Review: Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Genre: romance-novelish, supernatural fiction, mythic fiction
Series: Royal House of Shadows #1
Pages: 281 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: August 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

A sexed-up and steamy retelling of the classic fairytale Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Vampires at first doesn't seem to present too much akin to the story that inspired its birth. In a series of four books penned by four different authors (Showalter, Jill Monroe, Jessica Andersen and Nalini Singh - she who has a blurb on the cover of this one, interestingly enough) Lord of the Vampires is the first and it centers around the Crown Prince of a mythical realm known only as Elden. When his parents are brutally murdered, Nicolai and his three siblings Breena, Dayn and Micah (the main characters of the three following novels) are saved by their parents' last act of magic and thus flung far from danger. In doing so, each parent instilled the credos of "Survive. Avenge." upon their children as they scattered to the wind, and lost their memories.

Nicolai awakes in enslavement to a horrid family of putrid women. Sold into sex slavery, but never completely mastered by his owners, Nicolai is a simmering explosions waiting for escape. Sold to the readers as a seducer with liquid silver eyes and gold flecks, and parsimonious with words, I wish I could say I bought into Nicolai's appeal but I didn't. His over-the-top rage, though understandable, made it far too hard to commiserate or root for him the first 140 pages of the novel. Eventually he wears down and shows a bit of a real personality, but I would've liked more characterization earlier on. Additionally his He-Manspeak ("Mine." "You. Stay.") was monosyllabic and almost Tarzan-like: a comparison I'd personally not invite with a female love interest named Jane Parker (Tarzan's lady is very closely named Jane Porter.) I prefer eloquent men to Neanderthal muttering so perhaps that's also a reason Nicolai didn't catch my interest. He's completely a man of action, but I found myself wishing for more personality there. He's kinder and just all-around better once Jane enters the picture, but not entirely redeemable to me.

The character of Alice, renamed and re-imagined as the character of Jane Parker, is a decent contrast to her tempestuous eventual lover (that's not a spoiler - you all knew where this was headed when it began.) She's a woman of cold hard logic, of science not magic. Adding some spice to their star-crossed dynamic is that Jane knows and understands vampires are real before meeting Nicolai - she's tested them. . or rather tested upon them scientifically. Jane's enthusiasm for science seems to be on the wane, leaving her open and susceptible to magic of Nicolai and his realm. She says, "[with science] there is never a solution, only more problems," and gets downhearted.  Similar to Nicolai's literal incarceration, Jane is recovering from a horrific car accident that left her feeling trapped in her own body. I thought that a nice spin for two people who have been contained, constantly controlled and who eventually find believable independence and freedom with each other.

The antagonists of the story were not what I had expected: the Blood Sorcerer that killed Nicolai's parents. Notwithstanding his evil or presence throughout the novel, the real conflicts are carried by the evil princesses/Queens of Delfina - aka the ones that purchased and enslaved the crown prince. From Laila the sadistic and voyeuristic dictator to the cruel-but-never-seen Queen of Hearts, Jane and Nicholai must outwit and survive in a dangerous world full of unfriendly parties.The main characters definitely take the bulk of the shine of the characterization, leaving little for the rest of the cast. The magic is not expanded upon as much as I'd have liked: Nicholai is mentioned as having additional powers not previously mentioned several times when conveniently needed. I did enjoy the idea of multiple worlds/realms for the author to work with: it was a nice contrast between Jane's normal one and Nicholai's more extreme existence in "a kingdom without time or age."

I loved the subtle humor laced through the story ("the princess raised her chins...") and frequent spins on traditional fairytale lore. Showalter has an engaging and breezy style - my one complaint is that it felt a bit empty at times. Laila could be depressingly cardboard for a maniacal villain, there seems to be a bit more flash (sex, random battle/fight scenes) than real emotional content or connection. The sex scenes themselves didn't happen too early in the narrative and were interesting if not the most original I've ever read from a Harlequin. Nicolai and Jane do have a nice chemistry burning for 120 pages before they get it on, so I didn't feel it was out-of-character for the controlled Jane. They have some surprising common ground for a scientist and a vampire (both were sexually enslaved at some point in their adult lives) from such disparate backgrounds, but it actually works for them. I felt a bit let down in some areas of the story, but encouraged enough to see what spin the next author would take. The unexpectedly sweet outcome went a long way to establish my favorable opinion on this first novel in the Royal House of Shadows. It's also a pretty decent deal on Barnes and Noble currently: running just $4.11 and only $3.99 for Kindle!

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