Friday, June 10, 2005

The First Novel of The Darkyn

A couple of days ago I mentioned the book If Angels Burn by Lynn Viehl. I had picked it up wanting very much to read something written by PBW, whose blog I read regularly and whose views often have me nodding my head in agreement. Since IAB had received such rave reviews and since I'm not a big fan of SciFi or inspirational romance - the other subgenres Sheila Kelly has covered - I figured this was a good place to jump in. I plan to check out her romantic suspense, just need to get around to picking up a title.

What a wonderful read. In fact, I have to give it my highest compliments in that I finished the 291-page book in a little over 24 hours, which with my crazy life is showing true devotion. I picked it up while my son was at swimming lessons and pretty much read non-stop every spare moment I had until I'd finished it.

Before I continue, I want to warn everyone of SPOILERS. I'll try not to reveal twists and turns, but I do discuss some details that those who like to remain pure story-virgins might not want to know. Read on at your own risk.

To sum up the story in a nutshell: Alex Keller is a reconstructive surgeon (cosmetic surgeon for the lay folks) who has a very successful practice in Chicago. She spends much of her time helping victims of car accidents, birth defects and horrific crimes try to regain some semblance of their old lives by giving them back their bodies. She's received several requests to come to New Orleans to help a man named Michael Cyprien, requests that are accompanied by offers to pay her exhorbitant sums of money. Alex turns down these requests until she is kidnapped and taken to New Orleans and pretty much given no choice.

Michael Cyprien has been grossly disfigured and needs Dr. Keller to give him back his face. Alex does so - begrudgingly - and in payment, Michael does the unthinkable. See, Michael is no normal human. He's a Darkyn, a group of ancient vampires whose numbers are dwindling as they are systematically hunted, tortured, and killed by a group of ex-priests called The Brethren. The Brethren are the men who had disfigured Michael.

In a moment of weakness, Michael feeds on Alex, who nearly dies. In order to save her, Michael gives her his own blood, and to his surprise Alex neither dies nor turns into a Darkyn. She seems to remain human, making her very unique indeed.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Alex runs away from what appears to be a certain future as a Darkyn while Michael tries to convince her that she now belongs with him as a part of his people.

Add to this the running story of Alex's brother, John, a priest with a very painful past. John is being recruited by The Brethren, and through him the reader gets a glimpse inside a very sick, twisted group of people.

What I liked best about this book was the heroine, Alex. Alex is a very strong, very confident woman. And she never changes. From page 1 through page 290, Alex does what she wants to do (that is, when she's not being controlled by mystical forces). She actively fights her transition to a Darkyn, but not because of some melodramatic "I don't want to love him!" reason. She's convinced that what has happened to her is no different than contracting a rare blood disease and as such, it can be controlled. She's devastated by the idea that she can no longer practice medicine, and she's angry at Michael for doing this to her. But she's also human enough to be enticed by Michael's plea to her to help others of his kind. She might not be able to practice medicine on humans, but she can help others.

Too, I liked that Alex did not fall into Michael's bed after 32 rounds of I hate you! Nor is there paragraph upon paragraph of mental lusting. The attraction between these two is always implied and as readers, we don't need to constantly be reminded that what they really want to do is rip each other's clothes off.

I found Michael to be a bit weaker as a character, a lot more mysterious, which is perhaps intentional. In no way did he act the role that seems to be the norm of vampire heroes - a domineering, arrogant, alpha-male creature of the night. Rather, Michael is genuinely sorry for what he did to Alex, genuinely grateful for how she helped him, and he tries valiantly to convince her of what she must do using logic at first. Granted, he does eventually resort to some high-handed tactics, but when it happens, you are very understanding of why he does so.

I think the entire concept of the Darkyn as a species is very refreshing. Here is a group of vampires that neither revels in what they are nor feels a need to go out and convert the entire world. They've found a way to coexist with humans - they feed on human blood but without killing their victims - even as The Brethren are doing their very best to eliminate them. The Darkyn turn their anger at being hunted toward The Brethren rather than the entire human population.

As for the story about Alex's brother, John, I admit that at first I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. I liked Alex as a character so much that I was annoyed her story had been interrupted by someone who at first was presented as a very unsympathetic person. But as the story unfolded, John became a very three-dimensional character, and the viewpoint that Alex has of him very misguided. I'm not entirely sure why John was recruited by The Brethren, and I won't reveal a very key plot twist. But in a way it seemed that Lynn Viehl took the long way around to get to the same place. I'm not sure why John was necessary, in other words. But since he turned out to be interesting, it didn't bother me to have him there as a truly tragic person.

I did have a couple of problems with the book. Mostly this has to do with some loose ends that I never felt were tied up. Now, I understand that this book is the first in a trilogy, so it is possible that some of my questions will be answered in the next title. But I'm not really sure how because these issues are very specific to Alex's story.

First of all, I wondered if Alex ever learned what had happened to her friend, Leanne. Not that Alex's knowing would have changed the eventual outcome of the story, but all the same, I felt like it was something Alex should know since she was very indirectly responsible.

Second thing, John is told by The Brethren that he would never be able to leave their order alive, yet at the end, it seems that John is left free to tell people the truth about the order. Isn't his life in some kind of danger now? Too, I wonder if Alex will ever learn the truth about her brother? As it stands, she has some pretty strong feelings of hatred towards him, much of which isn't really deserved. Not that I wish a huge guilt trip on her by having John's true reasons behind what he had done in the past revealed, just that as readers we get to know it and it seems a natural progression that Alex would come to find it out as well.

Another thing I felt disappointed in not getting an answer to was the whole rapture and thrall concept. It was mentioned many times - apparently this is some combined vampire/victim state that means something really important - but never fully explained. I kept waiting for someone to describe the scenario or for us to get an actual example, but it remained a loose end. Perhaps in the next book...

Some other issues - this book is definitely not for the squeamish at heart. It contains a lot of very graphic depictions of torture and the results of torture. I was able to read almost all of it without wincing, except one scene really did bother me. Not only did it bother me because of what it contained but the fact that it was depicted at all. The situation had been established such that I knew what was going to occur, and I really can't understand the decision to actually show the action. It made me wonder if this wasn't perhaps a bit of gratuitous torture to punctuate the true evilness of one particular character (who I already had pegged as 100% evil).

I had a bit of a problem with the very last scene, in which nearly all of the characters introduced in the book ended up in the same place. I suppose I should reread it, but I got a bit confused about who was where and who was on which side and who was fighting who.

Lastly, I have to admit that I found a personal affront in the form of this bit of descriptive:

"Alex had lived in Chicago all her life. It was a violent city with a mulitude of drug addicts, rapists, and thieves, where a woman alone was a walking target."

My first reaction to this was that the author had clearly never been to Chicago. The way this reads makes it sound like Chicago is something out of an Escape From New York movie, where simply walking out your front door puts you in mortal danger. Chicago is no more dangerous than any large city, and to have it described as a "violent city" really jolted me out of the story. Sure there are neighborhoods that are pretty darn rough, but any sensible woman (as Alex very clearly is) would stay far away from these areas. The point of the paragraph was to establish that Alex had taken classes to learn to protect herself, which is something very ordinary for anyone living in any large city - the city doesn't have to be especially "violent" to give sufficient motivation.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to those who love paranormals and vampire stories. In fact, this is a good one for borderline readers who aren't sure about vampires because there isn't a whole lot of blood-sucking/coffin-sleeping type of behaviour. The Darkyn can move about in the daylight and usually drink their blood out of a cup. They aren't evil but are in fact the victims of a far more evil group. Again, I warn you that you have to have a pretty strong stomach - this isn't a pretty novel by any means. But it certainly is an enthralling read, one that you won't be able to put down.


Misty G said...

I was blog hopping and found your site:) I liked this book a lot. I'm really not a series loving reader, but this one has me looking for the next one that comes out. I liked the different take on vampires Viehl took (or at least it seemed different to me)


Anonymous said...

It is mentioned in one of the books a/b Alex being leary of involving any outside sources again for info/help after what happened to Leanne. So rest easy, that was resolved for us. Loved this series and cannot wait for Evermore!