Dark Desires

Dark Magic

Dark Prince

 
Dark Challenge by Christine Feehan
(Love Spell, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52409-0
*****
As much as I was anticipating the release of book 5 in the "Dark" series, I was also apprehensive that the series itself might have nowhere to go but down after Gregori's intense story (Dark Magic, book 4) had been told.

Wrong.

Not only has Christine Feehan created a wonderfully romantic and sensual tale in b>Dark Challenge, she has also introduced a new slew of characters, whispering of entries in the series yet to come. Dayan, Darius, Syndil and Barack - all of these secondary actors are provocative in their own right, giving Feehan fans many more books to look forward to reading.

Dark Challenge takes place a century after Dark Prince and tells the story of the immortal Carpathian Julian, twin brother to Aidan (Dark Gold). Julian endures the fate all Carpathian males without lifemates face: the fact that he has been without any emotions at all for centuries, feeling nothing, living in a world of black and gray with no hope that the nightmare sentence will be brought to an end.

Carpathian males are predators by nature. They need human blood to survive, but it is against their laws to harm their human prey. For some males, the ones that can no longer bear the never-ending black void within themselves, turning vampire is their only escape. When they turn, they can feel the momentary high experienced from killing humans. For many males, the lure of feeling once again, no matter how evilly gained, is powerful and overwhelms them. Once they turn, however, there is no going back and their souls are forever damned.

Julian has walked alone for centuries, refusing closeness to anyone (even his twin brother Aidan), for he carries a terrible secret. When he was twelve, he became tainted with the blood of an ancient and powerful vampire. The vampire threatened to use his connection to Julian to kill anyone who mattered to him, and being twelve and afraid, Julian believed him and took to the hills, refusing to put the lives of those he cared for in jeopardy.

That was centuries ago. Now Julian is an ancient himself - powerful, highly skilled and predatory. But the dark stain on his soul continues to spread, threatening to consume him. Julian knows that there are only two things that can keep a Carpathian male from turning vampire: choosing to meet the dawn, thereby ending his own existence, or obtaining a lifemate, the woman whose lightness has the power to bring the male's emotions back. Because Carpathian females are scarce, and Julian knows the blackness is closing in on him, he has chosen to meet the dawn.

At the end of Dark Magic, Gregori asked Julian to see to a task, to warn a female singer that a sadistic group of vampire hunters has targeted her for their next kill. Julian agreed and Dark Challenge begins where Dark Magic left off, with Julian hunting down the female singer to warn her. When his task is complete, Julian has every intention of meeting the dawn. But then Julian hears her sing. Emotions slam through him. Colors blind him. He knows without even laying eyes on her that through some miracle of fate, he has found his lifemate at his darkest hour. The woman's name is Desari, and he senses Gregori's blood in her veins, but doesn't understand how or why. Much to his surprise, Julian soon realizes that the woman is not only Carpathian, but an ancient woman of full power. She is no young girl to be dominated by a predatory mate centuries older than her, but a thousand year old female to be reckoned with. Not that it matters. Willing or no, Desari is Julian's only hope and he will never let her go...

Desari is unable to deny the overwhelming feelings she harbors for Julian, but she cannot subordinate herself to him. Somehow, for both of their sakes, they must learn to compromise. There is a stain on Julian's soul Desari longs to remove and realizes she is the only one that can do it. When the time comes for Julian to face his ancient vampire nemesis, she will do all in her power to protect the man born to be her other half...

The protagonists of Dark Challenge are a literary treat unto themselves. This is the first time Feehan has thrown two ancients together and I wasn't disappointed with the result. Julian is predatory and determined, yet Desari isn't intimidated by him for a heartbeat. She takes everything in stride with casual ease, never once worried she doesn't have what it takes to stand up to her mate.

Making the book an all around winner is the fact that Feehan has introduced a bevy of new alpha male predators guaranteed to titillate the human female senses. There is Darius, whose brooding darkness and commanding presence is reminiscent of Gregori's (and for good reason). Then there is Barack, who might (or might not) be the lifemate of Syndil (we're left hanging) and who grows more fearsome and compelling with each flip of the page. And finally Dayan, who is struggling with his inner beast and could turn at any time.

Oh yeah. We've definitely got several more books to look forward to.

One cavet: my assessment of the novel comes from the perspective of a woman who's been following the series since book 1, Dark Prince. Therefore, it is impossible for me to give you the perspective of a reader who's never been introduced to the series beforehand. I tried very hard to judge the book from the viewpoint of the non-initiated and found that I just couldn't do it. Although I definitely think Dark Challenge can stand alone, some of the dialogue and narrative will come across as more powerful if you've read the other installments first.

This is my favorite series bar none and one that I recommend without a qualm to any fan of the vampire and gothic genres. My advice to other fans? Start with Dark Prince and work your way down to Dark Challenge. Fortunately, you never have to wait too long for the next installment in the "Dark" series. Dark Fire, featuring Desari's brother Darius, is scheduled for release in July of 2001. And girlfriends let me tell ya, if Darius is as provocative in his own book as he is in his sister's, the next installment might be Feehan's best effort yet.

--Tina Engler


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