by Christine Feehan
This is book 26 in the Carpathian/Dark series, and most of us have been reading it since 1999, so Ms. Feehan kind of pre-dates the whole vampire craze, and it kind of shows. This book is absolutely not a stand-alone and you cannot just jump into the series from here, nothing would make any sense. Also, there will be spoilers.
I am going to admit, I did something I rarely do, which is read the reviews before reading a book I know I am going to read anyway. I don’t typically do that because for a book I know that I am going to read, I don’t want other people’s opinions to color mine. With this book however, I have been toying with quitting the series. It has dragged on a really long time and we finally got Skylar’s story, which is what I had been waiting for since Dark Legend in 2002. So needless to say, I went into this book with expectations, and frankly, they were negative ones. Several reviewers complained about angry sex being used to punish the heroine. Ever since I started with this series, the heroes have felt kind of rapey, there have definitely been elements of non-consent in these books, and a major theme has been that the hero basically takes over the heroine’s life and is rather controlling in every aspect-not just the sex. But the flip side has always been that the heroines typically fight back and try to obtain and maintain a sense of independence and self-reliance. Maybe it is too much to expect from a romance novel series, but this series always felt kind of like a mirror of the feminist movement to me, and in many ways the series seemed to be reflecting a movement towards more independent females who actually fight and have tremendous powers and gifts of their own, ones who are more self-reliant etc. Except lately it felt like more steps were being taken backwards than forwards. So I was prepared to hate this and just rip into it so that I could give up on the series altogether. But it really wasn’t like that. Yes, there is grudge sex and aggressive sex, but the heroine is actually into that. Where it not just ok in my book, what makes it so much a step in the right direction for this series, is that the Zev actually tells Brannislava that if she isn’t okay with things she needs to tell him and he will stop, and he doesn’t say that just at the beginning, there is ongoing verification of consent throughout an event. That is such a change from the first books that it is just extraordinary in my opinion. Yes, we have had gentler, more considerate heroes (Razvan comes to mind), but this is the first time we have had an extremely dominant aggressive one who requests consent.
Of course, now we get to the actual issues with the series as a whole, in my opinion. The sex is kind of boring but overly plentiful and utilizes the type of flowery language and long drawn out scenes that I am learning to loathe. There is also the made up Carpathian language and spells and chants that Feehan is obviously very proud of, because they are literally everywhere. They add absolutely nothing to the story for me, so I tend to skip anything that is italicized just for my own sanity. Those things have been around for quite some time in these books and while I have been able to get through it, I can’t tell if I am just getting more irritated with it over time, or if it is just becoming more pervasive.
What I am having trouble forgiving with this particular story is how repetitive and clunky it is. How many times do we really need to be reminded just what and who our main characters are? I don’t know, but I can guarantee you that it is less than how many times it happened in this book. And, there has been an overriding arc of villains in this series that included the Mage Xavier and the Malinov brothers. Xavier and three of the Malinov brothers have been killed, but that still left us with 2 Malinov brother, one of whom has actually has two slivers of Xavier in him. Then we added the issues with the Lycans and as far as I am concerned, those things could and should have more than fulfilled the villain quotient for the rest of this series. But NO! We add the deus ex machina of all villain plot lines. Xavier wasn’t actually alone. Oh, no, he was actually one of a group of identical triplets who all pretended to be the same person and the only ones who actually knew were Brannislava and Tatjiana, and they don’t bother to say anything to anyone because they thought Xavier killed them. So Xavier wasn’t actually the mastermind behind the downfalls of the Carpathians, Jaguars, and the Lycans. Nope, he was just behind the Carpathians troubles, Xaviero has apparently been dealing trouble to the Lycans, and Xayvion was behind the destruction of the Jaguar race. And for some reason, Xavier was the only one literally rotting and requiring a new body even before he was killed, and these other two are doing just fine. And guess what? They are trying to bring Xavier back from the dead. Why? I am just not sure, Xayvion is obviously the more successful of the three, and Xavier is obviously the eff up who managed to out himself and screw up many times and get caught and killed, but whatever, they must need him to complete this mysterious plan that has been rocking along for hundreds of years. I’m baffled by the direction this took and I can’t quite decide if this is a direction Feehan has been planning since we found out Xavier sired triplets on the stolen Carpathian (come to think, how do we even know they ARE Xavier’s), or if after the last book she just said, you know, I am never going to get another 20+ books with the villains I’ve got, I’d better amp things up a bit. I also find myself a bit frustrated by how many additional supernatural creatures she’s been throwing at the series. We’ve now got demons and hellhounds and whatever else, and for the past 25 books no one ever came across them or mentioned them more than briefly in the case of the demons, but all of the sudden they just show up and people just know how to handle them, like ho hum, didn’t I mention the hellhounds…no, well, there they are, by the way you got any hyssop oil? This story is just…clunky.
So, as much as I am complaining, I am giving this 3 stars because IMO, Feehan’s heroes have become much less rapey and FINALLY we have a hero that checks consent, because it kept me entertained, and actually entertained enough that I will likely still read the next book (I just can’t quit Feehan), and nostalgia-because I have now been in this series for 26 books and apparently I just can’t quit Feehan.