Review: The Darkest Night, by Gena Showalter

My Take in Brief: They fight! And bite! They fight and bite and fight! Fight fight fight! Bite bite bite! The Itchy and Scratchy Showwwwwwww!

Cover Comment: Lovely. Suggestive. Promising. Deceitful.

Series?: Yes. This is Book 1 of Lords of the Underworld, about a group of immortal warriors who once protected Zeus. When Pandora — a girl! WTF Zeus, bro?! — was chosen to guard the infamous box, these guys, in a stroke of brilliance unparalleled in the “bad ass brotherhood” subgenre of paranormal romance, killed her, releasing the demons, to which they are now bound for all eternity. Oh, snap.

Word on the Web:

Jen, The Ginger Kid’s Den of Iniquity, 5 stars (mini review)

Jia, Dear Author, C-

Scooper Speaks, very positive

KMont, Lurv a la Mode, 3 scoops

Casee, Book Binge, 3.5 out of 5

Kimberly Swan, Darque Reviews, positive

Bitten by Books, 4 graves, 4 stars after 94 reviews

Hero and Heroine: Maddox, Keeper of Violence, the leader of the LOTU. He was the one to actually kill Pandora, so he is doubly cursed. Not only does he share his body with the demon Violence, but each night he is killed and sent to hell where he is tortured until dawn. Ashlyn Darrow has been able to hear voices all of her life — the conversations of people present and past. She works for the World Institute for Parapsychology, where her parents dumped her when they discovered she was “different”.

The Racy Romance Review: Let’s agree that killing Pandora suggests this group of men are misogynistic, stupid, and/or lacking in impulse control. But I withhold judgment, following my personal rule when reviewing paranormal romance: no tarmac crashes. In other words, I think it’s only fair to let the author get off the ground with the worldbuilding. Besides, the Greek gods themselves were notoriously all of the above. And the premise is interesting. I like books with bands of brothers, and I was in the mood for a tortured hero.

However, the line between the exaggeration typical of paranormal romance and caricature was crossed in this book. For example, isn’t it enough that Maddox has a demon inside him which is constantly egging him towards violence? Or how about that he is strapped down and stabbed to death nightly? No, still not tortured enough? Ok, let’s add 12 hours in hell every night, with graphic descriptions of his flesh being burned off and growing back.

Although Maddox is the only one hooked up with the Violence demon, this is the most violent, hair trigger group of warriors I have ever come across. These guys rarely get three sentences out without breaking into fisticuffs: it’s a good frigging thing they are immortal. In one scene, a Lord is cutting himself, letting blood drip all over the floor, for no apparent reason (okay, okay, he is the “Keeper of Pain”). It’s just … silly.

So much about this book did not make sense to me. The relationship between the warriors and their demons was inconsistent (for example, Violence is supposed to be pure violence, but seems to want to have nonviolent sex with the heroine.). Maddox is this total testosterone freak, constantly punching in walls, other people, and — I’m sure of it — himself. But –surprise! — he reads romance novels and finds them “sexy, fun and enlightening.” The heroine is totally unformed. She wants to stay with Maddox when she first meets him in the woods, despite the fact that he is terrifying (she can see his demon’s visage, kind of like Ghost Rider), then wants to leave the fortress, then decides to stay.

It was also inconsistent in tone. For example, Ashlyn becomes fatally ill, not for the last time, and someone suggests acetomeniphen. The Lords of the Underworld — Death,  Violence, Pain incarnate!! — are standing around her bed, and they’re talking about Tylenol:

“Where can we get this Tylenol” Maddox asked, urgency consuming him.

When our h/h finally get down to business, we get the usual (which is fine with me). You know, the perfect breasts, the moaning, the need beyond all needs, and then, suddenly, this:

His blood burned for more, But he set her back on her feet and pushed her toward the sink. Soon. Without a word, he handed her the toothbrush he’d acquired for her earlier and claimed as his own.

I admit, when I thought about Maddox claiming something in this scene, it wasn’t a toothbrush.

There were inconsistencies in the development of the relationship as well. For example, they have a long chat which concludes with Maddox saying, in characteristic (but fun) dramatic alpha hero fashion, “You are mine, woman and I am yours”, followed by their first sexxoring, but several pages later Ashlyn has this thought:

“They’d just established that they liked each other, and that they were both willing to take their relationship to the next level.”

Huh? I’m sorry Ashlyn, you must not have studied your 2008 Paranormal Hero Manual. Your man said “mine.” There is no higher level.

I also felt that while the concept of the curses was unique, there were other strong, er, reminders, of other books which diminished my appreciation for this one. There’s Zadist Zarek Lucien, the Lord who is tattooed all over, cold, emotionless, scarred, the baddest of them all. There’s Rhage Paris, the one who has to have lots of nameless faceless sex to keep his demon at bay. Ashlyn’s telepathic ability is shared with forbears Sookie Stackhouse of Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mystery series, and, closer to home, Elise Chase in Lara Adrian’s Midnight Awakening.

J.R. Ward’s Lover Revealed was the first romance I read as an adult. I have since come to enjoy a lot of paranormal romance, the narrative structure (?) of which reminds me of a book, Little Tug, that I read to my youngest child sometimes. This tiny tugboat manages to get really far by skimming from the crest of one giant wave right to the top of the next.

I think of the pleasures of (much) paranormal romance that way: you go from hit to hit to hit. It connects directly with powerful baseline human emotions like anger, lust, jealousy, possessiveness, and pride, in a kind of elliptical manner that draws on millennia of human experience. But at some point in the story, you need the nourishment you get from dipping down into the ocean’s depths. Otherwise, it’s just a jerky, painful ride.

I did like some things about this book, but I’m not planning to pursue the series. Instead, I plan to check out some of the author’s many positively reviewed comtemps.

14 responses

  1. Wow, really great review. I love how you don’t hold anything back. Everything you say is backed up so it’s not a bash fest, but a concise collection of your true thoughts about the book.


  2. I agree on all points. The inconsistency was so pervasive that it made nonsense of the worldbuilding, the plot, the tone, and the relationship building (though I don’t recall much of that; it was mostly male/godly incomprehension and “mine”).

    I found the muddly worldbuilding and backstory the most maddening. I can buy into a lot of weirdness in fiction if there’s a coherent world necessitating the weirdness. I don’t mean gobs of detail, or anything heavy or hide-bound; I’m open to a mash-up of different myths or worlds. I mean… coherence.


  3. Had to pass on the series after the second book. Big thumbs down. I do love how you do your reviews – definitely unique! That second to last paragraph is a beaut.

    This series though, No. Just, no.


  4. Aww, sorry you didn’t care for it.

    I admit some parts were kinda silly and I noticed all the things you noticed. But for some reason I was in a really generous mood and was desperate for some “easy” paranormal romance that I blocked out all the negatives.

    Isn’t that funny? Usually I’m tougher on books than my other blog friends. I’ve never claimed to be consistent though. LOL


  5. Hold on, why did he make her brush her teeth? Did she have bad breath? Oh, this review is so very funny. I’ve been dancing around this series, not sure whether to jump. And the tylenol thing? Some of this stuff just sounds made up! By you!!! But I know it’s not. I love your mine thing, too. Lover Revealed was the first romance you read as an adult? Did I know that? BDB is like indelibly scratched in my brain.


  6. [Your man said “mine.” There is no higher level.]

    I think I’m going to write that down as a favorite quote!

    I love paranormal and am usually able to go with the flow about inconsistencies in world building, but not with inconsistencies in the relationship building. Those always annoy me.


  7. Carolyn Jean — I did NOT make any of this up (well, except the part about the hero beating himself up). Re: the toothbrush: to be fair, she had thrown up, because the hero inadvertently poisoned her. Brushing was very much in order.

    I think it is a huge challenge to create these god like heroes and have them live in today’s world.  I mean, they must have to pee and floss, right? This is why paranormal authors put them away in mansions in eastern Europe.


  8. Pingback: reviews of in cold blood the book | Digg hot tags

  9. Marg wrote:

    I love paranormal and am usually able to go with the flow about inconsistencies in world building, but not with inconsistencies in the relationship building. Those always annoy me.

    That’s a good distinction to draw. I think that I share your greater concern about the relationship.


  10. Yeah, I think that “mine” line has become a joke and should be looking at retirement now. But awesome review, one of the best I’ve read in a while. :) Will watch this blog.


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