Book Review

Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon

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Title: Night Pleasures
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon
Publication Info: St. Martin's 2002
ISBN: 0-312-97998-3
Genre: Paranormal

For the seventh day in a row, I am sick. I have more phlegm than I care to think about, and I am over being tired. Moreover, I am cranky because being sick is the suck and I can’t figure out the right combination of pharmaceuticals to at least hide my symptoms. So I sit and cough and sneeze and make disgusting wet noises with my throat and wish I could go home and snork and wheeze in the privacy of my own home with my own dog who doesn’t care if I make nasty old people noises so long as I rub his belly while I do it.

So I’m in a pretty foul mood, and I probably shouldn’t write a review in this magical state, but to hell with it. I’m going to bust out the cranky and let you all in on some things I hate when I read romance of any genre.

1. I hate stupid heroes and stupid heroines.
2. I hate Big Misunderstandings.
3. I hate plotlines that are so over-mined for originality that they are predictable. I am close to calling the strip mine of vampire romance closed because there are no more gems to be found in this post-Buffy world.

That last one is what gets me with the book I just finished, “Night Pleasures†by Sherrilyn Kenyon, part of the Dark-Hunter series. I have the feeling that yet again I have stumbled into the middle of the much-loved and long-adored series – and once I give a big hearty, “WTF?!†folks will come out of the woodwork to tell me how very, very wrong I am. Like when I tried to read “Outlander†and couldn’t get through the melodrama.

Normally, if I weren’t congested and cranky, I would be more diplomatic: “Perhaps it is because I entered in what is obviously the middle of a series.†“Perhaps I am missing some of the key plot elements because it is a series and I didn’t start with the beginning.†“Perhaps I am not in the mood right now for paranormal romping.â€

Oh, horse-fuck-pucky. I understand that trilogies are beginning-middle-end of a larger story arc and I understand that to best appreciate them, I should start at the beginning. But novels that are part of a series, or involve recurring themes and sets of the same characters or family members, yet are expected to also stand alone as individual fiction should damn well stand on their own and not lean on the books alongside it. It’s one thing if you’re reading Sweet Valley High and have to go through the introduction of who the eternally perfect Wakefield twins are. It’s another when you are still thinking, “Huh?†thirty pages into the book and are annoyed that you’re being treated by the author as a gate crasher at the exclusive club of her fiction.

So imagine my surprise when I realize I am reading the first in the series, and I still feel like an outsider. There’s a prequel of sorts, but this is indeed the first of the Dark-Hunter series. There’s plenty of exposition but not nearly enough to explain the motivations, and I still got the feeling that I didn’t Get All of It.

Pah.

Secondly, vampire romance, it is getting old. Perhaps I OD’d on Buffy and those crazy Carpathians, along with Anita Blake, and several series about immortals, but I’m beginning to suspect that everyone is churning out vampire paranormals that are far short of memorable. Paranormal vampire romance: has it jumped the shark?

Night Pleasures is the story of Kyrian of Thrace, a Dark-Hunter (and why the hyphen? Is this like the Waldorf=Astoria differentiating itself with an equal sign?) who surrendered his soul to fight Daimons, who prey on humans. Daimons have wonderfully potent assorted powers but a lifespan of only 27 years (paging Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, please report to Sherrilyn Kenyon’s house for use as inspiration for Daimon characters, STAT) and so they start consuming human souls to extend their lives.

Due to their predilection for soul consumption, and their general evilness, Daimons are the targets of the Dark-Hunters and have been for thousands of years, dating back to the times of the Greek gods and goddesses. Kenyon bases her paranormal world on a great deal of Greek mythology, and gods such as Artemis and Apollo make appearances in the history of the fictional world the characters inhabit. The world itself is fascinating, and presents an epic good vs. evil struggle of which all humans remain blissfully unaware, but the hero and heroine of this particular story do not really live up to the noble and epic backdrop on which they meet.

Amanda Deveraux is the plain-Jane twin sister of a vampire huntress named Tabitha. Amanda is an accountant and is constantly embarrassed by her psychically gifted and beyond-paranormal family, as they are each weird in their own way. One is a sorceress, Tabitha’s a huntress, and their mother sees auras. And one of them is a midwife- nice way to subtly imply the midwife/witch historical rumor, there. They are all magically delicious, and Amanda can’t stand it. She’s looking for as plain a vanilla life as she can get.

Kyrian of Thrace is chasing an uber-Daimon who has unheard-of powers and has bested several Dark-Hunters. Betrayed by his wife back when he was a royal Greek mortal two thousand years prior, Kyrian was given the chance for vengeance and immortality by becoming a Dark-Hunter. Thus, Kyrian is strong, handsome, immortal, noble, brave, loyal, and utterly, fabulously wealthy, and therefore, annoyingly perfect. His only flaw, and it’s not even much of one, is that he doesn’t trust women and is tormented by his memories of his mortal life, in which he was a bit of a bastard to his family. A little sex ought to take care of that, don’t you think?

Amanda is equally perfect, and though she cannot stand anything paranormal, the minute she and Kyrian meet, it is hot lusty looks and endlessly expressed wishes for physical intimacy. It’s always great when the hero and heroine are humpingly hot for one another, but when that’s the only thing drawing them together, it’s not satisfying, it’s not romantic, and it’s certainly not memorable.

The duration of their epic battle against evil is fraught with much peril, and the endless cycle of “his and hers” drama: Will we be able to Be Together? Can I Trust Her? Does he Want Me? The author constantly reassures the reader of their undying lust and they are constantly gazing at each other with the hunger one might see in my eyes at sundown on Yom Kippur after a 24 hour fast. I look at a bagel with plenty of lust, let me tell you.

But there is little development of their emotional attachment, so their relationship seems simple, flat, and transparent. They have lust, therefore they are drawn together. He is perfect and noble. She is brave and feisty, and appropriately gifted with clever skills and powers at the perfect moment. Perfection in all regards: except there is very little emotional development on either side once that lust is acknowledged and acted upon. The personal issues they overcome to be worthy of one another, which are usually a key element in an epic struggle and romance, are pithy at best and seem too easily remedied, usually by some hot bumpy humpin’.

For example

after Kyrian and Amanda get it on, he loses his power. Seriously. He came and it went. He enjoys the afterglow and realizes he’s a helpless weakling with a bad, bad headache. His squire and another Dark-Hunter correctly assume that this is only temporary, and indeed it is, though it comes at a time when Kyrian can ill afford to be vulnerable. A few pages later, he’s got his mojo back, but there’s little revealed about how his recovery came about. Was it a gradual recharge or did he wake up a day later able to kick ass and take names again? And of course, let me just continue to spread the giggles: for the rest of their sexual encounters, he refrains from orgasm because he cannot be powerless, so he implores her to “come for both of them.† Yeah. I know. I’m right there with you. AS IF.

And thus my major beef with this book: throughout the entirety, I couldn’t figure out if I liked it. I like paranormals. I like vampire fiction. I dig romance. I like hot sex in a romance. I like cool weapons, battles with supernatural powers, and characters that rise up to the occasion and kick some serious patoot. Night Pleasures has all of these and still manages to be plain. It’s served up like food from a restaurant that is reported to be fabulous but then makes you yearn for Hamburger Helper and the tv remote. Unmemorable in this respect means terribly disappointing, particularly when one considers that it could have been so very much better. I keep reading back over this review and am surprised at how scathing I am, but one of my major peeves with romance is the amount of dreck that comes out that sounds like it’s going to be a gangbusters novel and is so routine and mass-produced that it pisses me off. This book falls square in the low grade territory because my reaction was “Don’t Waste My Money and Don’t Waste My Time.” And also, “Grrrr!” peppered with “As if!”

The resolution of the battle is just as perfect as the main characters. Having once again been tricked by the evil uber-Daimon, who comes across as a whiny, petulant two-year-old with nuclear strength toys and no friends rather than as a scary evil dude, Kyrian and Amanda must face him down to defeat his evil. In a twist on the drunk-father-made-me-evil bit, uber-Daimon’s father is revealed to have been Bacchus, who gave his son the royal shaft by refusing to intervene when uber-D’s lifespan is almost up. Now he pursues Amanda, because he senses her incredible untapped power and he wants his for his very, very own.

Allow me to ruminate for a moment, here. The balance of power is one of the key elements of a paranormal for me, and how each author handles a pair where only one contains the superpowers is always interesting. One expects the hero to be rich, and some authors of historicals play with the idea of the heroine having the money. One expects one or both to be attractive; again, some play with average looks but eventually fall onto another attribute that makes the plain character unique. Other authors charge the hero with emotional growth such that he gets over his expectation that his girl be a supermodel and learns to appreciate a real-sized, sharp-witted average woman as a sign of his worthiness. So what to do when one person can lift cars and move objects with a thought, and the other can’t?

It’s akin to the idea of an aristocrat marrying a commoner. Some authors arrange for the discovery of an unknown title, thus bringing both characters to the same social level. Others allow the social imbalance to be one of the issues the couple must work through, and refuse to “save” the commoner with the long-lost earldom.

In the case of paranormals and power imbalance, if one character is superhuman and the other is merely human, any number of things can happen, just as in a historical novel. Sometimes the human is revealed to be a secret superhuman, or has the ability to become superhuman. Other times the superhuman must return to human status, a convention I often find disappointing. Either way, a conversion takes place, and now restored to quasi-equal status, they can live happily ever after. This is almost expected when one character is immortal, as the reader cannot believe in happily ever after if the reader knows one character will age and die while the other remains permanently youthful.

But what to do when one character will undoubtedly have powers that the other lacks? In the case of this novel, the power balance shifts dramatically back and forth in the final pages, and the resolution is so unsatisfying I sneered over the ending.

In the course of kidnapping and controlling the heroine, the bad guy easily “unlocks” the long denied and despised Whitman’s sampler of powers in the heroine. After years of denying and locking up her considerable paranormal resources, one bad guy with the ability to get inside her head can allow her to flex her considerable psychic muscle. Suddenly she can make shit fly across the room, though of course she allows her now-human but still powerful man to fight the final battle and destroy the evil bad guy while she clutches a Barbie doll with a weapon hidden in her feet. No I’m not making that up. Talk about symbolism!

Once they walk into the sunshine and into their happily ever after, an epilogue informs us of the new balance of powers. She is indeed a sorceress, but is he a mere mortal beside her? Of course not. His powers remain, or some of them, after his mortal soul is restored, even though prior explanations of how a Dark-Hunter gets his soul back imply that once he regained mortality, he would be a normal mortal human. But he can’t be weaker than his now-sorceress girl, now can he? That wouldn’t wash. So his superpowers, in diluted and never-fully-explained form, remain. He is off the hook as far as Dark-Hunting is concerned, but he has enough mojo leftover to “protect them.†Meanwhile, she can likely glance at a building and move it three feet to the left, so what protection does she need, really? At least the reassurance is there, so we won’t remember him walking off into the sunset, emasculated beside his Powerpuff Girl of a wife.

All About Romance’s review of this book fell between one reviewer who gave it a marginally higher grade, and another who loathed it. The reviewer who enjoyed it said,  “Sometimes you just have to go with it, you know?†Usually I have that attitude, but the mediocrity and processed perfection of the book made it rote and boring, so I couldn’t go with it. I felt like reading this book was akin to watching a rerun, or worse, an entirely and frustratingly predictable new episode of a show I usually like. In fact, an Amazon reviewer likened it to “a poorly scripted, poorly acted made-for-TV movie on the Sci-Fi channel.†Amen to that. I’ve read plenty of books that sounded good but ended up average. It’s somewhat more rare for a book to have limitless potential and fall so far short of memorable that it pissed me off.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Meljean says:

    Thanks for this review—although I absolutely love paranormal/vampire novels, I haven’t picked up any of this series. The mythology of it sounds fascinating, but I’m actually afraid of disappointment whenever I see a series forming, and I try to stay away (unless I’m already familiar with the author; in that case I’ll be more likely to try it out).

    I don’t know if vampire romances have jumped the shark, or if they have just become so common that wading through the offerings for a really good, original paranomal is as difficult as finding an excellent Regency. My problem stems from the overwhelming number of alpha/tortured vampire heroes—at times, they are done exactly right, but at other times, they are too overbearing. And too similar—there are times when I’m reading a vampire novel, and I’m like: “wasn’t this hero just in that other book?” (I guess that explains the vain, penny-pinching, Food Network-watching metrosexual vampire in my latest WIP, hmm? :D )

    Of course, I have some personal reason for not wanting to say that vampire romances have jumped the shark—but I do think that many books would do better to concentrate on character, instead of the world-building. Instead of coming up with the most original idea in the universe (vampires are really the reincarnated souls of puppies that have been killed by giant evil cats) developing unique characters would serve the subgenre so much better.

  2. 2
    Sarah says:

    Meljean, I am with you: less world building, more characterization would be key in preventing vampire romances from jumping the shark, if they haven’t already. I hope for your case they have not. I personally would love a vain, cheap Foodie vampire to read about.

    Candy and I were talking about the marked number of vampire alphas who are so tortured and miserable by their vampire status. I suppose that makes them easier to “redeem” by restoring their souls, if that’s the goal of the writer, but it does make for some monotony. I can understand being ticked off at humans if I were immortal. The humans sit around and destroy the planet and then die before they have to pay for it, leaving the immortal to deal with the mess, but otherwise? I can see some perks here and there!

    But like grunge rock, all this vampire angst cannot be sustained for ever.

  3. 3
    Nicole says:

    Even though I thought you hit things right on…I still love this series.  I am NOT a rabid fan, though.  *cringe*  Somehow, I just sit down and enjoy the ride, even when I know what I’m reading is stupid. 

    I’d like your take on Lynn Viehl’s If Angels Burn new vamp story.  I liked it, but I love to see books from someone else’s perspective.  Especially when they can dissect them with such wonderful snarkiness.

  4. 4
    Irysangel says:

    All I have to say is:

    Thank CHRIST I wasn’t the only person that hated ‘Outlander’. 

    I just don’t understand the appeal.

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    I liken ‘Outlander’ to a soap opera, and I don’t like soap operas, either. Eventually, maybe the two characters you love might get married, but you don’t really know, and the story just stretches out into perpetuity without a happily ever after in sight and I just can’t take it.

    I’m the type of person who is tormented by cliffhanger endings until I find out what happened, though. So a neverending saga is just not for me. I do know people who adore the series, but I sure am not one of them. Nice to know I have company!

  6. 6
    CindyS says:

    First, Outlander – I made it to where they got married (early in the book) and then put it down.  My friend wailed in pain and said ‘but you haven’t gotten to the best part and after that you’re in!’  I’m a little worried about trying again although I remember everything up to this point in the story so *maybe* I will try to read it again.  I was expecting some deep relationship between Claire and … but it seemed kind of *gasp* boring.

    Second,  Vampire romances.  I have not read the Carpathians, I only watched the last 2 years of Buffy (huge Spike fan) and I have enjoyed LKH because there are so many monsters to pick from.  LKH’s vamps also seem quite content as vampires.

    I think Maggie Shayne in her Twilight Trilogy (would have to get used) showed vampires who were quite happy with who they were.  Yeah, sucking blood can be crappy, no sunlight could bring on a major depression but that is if you are human and….Crap, who cares, you’re an immortal – get happy!

    I am currently enjoying MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series so I do believe there is room out there for vampires but, like someone said it’s all in the characterization.

    CindyS (who loves reading your reviews – I end up laughing constantly so I don’t have a drink while I am reading.)

  7. 7
    Sarah says:

    CindyS: you’re right that there is certainly room for characterization – and LKH does write some vampires who are perfectly content to be vampires and all that entails. Ditto the Sookie Stackhouse series from Charlaine Harris.

    And a hearty “oh yeah” on the Outlander/boring thing. I have friends that are shocked that I, a big fiendish hoarder of romance, am not totally into the series, but it just didn’t do it for me.

  8. 8
    AAR Rachel says:

    OMG, I HATED this book.  I can still remember the torture of having to finish it for review.  It was like being dripped on for hours on end only not with water, with lust think.

    I definitely got flak for my opinion, since this series has a ton of vocal fans, but I don’t regret a word of it.  Night Pleasures sucked up the wazoo.

    And I don’t like Outlander either.  Another heresy in the Romance Community!

    Rachel Potter

  9. 9
    white raven says:

    Do you think it could be oversaturation of the market?  It seems like a lot of people are writing vampire paranormals.  Has the romance reading crowd burned out on them?

    When I used to work in a bookstore I saw this same phenomenon with Indian romances and Fabio book covers.  They were leaping off the shelves when we first started stocking them.  People didn’t care who wrote them as long as an Oglala Sioux brave in a loin cloth the size of a postage stamp was on the cover, or a cover with Fabio in a black wig posing as same brave.

  10. 10
    Sarah says:

    Rachel P: I think “sucked up the wazoo” sums it up nicely – indeed it left a lot to be desired, when, as a fan of paranormal romance, I had such big hopes for it.

    And I think you are possibly right, white raven – oversaturation might be part of the problem. Everyone is writing vampire romances – it makes me wonder where it started. Anita Blake? Is this a long-overdue response to Anne Rice?

    I have a theory that we, the audience, like paranormal romance as a reflection of our own fears, and I can’t believe I forgot to talk about this when Candy and I were discussing it earlier. Off to write a quick addendum!

  11. 11
    Jennifer says:

    I actually liked the Outlander series…until The Fiery Cross, or whatever the last title is. Because it was long and dull, and nasty things happened to a character I like, and Jamie had some sort of near-death scene for absolutely no good reason, and…. um, it needed more plot for the length of the dang thing. Oy.

  12. 12
    Sarah says:

    So perhaps a more appropriate question in this comment thread would be, for those of you who liked it, has the Outlander series jumped the shark as well?

    I mean, how much drama and angst can one couple endure? Unless they are John and Marlena on Days of our Lives, as I hear from a fan of the show that they can endure anything, even demonic possession.

  13. 13
    Kristin says:

    I wish I had remembered this review when I visited my local library yesterday.  I picked up two of Sherrilyn’s most recent novels in this series…how did these books pass muster with the editor?  In the first 2 chapters I encountered obvious grammatical errors and horrid sentence syntax to the point where sentences were so confusing, I had to read them several times to make sense of what was happening.

    I like the new trend toward paranormal romance.  It poses some very interesting conflicts.  But you need to be a good writer to pull it off.  Can someone suggest to me some paranormal romance authors that are worth reading???

  14. 14
    Ashley says:

    Uhh. I really like this series. I also like the Carpathain series, though I realize it is crap. Probably because I only read romance novels that don’t overly involve my thought process.

    Kristin questioned how this book got by the editors and I find myself surprised by how much gets past the editors. More and more books have glaring grammatical errors. Unless it’s absolutly horrendous, which I didn’t think this book was, I’ve found that I can ignore it.

  15. 15

    Knowledge is a crystal that has fallen beneath a sea of murk. Like
    an anchor thrown from a ship, it’s stuck down there, and will remain
    stuck until we do something about it.
    At the moment, there’s a lot of confusion. What’s going on with
    that anchor? Could it have magnetically fused with the rocks in the
    seabed? Thus do the sailors conjecture, little knowing that they
    could be right.
    On the other hand, they could be religious zealots who blindly
    believe fiction. Blindly believing, they would deserve the ignorance
    to which they had been bound. Moreover, they think that vague,
    error-prone religious scriptures are evidence in support of their
    faith.
    Well, Occam’s razor speaks differently. Occam’s razor is a
    rational principle. It tells us what not to believe: thus it protects our
    rationality.
    But when fantasy and reality merge together, and when the
    dangerous thrill of the unknown seizes upon everything that at
    present lives—then, only, can change occur. Then, only, can
    evolution take place!
    Evolution is in contrast to nihilism. It’s in contrast to leaving that
    anchor down there forever. Having made that clear, it is now time
    to raise the anchor. It is now time—to think rationally.
    Is God real? We must conclude the negative—for Time Cube’s
    proven true, therefore a 1-corner God cannot be.
    Time Cube, however, has four corners. Four corners.

  16. 16
    Tina says:

    It’s so good to hear that someone else publically admits to not liking the Outlander series.  I thought I was the only one that thought it was long, drawn-out, and boring.  In the same vein, I don’t like Sherrilyn Kenyon’s writing style and Kim Harrison’s series that references various famous movies in the titles (I don’t know what, if anything, they are collectively referred to) bores me only slightly less.  They seem to be everywhere and anyone that likes paranormal romances seems to like them, but I can’t figure out why.  My personal theory is that there is currently such a proliferation of that genre, people gravitate towards them because they recognize the name. 

    As for whether or not the genre as a whole has jumped the shark, I’d say, “Not necessarily”.  It’s just that when a particular genre takes up 1/3 of the rack in a store, you have to figure that 50-70% of that particular genre is complete suckage, 25-45% is somewhat suckage, and 5% is original, gripping, and highly entertaining.  The more popular it is, the more they put out, regardless of quality.

  17. 17
    HealerAriel says:

    I actually really enjoyed the first… five or so books in the Dark-Hunter series, but it was mostly because I was deeply in love with the supporting cast of characters. The heroes and heroines I could usually take or leave, which is precisely why I stopped reading the books when my favorite character was “promoted” from Wisecracking Sidekick to Future Main Character. I love him too much to watch as that happens…

  18. 18
    thundakat says:

    about a month ago i have never heard of the Dark-hunter series until i walked in target and picked up Acheron just for the hell of it, and i have to say that i am completely hooked. i actually feel for him… which in my mind he looks like Travis Fimmel ( SOOOO fricken HOTTT!!!). the story was painful in the beginning ( cried many times..) but so beautiful in the end, plus i loved that the book was HUGE. while reading the book towards the end i realized that i am was lost when it came to many of the supporting characters, so i figure i’ll just start from the beginning. so now i am up to Night Embrace and i have to say that Kanyon’s writing style is extremely repetitive. an immortal male finds a woman in the 21-cent and falls madly in love with her but not before his past resurfaces and they go through a life of death battle. i just want to know if every book up to Acheron is like this, if so i dont know if i can go on. i mean , yeah…. i need to read more then just gods and vamps with trust issues and electrically charged sex scenes.

  19. 19
    Rainey says:

    Thank you for this review! Almost every girl I know loves this series and I cannot stand it. And seriously, I had to stop reading because the more I read, the more I got pissed off.
    Everything you pointed out in the books is what I found wrong with it.

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