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REVIEW: The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter

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-

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

11 Comments

  1. rebyj
    May 05, 2008 @ 19:51:15

    I just finished this book today.
    As a fan of Gena Showalter’s books I did enjoy it.
    I do think however that the C- in the review is fair.
    My thoughts on it were that this new set of heroes are like a housefull of horny schizophrenics.
    Also I kept wanting to buy a pronoun during the sex scenes. I won’t say more than that but anyone that reads it will eventually say the same thing. Gimme an “I” or a “YOU”!!!

    I agree about continuing to read the series Jia, it’s a new series and a lot can be forgiven in the first of a new series as it builds the characters and the world they live in.

    ReplyReply

  2. :Candice:
    May 05, 2008 @ 22:44:32

    I liked the book, I look forward to the next in series.

    ReplyReply

  3. Kitty
    May 06, 2008 @ 10:53:42

    I was really looking forward to this book, but once I finished it, I was left with a sense of disappointment.. Although the concept was solid, something about chunks of it felt a little sloppy and predictable. I liked the idea enough to pick up the next one in the series, though.

    ReplyReply

  4. I. Daco
    May 06, 2008 @ 21:05:44

    I agree with you. I felt as if it was all thrown together but never really fleshed out. I love Gena Showalter so I’m really hoping that the next one in the series will be better than this one.

    ReplyReply

  5. Jolie Dreyson
    May 07, 2008 @ 17:07:14

    I just finished this book and really liked it. Elise from the Adrian series didn’t even come to mind, but even after considering it, their abilities are pretty different.

    The world building was complicated, but I always forgive 1st books for this. The book was heavy on the “tormented hero” but saved itself from being overly morose with the laugh-out-loud parts… such as Gideon and his inability to tell the truth, and Paris and his wicked “Hello, Heaven.”

    Yep, I look forward to the next one.

    ReplyReply

  6. Jill Dunlop
    May 11, 2008 @ 09:54:58

    Jia, I just finished the book I had pretty much the exact same reaction to it. It was hard for me to really like Ashlyn when she was so wishy-washy in the beginning with her feelings for Maddox. She first begs him to take her with him and then when she gets to his house she wants to leave. O-k-a-y…

    Then trying to keep track of all five warriors and their respective demons was quite the task. Finally when I think I am getting the hang of them, another group of warriors show up! Eye-yie-yie!

    But, I am willing to let all that go and see if the next book improves. I understand that will first books much of the plot has to go towards setting up the world.

    ReplyReply

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  8. Delilah
    Jul 18, 2008 @ 12:37:34

    Possible spoilers below . . .

    I just finished this book and I really enjoyed it. I have read another of her books before and didn’t care for it much (to be fair it was the writing style more then anything lacking in the plot in that case) but I let the cover art lure me into this one and I’m glad I did. The story is very, very clever. I loved the whole “well we couldn’t find the box so we’ll just use you guys to hold these evils” concept. I also liked how she was able to portray the Lords as non-human. A lot of time an author will say a character is not human but portray them in a human way. The Lords are feral and wild, and they stay that way even with the introduction of human women into their lives.

    Finally, Maddox's extra curse was ingenious. I loved how it affected not only him but two of his companions, showcasing how cruel the gods could really be. It also did a lot to draw me into the characters of Reyes and Lucian who might otherwise have faded into the background with Paris and Tolan.

    That being said I did have some issues with the book. I never felt Ashlyn and Maddox grow close together. It went from “Oh! You scare me! I hate you!” to “I’m going to stay here forever!” far too quickly and without any real reason. Lust at first sight I buy, love at first sight? Not so much. It left me feeling empty and rather apathetic about their relationship. It would have been better if she had gradually grown into it, perhaps over Ashlyn patching Maddox up in the morning? There were a lot of plot elements in place for Ashlyn to gradually warm up to Maddox. Pity over his curse, admiration over his continued camaraderie with the men responsible for carrying out his curse every night, etc. I felt the ball got dropped on that. I understand that when you're writing a novel you're eager for the pair to fall happily in love but I felt it was rushed in this case.

    In addition I felt more needed to have been with the Gods as well. It would have been fine if the gods were going to stay as an omnipotent outside source but by calling Wrath and giving him a duty brought them into the plot and I feel they needed more of a presence. Even if it was just to occasionally pop into some heads and tell the Lords to quit their bitching and get to the job at hand or vague threats. I felt they just needed to be there to seem like a bigger threat. They’re GODS and, more importantly, new gods who have just taken over so I somehow doubt they’d let the Lords just put them off for a couple of days. Aside from the whole “you’re not doing what I told you” issue you’d think someone who just took power (and wanted to keep it) would be kicking some underling butt into gear at the slightest hint of insubordination. Again, I don't buy the gods giving the Lords a duty and then just sitting back and waiting for them to get around to do it (or figure a way out of doing it).

    Finally there was the whole Anya thing. It came out of nowhere. I know its always nice to have a big surprise at the end of your story and some mystery but there is a BIG difference between revealing a surprise twist and pulling some random thing out of nowhere at the end. The surprise twist leaves me going “Oh!”, the random thing leaves me going “Eh . . . what?” We needed some hints that something else was at play. Even if it was something we might not notice initially. Again, there was ample opportunity to do this. Perhaps by insinuating Tolan (Disease)'s attention was drawn to the security machinery in the beginning for some reason such as a shadow or a sound luring him to it. Perhaps a weird feeling or nagging voice urging him on. Later on Doubt (Can’t remember his real name, sorry!) could have mentioned that strange dreams or unexplained missives alerted him to the Hunter's whereabouts and so bringing the two groups together, thus causing us to realized Anya's had her hand in the shaping of the events since the beginning and giving us that “Oh!” moment at the end. (If the author had REALLY wanted to be evil she could have even had Anya behind the Hunters learning the location of the Lords and thus truly setting up all the events so that she could get what she wanted in the end, which would have fit nicely in with the whole “sometimes immortals are cruel and sneaky” thing)

    Personally I don't think these things are necessarily the author's fault. She already knows the whole story and who is doing what before the first word is even written down so I know how easy it can be for an author to think everything makes sense and is fleshed out when, in reality, the audience needs more information. I believe a proof-reader or editor should have caught these things and insisted on a bit more explanation or suggested a better progression of events. Their job is not just to check for spelling and grammar errors and I suspect a lot of them begin to forget that.

    So, all in all, a good read! I haven't read the other two books yet so maybe there's more going on then what I'm aware of at the moment but those were my impressions!

    For me I would have rated this as a solid B. Not a novel that will be the end all and be of its kind but definitely one I will remember and will feed my imagination for awhile!

    ReplyReply

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  10. Helly
    Jan 02, 2010 @ 07:25:09

    Despite a shaky start with the first book in J.R. Ward's books about the Black Dagger Brotherhood, the series really grew on me. I bought The Darkest Night as an e-book after reading the above review, thinking that I ought to give it a chance since the set-up seemed similar and promising. I have now decided to give up on it – even before Ashlyn and Maddox hit it off. I am disappointed and it will be a long time until I try another of Ms. Showalter's books again.

    ReplyReply

  11. Maesha Hubbard
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 07:41:11

    i read the book cover to cover and i must say it was amazing,trilling,and exciting

    ReplyReply

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