowledge about the powers these vamps would have. As the series opens, these are the facts that the FBI knows about born and turned vampires:

   >  Both born and turned vamps are extremely strong and fast, cannot tell a lie, and have strong sexual urges that are connected with their blood lust.

   >  Born Vamps are extremely sun sensitive, need human blood to survive, can read minds at will, and can teleport.

   >  Turned Vamps can tolerate sun in small doses, can survive on animal blood, and can occasionally but not consistently read minds.

     The Belladonna Agency is so flawed that it is impossible to believe that anyone in the governmentno matter how incompetentwould fund it, allow it to exist, and send its agents out on critical assignments. Peter and Ty, the two male Belladonna agents, were turned by rogue vampires just six months ago, and they have been dealing with their blood lust, sexual urges, and power development without any guidance at all. So…how could the FBI allow these newbie vampire agents to be sent out on critical assignments, usually alone?

     To sum things up, this mythology gives us idiotic (and possibly corrupt) FBI bosses and an incompetent Belladonna group with an impossible goal and ridiculous hiring criteria (i.e., beautiful, deadly women). As the series opens, the Belladonna staff consists of two brand-new vampires who are supposed to round up and eliminate all of the Rogues.

            NOVEL 1:  Turned              
     The opening novel in this series is a hodgepodge of every plot element you can think of: angst-filled, cross-species love; Latino gangs; corrupt cops; incompetent government officials; bad girls gone good; good girls gone bad; tough girl with a heart of gold; human trafficking; child abuse; rape; vampires (good, bad, and wannabe); and more.

     The novel is divided into three sections: "The Job Offer," "The Team," and "Mission." In "The Job Offer," we get the history of the Belladonna Agency and are introduced to the major players. The hero of the novel is Ty Duncan, a Belladonna agent who is still dealing with the emotional effects of his attack and turning, which happened just six months ago. Just in case you don't understand Ty's story the first time, the author retells it over and over again, nearly word for word. For some reason, the author has made Ty half-English/half-American and has given him a British accent. Why she did this, I have no idea, because it has nothing to do with the story line.

     Belladonna has just learned that a Hispanic rights organization calling itself Salvation's Crossing is a front for a human blood slave operation, and Ty has been assigned to recruit Eliana (Ana) Martin as a new Belladonna agent because she is beautiful and deadly and has a connection with members of Salvation's Crossing. Ana is a former gang member who has cleaned up her life since she went to prison seven years ago after being caught up in a major gang fight. Since that time, she has been searching for her sister, Gloria, who was injured in that fight. Actually, Ana shot Gloria so that would fall to the floor and be out of range of the bullets from the shoot-out. I have two problems with that scenario: 1. Gloria has been a gang member for years. Why didn't she have enough sense to drop to the ground to get out of the way of the bullets? 2. Ana's actions were way too extreme. Couldn't she just have shouted, "Get down, Gloria!" instead of shooting her sister in the shoulder?

     Naturally enough, Gloria was quite upset about being shot by her only sister, and she has changed her name and vanished from the grid. Ty's main bargaining point with Ana is that Belladonna knows exactly where Gloria is, and Ty promises Ana that he will give her this information if she agrees to join Belladonna. Even though Ana has her own business in Seattlea coffee shopand has been trying to lead a "normal" life, she packs up and goes off with Ty, a man she has just met, to work for an agency she has never heard of before on a mission about which she has been told little or nothing. 

     The romance story line is one of those insta-matic lust situations in which the hero and heroine get shot by Cupid's arrows as soon as they see each other for the first time. In fact, Ty falls for Ana as soon as he sees her photograph. The novel is packed with extensive, nearly identical interior monologues from both lovers as they agonize over their doubts, fears, andmost of alllustful feelings. The early bedroom scenes take place in the dream world, with the two lovers somehow melding their minds during some sexy dreams. Oddly, the "how" and "why" of this mind-melding is never explained; it just happens, and the characters eventually move on to sex in the real world.

     The action part of the plot doesn't come until the final section: "The Mission." Ty and Ana head for rural California where they have the requisite showdown with the two villains. In order to resolve the conflict, the author resorts to a highly improbable deus ex machina character who rushes to the rescue just in the nick of time. The ending is weakened by the fact that Gloria's shocking actions are never fully explained. I didn't understand her motivation for doing what she did, and it was never really examined in any detail. Click HERE to read chapter one of Turned. Click HERE to read chapter five.

     Future novels will no doubt revolve around the three other women who are added to the Belladonna crew in the second section of the novel: Justine Maverick, Collette Parker, and Barrett Miles (heroine of book 2). This team-making is actually a really lame rip-off of Charlie's Angels, with the gorgeous warrior girls and the mysterious boss. Unfortunately Carly's reason for selecting these women as Belladonna agents is completely preposterous and adds to the implausibility of the mythology. Most of them have had no training in covert operations or police work, but they're supposedly ready to go out on missions after Peter and Ty train them for a few weeks.  

     Based on this first novel, the prospects for this series appear to be very dim. With its unbelievable mythology, anguished (but flat) characters, and improbable plot, Turned was a difficult book to get through. The lead couple has little chemistry outside the bedroom, although they get along well enough in their numerous graphic sex scenes. This is one of those bumpy romances in which the couple has a series of wonderful, mind-sharing sexual experiences but thenin the light of dayone gives the other the cold shoulder with no explanation. The author uses this plot device just about every time they hit the sheets, so by the third or fourth time, it doesn't really work because the reader is expecting it. If you are looking for an erotic romance novel and don't expect much in the areas of plotting and characterization, you might enjoy this novel.

1 comment:

  1. Bridgette Raes

    I like this post very much.thanks for sharing such a fgreat post