032 – Surrender the Dark by L.A. Banks

Surrender the Dark cover Celeste Jackson has fought all her life against a fog of hallucination and substance abuse, but it’s not until she meets her protector, Azrael, an angel who has left the safety of the Light, that she learns of the evil forces that have been trying to ruin her, and why.

A fierce battle for control of the mortal realm is brewing, and only Celeste – with the help of the Remnant, her half-human, half-angel brethren – can stand in the way. Together, Celeste and Azrael must gather an army of sensitives to defeat the dark powers that have ruled humanity for centuries, but time is running out.

If Azrael surrenders to his growing desire for Celeste, he risks being trapped among humanity forever. But the longer he stays, the harder she is to resist. To save the world, Celeste must draw on her own dark experiences with addiction to help Azrael overcome the one temptation that could possibly make him an eternal prisoner – his obsession with her.
Oh man, I’m not gonna lie, I’m so very glad I’m done with this book. I mean, wow. I’d never read L.A. Banks before, and quite unlike my last introductory experience with a well-established author, I don’t think I ever will again. I mean that book, that book was damn near unreadable.

It’s a damn shame too, because the concept was pretty solid, and the heroine completely different from any other I’ve read. I mean seriously, I’ve never seen a recovering addict and victim of physical abuse as the protagonist of one of these paranormal romance/urban fantasy series, and seeing this damaged character transform into a tough-as-nails ass-kicking heroine should have been awesome. And yet.

Surrender the Dark has a number of issues that probably would have kept me from enjoying or recommending it on their own, but the primary, vital flaw that almost kept me from finishing it had to do with the writing. Namely, it being terrible. Not, like, Once in a Full Moon terrible, but Christ almighty, half the content could have been cut and we would have missed absolutely nothing.

I don’t know if it’s an issue Banks always has or if it’s just with this particular book, but she over-explained EVERYTHING. I’m not being cute, either, when I emphasize the everything, because honest-to-God, you could not go two pages in that book without encountering an extremely simple concept to which way, way too many words were devoted to explaining. Way. WAY.

For instance, immediately following the revelation that her aunt had given her twin children to her married sister to raise back in the 60’s, Celeste says this:

All these years, she’d thought Aunt Niecey just claimed her sister’s children as her own, the way people often do when they dote on a close friend’s child that they love. They’d say, ‘Oh, you know that’s really my baby,’ all in jest and as a show of true devotion to the cherished child. That’s what she thought had gone on between her two aunts; she’d always thought Aunt Niecey had verbally claimed her sister’s grown children as her own out of deep devotion, never realizing that they were actually, biologically hers.

Claimng other people’s children was like adhering a stamp of love on a child. It was the village approach, something folks did in the community; a collective part of the old Southern way that lines of kin got verbally blurred when there was no line of demarcation due to love. To be claimed by many aunts and neighborhood church ladies was to be well loved. As a child in that embrace, you didn’t think about it; most times people couldn’t fully remember how the so-called cousins were really related, whether by blood or not. You were just in the tribe, a part of the family equation. But in her family if was obviously deeper than that.
Any one of those sentences could have accurately summed up a concept we probably didn’t need explained to us anyway, yet Banks goes on and on for two whole paragraphs, reiterating, repeating, re-inciting, the same idea. And she does that over and over again. I swear to God, it was like reading a book written by Mojo Jojo.

Similarly, nearly every bit of plot development and world-building came in the form of exposition. We are “shown” very, very little, and what we do get to see for ourselves is almost immediately followed by a couple of paragraphs of analysis from the heroine or – you guessed it – over-explanation by the love interest. This applies to the character development as well.

It’s absurd. There’s a pages-long expository dump in every chapter for the first half of the book, and maybe every other chapter after that. I ‘clocked’ one once, so to speak, and it lasted five pages. Five whole fucking pages of one character expounding a concept he’s already expounded SEVERAL TIMES, while the heroine brings up various plot holes so he can expound some more.

It’s just…it’s horrible. Each time someone exposits or over-explains something, the plot comes screeching to a halt, not that it ever got going in the first place. That alone was enough to cure me of any interest in L.A. Banks as an author, but the kicker was the book’s theological point of view. Ugh.

It’s funny, most angel books actually go easy on the preaching, probably because, despite their inherently religious nature, angels are just the latest mythological creature on the block. PR/UF books featuring angels don’t usually tend to be about religion, they’re about kick-ass not-vampires with wings. I’m cool with that, because yeah, religion, especially Christianity, is not really my thing. And honestly, I don’t feel like Banks is evangelizing all that bad here, but the world mythology comes with a heaping serving of potentially alienating assumptions, condescension, hypocrisy, and oh yeah, CREDIT TO GOD!

I’ll start with that last one, because it’s the issue that annoyed me most and is a bit of a pet peeve. I hate that whole dynamic of good and bad things being attributed to God and the Devil, respectively, and oh wow is that how things work in Surrender the Dark. Celeste is a victim of abuse, the child of a junkie, an orphan, and a recovering addict, and every single one of those issues, in the book, was the direct result of demonic influence. Demons possessed her father and made him a junkie; demons possessed her boyfriend and made him abuse her. Demons caused her mother’s death, demons were responsible for her addictions; where is the individual’s responsibility here?

I understand that she was important, so the demons took special care in making her life miserable, but to me, that’s…I don’t know, almost offensive? Offensive in what it (and the rest of the mythos) implies about people who suffer the same circumstances, but apparently aren’t important enough for God to rescue, and in how it absolves people of their responsibility. It feels so wrong.

They do the same on the opposite end of the spectrum, though. The hero angel, Azrael, specifically says to Celeste that the angels that were trapped on Earth after the first angelic-demon war are the ones responsible for medical breakthroughs, the rise of civilizations, the masterpieces of art, music, poetry; they were the ones who “whispered into the ears” of humans through the ages.

What is that? For as much as this book seems to exalt humanity and its capacity to overcome, it also paints a portrait of a species that would still be huddling in caves if it weren’t for the MAGNIFICENT INFLUENCE OF GOD. Or, you know, gallivanting around in a grand utopia if it weren’t for that damn Devil!

I don’t know, I guess I’m just one of those people who believes in people – in human nature, in our ability to evolve and fuck up and be magnificent and shitty and terrible and amazing. So when a book’s mythology tells me that Hitler, Martin Luther King, Jr;, and Ghandi were angel/human offspring who either went very bad or very good, I get offended. Because they weren’t. They were people, and I hate it when our triumphs and failures are attributed to any kind of divine intervention. It lessens them.

There are other things about the mythos that bother me as well, though. Like how every human’s spiritual power is inhibited by the toxins in their body, and most people have so many toxins in them that even their prayers have a difficult time getting through the ether to the angels. Also, this is JUST AS PLANNED (by Satan). Yeah, okay, fine, no drinking, smoking, vegan is good, okay, but I was troubled by the fact that these “toxins” include psychiatric medicine. To me, that’s like screaming: “Hey, mentally troubled individuals! Satan’s plan to use your meds to inhibit your ability to speak to God is working! Detoxing is a GOOD IDEA.”

Then there’s the way in which Celeste addresses Azrael’s inquiry (after he tunes into all the pain and suffering in the world) as to how humans still retain hope in this TERRIBLE PLACE. She says:
Because most of us know, somewhere way down deep inside us – without being able to explain why – we know that there’s something bigger than us, something stronger than us, something that doesn’t want this horrible thing that is happening to us to happen. […]

Even though we argue about the path and whose way is the so-called right way, and every religion swears theirs is the only answer, we know inside us that even if we die, there’s some place we can go to be at peace, and that we can see our loved ones agian, or we can come back to help right the wrongs… we know, Azrael, no matter what logic dictates.
So, most of us know, then, do we, that there is some god and heaven and afterlife, and that’s why we have hope? Despite that SILLY LOGIC! So I suppose all atheists are either self-deluding liars or bitter, hopeless wraiths, then?

Just a tad bit alienating, don’t you think?

I suppose you have to give credit to Banks for at least letting other religions on the hope train, and boy does she go out of her way to make it clear that God is not Christianity!God, but is in fact the Source of All Things (including other religions). She also tries to throw some SCIENCE in there, cause you know, God created that, too.

I mean, the Big Bang was sort of how the world was created, and DNA is totes legit because angels have twelve strands and so did humans, originally, but all those damn toxins dun fucked us up so now we only have two, which is why we only use ten percent of our brains, and we could use more if we’d stop with the damn meds, and yeah, the fuckery just goes on.

Oh, and for you feminists – Azrael re: Eve

That is mythology, you know…one woman could not cause the fall of humankind. Men made that up when they wanted to create a reason to separate the Source into a male dominant role and then required an excuse to steer human society into patriarchy.
Brofist, right? Until, about seventy pages later, we find out that the “original demons” were “born of Lilith.” UM HI YOU KNOW LILITH SERVES A SIMILAR PURPOSE RIGHT?

Aaaaanyway, that’s me, taking a ~fictional world~ too seriously. Ahahaha, it’s just a book, right? Lighten up.

So yeah, these combined elements had me skimming by the time I reached the halfway point. I skimmed the second act, skipping whole paragraphs if they didn’t get seem relevant by the first or second sentence. I just wanted it to be over.

We do finally get some action like forty pages from the end, thanks to the heroine’s out-of-nowhere plot convenience revelation. I’m not exaggerating either, she’s just sitting there and then BAM, she can solve the earth-bound angel’s problems by forgiving them, I shit you not, and they’re just like “Oh, cool, we’ll stay and fight even though we’ve been trapped and miserable here for 26,000 years apparently just waiting for someone to FORGIVE US.”

The plot, for such a long book, goes almost nowhere – it’s basically just Celeste coping with Azrael’s exposition while they search for the Angel MacGuffin. Once they find him (and break dance with him, I shit you not), Celeste’s plot-convenience revelations and powers show up, and that whole thing is so massively lazy, story-telling-wise, I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s not like she even backed herself into a corner there, there were plenty of ways out. It’s more like she knew she was running low on pages (lol I WUNDER WHY) and said “Shit, what’s the fastest, most unsatisfying way I can possibly wrap this up?” So we get an ultimately pointless fight, then it’s over.

All the other potentially interesting stuff – you know, like finding the other Remnants, which I thought the series would actually be about – occurs off-screen prior to the epilogue. Everything else is just dropped or hastily tied up. The cover-conflict – that Celeste and Azrael can’t be together because human/angel coupling is FORBIDDEN – is resolved anticlimactically (loophole: she isn’t technically human!), and even the concern that Celeste had been framed for the death of her abusive, demon-possessed boyfriend (which seemed hugely important in the beginning) goes nowhere.

The whole book is just…ugh. It’s dumb and mildly offensive and most importantly, EXTREMELY BORING. It should go without saying, but do not read this book.

one star

This book was a Simon and Schuster galley. Thank God.


5 Responses

  1. LupLun

    March 25, 2011 8:12 pm, Reply

    Psst! You misspelled “forgives”. And “possessed”. Twice.

    Don’t worry, I Orwell my own reviews for stupid typos all the time. ^_^

    You know, I had this same problem with my first, never-to-be-published book. Every few pages, I go into a page or so of world-building. I thought it was pretty good, but then again I watch the History Channel when bored. And there’s a reason I abandoned this book, too…

    FWIW, I’d never heard of a custom like child-claiming, so I for one would have been glad for that little bit of exposition. But carry that out for an entire book and you’ve got a pretty slow read.

    Lupines and Lunatics

  2. Kayla + Cyna

    March 26, 2011 2:25 am, Reply

    @bookluvr – Yeah, it was kind of terrible. You’d be better off, lol.

    Thanks, we’ll definitely check out your blog!

    @Lup – Oh my god I just went through with Firefox and ALL THE MISTAKES D: Excuse me while I kill myself in shame x.x This is what happens when I’m forced to use IE u.u Only Firefox can take care of me.

    Yeah, I totally understand why that’s bad now. Really, terribly bad and jarring x.x Need moar plot plz.

    Really? I thought the whole aunties-who-aren’t-blood-aunties was pretty common, but even so, wouldn’t you have gotten the gist from like, half of one of those paragraphs? Not to mention the fact that none of this was actually relevant to the story. At all.


  3. Barbara

    April 9, 2011 1:39 pm, Reply

    I totally heart you. I found you through your review on Goodreads (mine is the only other one star). You let loose with everything I wish I could have said. πŸ™‚

    This was godawful. I can’t believe everyone drinking the KoolAid – I got it that her other series was good, but this was nearly unreadable, and I read a lot of really horrible things that I can hold up in comparison.

    Seriously, your review was at least a million times more entertaining than the book.

  4. Kayla + Cyna

    April 9, 2011 4:54 pm, Reply

    Oh man, *brofist* I read your review and thank God someone else felt the same way, I was beginning to think I was the only one T_T I totally got reamed on Amazon for not liking it, go figure.

    I don’t get it either! I mean, I guess I could understand some people getting past the preaching, but it’s so goddamn slow! How does anyone finish it without feeling that?

    Same here. I’ve read bad shit but this was one of like two that I’ve actually given one start to. Yuuuuck.

    Thanks so much! πŸ˜€ I really liked your review, too, I’ll probably go read a few of your others on Goodreads πŸ™‚

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