Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lynn Viehl's Darkyn Books

O'Donovan here, at 11:30 on a Saturday night. Until two minutes ago, I was snuggled in my super girly bed, under a lace coverlet and down comforter, propped up on a stack of soft pillows.

And now my feet are cold and I'm squinting (because I left my glasses on the night stand), down in my chilly office. At 11:30 p.m. On a Saturday. Did I mention that part?

But here's why: I just finished the most recent of Lynn Viehl's Darkyn novels and I have got to talk about them. Now. I just have to tell someone. And Nicola said I could tell you, because she's sweet and generous like that.

A little history: I'm a sucker for vampire romance. Er, pun not intended, but left there like a landmine, anyway.

I tend to come at it from a fantasy perspective -- I was an early adopter of Anne Bishop's Dark Jewels books, and I liked Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books back when they were horror and not straight-up erotica. I think Robin McKinley's Sunshine is one of the most perfect books ever written. And I can even get over my abiding distaste for J.R. Ward's dialogue because her plotting and characters are just so stellar.

So it's not really clear to me how I picked up Viehl's If Angels Burn a few years ago, read it, said, "Meh," stuck it on my shelf and forgot about it.

About six months ago, I was jonesing for something to read in the middle of the night and I decided to reread it. Wowza. It hardly seemed like the same book.

Because here's the thing: I love strong-willed, smart, sexy heroines.

Not "strong-willed," like "willful brats in need of a good spanking," which is usually what we get in straight romance.

Not "smart" like "totally independent and cool until the hero comes into her life, at which point she concedes all decisions and control."

Not "sexy" like "heaving bosom/pouting lips/budding flower of her womanhood."

Nope, I'm talking about girls like me -- or like the me I wish I were and, at my best, am. The kind who have a little problem with authority (not for sheer orneriness but because their respect has to be earned). The kind whose brains are always, always ticking. The kind who have really complicated, interesting sexual relationships.

And, lest I forget, the kind for whom relationships aren't really easy or natural. The kind who tend to see things as a bit of a fight for control, and who have trouble leaning against anything that seems too comfortable.

So I'm digging Lynn Viehl's heroines, because they're warm and likable, but they're a little prickly and you get the idea that their relationships are maybe a little bit of a loving power struggle.

Another thing to love about Viehl: She doesn't build up a character, wave the "I love you/No, I love you" magic wand and then, poof, we assume all is roses and champagne. Instead, she threads characters throughout the books, so the reader gets to check in on beloved friends (yay, Alexandra!) and see what "happily ever after" really looks like. A lot of the time, it looks like an ongoing series of discoveries, compromises and trouble. Plus affection.

Nicola has a firm "no spoilers" rule, so I'm not going to get into the plots too much, but I won't be wrecking any surprises by telling you that Alexandra -- the heroine from If Angels Burn -- is a surgeon who is "infected" with vampirism and is determined to find a cure. It's a fantastic subplot that weaves throughout all of the books, and Alexandra and her guy are sympathetic, fascinating and fun to see.

Now, having read all four of the books back-to-back in a few days, I'm perhaps oversensitive to the one flaw of the series, and that's a certain, specific plot twist that becomes a little predictable toward the end of each book.

But! That's mitigated by the fact that the next book (out in January, I believe) is set up in such a way that the now-predictable plot twist is completely impossible. I know this, because they helpfully put a sample chapter (or, call it what it is, a tiny dose of crack) in the back of Night Lost.

(Oh, and since Night Lost came up, I just want to note that the titles are really stupid after If Angels Burn (which I liked): Private Demon, Dark Need, Night Lost.)

Poor Nicola. When I asked if I could pop in and guest-blather, she couldn't have guessed that I was going to write book-length reviews here. I promise not to do it too often.

Now, go read Lynn Viehl. You'll thank me.

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