When the pet ferret is the most interesting character in the novel, you know you’re in trouble. Aphrodite’s Passion, sequel to last year’s Aphrodite’s Kiss, could have been a fun, goofy read, but it is bogged down by its unremarkable lead characters. Julie Kenner has the basic ingredients for a great fantasy series but does not yet seem able to blend them together into a successful finished product.
Superhero Hale and his half-sister Zoë are summoned to the High Elder’s Council and given their latest assignment as Protectors of all things mortal. Aphrodite’s Girdle, a magic belt that renders the wearer irresistible to anyone she encounters, has surfaced after years of being lost. It is likely that the current owner is Tracy Tannin, granddaughter of a legendary movie star who once possessed the belt. If Aphrodite’s Girdle falls into the wrong hands, particularly those of Hale and Zoë’s evil uncle, Hieronymous, the results could be disastrous. The only problem is, Protectors are forbidden to take the belt by force; it must be given freely. Hale, who masquerades as a model for romance novel covers, realizes that he must utilize his dazzling good looks and animal magnetism to seduce Tracy so she will give him the belt when she’s under his sensual spell.
This shouldn’t be a problem for a superhero stud like Hale, a notorious rake. He has an aversion to any kind of emotional involvement with mortals, ever since his Protector father’s heart was broken by his mortal wife. Of course, faster than you can say “overused plot device,” Hale finds himself falling for Tracy. But he can’t let himself be distracted too much - Hieronymous is pulling out all of the stops to acquire Aphrodite’s Girdle for his own nefarious purpose.
You’d think that a fantasy romance featuring a race of superheroes with powers that include X-ray vision, levitation and fire-starting would be a quick, exciting read, but Aphrodite’s Passion frequently drags. Kenner’s breezy, extremely informal narrative style relegates the novel’s focus to the dialogue between the characters, but Hale and Tracy just aren’t interesting enough to carry the story. Hale may be a superhero, but his “I’ll never trust a woman because I’ve been hurt before” attitude has been used by hundreds of annoying romance heroes of every genre. By the time he gets over himself, the reader just doesn’t give a damn any longer. Tracy shows a few glimmers of intelligence and courage, but she spends too much time bemoaning her lack of physical attractiveness. She isn’t even allowed to fully enjoy the power of Aphrodite’s Girdle, although she starts to guess its secret - she could have had all of Hollywood at her feet, but all she wants is Hale, Hale, Hale.
Aphrodite’s Kiss, the first Protector book, was moderately entertaining because its heroine, Zoë, was just discovering her latent superhero powers, with predictable zany results. Aphrodite’s Passion, however, features a hero who has lived with his special skills for a long time and has no sense of wonder about them. One scene, however, gives the reader a taste of how offbeat and amusing this series could have been. Hale, eager to impress Tracy, renovates the entire grounds of her ample Hollywood estate in one day, including a quick flight to Texas to pick up some marble. The image of a superhero working at light-speed was funny, and I wish there had been additional scenes in which the Protector magic was utilized in a similarly unique manner. Another missed opportunity comes when Hale, an “animal-linguist,” works with Tracy, an animal trainer, but doesn’t even try to talk with any of her charges.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Elmer, Hale’s ambitious ferret, who gets all of the novel’s best sarcastic one-liners. By the end of the book, Elmer is well on his way to a successful career in television. I’d advise him to keep working on those acting gigs until he earns enough money to strike out on his own. Life with Hale and Tracy promises to be a snooze-fest.
If you want superheroes with pizzazz, watch The Power Puff Girls. I hope that Ms. Kenner will someday write a book that is worthy of her unusual premise, but for now the Protector world is a promise sadly unfulfilled.