Dark Challenge

Dark Desires

Dark Fire

Dark Legend

Dark Magic

Dark Prince

Lair of the Lion

 
Dark Symphony by Christine Feehan
(Jove, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-515-13521-6
***
I’m sorry to say Dark Symphony hits several false chords thanks, among other things, to a few too many notes from the romance cliché songbook.

Byron Justicano is a kinder, gentler Carpathian. He is an artisan by calling, who works with precious gems, but after a disastrous incident in which he was used as bait to destroy other Carpathians, he exiled himself from the Carpathian community and became a vampire hunter as penance.

One day Byron hears beautiful music. Following it to Antonietta Scarletti in Italy, he realizes he has found his lifemate in the 37-year old composer. Blinded and scarred as a young girl in the explosion that killed both her parents, Antonietta has reconciled herself to a life alone because “she was not the kind of woman men looked at for reasons other than her fortune.”

She is attracted to Bryon and senses that he is not a threat to her. The grandfather who raised her also likes Byron, but her cousins mistrust the mysterious stranger who seems to come and go at will without regard for the palazzo’s security measures.

Byron spends months subtly wooing the strong-willed Antonietta, then suddenly must rescue her and her grandfather from an apparent murder attempt. The need to protect his lifemate abruptly escalates the pace of his courtship.

While a kinder, gentler Carpathian is a fascinating notion, Ms. Feehan doesn’t really do anything with it. We don’t see Byron struggle against his nature to become a warrior, and neither is there any real insight into what it means to be a Carpathian artisan. He also has no personal battle to fight, other than to win Antonietta’s trust and keep her safe from whoever is trying to harm her. We already know they’re lifemates, so it’s inevitable that Antonietta will succumb, and Carpathians presumably even artisans - are extremely powerful so we’re pretty confident that Bryon will prevail.

As a result, there’s very little tension or suspense, and Bryon’s personality is murky and ill-defined. It’s almost as though the author is relying on our previous knowledge of Carpathian males to tell us everything we need to know. What makes Byron unique is left vague, and the whole situation is strangely uncompelling.

With Antonietta there is almost too much information; worse, it’s inconsistent. She is a “renowned concert pianist and respected composer,” heiress to the Scarletti fortune, actively involved in running the family business and, because of her unique heritage, a telepath and a healer. She has learned to overcome her blindness to lead a full and satisfying life.

On the other hand, this supposedly intelligent and insightful woman believed without question her openly nasty cousin’s assertion that she is so hideously scarred that no man will ever find her attractive, and that anyone who claims to do so can only be interested in her money. It apparently never occurred to her to get a second opinion.

Antonietta also tells Byron that “I don’t wish things away… I deal with them. I run the palazzo, and my people believe in me. I don’t let them down by pretending or wishing.” In reality, Antonietta adamantly ignores anything she doesn’t want to know, like the evidence that her life is in danger, like the fact that one of her beloved people is poisoning her family and that one of her relatives is almost certainly stealing from the family, like the fact that Byron can fly and has a variety of other abilities that would indicate he’s not exactly a regular human. A strong will combined with obtuseness is a very common romance heroine combination - but it isn’t an attractive one.

Although much of the writing, particularly in the love scenes, has Ms. Feehan’s usual strength, it is dragged down by the characters’ propensity to make speeches instead of having conversations. The worst example comes right at what should be the exciting climax - the villains and victims more or less stand around chatting while they wait for the Carpathian cavalry to arrive.

The result is a book that isn’t so much discordant as… ordinary. If this had been my first “Dark” experience, I’d have wondered what all the fuss was about.

-- Judi McKee


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