Night Keepers
by Jessica Andersen
(Signet Eclipse, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-451-22437-8
****
Centuries ago a group of warriors committed themselves to the greater good and saved the world from disaster. Will their heirs accept their destiny in time to find true love and to avert an even more terrible catastrophe?

Sound familiar? You bet. I could reel off half a dozen such paranormal-focused continuity series without even blinking. No wonder cynical old me didn't have high expectations for Jessica Andersen's Night Keepers. I was pleasantly surprised. Although this first novel of the "final prophecy" works with a recognizable premise, it is both different and gripping enough to capture at least one jaded reader's attention.

Andersen forsakes the usual run of vampires and werewolves for a group of Aztec warriors. Two decades ago, most of them died in a bid to outsmart an ancient prophecy. Those who survived went into hiding, knowing that one day they would be needed. That time has come. In several years, specifically in 2012, the planets will realign and open the bridge to the world of the gods. Unless the mythic Nightkeepers are prepared for combat, demons will seal it off and destroy all possible hope forever.

Striking-Jaguar, otherwise known as Strike, is the uncrowned king of the Nightkeepers and one of the few who actually knows his destiny. He acquires a new power at the beginning of the book when he is propelled across space. He arrives just in time to save Miami narcotics detective Leah Daniels from becoming the sacrificial victim of a demon-worshiping cult. Sex plays a key part in his rescue – who would have thought it could be an anecdote for demonic warfare?

As a result of these events, Strike and his advisers realize it is time to reunite the remaining Nightkeepers, a task that takes precedence over his burning attraction to Leah. A mind-blocking spell makes her forget her extraordinary adventures and allows her to return to her regular life.

The demons are not so quick to give up. They go after Leah several more times, forcing Strike and his magic trainers to offer her protection while they explore her importance. When this is revealed more than half way into the book, there is an even better reason to keep Strike and Leah apart. Waiting for them to find an acceptable solution to what seems an insurmountable dilemma maintains the edge-of-the-seat tension right to the end.

The fact that I cared about the lead characters and their relations also helped. Intelligent, considerate and honorable, Strike is no brain-dead, chest-thumping cave man. His reluctance to accept his given role and the many sacrifices that go with it add layers of complexity. Leah plays an important role in helping him deal with these issues. Theirs is definitely a partnership between equals. Andersen seems committed to this idea since she departs from the majority of paranormal romances on the market by including women in the warrior clan. Still, I would have like to see Leah display more of her cop skills.

Questions relating to other Nightkeepers and their training help pace the story. These could easily have become a clumsy attempt to plug books to come, but for the most part their introduction is so seamlessly interwoven with Strike and Leah's story that I almost didn't notice.

Nightkeepers are modeled more on Marvel Comics superheroes (think X-men) than on the undead and their shape-shifting cousins. This promises a wider array of magical talents and possibly more inner conflict. I am still left with a major, albeit politically correct gripe: if Strike is an Aztec warrior, why does he have cobalt blue eyes? But frankly, this won't stop me from looking forward to more Nightkeeper adventures in love and war.  

--Mary Benn


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