Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: Shades of Gray, by Amanda Ashley

Shades of Gray
Author: Amanda Ashley
Mass Market Paperback, 390 pages
Published by Love Spell, 1998
Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Vampire Romance

Book Synopsis Bound by chains, the vampire had slept for 100 years, locked in pain and hunger, until the scent of one woman's blood recalled him to life. Lost in darkness, Grigori finds new sustenance in the light of Marisa's love, and new purpose in his life. Only he can protect her from the evil that stalks the night. Grigori vows to show Marisa that not all the undead are monsters, and that somewhere between the black and white of damnation and desire lay infinite shades of gray.

My Thoughts

Marisa Richards, the novel's protagonist, attends the Roskovich Carnival, a small circus visiting Los Angeles, California, which is her hometown.  There she encounters a strange exhibit: "Count Alexi Kristov, Oldest Vampire in Existence".  She also meets the mysterious and very attractive Grigori Chiavari, who claims to be a magician. 

Shortly thereafter, on the evening news (this is a modern-day vampire tale), Marisa is shocked to learn that the bodies of four women, drained of blood, have been discovered at the Los Angeles Zoo.

At this point in the novel, Ashley also hints at a long-standing enmity between Kristov (whom the reader learns has awakened, and is the one behind the mysterious murders) and Chiavari.  The novel's subsequent events bear this out.

Marisa feels an increasing pull toward Grigori, and they begin dating.  Then, another character enters the picture -- Edward Ramsey, vampire hunter.  He tries to warn Marisa about Kristov and Chiavari, and she discovers that Grigori is also a vampire.  She finds this hard to believe at first.  Then she begins to doubt her safety when she's with him, which prompts her to attempt to fight her growing feelings for him.

So far, this is a very interesting plot.  I love it when Ashley contrasts a vampire who strives to do good, despite his nature, and one who is totally evil.  The title is a reference to this.  Therein lies the fascination, as I have already pointed out in one of my literary musings, on the subject of the vampire as metaphor.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is one of Ashley's best books. There are at least three important reasons for this.  The first is the fact that Grigori actually wanted to become a vampire, in order to exact his revenge on Kristov.  I can't wholeheartedly love or empathize with a character who possesses such a glaring moral defect.  It would be understandable for Grigori to feel hatred toward Kristov; however, his decision to purposely become a vampire in order to kill Kristov makes him almost as evil as Kristov himself.

Second, I was totally disgusted by the way one of the characters was "disposed of" so that the two leads could be together without any impediments. Furthermore, Marisa doesn't blink an eye when this character is taken out of the picture. She should have been appalled as well as repelled by Grigori's approval of this. I wasn't expecting such a thing from the author.  I have read several of her novels in the past, and she clearly possesses a strong, Christian-based sense of ethics.  In fact, I would say she probably stands alone among vampire romance authors writing for adults, in this respect.

A third reason, less important in the moral sense, but not in the literary one, is the attraction between Grigori and Marisa.  Ashley's couples usually share some very powerful chemistry.  The attraction between these two, however, seems lacking in some way.  It just didn't strike me as very believable, especially when compared to that of other couples Ashley has presented in her novels. (I'm thinking of my two favorite ones, A Darker Dream and Midnight Embrace.) 

The addition of Ramsey as a rival for Marisa's affections didn't ring true, either.  In fact, Grigori, Marisa, and Ramsey totally fell flat as the novel moved along, too.

Although I did finish the book (I don't think I've ever left one of Ashley's novels unfinished), I did not enjoy it as much as I would have expected to, considering the author.  Amanda Ashley is still one of my favorite vampire romance authors, however.  It's unfortunate that I can't give this book a higher rating, but I am committed to giving honest reviews.  I can only wholeheartedly praise a book when I truly believe such praise is merited. 


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