Dear Ms. Cole:
It is no secret that I am a big fan of your Immortals After Dark series, and I have certainly made no secret of the fact that the Lykae "fated mate" books are not among my favorites. In Pleasure of A Dark Prince, I really enjoyed the way Lucia and Garreth had to work hard to fulfill their destined love match. What surprised me about this book, though, was some frenetic-feeling plotting, especially in the second half of the book, that I felt substantially undermined the novel's (and relationship's) dramatic tension.
For those who have been reading the series in order of publication, Pleasure of A Dark Prince returns us to the events of the very first book, A Hunger Like No Other (not only an interesting resistance of linearity, but also a clever way of drawing attention back to the beginning of the series), wherein Garreth MacRieve was imprisoned by the Valkyrie to lure his brother, Lachlain, to his dying mate, Emma.
We knew from A Hunger Like No Other that Lucia was Garreth's mate, but at the time we did not know what had transpired between them already. Pleasure of A Dark Prince begins with Lucia, the Archer, on the hunt and stumbling across a demons v. Lykae rugby match, which brings her eye to one Lykae in particular, Garreth, the would-be Lykae king. Would-be, that is, if he would finally give up hope that his brother, Lachlain, was ever going to return after disappearing 150 years ago. On his way to a goal, Garreth has that unmistakable sensation of recognizing his mate, and he takes off after her, completely unaware that she is not only Valkyrie, but even more challenging, bound by oath to remain chaste.
I was smitten with this Relationship Obstacle from the start. Because this is no sissy "I'm gonna wait" decision Lucia has made; it's a blood sworn oath made to the goddess Skathi in exchange for Lucia's life. An impetuous adolescent, Lucia had been seduced by a male who showed her the face of an angel and an ardent heart. Once she left the protection of her parents for this being, though, his true nature was revealed, and it was more horrifying and tortuous than anything Lucia could have ever imagined. She had attempted to take her own life in escape from this monster, and it was only because her sister Regin brought her broken body and spirit to Skathi, insisting that her sister be saved, that she did not die. So Lucia became an Archer, bound to Skathi and promised to foreswear men, else she would lose her power. Every arrow that missed its goal caused her excruciating pain, but she needed her expert marksmanship to fight her monstrous "husband" at every Accession.
The first few chapters of Pleasure of A Dark Prince recount the events leading up to the climax of A Hunger Like No Other, but here they are told from Garreth and Lucia's point of view, so we see how desperate Garreth is to command Lucia's romantic attentions and how tempted and afraid Lucia is of her attraction to the sexy Lykae. Garreth knows nothing of Lucia's past, and out of fear and shame, she does not want to tell him. But in all the years she has been dedicated to being an Archer (and "nothing more," as Skathi told her), re-imprisoning the disgusting god Cruach every 500 years, Lucia has not responded to a male like she does to Garreth, and it is only the Accession's arrival that keeps her from going too far with the persistent Garreth.
And this Accession is particularly crucial:
"Have you heard of the god- Crom Cruach?" …
"He's evil to the bone. His primary power is to make people feel a mad need to sacrifice whoever they love. Only now, that need will be contagious-‘the lust to slaughter in Cruach's name-‘passing from person to “person. In the past, he's been jailed in a lair, but with each Accession, he grows powerful enough to break from his prison. Every five hundred years someone has to send him back there. NÃ¯x dispatched me to do this."
Fortunately, there may also be a way to kill Cruach permanently, a "dieumort" or god-killer, hidden somewhere in the Amazon. Unfortunately, Lucia must traverse the Rio Labyrinto,: "[a]lso known as the River of Doom and the River of Doors, it's a watery maze of channels and cutouts. . . . [a]nd it's rumored to be the gateway to El Dorado," the famed "Lost City of Gold." Lucia has never been in the Rio Labyrinto, but Garreth has, and despite Lucia's best efforts to shake him off her trail for the past year (!), he secures a place on the creepy boat Lucia has booked passage on for her upcoming face-off with her erstwhile husband/torturer.
To say that Garreth is loyal and dedicated to Lucia (he pronounces her name "Lousha") is a vast understatement. From serving as bait to trap Garreth in the whole basement capture incident, to burying him under logs and then pushing an eighteen wheeler truck on him, Lucia has done everything short of shooting him between the eyes with one of her arrows (he wouldn't move out of the way, she knew) to throw him off her trail. The nightmares of Cruach have begun, marking the countdown to her next face-off with the guy who gave rise to the "modern idea of Satan." But Garreth refused to be deterred, and while Lucia's antics have taken their emotional toll, he remains constitutionally incapable of leaving her in any danger and leaving both of them sexually unsatisfied. The dynamic of their relationship can be summed up with this exchange:
"I've been patient with you, Lousha, forgiven any slights against me and my family. No more patience. I'm a different man now than I was then."
A darker, even more attractive man. Or beast. "Slights? If you wouldn't have stalked me -"
"Luckily, I did, so I could repeatedly save your pert arse."
"And yet I survived the previous millennium without your assistance!"
"I could have taken you from Val Hall that night of the vampire attack, away from the threat. Instead I stayed to save your sisters' lives. I did this for you."
She knew this!
"So I was a shade pissed that I'd made a sacrifice for you and you threw me over at the earliest opportunity. And there are a dozen more incidents when I've had to save you."
"Listen to you, talking about your “good deeds!"
"I've got a few of them to speak of where you're concerned. And in the last few weeks, your foes have been increasing in number-‘"
"I swear it's like you believe your deeds are credits, and if you do enough or remind me enough, then you can buy me."
"No' buy you. Earn you. That's the Lykae in me. Could no' turn that off if I tried. Deep down I believe that if I show you I'm a good protector and provider, you'll surrender to me. You'll want me in turn."
"But I don't want you. I couldn't have made it clearer over the last year. There's playing hard to get, and then there's take a freaking hint! When you followed me, you brought all this on yourself." They were toe-to-toe, breathing heavily, and she was uncaring of the consequences.”
"Doona want me?" His voice dropped to a low rumble. "Ah, lass, do you really want me to make a liar out of you?"
He was about to kiss her, and gods help her, she feared she wanted him to-‘
For me, these types of exchanges are a central strength of the IAD series – the sparring, the sexual tension, the sarcasm and wit. As I said before, I thought this situation between Garreth and Lucia was a very clever way of making her resistance mean something, of creating a dilemma that should have no easy resolution. Lucia is charged with containing an ever-increasing evil, while Garreth feels compelled to protect Lucia. And the closer he gets to her, the more tempted she becomes to abandon her vow to Skathi for the warmth and satisfaction that Garreth promises. After all, it is quite a lonely existence being one of Skathi's Archers, especially for a Valkyrie who had been desperate enough for love to abandon the safety of home and family for a cruel illusion. Because I could sympathize with both Lucia and Garreth, I was not turned off by the "fated mate" construct.
What did undermine my untroubled enjoyment of Pleasure of A Dark Prince, however, was first the way Lucia's chastity took on a pretty token definition as the book progressed, and second the plotting around Cruach and the dieumort that takes up the latter sections of the novel.
While Garreth is unable to mark and fully claim Lucia, their sexual relationship is far richer than anything one would expect from a woman who had vowed to a goddess to be "virgin" and to "shun men" as long as she lived. And Skathi does not seem much like the forgiving, understanding type. So once Lucia and Garreth are contained together on the boat in the Amazon, Lucia's sexual chastity is defined extremely narrowly. The solution applied to the inevitable sexual consummation can probably be read back to cover much of what happened between them, but it is an explanation Lucia does not have access to at the time, making her judgment even more questionable. And because she will not tell Garreth the truth behind her vow – shamed and afraid, she doles out information in small bits, so he does not understand the depth of the problem for most of the novel – he continues to press her for greater and greater sexual surrender. I am not sure there is an easy resolution to this difficult set-up between Garreth and Lucia, but I did feel a little like the token chastity was a cop out, even as I wanted Lucia and Garreth to find complete sexual and emotional fulfillment together.
More problematic for me, though, was the way the grand evils and dangers of which we had been warned many times and with great drama throughout the course of the novel (a "contagious…lust to slaughter in Cruach's name – passing from person to person") seemed to collapse like the proverbial house of cards. I cannot explain in detail the scenes to which I am alluding here, but I can say that one involves an Indiana Jones-style booby trapped burial chamber into which the eeevil vampire Lothaire (who had been following them) runs and takes something with such ease I can only hope that untold consequences are being saved for a future book. Because if that plot line goes nowhere, a great deal of the dramatic tension from Pleasure of A Dark Prince was completely and inexplicably overblown.
Then there is a circumstance involving the dieumort, which is a hidden god-killing instrument that immortals everywhere seek because of their rarity and power. Something happens just at the right time with a dieumort in the book that was just too convenient for comfort. Not only did I not understand why someone had not found this particular dieumort before, but I certainly did not understand why someone hadn't found it and put it exactly to the use that Lucia did. These are immortals after all, and they have had thousands of years, in some cases, and myriad gifts with which to locate and exploit these god killers. Just way to deus ex machina for me.
Which brings me to the ending of the book and the final hurdle Lucia and Garreth must overcome. Again, I cannot say too much without spoiling a major plot point, but I can say that for me the ending was a somewhat heavy-handed imposition of the Great Lesson of Romance: Love heals and the Tears of True Love heal even better. And it isn't that I cannot or do not appreciate that lesson (I enjoy the genre, after all). But here I felt that the resolution to the – again – very dramatic problem, was easy in a way that did not simply reflect the power of common sense, but rather a somewhat too easy way out of a corner.
In many ways I think Lucia and Garreth's story is effective in demonstrating the popularity of the fated mate device – the big protective male is humbled by his love for the heroine, who in turn must learn to welcome the idea of depending on someone else for support. And Garreth is quite romantic, capturing a beautiful butterfly for Lucia, bringing her a magical gift that proves very useful, showing his pride in her skills and his respect for her intelligence and tenacity. He makes a very appealing romantic hero. And Lucia has good reasons for her fears and insecurities. She's not one of those heroines who rushes into danger unprepared or keeps crucial information from the hero for no good reason. Her reticence is understandable and her fears relatable. All of which made the plotting issues and artificial straining of the sexual tension (via Lucia's token chastity) especially disappointing to me. So in the end, while Pleasure of A Dark Prince much broke down my own reticence to the fated mate device, other aspects of the novel did not fare so well with me. B-/C+
~Janet / Robin
This is a Simon & Schuster book, one of the Agency 5. The base price is $7.99 and some stores are adding in tax. No Simon & Schuster books are at the Sony eBookstore.