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REVIEW: Mona Lisa Awakening by Sunny

Dear Sunny,

Mona Lisa AwakeningOrdinarily I wouldn’t address my letter so familiarly given the fact we don’t know each other but your nom de plume is just one word: Sunny. Apparently, you are the wife of big name author, Da Chen. I assume the connection should be mentioned in the review because it is mentioned a number of times (4?) in the accompanying promotional literature. I would have probably bought this book because of its smoking cover and the cover quote by Patricia Briggs along with the Publisher’s Weekly review that says “Mona Lisa shares many traits with LKH’s heroines, including having lots of hot sex for good causes, but mercifully without their kvetching and self-doubt.”

However, a friend of mine who does not read books in the first person sent it to me because she knows I really enjoy the Merry Gentry series by Laurell K Hamilton. The Merry Gentry series is a story about a mixed race member of the Sidhe who is destined to be the one who ultimately brings life, fertility, and future back to the Sidhe. The stories mostly revolve around court intrigue and the fact that some in the Court want Merry to die. Her life is fraught with danger, particularly from her crazy Aunt who is the Queen of the Unseelie court. To protect herself, she is given the choice of handsome Guards with whom she must sleep. Many of the Guards joined her because she was a) willing to have sex with them and b) because the Queen is crazy and mistreats her guards often. As a result, Merry has a whole coterie of gentlemen whom she enjoys on a regular basis. When they join, their bodies glow and their powers are enhanced. This series, unlike the Anita Blake series, is still an autobuy because LKH writes good erotica in this series (as opposed to the terrible erotica in the Blake series). But of course, I am guessing that you know all this since your story reads like an ode to Merry Gentry.

Mona Lisa is a nurse in Manhatten. She has a special gift in that she can lay hands on a patient and sense their true ailment. One night she feels an inexplicably drawn to one patient. A gorgeous pale, male specimen by the name of Gryphon is laying in her hospital with a terrible wound to his stomach. The two of them are drawn to each other. It is determined that Mona Lisa, an orphan, is found to be one of the rare Queens of Monere. Monere are a people whose existence is owed to the moon. It was an interesting take on the vampire theme. Monere’s live in the night when the Moon is out. Their powers are derived from the Moon through Basking. A Queen is the only member of the Monere who can call down the Moon’s rays and through them, the entire people of Monere gain power and extended life. They are extremely pale, living solely under the moon, and enjoy the taste of other Monere’s blood (although blood drinking is not their source of nutrition). The Queens are not very nice people and they abuse the men and women who are subservient to them, particularly the men. But the men are drawn to the Queen’s because it is part of their genetic heritage to be beholden to a Queen.

The world building is unique, but the writing was clunky, the characters inconsistent, the villians overt, and the similarities to Merry Gentry’s series distracting (mixed race heroine to save the magical race, the bad Queens, the guards, the way their bodies illuminate during sex, the increase of power through sex, the fact that all guards want to copulate with the heroine, the importance of fertility, the danger from the Court). The initial chapter was filled with significant info dumping. The entire myth is laid out to Mona Lisa by Gryphon in their first meeting. There were a few too many shortcuts that cut into the plausibility of the story. For example, Mona Lisa knows she is different but hasn’t had any contact with anyone else who is different. When told the story by Gryphon of this fantastic race of beings, she goes from believing Gryphon to be mad to actually believing Gryphon in the space of about three paragraphs.

I had further problems with the book in that Mona Lisa is portrayed as a politically savvy individual as she attempts to navigate her way through powers of the existing Queens. There was no background given which would convince the reader that Mona Lisa had the capability of holding her own. Unlike Merry Gentry, who was raised in under the shadows of Court intrigue and was taught how to handle herself in those situations, Mona Lisa had no such background (again, seemed like a shortcut). This is an important point because much of the conflict arose from intrigue amongst the Queens.

Mona Lisa borders on a Mary Sue. Everyone loves her (even a male character who hasn’t loved in centuries). The only men who do not want to be in her service are the bad guys but they still want to fuck her. She is all good in a world that is virtually all evil. I found the immediacy in which the characters fell in love to lack believability.

The one other thing that bothered me throughout the story was the inconsistency in language. On one page you would have Mona Lisa speaking and thinking formally and the next she would be talking in vernacular. It appears you understood the difference in how the characters’ patterns of speech were significant because Mona Lisa mentions that she can tell the difference between the guards who have lived a long time because of the way they talk. I wish you had employed the same attention to detail in the pattern of speech of Mona Lisa.

I am sure that you got the “erotic” tag because it features a number of sex scenes, but the scenes were not innovative and at times were mechanical. Some of the words used to describe the sex scenes bordered on purpley. I was ever so grateful, though, that you refrained from using the word “spill” (an overused LKH adjective).

I am interested in the series because of the uniqueness of the worldbuilding and I honestly don’t mind that it has close parallels with the Merry Gentry series but the heroine’s inconsistent characterization (one minute extremely bold and another very traditional) and the clunky writing is keeping me from being really excited. To further hamper the story for me is the multiple “loves” that you are developing for the heroine. That’s not really what I am looking for these days in a book, but I can see its appeal to others. C-

Best regards,

Jane

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

14 Comments

  1. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 30, 2006 @ 21:23:53

    ;o) I loved the story. I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading Sunny’s story in the Hard Stuff antho~which was excellent, IMO. But I did love Mona Lisa, too.

    I’m trying to be patient for a few weeks then I’m going to try wheedling the next book out of her.

  2. Jenny
    Sep 01, 2006 @ 00:00:35

    I believe she’s Sunny Chen. You can call her Mrs Chen. :)

  3. Sybil
    Sep 01, 2006 @ 02:29:11

    I believe for whatever reason, she has dropped her last name on her books… and she is just ‘sunny’.

  4. Jenny
    Sep 01, 2006 @ 02:59:23

    Just curious, is her last name dropped in the copyright too?

  5. Jane
    Sep 01, 2006 @ 08:17:38

    The copyright says “DS Studios Inc.” The cover says just “Sunny.”

  6. Bam
    Sep 19, 2006 @ 23:16:38

    I hated this book. I loved it. I hated AND loved it. Mona Lisa’s inconsistent speech patterns really pissed me off too.

    Awesome review, dude!

  7. jane
    Sep 19, 2006 @ 23:25:06

    Bam
    What grade would you give it and would you read the next one?

  8. Bam
    Sep 19, 2006 @ 23:39:43

    Jane, I gave it a B- ’cause even though it was pretty horrid, I had fun. I thought it was cheesy good times, like Mystery Science Theater 3000. As I was reading it, I was snarking it in my head. Good call on the Merry Gentry comparison. I compared it to “Sailor Moon” because of the whole Moon Goddess thing.

    I have already pre-ordered the sequel. Go figure.

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  10. Shar
    Jul 10, 2007 @ 13:58:26

    Actually if you have read an author by the name of Anne Bishop and her Black Jewel Trilogy, you will find that it is an “ode” that series as well. Most of us see it as a cross between Merry and the Black Jewel series. Sort of like fan-fiction in a way. The whole Daemon, King of Hell and Lucinda ideas come from that series which is why she passes her thanks to Anne as well as LKH in the first book. The big difference between Anne’s books and Sunny’s is that her is set in another world/universe and is more straight horror/fantasy while Sunny’s is here on earth.

    I have to admit, her books are a guilty pleasure as they are strangely addictive in spite of the problems (which I agree with) you mentioned.

  11. niko
    Sep 13, 2007 @ 20:22:27

    I agree with several things mention… Sunny’s books are a lot like LKH books that’s probably why i like them so much. I also could pick out the similarities in her Mona Lisa series with the Merry Gentry and some scenes in Anita Blake seres. With the whole daemon underworld in her Lucinda Darkly series it does have the same feel of the Daemon idea in The Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop(of which i am a big fan also)

    overall I find that the tone of her books copy that of LKH but it does not bother me very much because I enjoy LKH writing style and would like to see more authors with similar style and idea (even though I don’t like to get the ‘deja vu’ feel while reading from them)

    I will say the the sex scenes in Sunny’s book seem to be executed better than most LKH sex scenes and the books were classed as erotica because unlike LKH it involed less ‘blood & guts’ and focus on the sex scenes.I would prefer more story like LKH (earlier books)

    What really bother me the most was the inconsistency of the main character ‘Mona Lisa’. At first she was like “I’m a nurse, I am to help people, A gentle person who like to heal people.” Next scene “I alway carry a knife on me. So I can slash and stab people, yes I’m getting blood thirsty.” How exactly did a nurse become a trained fighter, knife wielding, martial fighting gal? What was the background for that? Not to mention her speech style was always changing from Modern city gal to elegant lady from scene to scene. Even with all that I still keep the books on my self because I enjoy them (her Mona Lisa more than Lucinda Darkly)

  12. iCe
    Jan 05, 2008 @ 05:45:39

    The Mona Lisa reads like a bad mix of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry and Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels trilogy. All the urban fantasy from Hamilton, all the “Queen Heirarchy” from Bishop.

    The similarities are more than a bit “distracting” that there was once a scene where Mona Lisa asks “Am I food?” I had to read the line again to wonder because that’s exactly what Meredith asked Doyle in the second Gentry book.

    It’s more than similarities of concepts it’s similarities of scenes that I can’t stomach.

  13. SJ
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 01:11:50

    Note: Spoilers ahead.

    I’ve read most of the Merry Gentry series by LKH (though I don’t know why anymore), as well as Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy – actually I’ve read all the books and short stories set in that universe that have been published so far – looking forward to the next one coming.

    Anyways, I liked the basic idea behind the Merry Gentry series and the first book was quite interesting. Then I found the series degenerated into too much sex, with increasing amounts of group onlooking and/or involvement, and too little story. However I still read the series from the library because I want to see how things get resolved, story-wise.

    I completely agree that the Mona Lisa series seems like a cross between Merry Gentry and Anne Bishop’s books. One person commented that at least Sunny’s sex scenes are better written than the Gentry ones, and I tend to agree. However, despite the dwindling amount of story found in recent Gentry books, it still seems like plotwise, LKH did it first, and did it better.

    Now onto the Anne Bishop Black Jewels similarities. To be honest, those drove me nuts. I love Anne Bishop’s writing. She pulls you into her world and somehow makes you truly CARE about what happens to her characters. I thought her Black Jewels universe with it’s Queens and Warlords, caste system, and matriarchical overtones was original and inspired. Then I start reading Mona Lisa Awakening, and feel steadily more and more uneasy as I see Bishop’s world plunked into a “modern day Earth.” The High Prince of Hell, the demon dead with psychic abilities, the males serving Queens, the concept of “territories”, the Warrior Lords, and the trade festival were all straight from Bishop’s world. Even the terminology used and many of the names were similiar – for instance, “demon dead” and “Warrior Lord” (they’re Warlords in Bishop’s world). Sunny even has a character names that are similar to ones in Bishop’s world – Tersa and Janelle, for example.

    I know that Sunny thanked LKH and Bishop in her book, but really, does that permit her to border on plagarism? I felt so bad for Bishop when reading this book that before I even finished it I did a Google search to see if Bishop had any reaction to it. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but I’ve never before encountered so many blatant world similarities between two different authors. Perhaps if the concepts, terminology, and names taken from Bishop’s world were more common place, then it would not have bothered me. However, I found Bishop’s world truly creative and quite original – if someone else can show me another book by yet another author set in a world like that then please tell me! Therefore, when I read Mona Lisa Awakening, I felt like Sunny simply took too much from Bishop’s world. Sunny’s book could be described as an enjoyable read – but one that smacks more of cross-series fanfiction than as a new creation. I just didn’t know you could get credit for fanfiction this way.

  14. WJ
    Nov 28, 2008 @ 18:05:01

    I just purchased Mona Lisa Awakening mainly because the blurb on the front said it would appeal to fans of Anne Bishop or LKH.

    And I think, at least for me, the almost ‘uncanny’ similarities to Bishop’s Dark Jewels Trilogy (Prince of Hell, Demon Dead, Janelle, Warrior Lords, males drawn to Queens, I could go on but why bother?) had me continuing to read this book due to a weird mixture of outright horror and disbelief.

    Had this story been written as somekind of fan fiction crossover between LKH and Anne Bishop, I personally wouldn’t have had a problem. Like someone already mentioned, Mona Lisa is the perfect Mary Sue.

    Wikipedia even describes a Mary Sue as “particularly characterized by overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as “Mary Sues” is that they are too ostentatious for the audience’s taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the “Mary Sue” character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an “author’s pet”. ”

    So while I may number in the few, it is highly unlikely I will waste my money to purchase another Monere novel again. Rather, I’ll pick up a Merry Gentry or re-read my Dark Jewels novel.

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