Confession. This book did something right because I immediately bought the next in the series, Hearts of Shadow (Deadglass)
. My willingness to spend cashy-money on the follow-up to Hearts of Darkness
happened despite my feelings for the hero and heroine in Hearts of Darkness
Wazz-her-name (leaving this to show how little the character resonated with me) and Hart are stock characters from paranormal romance. The innocent, saintly woman whose magical vagina tames the muscle-bound, hirsute, rage monster, aka, the hero.
As a feminist, I have always found the use of "pussy" as a derogatory euphemism for "weak" particularly insulting since the vagina is probably one of the strongest organs in the human body. I mean, dude, it's made of muscle. On the other hand, the idea that a few minutes of happy-fun time in the right 'gina will turn a savage beast into an obedience school graduate is cheesier than Wisconsin. In Hearts of Darkness
, the trope gets extra lactose-intolerant oomph with the inclusion of the word "virgin." Because if an ordinary hoo-ha can sooth the savage werewolf, just imagine what the addition and subsequent removal of a hymen can do?
So, the story. (*Looks up heroine's name, because, seriously, I already forgot.*) Twenty-five-year-old Kayla Friday, an ER nurse, is in Seattle on a grim mission. Her younger sister has been killed and Kayla is needed to identify the corpse. It's probably just as well she isn't in town to visit the Space Needle or wander through the Pike Place fish market, because this Seattle is a broken down, low-tech version of itself. (The rest of the United States, btw, are presumably as they are now. It's just Seattle that's a technological wasteland.)
Seattle has been rendered a kind of techno-ghetto by the presence of a gaping hole into the spirit world where legions of restless ghosts escape and wander the city, fucking up cell phone coverage and frying electronics. And in this gaslamp version of Seattle, two shapeshifting races vie for power: the Drekar (dragons), led by Norgard; and the Kivati (crows, thunderbirds, cranes, etc.), led by Corbette.
Hart, the hero, is technically Kivati, but because he can't keep his wolfy side from snacking on adorable children, has been cast out and taken in by the Drekar, where he now serves as Norgard's blood slave. But not for long, if he can just get a couple more missions under his belt.
One of those missions being the retrieval of a necklace/McGuffin, stolen from Norgard, from Kayla's sister--her now dead sister. Hence, the meet cute (I typoed "meat," heh) at the coroner's office. In short, Hart arrives as Kayla is staring in dismay at the carcase that was her sister; he does the growly, manly-man thing, demanding the necklace, etc., until the Kivati arrive and ... do the manly-man thing and demand the necklace.
Kayla is like, "Huh?" But in the inevitable fight that breaks out (because we need an excuse to rip Hart's shirt and show off his physique), she "rescues" Hart, promising to bring Corbette the McGuffin if the Kivati will spare Hart's life. So, voila, Hart's conflict. He finds himself playing along with Kayla's attempt to find the necklace for Corbette, all the while knowing that when he gets his hands on the thing, he's taking it straight to Norgard.
So what worked for me? The story is grounded in a crazy-fun mashup of Norse, Native American and Babylonian mythology. The worldbuilding is a tad shaky, especially if one considers the fact that the rest of the United States is apparently unconcerned by Seattle's serious issues with infrastructure. But the antagonists and secondary characters are intriguing, including the rape-y, awful, Norgard.
This is where I explain my purchase of the next book. In the few hundred words that he is present, Norgard's little brother, Leif Asgard, totally rocked my world. Intellectual, nerdy, yum. And pairing him with Grace, the kind of goth-girl, wraith slayer? Promising.
But...Hearts of Darkness
.... Hart is technically my fave kind of hero, the kind with a big, fat "ANTI-" before the moniker. And, as such, he's, um, okay. There's enough dry humor there so save him from being completely simian, but in general, he's still a paint-by-numbers paranormal romance hero. I.e., if you like possessive, controlling men with bodies by testosterone overdose, and significant anger management issues, you'll love Hart. Me, well, no. Just no.
Thing is, Hart would have been tolerable if every other sentence in his internal dialogue didn't go like this: "Kayla is too good for me; she's a healer; a pure soul." Not a direct quote, but close enough. On and on about how wonderful Kayla was, even though he'd only known her like, uh, two days.
Naturally, this was punctuated by how much he needed to fuck her, lick her tits, etc. on endless loop, over and over.
And Kayla, for all that Hart "tells" us how fab she is, what a saint (ugh), is really kind of bland. Admittedly, I've encountered worse heroines, but since like Hart, most of her internal dialogue is about her romantic counterpart, I really never get in her head. It's not a spoiler to note that Kayla isn't an entirely mundane heroine, magic-wise. But the story line skimps on her mastery of her abilities in favor of building the not-relationship between her and Hart. Again, lust isn't a relationship. Oh, and the fact that Kayla was gorgeous, 25 and a virgin, was preposterous. Not because some people don't save it for marriage, but because Kayla apparently had no reason, religious or otherwise, for doing so. And, the instant her magical tunnel of love is needed to keep Hart civilized, she's nekkid and ready to go.
Four stars for the original approach to urban fantasy and mythology, and two for the love story.