023 – Death’s Sweet Embrace by Tracey O’hara

Death's Sweet Embrace cover Teenage shapeshifters are being slaughtered by a sadistic serial killer who rips their still-beating hearts from their paralyzed bodies. A task force forms to halt the madness-a union of avengers including the vampiric Aeternus Antoinette Petrescu, as well as Kitt Jordan and Raven Matokwe, members of enemy Animalian tribes…and forbidden lovers.

A centuries-old blood feud has divided their shapeshifting peoples, and if their passion is discovered it will doom them both. But past hostilities must be put aside, for the killer they seek is but the first sign of a blossoming terror rising from ancient history: the all-consuming nightmare of The Dark Brethren.
Ah, so here it is, the book (received courtesy of NetGalley, btw) that made such a good impression that I went out and bought the painfully generic preceding book. Was it worth it? Eh, yeah. I mean, I’m not running down the streets, proclaiming to the world BUY THIS BOOK NOW, but obviously it could have – and has been – worse.

Maybe it’s the change of venue and focus that makes the world more bearable for me. While Night’s Cold Kiss followed the sworn-enemies-team-up-and-fall-in-love formula, Death’s Sweet Embrace makes the investigation a team effort, and our heroine’s primary agenda shifts from falling in love to getting to know the teenage daughters she’s never met. And also falling for their father again, but that’s less important here.

Our heroine this go ’round is Kitt – short for Kathryn – Jordan (oh, Kitty, how appropriate), a snow leopard Animalian and forensic pathologist who was briefly featured in Night’s Cold Kiss as the city’s chief medical examiner, and sister to Oberon’s partner, Dylan, who was killed protecting Antoinette. Anyway, she’s just been recruited to lecture at the NYAPS – a parahuman college – and join the crack team of parahuman crime investigators that Oberon talked about forming in the end of the previous novel.

She’s also there to get to know her daughters, who are attending the Academy themselves. This is kind of a huge deal plot-wise, and we spend a lot of time taking about the circumstances under which they were conceived, why she gave them up, why they’re now back in her life, and what she’s going to do about it. The answer to each of those questions has a lot to do with her family. Kitt, naturally, is the daughter of the Alpha of a Pride of felians (cat shapeshifters if that wasn’t obvious), and felian Prides are – HUGE SHOCKER – patriarchal, “old-fashioned”, and strict.

So yeah, twenty years ago, Kitt – who married a gay felian to avoid being forced to marry her rapist, lol HOW QUAINT – had an affair with a wolf shifter, ironically named Raven (ahahaha), which is bad because you know how cats and dogs don’t like each other their respective families have been battling over land rights for a while. Long story short, he ended up getting blamed for her husband’s murder and had to run, and Kitt ended up knocked up and exiled from the Pride. Then for reasons I’m still not quite clear on, she gave up her twin daughters to a couple in Australia and went to medical school. Or maybe she was exiled before she married her husband? I’m not quite clear, her father asserts that he exiled her to prevent her from having to marry her rapist – because he couldn’t, like, just let her say no or anything, HAHA FREE WILL, what’s that? – but Kitt makes it sound like she was exiled after her husband died. IDK, it’s all very confusing and unclear.

Anyway, after eighteen years or so, the Pride finally found her daughters – actually, I’m not clear on that, either. Did they know about them all along? The book says that they located them after their foster parents’ deaths were featured on the news, but did someone just happen to see them on TV and go “HEY, those strangers we’ve never met are obviously related to us, let’s drag them halfway across the world to join our Pride!” If so, how exactly did people in New York happen to see this one Australian news broadcast? SO CONFUSING.

POINT IS now the strictly regulated and fanatically patriarchal Pride has Kitt’s daughters, and this may or may not be bad. I think it’s bad. This is a pride that almost forced Kitt to marry her rapist, that allows men to beat their wives because “it’s not their place to interfere”, that doesn’t allow homosexuality (hence Kitt’s gay husband), and it’s implied also chooses the women’s careers and generally runs every aspect of their lives. I wouldn’t want my kids – especially my daughters – living in an environment like that, but Kitt seems resigned to it, even nostalgic for it, and sets her sights on getting herself back into her Pride to protect her children.

My biggest problem with this whole subplot was that Kitt and her babydaddy, Raven, acted so goddamn helpless, like the Pride was this big, impenetrable fortress of DOOM. Like “OH NOES OUR DAUGHTERS ARE NOW OFFICIALLY MEMBERS OF THE PRIDE, THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO!” Kitt even obeys her older brother Nathan’s orders to stay away from her daughters, because they “are Pride members and she is not”. LOL AND? What’re they gonna do about it? Kitt never has the impression that they’ll kill her, and sure, they threaten to take the girls out of school, but again, HELLO, they’re adults. Can’t they choose where they do and don’t go? I’d tell the Pride to fucking stuff it. But instead, the Twins seem obedient enough, and Kitt backs off to negotiate time with her children through information bartering.

Similarly, Kitt jumps through hoops to be allowed back into the Pride because that’s where her daughters are, including resigning herself to giving up Raven because her family won’t approve. Isn’t the obvious solution here for everyone to tell the Pride to just fuck off? I can see why Raven can’t, because there’s a bounty on his head and they’ll kill him, but shouldn’t Kitt and her children have the option of being like

…now go away.

That was the biggest plot hole for me, at least as far as this storyline went, even more so because putting their foot down is exactly how they resolved it when the climax was over and the dust bad settled. WELL FUCK WHY DIDN’T YOU GUYS DO THAT EARLIER?

Kitt’s behavior as a mother was a close second though. I mean, not only was she generally cool with her daughters being pulled into the deeply misogynistic Pride, but later, when they decide to re-form the group of elite assassins that Raven used to work for, the twins are the first candidates on everyone’s list. LOL WHAT? What mother – who is not a Spartan and/or Amazon – wants her daughters to join a group of assassins? Andfkndsf DOESN’T THAT COMPLETELY GO AGAINST YOUR SUPPOSED DESIRE TO KEEP THEM SAFE? It’s not like the girls wanted to join, either, and Kitt was respecting their desires, they had no idea that this group was being formed. Kitt nominated them. It’s completely counter-intuitive.

On the flip side, the twins were pretty badass. Nice to see another set of women who can protect themselves. Though yes, most of the fight scenes here seem like they’re choreographed by someone who’s seen a lot of action movies and wants to write about people doing things that look cool, but aren’t very practical. And again, cheese factory that the twins did everything in sync, like the martial arts equivalent of pair skating.

Also, I didn’t buy their plight as Animalians who could shift into two different forms. According to world lore, people with this ability were treated like slaves by the normal Animalians, despite being rarer and more powerful. Really? Doesn’t it seem like it should be the exact opposite? Why would having two forms make them inferior to normal Animalians? DOES NOT COMPUTE.

So yes, that whole storyline was filled with plot holes and inconsistencies. Pretty sure it was one of those cases where the author just wanted things to go a certain way and didn’t care that it totally went against common sense and character motivation.

Moving on, the actual plot here is about a serial killer targeting Animalians, who we learn in the first chapter is doing so at the urging of an angel-like being who speaks “LIKE THIS BECAUSE IT’S VERY IMPRESSIVE AND GOD-LIKE.” It actually becomes less scary and intimidating than unintentionally amusing, but whatcha gon do? Anyway, it’s also in this book that we get our first glimpse of the series title justification, and the overarching Big Bad that is going to tie these books together: the Dark Brethren. Yeah, SPOILER ALERT.

They’re aliens. More powerful than the various supernatural races, because I guess when they first came to earth, they were the slaves of the Dark Brethren. I wasn’t totally clear, but I think that’s the general idea. I’m okay with the there being a more powerful race that is manipulating people into murdering to awaken them (even if this, too, is pretty formulaic as far as plot developments go), but I’ll admit, the whole alien angle just ruins it for me. Oil and water, these two genres are.

The whole serial killer thing is okay, but it fades in and out of the background. The vast majority of the middle of the book is devoted to Kitt and her Pride issues, and we pretty much forget about the serial killer for chapters at a time. The two come together in the end, but in what is quite possibly the most awkward way possible. At least this time it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcome, but that’s mostly because it comes out of nowhere. It does neatly remove two obstacles with one stone, which was probably the reason this plot turned out the way it did. Well, that and so the author could include the requisite twist without ruining her “read from the killer’s POV” gimmick.

Antoinette also has her own pointless subplot that gives us our very first action scene and then quite literally disappears except for one or two scenes until the end. That was when I suspect the author was like “OH SHIT I FORGOT ABOUT THAT” and resolves it with – surprise – another action scene. Ah, well, at least we get the opportunity to see Antoinette being somewhat badass. There wasn’t much for her to do in the serial killer case except cheer Kitt up, which is probably why she got her own mystery to hack people up in.

Writing-wise…I’ll admit, the style got to me. Other reviews have mentioned the author’s tendency to use cliche expressions and phrasing, and this is very true. She also tends to use them over and over again, and there are only so many times that you can read about a guy’s pants feeling “several sizes smaller” after he looks at the heroine before you have to start laughing. Perhaps he should invest in a new wardrobe.

She also has this strange habit of using the words “male” or “female” rather than “man” or “woman”. It’s not that this is necessarily bad, it just…you can’t help but start to notice after the third or fouth time she’s referred to the same character as “the Aeternus female” or “the Lupian male”, and it brings you out of the book. This series really needs an editor with a very large thesaurus.

The characters are generally decent, and again, we get some entertaining ones like Tez and Tones – I especially liked Tez, I’ll admit – even if they don’t get much development. The ones we spend the most time with – Raven, Kitt, Antoinette, and Oberon – are actually the most bland as far as interesting traits go. Oberon persists in being the generic tough guy with a heart of gold, and Raven was nearly indistinguishable from Christian as far as I was concerned. I liked the Twins, we could stand to see more of them, and I was disappointed at the complete lack of development as far as the witch Bianca and the Incubus Cody went. But I suspect they may have their own books in development, so we’ll see.

All in all, this one was on the marginally better side of mediocre. Once again there’s nothing hugely original here, but it benefits from a new locale, a different heroine, and the lack of focus on the love story, no matter what the back-cover copy wants you to believe. There are an abundance of plot holes and the villains continue to delve deep into the realm of absurd – after all, our Big Bad here eats people’s hearts at the behest of a package-groping “angel” – but this entry doesn’t ignite the reader-rage that its predecessor did. I’ll probably continue with the series, just to see how things turn out. How does it go? This isn’t the best urban fantasy series I’ve read, but it is an urban fantasy series I’ve read. And from that ringing endorsement, I say:

two stars


2 Responses

  1. Melanie

    January 12, 2011 10:37 pm, Reply

    Holy wow. I don’t even remember how I stumbled on this site, but I’ve never read a more honest and descriptive straight-from-the-gut review like this! Awesome job.:)

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