Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: Dark Awakening, by Kendra Leigh Castle (Sixth Book in the 2011 Speculative Fiction Challenge)

ThIs is my sixth review for the
'Speculative Fiction Challenge, 2011'
hosted by Magemanda at Floor to Ceiling Books.
It started in January, and runs through December.

Title: Dark Awakening
Author: Kendra Leigh Castle
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 331 pages
Publisher: Grand Central
Release Date: July 1, 2011
Genre:  Paranormal Romance

While some fans of paranormal romance may have grown tired of reading about vampires, I for one have not.  I might read about other supernatural creatures from time to time, but I'll always come back to the vamps, because they totally fascinate me -- the good ones, that is, the ones who do their utmost not to bite humans, especially if they happen to be in love with a particular one...

I had never heard of this author before, but saw this book mentioned on a couple of blogs, and finally decided to investigate...

There must be something about Scottish men, because here we have another smoldering, brooding Scottish vampire, one bent on a mission -- to find a Seer, or psychic, for the vampire queen he serves.  It seems that some mysterious curse is killing all of the ancient Ptolemy vampires, and Queen Arsinoe wants to know what it is, and who sent it.

Tynan MacGillivray, our hero, is nothing but a 'gutterblood', for the vampire society in this book is based on a centuries-old caste system.  He is a servant of the cruel, ruthless, Arsinoe, but he prefers servitude to starving on his own, in the streets.  Such is the typical fate of those of his people, known as the Cait Sith, who refuse to serve the haughty, arrogant Ptolemy dynasty.

The world-building in this book, the first of a series, is nothing short of fascinatlng.  There are five vampire dynasties -- the already-mentioned Ptolemy, who originated with Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian goddess, the Cait Sith, whose origins are unknown, and who have no leader, the Dracul, whose leader is Vlad Dracul, and who originated with the goddess Nyx, the Grigori, led by Sariel, but with unknown origins, and the Empusae, who originated with the goddess Hecate, and whose leader is Empusa.  The most powerful dynasty is that of the Ptolemy, but the Dracul also have a lot of power, and some think that they are vying for control of the vampire world.

Each dynasty has a specific power, with the Cait Sith, for instance, being able to shapeshift into cats, while the Dracul become bats, predictably enough.  The Ptolemy can move at lightning speed, while the Empusae can take the form of smoke.  The Grigori are rumored to be able to fly, but there's no proof of this.

Tynan sets off on his search, and finds Lily Quinn, an orphan with a mysterious, troubled past, and a hidden source of powerful energy she doesn't know how to control. 

From the moment they first meet, they feel drawn to each other.  Although this is a cliche in romance novels, I never get tired of it!  In fact, I can't help but drink it in every single time.... Besides, Castle handles it exceedingly well.  In her hands, the attraction never becomes cheesy.

It turns out that someone wants Lily dead.  She unexpectedly comes face to face with Damien, a Shade.  These are ruthless killers in the vampire world, mercenaries for hire to the highest bidders.  The best ones are very expensive.  Lily is able to thwart Damien with a sudden, explosive burst of energy that startles both him and Tynan, who had arrived on the scene seconds before.  Damien wastes no time disappearing.  Even vampires are afraid of the unknown, and Lily's inexplicable power is just such an entity.

Lily's life has been changed forever, although she comes to that realization gradually, as the plot progresses, the suspense intensifying through nearly non-stop action, and deft characterization.  Her destiny has always been mysteriously tied to the vampires, and she had never known it, although she was aware that she was different from ordinary humans.

I had not meant to read this book at first, due to its sensuality, although it doesn't classify as erotica, which is something I don't care for at all.  This is an adult novel, however, so I wasn't expecting it to be as squeaky clean as a young adult book.  Nevertheless, as I began to read, the writing pulled me skillfully along, until I became so immersed in the story, and felt so close to the characters, who were very realistically-drawn, that I simply had to keep reading to the very end...

Tynan and Lily are both wounded people who find comfort in each other.  Their relationship is incredibly beautiful, and I like the fact that Lily is powerful in her own right, even if she does not yet know quite how to manage that power.  Each can see in the other what they fail to see in themselves -- people with a kind heart, who are vulnerable, and unaware of just how wonderful they are.  I know this sounds like another cliche, but again, Castle handles it in such a way that it doesn't seem to be one. 

The action is gritty enough to satisfy those who prefer action to romance, but the romance is there.  I would say that there's a very nice balance between the two.  Furthermore, it's all fueled by political intrigue at the Ptolemy court, and such things always make for a highly interesting fictional read, even if they are unpleasant in reality.

There are memorable minor characters, as well, such as Damien himself, who had been a friend of Tynan's in the distant past, before he became a hired assassin.  There's also Jaden, Tynan's fellow Cait Sith, who has escaped from the intolerable servitude to the Ptolemy, and is now on the run.  Arsinoe is appropriately venomous, and that is as it should be, for she is Cleopatra's sister, long presumed dead, but actually turned into a vampire.  Vlad Dracul emerges as an interesting character in his own right, ready to help Tynan and Jaden in their quest. 

This novel is a truly addictive read, and I am really looking forward to Midnight Reckoning, the next installment in the Dark Dynasties series, which will be available in January, 2012.

Alyssa Day, USA Today bestselling author, is quoted on the back of the book: "Castle is a rising star!  This is an author to watch!"  I wholeheartedly agree!



  1. I am really loving how detailed your reviews are! Makes me feel a bit like a slacker!! I know what you mean about there being something about vampires that is just fascinating. And the comment about the characters being instantly drawn to each other is spot on. Sometimes I complain about these instant attractions but other times I am secretly hoping for it to happen straight away because I can't resist a good romance!

  2. Hi, Lan!

    Thanks for the compliment!! I greatly appreciate it!! But don't feel like a slacker -- everyone has their own review style. I happen to be very detailed. Gotta go over to your blog and check out your reviews!

    Yeah, instant attraction is a staple of romance novels. We female readers might criticized it as a cliche sometimes, but we all LOVE it anyway!! Lol.

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting!! : )

  3. Great review. I wouldn't say I'm getting sick of vampires but I do think there are quite a few authors out there who are well established in other genres and are getting pushed into pnr. And you can tell. Its great to here about a new author emerging in the genre with fresh ideas and decent world building. Its been added to my tbr list...

  4. Wondeful review.
    You had me at: "Tynan and Lily are both wounded people who find comfort in each other. Their relationship is incredibly beautiful..."
    I love a hero / heroine with a bit of baggage. It makes things so much more interesting. Also, I think I may be in need to some serious great world building and the way you described it, this is exactly what I can expect reading this book. As for vampires: I have a thing for demons, but vampires will always be among my fave supernatural creatures in a #PNR.
    _yay_ @ BookthatThing

  5. wanderinghues:

    Hi! Yes, this is definitely a terrific book that you're going to love! It's simply very addictive -- with wonderful, tender romance, and action on nearly every page! The character development is very, very well-done, and the world-building, as you know, is superb! Hope you enjoy reading this book!

    Thanks for the comment!! : )

  6. Hi, yay!!

    Thank you so much for the compliment, as well as the entire comment!! I'm glad you enjoyed the review, and hope you'll pick up this book, because if you do, you are sure to get completely immersed in the story!

    I agree -- when the couple in a romance novel (whether paranormal or not) have baggage, it makes everything much more interesting! That's because there's more conflict, which is a vital ingredient for good fiction. Plus, their relationship is also more poignant, more emotional, and this is just what we romance lovers want!!

    I don't like demons myself -- too creepy for me. Vampires, though, are another matter, especially if they're brooding and tortured, "a la Edward Cullen"!! Lol.

    I'm looking forward to your review of this book, when you finish reading it!! : )


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