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REVIEW:  The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong

REVIEW: The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong

Dear Ms. Chong:

I hope that Harlequin isn’t marketing this as a romance because I can foresee a lot of unhappy readers if it was. The Demonness of Waking Dreams asks the readers to step into an Alternate Universe Venice and imagine that the world is populated by demons and angels who are engaged in some kind of battle, although it isn’t clear in the beginning. Nothing is clear in the beginning. Not what the two sides are fighting over. Not what differentiates the two sides. Part of this may be due to the fact that the book presumes that you’ve read book 1. There is a shared past between characters that is not only hinted at but may even provide groundwork for this story. Having not read book 1, however, I often felt like I was only working with half a deck.

The Demonness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie ChongDemons must be “bad” because they can be “reformed” but I didn’t see the angels as very enlightened either. I think that is where the book faltered. No one was terribly likeable.

We know that 220 year old Luciana is a low level demoness who has developed a poison that could kill demons and thus angels. The angels determine that she must be destroyed and Brandon, an angel of only 10 years in the making, is sent to undertake this task. Luciana is built up as a formidable foe yet Brandon easily runs her down in Venice.

Brandon was a formerly Detroit cop who was killed on the job.  His dreams are haunted by his death. It’s fairly clear early on what the death dream hints at but Brandon never investigates. The book held few surprises except the ending. He left behind a widow and throughout much of the book I kept wondering, where is your widow, Brandon?  He has pangs of the loss of late afternoons lazing in his bed, but he’s never sought out his widow?

I wanted to see Luciana as this clever, resourceful demon who survived 200 plus years on her wit and demon skills but I found her to be a sad, almost pathetic creature who was easily caught by Brandon and ultimately being saved by Brandon again. In the opening scene, Lucianna is literally  just run down by Brandon even though she knows Venice better than almost every being, either living or not and Brandon has never been there before.  If a ten year old angel can chase down a 220 year old demon, where is the suspense?

I found Brandon to be a lout initially. I’m sure I was supposed to find his brawny, take no prisoners attitude sexy but instead it came off as brutish and sexist. The overriding themes of the book are about forgiveness and redemption. Luciana became a demoness because of her inability to forgive, her refusal to be redeemed. Brandon counsels Luciana on forgiveness not realizing how challenging it can be. But the way that both come to forgiveness and redemption seems to easy, particularly Brandon. There is little soul searching just, what appears to be easy acceptance. It could be argued that Brandon’s forgiveness is driven by his love for Luciana, but *what* Brandon has to forgive seems pretty big.  Does his ability to forgive arise from his angelic nature; from his inherent goodness?  Does Luciana’s inability to forgive or let go make her evil?

At the close of the book I’m left adrift. What is this book even about? Despite the traditional romance build and a great portion of the book spent in the characters’ headspace, it’s not a romance or so the ending tells me.  It’s not really a suspense or a thriller because the focus is not on any action, although, there are chase and capture scenes.  It’s not really an exploration of morality because the concepts of forgiveness and redemption are so haphazardly addressed in the text.  Great swaths of backstory and motivations are told via info dumps, often late in the book.

It is still kind of difficult for me to match this ending with Harlequin’s implicit romantic promise but oddly I wasn’t really upset about it because I hadn’t attached to either character.  I would advise readers to start label reading. It if is Mira, then it’s definitely buyer beware now from Harlequin for romance readers.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

[spoiler]Any romance reader will want to know that there is no HEA nor any HEA for now.  Luciana leaves Brandon and in the epilogue he hopes for a reconciliation but admits that he does not always even remember what she looks like.  [/spoiler]

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REVIEW:  Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

REVIEW: Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh

Dear Ms. Singh,

I’ll be honest, this is a book I’ve been waiting for since your Guild Hunters series began and we first met the Archangel Raphael’s spymaster, Jason. So I started Archangel’s Storm with a sense of great anticipation. What I found was a quieter than expected romance, but one that I found great satisfaction in reading.

Archangel's Storm by Nalini SinghDuring Dmitri’s wedding to Honor (Archangel’s Blade), Jason receives notification that Eris, the consort of a rival archangel and member of the Cadre of Ten, Neha, has been murdered. Jason is immediately dispatched to Neha’s territory to ascertain who might be moving against Neha. In order for Jason to come in to Neha’s territory, he must agree to a blood bond with a member of her family. The blood bond is an ancient ritual that allows a limited fealty to another family; in this case, Jason retains his fealty to Raphael, but for all intents and purposes “loans” his loyalty and skills to Neha for the duration of his investigation. The blood bond is completed with Neha’s “beloved” niece, Mahiya.

Mihaya has long been a political pawn in Neha’s court, kept as a reminder of Eris’s infidelity with Neha’s sister, Nivriti. Mahiya first appears to Jason as a gentle, demure angel, who has passively accepted Neha’s cruelty and ill use. But in fact, Mihaya has suffered greatly at Neha’s hands, abuse after abuse. She’s lived her entire 300 years without any family that loves her. The one time she found friendship within Neha’s court, the angel had both wings and arms amputated for a trumped up reason, just to teach Mahiya that she will never be permitted anyone close. She’s lived a solitary, miserable existence. Yet Jason senses within her a lightness, a perception and a strength that he finds unexpected. When he tests that strength, asking her to help him examine Eris’s chambers where the murders took place, and she doesn’t flinch at the carnage and in fact notices him secreting evidence he found. He realizes that her observation skills and insight into the court could help him as he works to solve the mystery of who killed the consort of an archangel.

Mahiya is immediately intrigued and intimidated by Jason. He’s rarely speaks, unless spoken to. He shows no emotion, although she’s sure he feels things deeply. He’s beautiful, but also an enigma. But as she acts as hostess for Neha, she constantly surprises him by anticipating his needs, feeding him, providing small, unexpected courtesies.

Mahiya’s balcony doors were open as if in invitation, and when he entered it was to find her seated on a cushion on the living room floor. She’d changed from the sari into a tunic of vivid aquamarine teamed with slim cotton pants in plain black, her hair gathered in its familiar knot at the nape of her graceful neck.

In front of her sat a low table carved of dark wood and inlaid with the merest glimmer of find gold around the edges, on top of which stood a pot of tea alongside a tray of mixed savories and sweets, and two cups. He halted, disappointment curling through his body. “You’re expecting someone.”

Mahiya’s laugh was warm. “I am expecting you.”

He hadn’t been caught off guard for a long, long time. “How did you know when I would return?” Swirls of steam rose from the fine black tea she’d begun to pour.

“A good host learns her guest’s rhythms.”

But Mahiya has another motive for getting to know Jason and serving him well. She wishes to defect from Neha’s court. She attempted a defection once before to the Archangel Lijuan’s court. But within 48 hours of arriving at Lijuan’s court, Mahiya is sent back to Neha’s court and punished horribly for her attempt. She believes that Jason’s connection to Raphael may be the only way for her to escape Neha’s grip.

Jason is closing in on who killed Eris, almost positive of his quarry, but then three more murders happen in quick succession, one a vampire who was rumored to be involved with Eris, the second a lady-in-waiting to Neha, the third, a former lover of Mahiya’s who had ambitions to become Neha’s new consort. As the crimes against Neha pile up and become more atrocious and personal with each attack, Jason realizes that this is not the act of a minor player, but someone with power and a serious grudge against the archangel.

There are many things that worked really well for me about this story. Jason is a brilliant, complicated hero who has a horrifying past that informs all aspects of his character. He’s remote and hard to get know, the secrets of his past unfolding slowly. But once Mahiya awakens Jason’s passion, he is a generous lover. He tells her almost from the beginning that he is not capable of love, and that she should not plan a future with him. But as someone who has never received love of any kind, Mahiya’s heart is fully engaged. She loves Jason unreservedly, even knowing that at some point he will leave her.

Her breath rasped in her throat as she sucked in air, her eyes huge. But instead of flinching at the rough speed of his touch or pushing him away, she fisted on hand in the soft cotton of his T-shirt…and rose up on tiptoe.

It took every ounce of control he had not to accept the silent invitation at once. “You must understand,” he said, and his voice was a harsh scrape, “this won’t make me stay with you, won’t make me commit. I don’t have that ability.” To bond, to open his heart, to trust that the one he gave it to wouldn’t savage it.

Mihaya’s breath whispered over his lips as she maintained her position. “I know.” Soft words. “I also know that I’d like to share myself with a strong man who doesn’t court me with lies, is honest in his desire.”

I’ll be honest; I had to read Archangel’s Storm twice to really understand how I felt about it. It’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the Guild Hunter series. The romance unfolds slowly and almost quietly, in juxtaposition to the violence of the surrounding court intrigue. As I said, Jason is still waters, and his past is brutal and horrifying. He’s a complicated character, routinely telling Mahiya that he will leave her, he’s unable to commit to her, yet showing over and over that he is falling slowly and deeply in love with her. And Mahiya is a lovely foil for that, generous with her love and emotions, despite her tortured past. They are a couple that it’s easy to root for, even if I weren’t a great fan of Jason throughout the preceding books in the series. The book ends with several important developments in the overarching storyline, and the end game of the series is ratcheted up significantly by these changes. Overall, this is a solid entry into the Guild Hunter series, which contains a lovely, if quieter love story than the past books. I give Archangel’s Storm an A-.

Kind regards,

Kati

 

 

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