077 – Promises to Keep by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Promises to Keep cover Jay Marinitch, witch and vampire hunter, shouldn’t be among the glittering array of predators at the vampire empress Kendra’s fabled Heathen Holiday bash. So…why is he there? Of the many lures that have pulled him into the territory of his natural prey, perhaps the strongest one is this: Jay Marinitch just doesn’t DO sensible.Jay has always hurtled through life without a plan, often finding himself in dangerous situations – like Kendra’s party. During the course of the evening, Jay meets a beautiful, totally psychotic vampire and finds a shapeshifter lying on the forest floor, her hair streaked with moonlight.

A hunter is supposed to kill, and a witch…a witch can make any number of choices. Against his better judgement, Jay comes to the aid of both the unstable vampire and the mysterious shapeshifter. Could a more thoughtful, sensible being foresee and avert the chaos that will be unleashed? Perhaps…

Complex magic must be channeled, dangerous alliances must be forged, competing desires must be overcome. Will it all be enough? And if it isn’t – what then?

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes has created a mesmerizing world filled with fascinating creatures sure to thrill both new and longtime fans.
I’m not sure what to make of that summary. It almost reads like a defense – OKAY SO MAYBE THE CHOICES JAY IS GOING TO MAKE IN THIS BOOK ARE UTTERLY RIDICULOUS, BUT THAT’S HIS THING, OK? In my experience, it’s never a good sign when a book comes prefaced with a defense.

In a way, though, I think that summary is probably the best possible representation that the book could have. It tells you absolutely nothing about the story, which works, because to try and summarize the plot would be impossible to do without spoilers, and would render the book pretty much pointless. The tone is accurately melodramatic, bordering on cheese – if “hair streaked with moonlight” and “Heathen Holiday” turn you off, you should probably turn back now, because that’s par for the course. It even tells you about Jay’s TSTL! You cannot say you weren’t warned.

I will have to disagree on one count though – this isn’t one for newbies. This is the culmination of a series that has built upon its world mythology book-by-book for more than a dozen novels now, and I really couldn’t tell you how much you’d get out of it without being a fan of, or having read, the rest. I mean, I’ve been/done both, myself, and I’m not even sure how much I got out of it.

I don’t even know what to say about this book, if I’m being totally honest. It’s not been three days since I’ve finished it and I’ve forgotten a great deal. If I were to emphasize anything, it would probably be that – this book, despite having those far-reaching consequences that alter an entire world forever, is just kind of forgettable. I mean, I guess it was interesting enough while I read it, but I’m just entirely ambivalent about it now, and that can’t be good, right?

I’ve had this problem with all of the newer Den books. With the exception of All Just Glass, they’ve left generally the same non-impression, and I’m running into the same technical issues over and over. The characters are bland or stock, seemingly coming in only three or four variations. They get different names and color palettes and power sets, but they all seem to pull from the same limited bag of personality traits. The voices are downright interchangeable. The pacing is rushed, the story too short, and we get a series of events that happen one after the other with little to no build-up. The goals change too quickly to establish tension, and at any given moment, we don’t actually know what the story is supposed to be about. Characters run in and out too quickly to keep track of or get to know, sometimes just for the sake of fan service, it seems, and at this point the world feels too in-joke for a newbie to enjoy, yet we keep getting info-dumps about the world to keep them up to speed, that are obnoxiously redundant for fans. The writing is so very melodramatic, and the whole thing would greatly benefit from a self-serious-ectomy.

Seriously, we need like a fart joke or a pie in the face up in this piece.

UNMARKED SPOILERS ABOUT BEYOND THIS POINT. I AM TOTALLY RUINING LIKE THE ENTIRE BOOK SO READ AT YOUR PERIL K?

I honestly have tried and tried and I just can’t hammer out my specific problems into a review that makes any sort of flowing, cohesive sense, so I am going to cheat the shit out of this and do bullet points.

  • So our semi-co-protagonist is Brina di’Birgetta, the sister of Lord Daryl di’BirAsshole from Midnight Predator, and I had a hard time swallowing her plotline. Brina starts out the book being seriously mentally unstable, and suicidally depressed after the death of her brother, which apparently has happened very recently in-world, despite it being like 4,000 years since that book was published IRL. Anyway, she’s sadface and angsty but meets Jay at a party and thinks he’s pretty and cheers up I guess, and for some reason he finds her not revolting despite the fact that she is a vampire and he is a vampire-hunting witch, and they become love interests.But meanwhile Jay finds an injured shapeshifter passed out in the woods and in trying to save her accidentally unleashes a seriously pissy Elemental, who is seriously pissy because her priestess (the shapeshifter) was tortured and broken down and has been serving as a vampire slave for several centuries. And her last owner…was Brina.So you might see where this could be a problem, yeah? Brina owns slaves. Like currently. She also neglects them to the point that they’d have starved if Jay hadn’t poked his nose into her affairs. Not that it would have been better if she’d been feeding them because they’d still be slaves, but for real. Slaves. She owns them. And the book tries to make her a co-protagonist. Wat.

    I’m kind of sad that I have to keep saying this, but owning slaves makes you a pretty awful person. And coming back from that scott-free with not only no karmic payback, but a fresh new beginning with a new boyfriend? Ugh.

    I mean, I know that vampires are rarely morally spotless love interests/heroes, and I would still love to see a shameless female anti-hero, but I don’t feel like that’s what Brina was set up as. Brina read like this very tragic character, this sad, broken bird who can’t be responsible for the things she’s done because Sad. She and Jay have this conversation towards the end of the book where she talks about how he shouldn’t judge her or her brother because they had a terrible human life and he’s never experienced the kind of desperation that she has. While that may be true, it doesn’t absolve her of the things that she chose to be a part of after that, and I feel like the book really wants it to. She also throws out modern conveniences in our world coming from sweatshops as an example of his hypocrisy in being mad at her about this whole Elemental slave thing, and it’s not that there isn’t a conversation to be had there, because there is, but it’s certainly not a conversation you have justify the protagonist-hood of someone who kept a house full of starving slaves until about five minutes ago.

  • Also she magically slips out of her insane manic-depressive grief about halfway through the book and we never see it again. Abrupt.

  • I know that the whole flap summary is basically about what stupid decisions Jay makes, but dear god does he make stupid decisions. In like the first thirty pages he’s already done a boatload of stupid things to make himself vulnerable just so that we can get the Rube Golberg machine-esque plot rolling, and I’m just sort of astounded that he’s managed to keep himself alive with instincts like that.

  • Bisexual love triangle (ish)! Yay! That is one of the things I really did like about this book – Jay flirted with male vampire Xeke as well as Brina, and nobody made a Thing out of it. Jay was just attracted to who he was attracted to. Which is actually why I was kind of disappointed that the love triangle didn’t develop – not that I wanted Brina or Xeke coming to fisticuffs over Jay, or Jay angsting over who he loved more, but I was disappointed that Brina was clearly established as the main love interest, while Xeke slipped into the background as just a brief flirtation. It’s one of the aspects of the book that I thought could have been fleshed out if there’d been a higher page count. However, as it was, it felt like his bisexual interest was just something fleeting and not serious, before he settled in to his heteronormative happy ending.

  • There were…moments during the story where I was really engrossed, and I sat back and went, “This is a really good idea”. Promises to Keep uses all of the information and familiarity we’ve come to have with this world since the very first Den of Shadows novel, and brings it to its peak. It was a very cool idea to have all-powerful beings like the Elementals finally emerge from the background of this world that they actually helped to build, and deal with it on a first-hand basis. The conflict that the book finally settles on, Jay&co vs. the angry enslaved Elemental Shantel was very unique for this series, and I liked that it had far-reaching consequences for the world. I feel like the stories that could come out of this could be very cool, seeing old characters in a new light, and I do hope that at some point we get to see how the world has changed in more than just epilogues.

  • Speaking of which, fangirl nitpick, but forty million epilogues and yet not a word about Risika or Jessica? They were our first guides into this world and they’re like the only two people we haven’t heard from AT ALL in any of the later Den books, what gives? 🙁

  • “Humans had enslaved humans, but they had never been able to destroy each others’ minds and spirits the way a vampire trainer could.”

  • REALLY?

    O RLY Michionne

    Because no slavery could possibly be as devastating as magical vampire slavery.

    ORLY Glee

    Yeah, no. That sounds really, really bad and dismissive.

  • Finally, I would like to emphasize again how big of a problem it was for me that these characters all sound exactly the same. In fact, in retrospect, I think that might be the prevailing problem of this entire series. Even when the characters have radically different personalities and histories and backgrounds and even ages and species, their turn of phrase is exactly the same. A sixteen-year-old human girl talks the same was as a thousand-year-old vampire, and it’s this, I think, that has really made these books blend together in my mind. The books are so short, the events so rushed, and the voices so samey that there is just…nothing to get stuck on.

All in all, I’m still just wholly ambivalent about this book. I feel like this series needs a great big infusion of something bright and colorful and NEW, some new character or something with a completely different outlook to bring this world into the new millennium. For now, though, Promises to Keep was an…adequate ending. I really wish I could say more.

If you’re an Atwater-Rhodes fan, it’s worth a read.

Two AND A HALF stars

two stars


Thanks to the author for providing an ARC.

 

2 Responses

  1. Robin Connelly

    March 12, 2013 6:04 am, Reply

    Bravo. Seems we agreed on several accounts. Though, I don’t know, I got the impression Xeke was still a sort-of love interest later in the book but maybe I need to re-read it.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      March 12, 2013 6:16 am, Reply

      Nah, I think once Brina turned human, Xeke sort of fell out of the picture. Jay and Brina got a lot of uninterrupted time together, and when Xeke finally reappeared, he spent most of his time separated w/Rikai except for that one time when everyone spooned. So yeah… I think Brina was the pretty clear mate in this case.

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