May 5 2008
Dear Ms. Showalter,
Your Lords of the Underworld series first caught my eye when I came across the cover art posted on a blog. They are very striking to say the least and certainly did their job if my reaction was any indication: find out what these books were about. As I mentioned in my review of the series’s prequel, The Darkest Fire, I was even more delighted when I read the concept. And even though I ended up not liking the prequel as much as I thought I would, I still wanted to give the actual series a chance.
The series revolves around a group of warriors who, offended that their gods chose to entrust the guarding of a demon-filled box to a woman, decided to steal the box and release its contents into the world. Their plan was then to gather up the freed demons and reseal them inside the box, thus showing their prowess to the gods while proving the female warrior, Pandora, incompetent. Not the most brilliant of plans, in my opinion, but pride and jealousy can drive people to do stupid things and I think this was one of those cases.
Unfortunately, not only were the warriors unable to recapture the demons, the gods were furious. To punish them, they granted the warriors’ wish to guard the demons. But instead of using Pandora’s Box, they charged each warrior with the task of guarding a specific demon — by placing that demon inside the warrior, thereby letting it possess and corrupt each one.
Maddox is the keeper of Violence. Each day, he fights the desires of the demon inside him. He also suffers from extra divine punishment. When Violence originally possessed him, he fell prey to its wishes and killed everyone in his immediate vicinity. One of them was the female warrior, Pandora. Angered that their chosen warrior died by his hand, the gods cursed Maddox to experience a painful death each and every night. And because two of his fellow warriors safeguard the demons of Pain and Death, they get to share the fun.
Ashlyn Darrow works for an international organization interested in finding and studying supernatural phenomenon. Gifted with the ability of clairaudience, Ashlyn is sent to locate and identify targets of interest before being recalled to let the rest of the research team do the rest. She’s had enough of the glass tower treatment, but the strain of being outside is too much for her to handle. So when she learns of a group of men living in Budapest who might be angels, or demons, but are said to have mysterious powers, Ashlyn journeys to their mountain fortress to seek their help.
I love this premise. I really do. I just wish the execution was better. While clairaudience is not a psychic ability often featured in paranormals, a similar ability has been used before and by a female character who was much stronger than Ashlyn. Though I tried my best, I found it very difficult not to compare Ashlyn with Lara Adrian’s Elise and find Ashlyn sorely lacking.
When we first meet Ashlyn, she’s wandering the woods, overwhelmed by her ability and on the verge of hysteria. If she’d been trying to escape, this sort of reaction would make sense. But since she left on her own, from a company that for all their shadowy origins treated her well, I couldn’t help but feel that this decision borders on TSTL. I certainly wouldn’t go wandering in the woods alone in a foreign city I know nothing about, let alone seek out a group of men who might be serial killers or demons. While Ashlyn was certainly suffocated by her employers and ostracized by her co-workers, I never got the impression she was that desperate to necessitate such a decision so I had a hard time buying her motivations.
This impression was in no way helped by the couple’s first meeting. Ashlyn is being tracked without her knowledge. After Maddox dispatches the hunters, he then turns his attention to Ashlyn. And when face to face with a killer, what’s her first reaction? She tells him to shut up. Now I admit I haven’t been in many life-threatening situations, but I don’t think that would have been my first reaction. Maybe it’s just me. It’s true Maddox’s presence suppresses Ashlyn’s ability so she can enjoy peace and quiet in her head, but since I never completely believed Ashlyn’s desperation in the first place, I felt the benefits didn’t outweigh the risks.
What follows is something of a mess. The first half of the book is devoted to Ashlyn and Maddox dancing around each other and fighting their mutual attraction. Part of my unenthusiastic response to their romance stems from the fact I was never quite certain why they were attracted to each other in the first place. I think they’re supposed to be destined soulmates, which I admit is not a favorite convention of mine, but I’m simply not sure. The reactions of the demon inside Maddox didn’t help my confusion any. The Violence demon initially wanted to kill and torture Ashlyn but somewhere along the way, it started to like her? I honestly don’t know.
The story takes off in second half but there’s so much of it, I found it hard to follow. There were many characters, dead gods, live gods, demons, personal histories, vendettas, secret plots… It was a lot for me to absorb and process which were important and which weren’t. I might have had an easier time if the plot had been spread out throughout the entire book but as it was, I ended up confused.
Despite my overall dissatisfaction with the book, I still like the premise enough to continue with the series. Maybe one of the future couples will work better for me, and now that the world has been set up I’ll be better able to follow the story. C-