Dark Blood, the 26th novel in Christine Feehan’s impressively lengthy repertoire, is a rollercoaster of a novel that sits comfortably – and really rather firmly – between the effortlessly welcoming arms of the paranormal romance genre. Featuring a whole plethora of gifted (and talented) individuals with increasingly labyrinthine lineages, Dark Blood is the story of Zev Hunter, an elite warrior with many delusions of grandeur and an increasingly archaic attitudes towards relationships in general and women in particular.
Oh, yes. It’s one of those.
The novel begins auspiciously, as these novels tend to, with Zev regaining consciousness in a cave of warriors immersed in an ancient ritual. It is quickly revealed that he is of course there for a reason, and equally quickly it becomes clear that his problems are only just beginning. An old threat has emerged from the shadows of time, and only Zev and his new family have the power and ability (somewhat predictably) to stand against it. The stakes are high, the possibility of failure both increasingly likely and increasingly untenable, and the climax of the novel comes at the final long battle against a seemingly insurmountable foe.
Does this sound familiar to you?
If it does, that’s because this plot structure is a staple of paranormal romance, and not a particularly good one.
I didn’t enjoy reading Dark Blood. There were some good parts, such as the in-depth exploration of the functioning and application of magic in Feehan’s universe, the assurance in which the various paranormal aspects (of which there are many) are explained, and the structure of the novel in entirety, which is well defined and more or less convincing. Talking about the importance of a definable beginning, middle and end might sound ridiculously simplistic (read: clutching at straws), but with a complicated plot it can be the one thing that allows the reader to dig their way free of the mire, and subsequently have some hope of understanding what’s going on.
However, there were many more parts that, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t enjoy. So sit tight and relax, for all will soon become clear.
On the one hand, Feehan is clearly the master of her chosen universe. She navigates its many twists and turns with considerable ease, and her writing is arguably characterised by a sincere and considerable attention to detail. An assured writer, she melds interesting and varied language choices, intriguing imagery, and plot twists with aplomb, weaving her tale quite confidently.
Additionally, while Dark Blood is part of a much larger series, and features established characters that fans are likely to know from previous novels, Feehan doesn’t shy away from offering basic explanations of the trickier aspects, thus enabling any newcomers to the series to understand at least some of the mythology behind the action, while simultaneously taking care not to bore any readers that are, as they say, in the know.
(Does anyone actually say that?)
The characters are almost entirely two-dimensional, the alleged ‘relationship’ that blossoms between the two main characters is dubious at best, and the plot is frequently circumnavigated in favour of increasingly pointless detours into badly written erotica. These scenes offer nothing to a) the plot, or b) the characters, and seem to exist solely to avoid scenes in which the two characters involved might otherwise be expected to talk. As such, the novel’s structure, while otherwise solidly defined and dependable, frequently loses consistency.
To make matters far worse, the relationship between the main character, Zev, and Branislava, which is apparently solely a matter of fate, begins with the clear assertion that the only hope they have of making the arrangement work is to take it slowly. Branislava has something of an unhappy history (this is a paranormal romance: someone had to) and it would be important to navigate it with care.
Five pages (at most) later, they’re bypassing Branislava’s entirely understandable trust issues with ridiculously forceful sex, during which no allowances are made for any difficulties she might have with such sudden intimacy. Zev dominates proceedings entirely, telling Branislava on multiple occasions that it is his needs that should take priority, and that as his mate she exists solely to see them satisfied. This is all justified by the repeated assertion that Branislava enjoys a rougher time of it, but given the number of times in which that is asserted after the act, not to mention the multiple occasions on which Zev forced Branislava into sex despite her stated reluctance, it was a little too dubious – not to mention a little too ugh – for me.
Piling on the insults, Zev continually refuses to allow Branislava to make a single decision without him, punishes her when she does, and is rendered immediately and viscerally furious when she attempts to suggest that he might be putting himself in unnecessary danger, despite the fact that he spends most of the novel doing the same to her. In the context of their relationship his caution might be considered to be understandable, but it is stated explicitly that it does not come from love, but, instead, the frankly rather insulting assertion that as he is the man in the relationship, he should be the one making the rules.
The problem here isn’t just that Zev dominates all aspects of their relationship, riding roughshod over any and every opinion that he does not share, but the unequal nature of the relationship in general. Branislava is not given any opportunity to reciprocate, and is treated to his disgusting possessiveness at every turn.
Taking a slightly different tack, the characters populating Dark Blood are two-dimensional at best. They’re all supremely overpowered, exhibit little in the way of complexity or depth, and there’s as much character development as might be found in my little finger (read: none). Additionally, in one spectacularly ridiculous case, the three villains happen to be in possession of names that would be identical except for one measly letter.
Inventive, that is not.
On a vaguely similar note, I quickly gave up trying to understand the increasingly complex familial relationships. Practically everyone in the novel is, to some degree, related to everyone else, and/or in a relationship with the few individuals that they are not. It comes across as both ludicrous and unnecessary, and it felt like far too much work to bother keeping track of.
Finally, then, I rated Dark Blood two out of four stars because it does have admirable qualities, including but not limited to Feehan’s impressive mixture of varied language and imagery to generate consistently vivid descriptions, and her discernible confidence and assurance, but I only gave it two stars because of the many negative aspects mentioned above. The characters could have been much more detailed, the plot could have been easier to follow, and there were many unnecessary scenes, all of which could have been removed without incident.
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