"Dark Curse," Christine Feehan

Pros: Wonderful main character; unusual take on vampires
Cons: Haphazard & arbitrary mix of elements; some rather silly concepts; heavy stress on “should women fight”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group.

 

Book 16? Book sixteen?! Don’t publishers put out any non-series books any more? Let me tell ya, it certainly makes reviewing more challenging. I’ve been sent more mid-stream series books than I know what to do with, but this one has to take the cake. Dark Curse is book sixteen in Christine Feehan’s “Carpathian” series. Now don’t get me wrong; a long series can be fun. The first “in Death” book I read was way into the series, and it hooked me enough to have me going back to the beginning. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Dark Curse.

 

Lara Calladine was born in an ice cave, and spent her early years enslaved to her evil father. Only the telepathic voices of her aunts kept her from insanity—and eventually led her to her freedom. True to their instructions, she kept her powers and her origins secret from everyone around her, learning to blend in and eventually becoming a researcher of ice caves. It makes the perfect cover as she searches for her childhood “home” and the aunts she left behind.

Unfortunately, when she finally finds it, she finds much more than she bargained for. Her friends and colleagues are attacked by something foul and terrible. And a man—if he can be called that—named Nicolas insists that Lara is his destined lifemate.

 

Lara is truly the center of all things good about this novel. She’s a fascinating character, with depth and unusual interests and quite a bit of inner strength. Her childhood and family background are horrifying and show real imagination and originality. Everything that I loved about Dark Curse had something to do with Lara.

Unfortunately, everything I didn’t like seemed to be a part of the series as a whole. There’s an ongoing obsession with whether the Carpathians—a race of supernatural vampire hunters—will “allow” their women to fight by their sides in this modern day, particularly seeing as their lifemates all seem to be strong modern women. I don’t mind this kind of thing as a theme, but sometimes it seemed like it was all the characters cared about, above what should have been far more important matters. I see enough “women can’t fight” arguments in the real world, and honestly, no matter how the subject is dealt with, there’s a limit to how much of it I want to see in my escapist fiction. In particular, I don’t find that kind of super-protective attitude all that attractive in a man, so it took away from Nicolas’s ability to attract me as a male lead in a romance novel.

More importantly, the setting seems to heap on a bizarre mix of fantastical and modern elements that, to me, just didn’t blend well at all. I tried to describe it to my husband when I was trying to come up with just the right word for why I didn’t like it, and his suggestion was “silly.” To be fair, a good writer can take a mix of elements that sounds silly when distilled, and make it work well when drawn out on paper. However, what we eventually settled on was “arbitrary.” I didn’t get the feeling of coherent world-building from Dark Curse—instead it felt like the author took a bunch of subjects she found interesting and smushed them together. Vampire-like beings that absorb needed minerals from the soil through their skin. Extremophile microorganisms being manipulated and mutated by dark magic. Wicca-like magic paired with psychic abilities and vampires. Crystals that focus thought and magic. Even dragons. I’ve seen authors mix modern and fantasy elements before to good effect, but this particular blend never gelled for me.

As a side note, the friends that show up with Lara at the beginning of the novel feel like a cheat. They were supposed to be her best friends, and yet they had little depth, and turned out to be little more than plot devices.

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