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 canâ€™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 doesnâ€™t care if I make nasty old people noises so long as I rub his belly while I do it.
So Iâ€™m in a pretty foul mood, and I probably shouldnâ€™t write a review in this magical state, but to hell with it. Iâ€™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, â€œNight Pleasuresâ€ 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 â€“ and once I give a big hearty, â€œWTF?!â€ folks will come out of the woodwork to tell me how very, very wrong I am. Like when I tried to read â€œOutlanderâ€ and couldnâ€™t get through the melodrama.
Normally, if I werenâ€™t congested and cranky, I would be more diplomatic: â€œPerhaps it is because I entered in what is obviously the middle of a series.â€ â€œPerhaps I am missing some of the key plot elements because it is a series and I didnâ€™t start with the beginning.â€ â€œPerhaps 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. Itâ€™s one thing if youâ€™re reading Sweet Valley High and have to go through the introduction of who the eternally perfect Wakefield twins are. Itâ€™s another when you are still thinking, â€œHuh?â€ thirty pages into the book and are annoyed that youâ€™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. Thereâ€™s a prequel of sorts, but this is indeed the first of the Dark-Hunter series. Thereâ€™s plenty of exposition but not nearly enough to explain the motivations, and I still got the feeling that I didnâ€™t Get All of It.
Secondly, vampire romance, it is getting old. Perhaps I ODâ€™d on Buffy and those crazy Carpathians, along with Anita Blake, and several series about immortals, but Iâ€™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 Kenyonâ€™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, Tabithaâ€™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 canâ€™t stand it. Sheâ€™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 itâ€™s not even much of one, is that he doesnâ€™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, donâ€™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. Itâ€™s always great when the hero and heroine are humpingly hot for one another, but when thatâ€™s the only thing drawing them together, itâ€™s not satisfying, itâ€™s not romantic, and itâ€™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’.
after Kyrian and Amanda get it on, he loses his power. Seriously. He came and it went. He enjoys the afterglow and realizes heâ€™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, heâ€™s got his mojo back, but thereâ€™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 â€œcome for both of them.â€ Yeah. I know. Iâ€™m right there with you. AS IF.
And thus my major beef with this book: throughout the entirety, I couldnâ€™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. Itâ€™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 itâ€™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 “Donâ€™t Waste My Money and Donâ€™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-Daimonâ€™s father is revealed to have been Bacchus, who gave his son the royal shaft by refusing to intervene when uber-Dâ€™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 canâ€™t?
Itâ€™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 Whitmanâ€™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 Iâ€™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 canâ€™t be weaker than his now-sorceress girl, now can he? That wouldnâ€™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 â€œprotect them.â€ 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 wonâ€™t remember him walking off into the sunset, emasculated beside his Powerpuff Girl of a wife.
All About Romanceâ€™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, â€œSometimes you just have to go with it, you know?â€ Usually I have that attitude, but the mediocrity and processed perfection of the book made it rote and boring, so I couldnâ€™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 â€œa poorly scripted, poorly acted made-for-TV movie on the Sci-Fi channel.â€ Amen to that. Iâ€™ve read plenty of books that sounded good but ended up average. Itâ€™s somewhat more rare for a book to have limitless potential and fall so far short of memorable that it pissed me off.