I’ve just finished Darkling, book three in Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld series. It is the first book in the series that I can claim to like. Well...like is too strong a word...let’s go with: I didn’t hate it completely. Not sure whether my semi-enjoyment of this book, as compared to Witchling and Changeling, is due to a more compelling main character or whether I have developed Stockholm Syndrome--that I have been held captive by this series for so long (These short books are loooonnnng reads.) that I am beginning to feel positively toward it.
The Otherworld series follows the half-fae, half-human D’Artigo sisters: Camille, a witch, Delilah, a weretabby, and Menolly, a vampire. The trio are Earthside representatives of a supernatural intelligence agency, and, at least in the inaugural books of the series, the only thing that stands between Earth, Faerie and a demon named Shadow Wing that is bent on domination of multiple worlds. If, as I hinted in the first paragraph, I find the series painful, why ever was I inclined to read the third book in the sequence? I find the foundation story of the Otherworld series compelling: Three sisters with varying supernatural abilities, refugees from a world in political upheaval, balancing personal lives and romance, while kicking ass and keeping the world safe from a demonic big bad. I can get down with that. It’s the writing that made Witchling and Changeling tough reads. Darkling is no exception.
Flame-haired natural acrobat and vampire Menolly is the protagonist in Darkling. Menolly is darker and more complicated than her sisters, which gives this book some weight. As we begin the tale, Menolly is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (though the book doesn’t call it that), trying to heal from the vicious attack that turned her into a blood sucker--a creature that even other supernaturals disdain. And now, Dredge, the vicious psychopathic vamp who turned Menolly has escaped imprisonment and is Earthside, hunting for Menolly and her loved ones.
The ambivalent vampire fighting her true nature is a mainstay of urban fantasy, but there is something compelling about Menolly. Any affection I have for Darkling is down to her, because the book has plenty of problems.
Word to urban fantasy writers: Can we dispense with using sexual assault as a plot device? This is not to say that rape can never be written about, but there is a way it is handled in urban fantasy, including in Darkling, where Menolly recalls being tortured and raped by Dredge, that is unsettling. Rape scenes are played for titillation and survivors are romanticized. Don’t do this.
I am also no fan of Galenorn’s treatment of sexuality. Bisexuality is frequently used in urban fantasy as an exotic quirk, most especially in female characters. The genre is fond of girl-on-girl lovin’ for the male gaze. Darkling adds “alternate sexuality in response to trauma” by implying that Menolly’s attraction to women is a result of her assault by a man. And then, there is Tim/Cleo, a friend of the sisters who is a gay man who performs in drag. I have lamented about previous series installments that Tim as Cleo only exists to drop into a scene and say something sassy. In this book, Tim appears only to be a snack for a newborn vampire.
The largest problem with Darkling is the same thing that plagued its predecessors: Poor writing. As with Witchling and Changeling, the book overflows with needless exposition and extraneous detail. Galenorn nevers shows when she can tell. The dialogue is stilted. Most characters are one-dimensional archetypes and their actions defy logic. It seems a staple of this series that the sisters and their band of helpers will learn of some urgent, super-important, world-changing thing they must do. But before doing the urgent, super-important, world-changing thing, they have tea and sandwiches, nap, have boring sex and shop for lingerie--all while talking about the really, really, really urgent task that lies ahead. It is nonsensical.
It occurs to me that, stripped of the nonsense, edited well and tweaked a bit, Darkling and the books that preceded it could have been one good book, rather than two bad books and one mediocre one.
I am ambivalent about continuing with the Otherworld series. Again, the core story that Galenorn crafted is a compelling one and I have become invested in the main characters, particularly Menolly. I am also eager to know the outcome of the heroines’ effort to stop Shadow Wing--a plot point that is mentioned constantly in Darkling, but oddly not developed. However, in cracking the next book in the Otherworld series, I fear the writing I encounter will be deadlier than any demon the D’Artigo sisters encounter.