King of Darkness, by Elizabeth Staab

>> Friday, February 15, 2013

TITLE: King of Darkness
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Staab

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks Casablanca

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Paranormal romance (vampires)
SERIES: Chronicles of Yavn book 1


Scorned by the vampire community for her lack of power, Isabel Anthony lives a carefree existence masquerading as human--although, drifting among the debauched human nightlife, she prefers the patrons' blood to other indulgences. But when she meets the king of vampires this party girl's life turns dark and dangerous.


Dead-set on finding the prophesied mate who will unlock his fiery powers, Thad Morgan must find his queen before their race is destroyed. Their enemies are gaining ground, and Thad needs his powers to unite his subjects. But when his search leads him to the defiant Isabel, he wonders if fate has gotten it seriously wrong...

King of Darkness is a hugely promising start to a paranormal romance series. Of course, since I'm saying it was "promising", rather than "great", you can probably guess I had ISSUES with it.

Thad Morgan is the new vampire king. Since his parents' death, however, he hasn't quite assumed all the responsibilities of his role. It's a heavy load, as the vampire race is under threat from their enemies, wizards who kill vampires in order to steal their powers. Not to mention, sections of the vampire community are making noises about taking protective actions that Thad is afraid will be counterproductive.

Before he takes on the role in full, Thad decides he needs to find his mate. A prophecy when he was born indicated that he wouldn't develop his power until he found her, and apparently, that's a must for a proper King who wants to be respected. As the book opens, he and his right hand, Lee, follow Thad's homing instincts into a nightclub, where they find Isabel Anthony.

Isabel is a vampire whose parents, for reasons that were never particularly well explained, chose to live outside of the community. When they died, she continued with that isolated existence, living in the human world. Her best friend is a human woman, and she's been feeding on human blood all that time.

Isabel doesn't react well to the news Thad and Lee bring. The idea of her as the Queen is ridiculous, and she doesn't intend to leave her life, thank you very much. She's a little bit tipsy, though, and quite intrigued by the very attractive Thad, so she agrees to continue the discussion (and er... more) at her flat. That's where they all are when a wizard somehow manages to track them down, and that's that: Isabel and her best friend and roommate, Alexia, are whisked off to the royal compound for their own safety.

The setup of the series clearly takes a lot of inspiration from JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, from vampires as a separate race, with a King who's one of the warriors who defend it, to starting the series with the new vampire king, facing rebellion and doubt in his subjects. Not to mention, their physically unprepossessing, but extremely evil enemies. The characters, however, made the book feel completely fresh and original.

Where the BDB males are over-the-top and ridiculous and have a kind of unhealthy hypermasculinity that is not particularly appealing to me, Staab's males feel a lot more normal. Thad, for instance, is a strong guy, but he has doubts, and he admits so. He feels out of his depth as a leader, and he's not quite sure how to approach Isabel, fated mates or not. He doesn't take himself deathly seriously, and is very definitely not some sort of superhuman warrior. I also thought it was quite refreshing that having grown up within the confines of vampire royalty, he's a lot less worldly than Isabel, who's lived the life of a party-loving human female. There's a really nice scene at the beginning when she introduces him to the pleasures of red wine (which has some interesting effects on vampires!).

The female characters seem a lot stronger, as well. Well, Isabel kind of fades a bit after a strong start, but her friend, Alexia, seems great, and I'm dying to read about Tyra, Thad's sister, who's just as much of a warrior as the men, no matter that she's female and half-human, to boot. And the men seem perfectly happy about it, too, and are not stupidly protective. There's a bit when someone proposes she do something risky, as because of her particular powers and half-human nature, it's the perfect task for her, and the discussions about it and whether it would be safe enough were the same as if it had been Thad. Tyra's book is the next one, and the sections setting it up were very intriguing. The hero will be the son of the top wizard, so instant conflict, and he seemed pretty beta to Tyra's alpha.

So, great characters I was happy to read about. The plotting, though...*sigh*. Not very good at all. Things felt disjointed, and characters' reactions several times felt out of character and purely driven by Staab's need to move the plot in a particular direction. I mean, if you need to place your characters in danger and create a big confrontation with the villains, the worst possible way of doing so is to make your previously intelligent and savvy heroine behave like a braindead idiot for no reason at all (I mean, really! -'Hmmm, I quite fancy taking a walk into town, even though we're holed up in this ridiculously secure mansion and everyone's told me we're probably in danger, and I believe them"?).

I also wasn't happy with the resolution of the romance. That is, I had no problem with the nature of the happy ending. What I didn't like was that, even though an interesting conflict had been set up, with their being fated mates, but Isabel having no interest in taking on the role of Queen, and Thad's conflicted feelings about taking over his father's throne, that was just brushed aside. It's all misunderstandings and deus ex machina.

So yeah, not good. BUT! This is a debut, so I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt and hope that the shoddy plotting will be sorted out as she gets more experience. Also, I liked the characters and the world that's being set up for the rest of the series enough that I'd still recommend this one, if only to get the beginning of the fascinating story that's being set up for book 2. Which, by the way, I've already bought!

MY GRADE: A B. It might seem a bit high after all my complaints, but I did really enjoy the book as I was reading, even when I was rolling my eyes.


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