Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dark Revenge by Jennifer Leeland

TITLE: Dark Revenge
AUTHOR: Jennifer Leeland
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 86k)
GENRE: Sci-fi BDSM erotic romance
COST: $6.99

When Commander Alex Zeerah gets intercepted on her latest mission, she’s ready to self-destruct rather than be taken prisoner by the captain, the only man she ever had feelings for, the one man she can’t have because of his exile from her home planet. Tory Ingle fought at Alex’s side for years, but he’s spent the last five planning out his revenge on how to clear his name from the treason he was convicted of. Part of that plan includes claiming Alex as his mate, but he’s entirely unprepared for how strong the attraction still is between them. They barely have time to rediscover each other before the threat of civil war looms over their home planet. It’ll take both of them to save the universe…

Yes, I know it’s an EC book so that means a lot of sex. But is it so much to ask that it work with the rest of the story?

It starts off very quickly. Alex is transporting important but unknown cargo for her king when she is intercepted by Tory, her ex-partner in the military and the man she saw exiled from their home planet five years ago. Rather than kill him or let her cargo be taken, she sets the self-destruct, an act he is somehow capable of overriding. He takes her prisoner and demands the rite to claim her as his Saria, an act of claiming a sole member of an offending bloodline to settle revenge. Once this is completed, he chooses her as his mate and restrains her to a rack in his quarters. The sex that follows reminds Alex of everything she could have had if she’d left with him as he’d begged her to do five years ago, but there’s little time to consider the what ifs when the political environment she left behind becomes even more charged. She was never intended to survive her mission, and the cargo she’d been transporting had a far deadlier purpose than she’d ever known. Tory knows much of the truth, however, and he’s determined to put a halt to the wars that are on the horizon.

From there, the book tangles into a complicated blend of interplanetary politics and action, ultimately offering a fresh and fascinating take on zombies. The problem with that is that I had to muddle through the first half to get to the much more interesting second. The success of their attempts to stop everything hinges on the relationship between Alex and Tory, though that’s not made clear while all the sex is going on. Instead, I had to sit through chapters of stop and start pacing as I’d learn an interesting tidbit about the world then have to sit through yet another sex session. Tory is into control and pain, and Alex finds out the first time he touches her she likes it, but I’m told all this at the start rather than learning it from the characters, and with so little time to get to really know them and feel comfortable in the environment, I read their scenes far more detached than I should have been. They’re not badly written – for an EC book, it’s remarkably clean editorially – but without caring a little bit more for them, they just felt like they were getting in the way of the real story.

Because there’s a lot of story to tell here. The author has taken great pains to create a layered, complex universe, with a broad spectrum of characters in varying Machiavellian roles, and it takes too long to be comfortable in their skins for this to be as effective as it should be. Once Tory and Alex stop having sex as their primary function, the novel hurtles forward into the action plot, engaging me far more as I tried to figure that out than any of the sex did. It gave me a different, fresh perspective on zombies – which I admit are not my thing, as I tend to automatically give zombie books a pass when I’m looking at new releases – and I ended up wishing that more of the book had paid attention to that so I could have enjoyed it more. That’s not to say it doesn’t try. It just happens too late in the story for it to really work well.

The two leads are appropriately strong, though I do have reservations about both. Alex, in particular, lost some of her appeal when various twists toward the end only happen by undermining her strength (by being things she has never seen, which I found highly implausible considering her military career). Much of that is mitigated by a strong secondary cast, however. Jezar in particular fascinates me, so complex, and though I might not have enjoyed this book as much as I wanted to, if there’s a sequel with him (which it really reads like there will be more to follow this), I’ll be all over it.

In the end, this was a book of missed opportunities, because really, I should have loved this from the start. It just needed a better balance between the romance/sex and the plot to work. If Jezar gets his own story, I hope that balance is found.


7/10 – Dense political maneuvering gets eclipsed too early by copious sex scenes, muddying the plot and ease of reading for too long


6/10 – While I liked him, I never really felt his baser, more dominant tendencies were fully fleshed


7/10 – For the most part, smart and resourceful, it was just her blindness to so much towards the end that got annoying

Entertainment value

6/10 – This could’ve been so much higher if the first half hadn’t been so poorly paced

World building

8/10 – A lot of thought went into creating the worlds, but not quite enough to make sure it was conveyed cleanly



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