Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Wicked Nights by Gena Showalter

Wicked Nights is the first book in Gena Showalter's Angels of the Dark series, which is a spin-off of her Lords of the Underworld series.  If you've read my review of that series, you know how much I like it, so, of course, I was going to read this.

The main character of this book is Zacharel, who we first meet in Book 7, Darkest Secret.  He is described as being stunningly beautiful (as are all the angels) and devoid of emotion (that would be his own personal quirk, not necessarily an angel trait).

He appears again in Book 8, accompanying Lysander to the Harpie Games and plays an even bigger role in Book 9, Darkest Seduction, traveling with Paris in his search for Sienna.

In this book, he's being punished because he doesn't care about humans, has no qualms about killing them when they get in his way of doing his job.  He's got issues, to say the least.  Years ago, he lost his twin brother, and lost his ability to love or care for anyone.  He does his job, follows orders.  His boss though, he wants him to develop some empathy for humans.

No one is more shocked than Zacharel when he finds himself drawn to a human who has spent the last few years in a mental hospital.  She's being tormented by demons.  He feels obligated to rescue her.

Annabelle is damaged.  Not only has she lost her family, but she's also endured years of abuse in the mental hospital.  She and Zach are quite the pair of dysfunction. 

It takes them a while to work things out.  Annabelle is leery of trusting anyone - with good reason.  Zach doesn't even know how to go about caring for another person.  I enjoyed seeing them work through their issues.  I thought it was a nice, believable love story.  Believable in that they had to get to know each other before they fell for each other.   

I also really liked the guest appearance of some characters from the Lords of the Underworld. 

I was a little bothered by some events at the end of this book.  There's a huge secret revealed in the end, and it's resolved way too quickly.  While I don't question the choice made, I felt there should have been a stronger reverberation from the choice.  The information was shocking, but Zach seemed to handle it way too easily.  Maybe centuries of denying any emotion would have that effect?

For the most part, I really liked this book and I'm looking forward to the continuation of this series. Showalter has created yet another world, or rather an extension of a world, filled with interesting, complex characters battling demons real and imagined.  And I love the clouds in which the angels live.  This Angel wants a cloud!

Oh, and did I mention the cover of this book is absolutely beautiful?  Every time I look at it, I ache, wishing I'd been the one who painted it.  When I was a teenager, my dream job was to be an artist who painted the cover of romance novels.  I used to spend hours drawing those covers that featured Fabio and the Topaz Man.  (I have a weakness for men with beautiful bodies.)  I remember reading an article in an artist magazine about a woman who painted those covers and setting it aside, thinking someday that would be my future.  So sad when dreams die.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review: Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter

Instead of nine separate reviews, I'm going to write one big review including all the books in this series.  I read them all as one big story, so that seems most appropriate.

I'll spare you the messed up details of all that has been happening in my life.  Not sure I could explain it even if I tried.  But let me just say this summer I was in dire need of an escape.  My interest in the "real world" had hit an all time low.  I wanted out and the only way I know to escape is through books.  This has been my coping method for most of my life -- oh sure, I've tried tequila and chocolate chip cookies and large amounts of red wine -- but in the end, books are what works best, and no vomiting or weight gain to follow.

I wanted vampires.  Hot, sexy vampires.  Several of my friends are fans of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, so that's what I was going to try.  But the first book in the series was checked out.  So I went to goodreads and searched for paranormal series.  I was interested in a few different series and I cross checked those with what was available at my library, particularly available for my Kindle.

And that's how I ended up reading The Lords of the Underworld, not knowing this series would soon consume my whole life, at least for the next month or so.

What I checked out from the library contained The Darkest Fire, which is considered the prequel to the series, and the first three books.

First a little general info about the series: The Lords of the Underworld were warriors created by Zeus (ah, yeah, and I love Greek mythology, was obsessed with it back in my younger days), they tried to steal Pandora's box, which resulted in demons being set free. As punishment, the demons are placed inside the warriors. After centuries of struggling to control their demons, they now live in a fortress in Budapest.

I didn't like the Darkest Fire all that much.  It almost prevented me from reading the rest of the books.  It's a strange story -- the beast that guards the walls of hell is trying to help a goddess fortify the walls so that demons don't escape.  They both go inside hell and they're attacked by demons, but in this short amount of time, they fall in love and have sex a few times.  What?  Yeah, strange.  It's supposed to explain the creation of Pandora's box, I think.  Not at all necessary for the rest of the series, so feel free to skip it.  I kind of wish I had.

The first book in the series is The Darkest Night, which focuses on Maddox, the keeper of the demon Violence.  Also, because he was the one who killed Pandora, he has to die every night as punishment, spend the night in hell.  It's gruesome, and the other warriors have to participate in this ritual, one killing him (I can't remember which now, Reyes or Aeron maybe) while Lucien, the keeper of Death, takes him to hell.

Ashlyn is seeking the Lords because she's heard of their special powers.  Her whole life, she's been tormented by the ability to hear all conversations that have happened in whatever location she's standing.  Her mind is a wreck.  Then she meets Maddox and for the first time in her life, the voices are silent.

I liked this book, but I didn't love it.  Maddox is a bit of neanderthal, and sex scenes between him and Ashlyn were awkward, so awkward.  But I liked the story and the characters and the world Showalter had created enough to want to read the next book.

The second book, Darkest Kiss, focuses on Lucien, keeper of death.  I liked this book better because I found Lucien to be a more interesting character.  Years ago, after losing someone he loved, he scarred himself to ensure that no one ever got close to him again.  But Anya, a demi-god, isn't bothered by his scars.  She wants him anyway.  I didn't like Anya very much, she dresses and behaves in a way that encourages people to believe she's a slut, then gets hurt and offended when she's accused of being one.  She's got some issues in her past.  The two seem to be complete opposites, Lucien, quiet and reserved and Anya in everyone's face with her obnoxious behavior.  They make an interesting couple.

I liked the third book, Darkest Pleasure, better than the previous two books.  Reyes is the keeper of pain.  He thrives on pain.  He takes the whole "cutting" thing to new levels.  He's drawn to Danika, an artist, who is on the run from Aeron, who has been ordered to kill her and her family.  I found their story to be the most realistic -- well, as realistic as a story involving a man possessed by a demon can be.  They actually take the time to fall for each other.  Throughout this series, these two would remain one of my favorite couples.

Book 4 - Darkest Whisper - Sabin is the keeper of doubt.  His demon, with its cruel whispers, drives away everyone he's ever loved.  But when he and the others rescue Gwen, a harpie, from a horrible experimental lab, he can't fight the protectiveness he feels for her.  She's terrified of her own powers, and it's Sabin who trains her to become quite the badass fighter.  I liked the character she became, but I didn't like the introduction of her sisters into this book.  Also, all the training scenes got a little boring.  This book wasn't one of my favorites.

My favorite is probably the fifth book, Darkest Passion.  This is the story of Aeron, the keeper of wrath.  An angel, Olivia, has been assigned the task of killing him, but instead she chooses to lose her wings because she's fallen in love with him after watching him from afar.  Aeron is so reluctant to give into the angel.  I loved this couple.  Aeron is so angry, with such a violent past, tormented by wrongs he's done and because of his demon, always aware of the wrongs done by others.  Olivia is so pure and gentle, a joy bringer.  They couldn't be more different, but they're so perfect together.  And the sex is so hot in this book!  My only complaint about this book was the creepy demon named Legion.  She almost ruined what was an otherwise great love story.  Yuck, I cringe just thinking about her.

Book 6, Darkest Lie, was my least favorite of this series.  Gideon is the keeper of lies.  He can't tell the truth, so everything he says in the opposite of what he means.  That got really annoying to read after a while.  And his love interest, Scarlet, wasn't very likable either.  These characters were so angry and bitter.  Didn't care much about them, and I didn't like how their storyline veered so far off from the rest of the group. 

Book 7, Darkest Secret, is the story of Amun, the keeper of secrets.  Amun isn't one of my favorites of the Lords, but this was probably one of my favorite books.  He's quiet, can't speak without spilling secrets, so he uses sign language and he's never had a big part in the other stories.  I enjoyed this book quite a bit though because I found the story of him and Haidee - a former hunter who had devoted her life to tracking down the Lords - to be interesting.  I liked their journey through different levels of hell and the discovery of their past together. 

Book 8, Darkest Surrender, is Strider's story.  He's the keeper of defeat.  He turns everything into a challenge and he has to win, or else he suffers.  I didn't like this book all that much.  A harpie, Kaia, one of Gwen's sisters has fallen for him.  Then he has to accompany her to the Harpie Games.  Felt like he was guilted -- or maybe challenged -- into falling for her.  I just didn't find the Harpie Games all that interesting and I didn't care much about Strider and Kaia.

Book 9 - Darkest Seduction was the book I'd been most anxious to read.  It sat there in my stack of books, taunting me with his hauntingly beautiful cover.  But I couldn't read it until I read the books before it.  This was the story of Paris, the keeper of promiscuity.  A few books back, he found his soul mate, and she happened to be a hunter, trying to capture him, and then she died in his arms.  Since then he'd been on a downward spiral.  In this world, rarely is anyone ever completely dead.  Paris finds Sienna and he's determined to be with her.  They've both been through their own personal hells.  I found myself wanting so much for them to finally be happy and to be together.  I liked this book quite a bit, but being that it was Paris' story, I had expected some mind-blowing sex and of all the books, this was probably the most watered down.  More implied and less explicit. 

For the most part, I read these books one right after the other, taking about two or three days per book.  I had to take a break after book five because I was waiting for book six to become available at the library.  But I sunk into this world, lost all interest in anything happening outside of these books.  Besides the couples on which each book focuses, there is also the big, overall story of the Lords fighting against the hunters, some crazed humans who blame the Lords for all that is bad in the world.  I equated them to religious zealots, causing all kinds of violence to further their righteous agenda.  They're also on a quest to obtain four artifacts to help them find Pandora's box.  Then there's the conflict happening between the gods - the Greeks and the Titans, I believe.  There's a lot happening in this world - it's not just demon meets girl/harpie/angel/demi-god and they live happily ever after.  These books were exactly what I needed at the end of my summer. 

I finished the last book right as school started and I had to return to work.  And the next book won't be available until next summer.  I kind of hate that I'll have to wait so long for the next book, afraid it won't feel the same as reading one book right after the other.  Maybe I'll just re-read my favorites from this series before the next one comes out.