Thursday, January 12, 2012

Seize the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 5 of the Dark Hunters Series

Valerius is a Dark Hunter from ancient Rome who has been reviled all his life.  First by his family who despised his compassion and later by his fellow Dark Hunters who loathe him for the actions of his kin – and the actions of ancient Rome. He’s a man with little sense of his own worth, only a dedication to decorum and his duty that keeps him going.

Tabitha isn’t very dedicated to decorum, but she does know duty. An empath driven to save others in pain, she has hunted Daimon since before her sisters even realised they existed. Energetic and passionate, she refuses to be bound by convention and burns energy at a rate that is exhausting for anyone watching

Together, she and Valerius make an odd couple, not least because her family revile him so completely; but Tabitha rarely lets someone else’s opinions confine her.

And they do have other things to worry about. The Spathi, the elite, immortal fighters of the Daimons are attacking in droves. Outright war has come to New Orleans and the casualties are mounting – and Tabitha’s own family is targeted. Things only get worse as an old enemy is resurrected and hunts Marrissa, Tabitha’s niece

With new dark hunters made, Acheron revealing more of his power and the ancient Atlantean goddess of destruction rising – the very city seems under threat.

Storywise we have what is now becoming a usual block for me when it comes to this series. We started maybe half the book with a riomance that I don’t find particularly realistic, it’s fast tracked, comes with protestations of love far too early, has levels of sexual obsession that don’t seem healthy and is usually sprinkled with a very large amount of angst. It’s usually as we’re reaching the end of this that I’m rolling my eyes, wondering why I bothered with this story and why do I like this series when we spend so much time on a rather convoluted romance and then…

Then the plot happens. And I’m reminded that we have a rich and wonderful world here, that we have epic conflicts between Atlantean and Greek gods. That we have legendary heroes and miraculous abilities, that we have a story that holds precious gems of epic and wonder. And we have a sotry that is exciting and fast paced and character driven and laden with power and fear and tension – and people can actually die! And happily ever after in this eternal war isn’t always possible, there is loss and grief and more battles and mystery and development.

In fact, in some ways the mystery is getting too much. I’m ready for some answers. I want to have some more holes filled while at the same time I want to see the world widen. I’m sad that we’ve only seen snapshots of a very few Greek gods, I’m sad we’re not seeing more gods from other pantheons and I want to know exactly who Acheron is and how he fits into all this, and what about Katra? There’s such a lot here and so much has only been hinted at – my curiosity has been roused and wants more to sink my teeth into.

Sadly, while the plot followed this pattern – the rather clumsily love story followed by other action, there were some flaws with what I consider the main plot as well – not least of which is Acheron playing Deus Ex Machina which is going to need some extreme explaining and justifying for me

Characterwise - I have said it before and I will say it again – the Dark Hunters need some Dark Therapists right now. I know they’ve all had some terrible tragic past, yes yes I do, but it was 2,000 years ago. Please, for the love of all that is angsty, let it go and move on. 2 millennia is a long time to be angsting over the same thing.

Similarly, I find the almost universal antipathy towards Valerius to be excessive and overdone. Many minor mentioned characters loathe him simply because he is Roman – they hate him because of his nationality when that nation doesn’t even exist any more? Still? Even after centuries of fighting on the same side against the same threat? Throw in Kyrian hating him for what his grandfather did (2,000 years ago, when Valerius was 5), Julian hating him for what he did to Kyrian and Zarek hating him (and tormenting him) for what his father did when he was a child (also 2,000 years go).

I also don’t understand why even Artemis had something against the Romans – because they didn’t treat her as an important deity? Yet she’s happy to bless the Viking and Celtic Dark Hunters who I’m pretty sure didn’t hold Artemis high in their esteem.

All in all, the persecution complex that has built around Valerius, and forms such an important part of his character, doesn’t ring true to me. It feels convoluted and not entirely explainable.

Similar to the convoluted and not entirely explainable – is yet again the speed at which the protagonists go from first meeting to twu lub. This is a recurring issue for me with these books and your mileage may vary, but in this case in particular, when Tabitha knows she risks alienating a sizeable chunk of her family, she seems to reach team Valerius awfully quickly.

In inclusion there are a few POC but none of them seem to involve any considerable roles. On the GBLT front – well, first of all, Valerius joins Julian and Kyrian in being ancient classical warriors who are amazingly heteronormative. Ancient Rome was pretty straight it seems, same as Ancient Greece. And Valerius is discomforted at the idea of being “paraded around a group of gay men” and even utters the fear “what if one of them gropes me”.  Y’know, if Valerius can carry his angst for 2,000 years, he should be in touch enough with his past not to be a homophobic Roman.

And of course, Marla going out in the arm of the only straight man in the house will apparently make all the gay men die of envy – because gay men really value straight men more than themselves?
Oh, and Tia needs to  “stop hanging around her gay friends and find herself a boyfriend”.

And there’s Marla. I honestly don’t know where we’re going with Marla. I thought she was a trans woman and was impressed by the insistence of female pronouns and irritated by the fact she was instantly identifiable as trans by her “adams apple and build” and by the fact she is repeatedly referred to as a transvestite and a drag queen. Then we learn she also appears as Marlon – a man. And she is also dressing up along with gay men for a drag parade – at which point I’m not sure who Marla is supposed to be or represent. It could be a nuanced commentary on the spectrum and complexity of gender and gender identity or it could be a terrible conflation of trans woman and drag queen. I rather suspect the latter.

Another problem we have is in some of the female portrayals. Not that Tabitha is a bad portrayal – far from it. In fact she is a wonderfully strong character who can kick arse, make her own decisions and refuses to be dictated to – but accepts being advised. She will take a back seat or hide in safety when it is required (perhaps Valerius is a little too protective of her, however) or she will fight on the front lines as needed. She’s intelligent, sensible, abrasive, not too perfect, but more than capable, compassionate yet willing to call an arsehole an arsehole. In fact, I think she’s my favourite protagonist of the series to date.

But other women in this book? We have some problems. First there is Agrippina, a slave Valerius once knew and protected and loved – though he didn’t know her very well. He built a shrine to this near stranger who he once saw raped. Agrippina’s only point in this book is to be raped and tortured to death so Valerius could be sad and angsty; she quite literally had no existence beyond that and added nothing to the plot.

Valerius is also reassured that Tabitha is insulted at the implication she has casual sex with men – relieved because it shows that she isn’t promiscuous and is offended at the idea.

And to add to the need for women to be all sexually pure – Archeron loses his shit in epic fashion because one of his best friends, Nick, has sex with Simi and sullies her, makes her unpure etc etc, add more shaming of female sexuality and denial of her agency and choice (the fact Simi wanted to have sex is discarded and ignored). 

This book had a lot of world building and, after the love affair had been firmly established (about half way through the book) a great and in-depth story. If I had any criticism it would be that the world needs more explanation – but that same ignorance makes me desperate o read the next book. It would have been a good book, but sadly it was a lot more problematic than many of the previous books, with a lot of isms that hurt the reading unnecessarily. It’s a shame, it’s unnecessary and it put a stain on an otherwise good book.