Reviewed: February 17, 2011
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Immortal Guardians, Book 1
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 320 Pages
Formats: Print, eBook
It was not yet dawn when Sarah Bingham stumbled onto a sadistic scene of torture in the woods beyond her house. Without thinking, she took the shovel in her hand and solidly connected with the heads of the two men who had stripped, stabbed, and staked a third man to the ground. Fighting her horror, she manages to free Roland Warbrook and get him back to her house to patch him up a little. She couldn't understand why he didn't want her to call 911 or take him to a hospital, and his explanation was a little hard to believe, but she ceded to his wishes and did the best she could to keep him alive until a friend could bring him supplies and get him out of there.
Shortly after the sun sets, though, danger threatens and a cadre of vampires comes out of the woods, attacking before they can get away. During the horrifying conflict, Sarah sees Roland, the kind and gentle man she'd come to know and like as she tended him during the day, sink his own fangs into one of the monster's necks, and terror the likes of which she's never known galvanizes her into action. She flees the scene of blood and death...running from the vampires, running from Roland...only to plow right into him before passing out in his arms, a plea not to kill her on her lips.
Roland had been cared for by Sarah, had laughed with her and eaten with her. He had no intention of killing her. He isn't a vampire, he's an immortal guardian, and though there are similarities, he doesn't suffer the madness and bloodlust of a vampire. His tragic past has conditioned him against any hope that Sarah will be able to accept those differences, accept him, but as he holds Sarah in his arms and carries her to safety, feeling things he hasn't felt for over nine hundred years, it's his heart that yearns for more with her.
The attacks keep coming and the danger to Sarah rises, and Roland soon realizes that while circumstances have drawn them together, it may ultimately be fate that pulls them apart.
Dianne Duvall has kicked off a new paranormal romance series with Darkness Dawns, and there's a lot to like about this debut book. It's lighter and less grim, filled with characters who are far less tortured or emotionally damaged, than has become so commonplace in several other popular series. Roland and his fellow guardians are surprisingly modern men and women for their...advanced age, and I enjoyed getting significant glimpses of the personalities of several of them as Roland and Sarah interacted with them and in a nifty subplot featuring some of the secondary and ancillary characters.
As the lead romantic pair, I enjoyed Roland and Sarah, though neither were particularly complex characters. Roland was endearing with his antisocial habits, and there were several opportunities for some humorous teasing about how very insular he has been his entire existence. The big bad vamp hunter was also extremely cute in his fumbling attempts to take care of Sarah as their relationship grew. He was obviously a seasoned warrior, and just as obviously completely unseasoned when it came to showing emotion or dealing with a woman. It was sort of adorable at times.
Sarah was slightly more one-note as a pretty, perky woman who is a little too good to be true, with no flaws or emotional baggage to speak of despite the rough childhood she described to Roland. Frankly, though, it was sort of a nice change to have a paranormal romance devoid of the heavy, depressing interpersonal angst that litters so many other series right now. She was a smart, competent, and strong woman who was comfortable in her own skin, adapting quickly to her ever widening knowledge of her world. She may seem a little too Mary Sunshine for some readers, and it's true she isn't the most realistic female lead I've ever read, but I was still fond of her through the book.
The plot wasn't exactly groundbreaking, nor was it very complex, but it moved along well and was told with a clean, unfettered style that I appreciated. The characters and the mythos are going to seem very, very familiar, sometimes uncomfortably so, to anyone who's read Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series or J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, but Duvall kept Darkness Dawns far lighter in tone and generally much less convoluted than the books in either of those. There weren't any goddesses or angels popping up, either, and that was a plus for me. To be honest, I can accept some similarities in theme if I'm still entertained with the story despite them, and though there was definitely more than "some" similarities, in this case I was still entertained.
I was impressed with Duvall for not answering all the questions about the guardians in this book, and for keeping what information was offered grounded in a fair amount of intelligent science. I liked that the characters and story allowed for the question of how the guardians are different to be answered, while keeping why they are or where they came from a mystery to even the guardians themselves. Duvall definitely didn't overload this debut with a bunch of unnecessary exposition or world building in that regard, and in so doing adroitly sidestepped one of the more common pitfalls of series creation. All too often new series debuts get bogged down that way.
There were a couple of other issues with varying degrees of badness. The getting-to-know-you phase for Roland and Sarah was ripe with cheesy dialogue (when they started to talk about their favorite color and ice cream flavor I actually rolled my eyes) and too-convenient similarities (I can understand why guardians stick to a more organic diet, but Sarah being a organic vegetarian as well was a little too much for me). I would have liked to see that part of the book develop differently.
I was more troubled by the failure to explain why the empath didn't know his friends and minions had and were lying to him. Or how they even could. That bothered me quite a bit, given how significant a part his gift played in the main conflict plot thread and in a pivotal scene with Roland. It was an issue with Sarah, though, that dropped this book down from a solid four star rating.
I don't want to run the risk of spoilers, so I will try this without details. The revelation and explanation concerning Sarah that popped up at the end of the book was fobbed off on the reader with absolutely no previous setup or foreshadowing. As a result, it felt like a horrible plot contrivance that snapped me right out of any willing suspension of disbelief. It was heavy handed and clumsily written (something like this could have easily been subtly touched upon throughout the book), lacked anything resembling foundation, and was far too convenient to be believable.
Still, I can't help but balance that out with the truly wonderful arc of the antagonist in this book. I loved the direction Duvall took with Bastien and felt it was one of the most original aspects of the plot, as well as one of my favorite things about the book as a whole.
I hope that there will be a quick release of the second book in this series, because despite some issues, Duvall hooked me with Darkness Dawns. It may have some flaws, and it's definitely a book that tiptoes a little too close to a couple of other authors' tulips, but I was entertained. And I want more.
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