Extra tourists in town mean extra daimons too, so the Dark-Hunters have their hands full with the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration. While trying to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee at his favorite sidewalk cafe, Talon of the Morrigantes spots a group of daimons across the street. He follows them into an alley, only to find the daimons about to attack a beautiful young woman. Talon rescues the girl, but in the chaos of the fight, finds himself pushed into the street right into the path of an oncoming Mardi Gras float, and the impact of the collision leaves him unconscious.
Sunshine Runningwolf is a talented, but scatterbrained artist. She can't believe her eyes when she literally runs into the most gorgeous specimen of manhood she has ever seen, while distractedly strolling down the street, but is horrified when it seems that he and his companions wish to do her harm. Her equally scrumptious savior is now seriously injured and in need of help, but refuses to go the hospital. When he passes out, Sunshine knows that she can't just leave him lying on the street, so she decides to tend him herself and gets a friend to help her take the man back to her apartment. When Talon awakens the next morning, a comedy of errors ensues, but in spite of the ridiculousness of the situation, he and Sunshine find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other. She reminds him of his long-dead wife, the only woman he has ever loved, and Sunshine can't seem to shake the feeling that she knows Talon from somewhere as well.
They may have some difficulty discovering exactly what this mysterious connection means though, as unbeknownst to them, Sunshine was deliberately put in Talon's path by a couple of errant gods who want to distract him from his duties surrounding the upcoming festivities. It seems that the two gods wish to unleash a powerful evil force which they believe will help them take over the world, not to mention one of them, Camulus, holds an age-old grudge against Talon. Centuries ago, Camulus placed a curse on Talon that brings death to anyone he dares to love, and when it becomes apparent that Talon is developing feelings for Sunshine, Camulus has no intention of letting her live. But even if Talon and Sunshine can overcome Camulus's curse, Talon is still bound by the Dark-Hunter oath which has left him a soulless servant to Artemis, unless the selfish goddess can somehow be persuaded to set him free.
I know that the Dark-Hunter series is an extremely popular one, and after reading and thoroughly enjoying Fantasy Lover, the prequel, I truly thought that the series would become a favorite of mine too. Unfortunately, I have yet to be completely sucked in by it. The next two stories in the series both suffered from some of the same problems, and for me, Night Embrace has followed in their footsteps. While there were some things that I really liked about the book, there are quite a few things that I disliked as well, so I'll start with those. First, there was a huge overabundance of characters, so much so that they stole a lot of face time away from the hero and heroine, and it became difficult to keep track of all of them. To begin with, there are six different classes of beings: deities from Greek and Celtic mythology; daimons (vampires); humans; one ghost; a bunch of demons that were briefly unleashed; and hunters (slayers), of which two different sub-sets, Dark-Hunters and Were-Hunters appear in this story. Then there is the impossibly long list of characters who fall into each of those categories. I literally started jotting down all the ones I knew had appeared in previous Dark-Hunter books or would appear in future books, just so that I could keep them all straight. Here's my quick-reference: Common characters who appear in most of the stories in the series - Acheron, the leader of the Dark-Hunters; Nick Gautier, their main squire or human helper; Selena, another human who has knowledge of the Dark-Hunters; and the Greek goddess, Artemis. Characters from previous Dark-Hunter books - Julian (Fantasy Lover), Kyrian and Amanda (Night Pleasures), and the Greek deities Eros and Psyche who also first appeared in Fantasy Lover. New characters who were introduced in Night Embrace - Zarek (Dance with the Devil), Wulf (Kiss of the Night), Vane and Bride McTierney (Night Play), Valerius (Seize the Night), Wren (Unleash the Night) although he had no dialog, Ravyn (Dark Side of the Moon) although he was only briefly mentioned, and Fang (Bad Moon Rising which will be released in August), plus there was one other Dark-Hunter and a large assortment of Were-Hunters who were either merely mentioned or made very brief appearances, but I'm not aware of them starring in their own books yet. And this wasn't even all the characters, just the ones that appear in other books of the series. Whew! It just seemed like the author thought, "Let's see how many characters I can cram into one book," and in the end, I thought many of them were very diluted, including Talon and Sunshine who were supposed to be the main characters.
My next major issue with Night Embrace is an excess of supernatural powers. Nearly everyone in the book seems to have them, including the humans having mystical psychic powers, which became a bit too much for me to swallow. I think the only prominent "normal" character in the book was Nick. Thus far he does not seem to possess any powers at all which is actually a relief. Again it just seemed like the author tried to cram as many powers into the story as she possibly could, which in my opinion, watered down everyone's powers and made things far too easy. In other paranormal romances I've read, it is only the supernatural creatures who possess abilities, and those are very well defined, usually with base powers that are common to every creature of their race. Then there are a few special ones who have some additional but limited powers. If Dark-Hunters have common powers, I'm having a difficult time identifying them. It seems that so far in this series and especially in this book, Ms. Kenyon makes up powers for the characters as she goes along, and they arbitrarily work or don't work to conform to a given plotline, rather than the plot conforming to the powers that are available. To my way of thinking this is somewhat lazy storytelling, and it is also very confusing to me as the reader, since I have no clear frame of reference as to what any of the characters can do or not do.
My last major issue with Night Embrace and the Dark-Hunter series in general is the mythology. I still think that it is rather interesting that Ms. Kenyon decided to base her mythology on real Greek, Celtic and perhaps other myths I'm not aware of. What I dislike though, is that she tends to throw out the names of the various gods and goddesses with little or no mention of who they are. This is all fine and dandy if you've studied mythology, but I haven't since grade school, so once again, trying to keep up can be confusing. Also Ms. Kenyon's own Dark-Hunter mythology is not as well-defined as I would like to see. As she keeps adding new characters to the palette, of course the mythology changes and becomes more complex as well, and in the end, I had just as hard a time remembering all the myths as I did remembering all the characters. No sooner did I think that I had a decent grasp on things than a new myth or character was introduced. I also never had a good feel for the curse placed on Talon by Camulus. As I understood it, anyone Talon loved would die, but Talon's loved ones started dying long before the curse supposedly took effect. I really like to have a good comprehension of the world that an author has created, so feeling like I frequently needed a Dark-Hunter encyclopedia to keep everything straight definitely detracted from my enjoyment of it.
As for Talon and Sunshine, the hero and heroine of the book, I can't say that I ever became fully invested from an emotional standpoint in either their individual characters or their relationship. They fall into bed with each other on the first day that they meet (not my favorite way to begin), and their entire relationship develops in a matter of days. Talon and Sunshine share a number of steamy love scenes throughout the story, a couple of which I will admit were rather creative, but without that deep emotional connection, the scenes simply weren't as sensual as I have found in some other romances. They also didn't practice safe sex which is an annoyance to me when there doesn't seem to be any good reason not to. The author relies heavily on the concept of reincarnation to explain the instant attraction the couple has, but it just didn't work for me. Additionally, I'm not a big fan of the push-and-pull conflict in a relationship, and this one definitely had that. First Sunshine acts like her time with Talon was nothing more than a fun fling, and she adamantly has no interest in marriage due to an unhappy first one. Then she comes around in a just a few days only to have Talon be the one who is doing the pushing away, because he is afraid that he will loose her to his curse just like everyone else he ever loved in his mortal life. I really like when characters are able to show their vulnerabilities by sharing their hopes, dreams and life experiences with each other, but Sunshine comes into an awareness of what Talon is and the things he suffered through her own past life memories and her friend Selena's knowledge of the Dark-Hunters. Having things happen this way effectively shut down the lines of communication and consequently suppressed the intimacy of their relationship. As I mentioned before, I felt that Talon and Sunshine were very overshadowed by the other characters and plotlines too. I did like Talon who was a very tortured hero, one of my favorite kinds, and I thought that Sunshine could be very endearing with her sweet scatterbrained ways. I just felt like they were short-changed, and I never really got to know either of them well enough for them to truly stand out to me.
Now for some of the things I really liked about Night Embrace that made me give it a few extra points. First, just one word...Acheron. Acheron is almost a larger-than-life character who carried a large part of this story on his very broad shoulders. He literally emanates power and sex appeal right off the pages of the book, and absolutely walks away with every scene he is in. In retrospect, this may not have been such a good thing, but I don't really care. I'm already crazy about him and can't believe I have seventeen more books and novellas to go before I get to his story.:-( The next thing I liked...Zarek. He may have had plenty of moments when he acted like a total jerk, but it was easy to tell that there is much more depth lurking beneath the surface. I for one can't wait to find out more about him, and see this hardened warrior find some peace and happiness. Another thing I enjoyed was the historical flashback sequences with Talon and his first wife Nynia. Although tragic, I found those scenes to be the most romantic in the entire book, and strangely, I felt far more connected to these two as a couple than I did to Talon and Sunshine. Also, I rather enjoyed the testosterone-laced interactions between Acheron, Zarek, Talon and Valerius when they all meet together early in the story. Having that much alpha maleness concentrated in one place was something of a heady brew. Finally, even though there were some minor plot holes and inconsistencies in it, I still really enjoyed the climactic scene of the book, although that's probably because Acheron pretty much took center-stage for it.
In addition to my major complaints there were a few other more minor ones as well. I thought there were quite a few passages that were repetitive. The author begins by giving certain parts of Talon's backstory and then filling in the details as the tale progresses, but each time something new was added, there were also things that were reiterated. There were also a few inconsistencies in the details, such as how Talon is able to call Acheron and actually get him one time and Styxx another. I thought that the explanation as to why Talon was allowed to marry Nynia in the past even though she was far beneath him in station was rather weak. There was also mention of Vane being indebted to Ash, but I was left wondering exactly what that debt was. Perhaps this will be explored in a later book. Lastly, Ms. Kenyon tends to throw in new terms specifically related to the world she has created. While it is important that these new words be defined, she always seems to bring the story to a screeching halt while giving the explanation, which is a little annoying. Although, Night Embrace failed to wow me, and the jury is still out on the Dark-Hunter series as a whole, I do plan to continue with it. I was extremely intrigued by Zarek, and his story is the next full-length novel in the series, making me want to read it right away. I'm also so enthralled by Acheron, I don't think I would be able to quit the series at least until I've reached his story. Since Fantasy Lover is still one of my top five all-time favorites, I know that Sherrilyn Kenyon can write a romance with the kind of relationship development I crave, so I'll just have to hope that there will be more books in the Dark-Hunter series that exhibit this type of storytelling. Night Embrace is the second novel in the series. There are currently a total of 19 full-length novels in the Dark-Hunter series and quite a number of related novellas and graphic novels as well, with more still to come. A complete list of all the books and their recommended reading order can be found on Sherrilyn Kenyon's website.
Note: Ms. Kenyon changed the ordering and organization of her Dark-Hunter series twice in 2009. We will endeavor to keep up with any future changes as well, but readers are advised to check her website for the most up-to-date information on the series.
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