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REVIEW: Dark Skye by Kresley Cole

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Dear Ms. Cole:

Back in 2008, Jane wrote about the romance trope subversion found in the “Immortals After Dark” series, in which the conventional male/female roles are often flipped. That continues in this story, which features a completely inexperienced hero and a heroine who’s been around the block quite a few times in an immortal lifespan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save the book from being kind of meh.

Most Lore immortals have to wait centuries for their fated mates to turn up, but the Vrekener prince Thronos is just a boy when he recognizes his in 9 year old Melanthe (Lanthe), one of the Sorceri. Their people are enemies — the righteous Vrekeners make it their business to steal powers from the supposedly evil Sorceri — but none of that matters… then.

‘To me, you smell like no one else in the world ever has, or ever will.’ His gray irises glowed silver with emotion. A breeze ruffled his sandy brown hair. ‘It means you and I are going to be best friends. When we grow up, we’ll be… more.’

They do indeed become best friends, for a short time. But though Melanthe is Thronos’s fated mate, he is not necessarily hers. ‘Sorceri don’t have mates’ and ‘Sorceri don’t believe in fate,’ she asserts. In any event, while the adult Thronos desperately searches for Melanthe for centuries, literally unable to have sex with any other woman, she feels no such restriction. Instead she suffers a non-specific loneliness and longing for love that has made her something of a Lore joke, since the immortals she sleeps with often take advantage of her and steal her powers. Nonetheless, she refuses to be shamed by Thronos, who is not only a virgin but from an extremely repressed society. (Even kissing before marriage is considered an “offendment” — you can guess how they feel about masturbation.)

If you’ve read Kiss of a Demon King, you’ll know that this is only a small part of Thronos and Lanthe’s complicated history: there’s betrayal and hurt and bitterness up the wazoo for these two. But as it turns out — rather disappointingly — those issues are more like Big Misunderstandings: once they learn the truths behind their past, the real conflicts between the fated lovers are Lanthe’s sexual history, and Thronos’s incredibly uptight and controlling plans for her.

The story is an Odyssey, an almost Yellow-Submarine-esque series of adventures in strange dimensions. The pair begins traveling together (initially as prisoner and captive) after the destruction of the Order prison they were both in. (The beginning is pretty abrupt: for backstory on their escape, see Dreams of a Dark Warrior and Demon from the Dark.  Chronologically, this is set during the events of the previous five books in the series.) The trip is not only highly dangerous but full of portents and allegorical elements. I didn’t find the adventures or world-building here very enthralling. Much of what happens is highly convenient in terms of their relationship growth — It’s almost as if someone deliberately created a bizarre world just to get these two together! — and there are what seems like dozens of random, cryptic portents and prophecies to be interpreted.

What happens in their relationship is somewhat more compelling. The rigid Thronos begins to loosen up, particularly as he becomes inadvertently exposed to his demonic roots. (His winged, sky-living people claim angelic status, ignoring all signs of their demonic origins.) And Lanthe once again begins to trust him and to believe in his feelings for her. There’s some well-imagined, gut-punching angst, and interesting themes: Thronos learning to see shades of gray, Lanthe reclaiming her power as a sorcerer, both of them learning to forgive, accept the past, and deliberately choose each other.

But I kept being tripped up by the actual prose. I don’t recall ever having this problem with the series before, but the writing uses many short, declaratory sentences, tends towards telling rather than showing, and is riddled with exclamation points. Consequently, even some of the most dramatic moments of the book felt flat. There was much less snark and sparkle than I expect from this series, and both characters feel like paler versions of previous ones.

It sadly added up to no more than readable and intermittently emotional for me. Very sadly, since like many other readers, I was just dying for this couple’s story. There is movement towards the overall Accession plot, but I’ve never been as interested in that as I’ve been in the romance and couple dynamics.

This is a long series, but considerable backstory is given, so you could probably enter here if you wanted to. (And perhaps it would seem less disappointing if you did?) I haven’t read the two books immediately preceding this one yet, but was able to follow the threads well enough. C

Sincerely,

Willaful

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. She finally gave in and started reading romance again in 2006, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

4 Comments

  1. Nikki
    Aug 22, 2014 @ 15:09:15

    Despite breaking up with this series a few books ago. I wanted to know what happened badly enough to buy this book. I agree with your points and the C. At one point the attempted shaming was so annoying I was about to give up but then he got over himself. I just wonder if this was supposed to transition to a different arc because a lot of the story felt awkward. Some of the charactrs introduced did not seem to exist as more than tools to move the story along. Interesting things like why they were so removed from their angelic heritage and repressed were not answered. And we probably could have lost several dozen pages for a tighter and better plotted book.

  2. Alexandra
    Aug 22, 2014 @ 16:24:47

    Spoilers forthcoming – you’ve been warned! This is one of my favorite series as well as my first PNR series and one that got me into reading (heavily – I’ve always been a reader even when I wasn’t) again, and I was really looking forward to Dark Skye. I think it’s among my favorites now but I’ve seen reactions from a lot of readers who just thought it was “meh” like you.

    Much of what happens is highly convenient in terms of their relationship growth — It’s almost as if someone deliberately created a bizarre world just to get these two together!

    I didn’t think of it that way. Nix all but admitted to hijacking Melanthe’s portals. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen her manipulate characters AND events as part of her eventual gameplan (whatever that may be). I do agree it is convenient – but it didn’t bother me. I have a weakness for masterminds…

    The prose was a little jarring, too, which is odd because I feel like it’s one of KC’s best books in terms of writing and the overall quality of every storytelling element. While I missed some of the snark I felt Melanthe and Thronos’ relationship was better developed than many couples in this series. I was definitely willing to trade snark for more movement in the overarching plot as well. It’s felt kind of stagnant for several installments. This is one of The Immortals After Dark’s weakest qualities, IMO, and it seems like longer and longer between each book. I think those factors really hurt the series and makes me wonder about the preorder goal KC ran on her Facebook page prior to publication (17,500, I think). She talked about the importance of preorders for series longevity. I’ve barely dipped my toe in how the publishing world works, and I’d love to know why that is.

    I was surprised by the lack of fanfare leading up to this one since lots of fans waited so long to read it. I honestly think we waited too long and that killed some of the excitement. To me, it’s a great addition to the series (especially after the lackluster MacRieve). I expected a LOT more fighting between Melanthe and Thronos and was pleasantly surprised by their camaraderie. I think that’s why I loved it so much. Romances on the basis of friendship are my catnip. And it’s combined with my other catnip – enemies to lovers.

  3. Mandy
    Aug 23, 2014 @ 00:02:42

    I put this book aside after about 10%. My initial reaction was, “Are we still on that island??” I agree with the rating and sentiments. Although at the moment it feels like the series has lost momentum, I’m still fond of these characters and looking forward to the Ascension finally happening as the series winds up.

  4. Cassie
    Aug 26, 2014 @ 09:47:46

    Willaful, thank you for this: “But I kept being tripped up by the actual prose. I don’t recall ever having this problem with the series before, but the writing uses many short, declaratory sentences, tends towards telling rather than showing, and is riddled with exclamation points.”

    As an editor, I’m constantly telling my authors readers notice this stuff when they tell “so and so big name author does it” as if that fact excuses the poor craft. I submit it doesn’t and am glad to see a reader who agrees. I don’t care who you are–there is no excuse for poor craft. I just wish more readers would pay attention to that and tell authors they deserve more.

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