If Angels Burn, by Lynn Viehl

>> Saturday, July 29, 2006

If Angels Burn, first in Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series, is my first book by this author.

It's also one of the many, many paranormal books I've read this year. I just looked at my spreadsheet, and I think there will be a noticeable change from 2005 when I make my "year's end analysis" posts in January!

Alexandra Keller is Chicago's most brilliant reconstructive surgeon. Michael Cyprien is New Orleans' most reclusive millionaire-and in desperate need of Dr. Keller's skills. In the heart of the Garden District, Alex encounters the extraordinary Cyprien, uncovering a love Alex is willing to embrace, even if she must sacrifice her heart and soul to do so.
I've just read a couple of reviews of the next books in the series, and what many of the reviewers say about them applies to IAB, too: I'd hesitate to call this a romance novel. It's more horror / vampire with a strong romance subplot. Not that this affected my enjoyment of it at all! I quite liked it. The only reason I'm giving it a B- and not a higher grade is some (hmm, actually, a lot of) trouble with pacing.

Alexandra Keller is a plastic surgeon, the fastest surgeon in the world, according to a journalist who bothered to calculate this. As the book starts, she's being besieged by letters from a reclusive millionaire who keeps offering her more and more millions to go to his home in New Orleans for a consultation. Even though those millions would come in handy and allow her to take many more pro bono patients, Alex can't possibly leave her patients for a few days, so she keeps rejecting the increasing offers (no, it didn't make much sense to me, either).

The reclusive millionaire is Michael Cyprien, a Darkyn (a kind of vampire) who was tortured so badly by his enemies that he became a monster. See, being Darkyn means that Michael heals superhumanly fast, so his wounds healed spontaneously over hideously deformed bone and torn muscles. So obviously, he needs a talented plastic surgeon, but considering how fast he heals, not just any surgeon will do. He needs someone who can work fast, and that's where Alex (fastest surgeon in the world, remember) comes in. Since she refuses his offers, though, Michael simply has her kidnapped and gives her no choice but to operate on him.

Michael's plan is to release her as soon as she finishes her surgery, trusting that she'll keep his secret (who would believe her, after all?), but his assistant isn't so trusting, and she locks Alex up with the recovering Michael. And given that Michael hasn't fed in a long time, he can't help but feed from her, thus infecting her, too.

When Alex wakes up in hospital she remembers nothing, and when Michael finds her and explains what has happened, she refuses to accept it. But after a certain point, she's forced to do so and join him to try to understand better what has happened to her, even though she can't forgive him for it.

We've got here the conflict of Alex coming to terms with what has happened to her and with the man that made it happen, and that's just fascinating. As far as Alex is concerned, Michael's actions have destroyed her life. All her existence revolved around being a doctor, nothing was more important to her than her patients, and now she can't practise, for fear of accidentally infecting a patient. This means that her relationship with Michael is fraught with angst, and I liked what I saw of it, though, as I mentioned above, the romance isn't the main thing here.

Not only the conflict was interesting, Alex was an interesting character, too. She sometimes bordered on irritatingly feisty, but most of the time she was satisfyingly strong.I especially liked how Viehl depicted her laborious acceptance of what had happened to her. It rang true to her personality, especially that she would immediately start running tests on herself and trying to understand what was going on. And the suggestion that this whole thing might not be some kind of punishment delivered by God (as most of the Darkyn... medieval men, after all, believe) but be a fortuitous combination of viruses, was a good touch.

In addition to this conflict, there's also the trifling matter of a brutal sect, an old offshoot of the Catholic Church, whose mission is to destroy the Darkyn. These people are getting nearer and nearer, and they're trying to use Alex's estranged brother, a priest in the middle of a crisis of faith, to do so. So as Alex grapples with the changes in her life, we also get a subplot which shows her brother doing the same.

This is a very violent and graphic book. Viehl doesn't pull any punches, and some scenes are very strong. It's strange, but for some reason, they didn't really turn my stomach. All right, mostly they didn't. There was one which really made me shudder, but considering the high level of violence of the book, only one scene that bothered me is a low count. And I have to say, none of the violence felt gratuitous. It all worked to create the atmosphere of the book and to establish that the stakes were extremely high.

And now for the negatives. The pacing, that was the main one. When the book finished, it felt to me as if it was only getting started... kind of like "ok, she's set up her universe and introduced her characters, now we should really start getting into the story". A couple of pages after which, the book finished. I felt like I only skimmed the surface of both the plot and of Michael and Alex's feelings for each other, and that part of the plot ended especially abruptly. The end of the book was fight, fight, fight (one that was somewhat anticlimactic, too), The End. Whaaaa?

I also felt a distance from Michael. I think I really got into Alex's mind and understood her quite well, but Michael, not really. I didn't really get his thought processes, why he acted as he did. I loved what I saw of him, so this was especially disappointing.

The next book in the series is Private Demon, and it does sound interesting. I think I'll give it a try.


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