REVIEW: The Darkest Kiss by Gena Showalter
Dear Ms. Showalter,
Even though the prequel and first book of your Lords of the Underworld series failed to impress me, I wasn’t ready to give up on such a great premise. I hoped one of the later installments would work better for me. With this second book in the series, I have to say I’m glad I made that choice.
Times are tough for the Lords of the Underworld. Their bosses, the Greek gods, have been overthrown and locked in Tartarus. Their new overlords, the Titans, are harsh masters. One of their number has been driven insane (more than usual, anyway) by an order handed down by Cronus, the Titans’ leader. Hunters are intent on destroying them by finding Pandora’s Box, the very object that cursed the Lords to becoming demon-holding vessels in the first place. Their only hope is to find Pandora’s Box before their enemies do but that task is easier said than done.
Lucien leads the faction of Lords that live in Budapest. He holds the demon of Death inside him and it’s his duty to escort souls to the afterlife, whether that be heaven or hell. Long ago, when being a demon vessel was still new, he fell in love with a woman. It didn’t last long; she contracted a disease and became mortally ill. Even though Lucien knew he had to usher her soul to the afterlife, he couldn’t let her go and as a result, she lived weeks beyond the time she should have died. Soon her existence became excruciatingly painful and her love changed to hate. After Lucien finally performed his duty, he scarred his face and body to make him unattractive to the opposite sex and thus spare himself from going through that experience again.
Anya is the minor goddess of anarchy. Daughter of the goddess of lawlessness, she unfortunately shares her mother’s reputation for promiscuity. However, Anya is also the illegitimate daughter of Tartarus, the guard of the gods’ prison, and she bears the final gift of his paternal love: a key that opens any lock in existence. Because of this key, Anya is a danger to the Titans because she is the only one capable of freeing the gods from their prison — never mind the fact she couldn’t care less. She’s already freed the only people she cares about (her parents) and would rather leave the rest of the gods, who treated her poorly, to rot. But Cronus refuses to take that risk and orders Lucien to kill her.
I was pleasantly surprised by Lucien and Anya. While I usually like opposites attract storylines, Anya was so over the top wild, I initially found her interactions with the solemn and serious Lucien to be silly. And in some respects they remained borderline ridiculous but as I continued reading, I discovered I was having too much fun to care. Anya’s irreverent nature went a long way to balancing the unrelenting angst that can plague a series with this concept. That was part of my problem with the previous book. As I get older, my tolerance for unrelieved angst-filled brooding and posturing gets lower and lower. So it was nice to have a heroine like Anya who didn’t mind calling out Lucien when he let himself get carried away.
Unaware of his inner turmoil, Anya glanced around the room. “While throwing your tantrum, did you destroy our supplies for the Arctic?”
“I can’t believe I once thought you were too controlled. Seriously, learn some self-discipline, for gods’ sake. You should be embarrassed.”
On the other hand, I hope I’m not picking up on a pattern that will continue throughout the series. Like Ashlyn of the previous book, Anya is a virgin. Now I can buy an inexperienced heroine with an experienced hero. That’s not my problem. I’m just not sure I can believe that every single couple of a series will follow this dynamic. I think romance readers are ready for more variety for that. Secondly, while Ashlyn’s reasons for remaining a virgin made sense, Anya’s reasons seemed very contrived. It felt like they existed for the sole purpose of keeping her “pure” for the hero, and I like to think we’re past that convention as readers.
Without the clunky setup and worldbuilding that plagued the previous book, I thought The Darkest Kiss was much better focused. The conflict of Lucien having to kill Anya and Anya not wanting to give up the All-Key carried through the entire book. That said, the ending was a letdown and I couldn’t help but wonder why Lucien didn’t do what he ultimately chose to do in the first place. It sounded like it would have saved Anya and him a lot of grief and trouble.
Even though some plot logistics and explanations (the reason for the butterfly tattoos) really bothered me, I still had a lot of fun reading this book. Sometimes you read the right book at the right time, and you end up liking it more than you would otherwise and vice versa. Maybe I’m just being easy today but a B- for me.