Thursday, August 13, 2009

Drawn into Darkness by Annette McCleave

Drawn into Darkness by Annette McCleave

As you can tell by the cover, Drawn into Darkness is a paranormal romance. When I read the excerpt, I thought it was urban fantasy-ish. I used to be a bit fuzzy on the difference, but now it is absolutely clear to me. The first clue is the cover. Such covers aren't usually to be seen here at Fantasy Debut. Ab muscles abound. I usually go for arms and legs. And since I'm a product of the 80s, a little hair on a guy's chest is actually a nice thing.

Due to the cover, I never would have picked up this novel if I saw it in the store. Which means I'm probably pre-judging a lot of good books. I do wish romance publishers would stop making such embarrassing covers. However, I've figured out--so I'm slow--that these covers are kind of like a code. The lower the guy's pants, the steamier what is inside. These pants are only kind of low.

Before I go any further, a caveat. I don't really feel qualified to write this review. I read fantasy and mystery, and I feel qualified to review both genres. I haven't read romances since the 80s. So I'm just going to write what I think.

Lachlan McGregor is a soul gatherer. It's his job to grab a newly-dead soul and keep it safe until an agent of Heaven or Hell arrives to claim it. Problem is, Hell wants to claim all of them, and a soul-gatherer often has to fend off demons until the busy angels can arrive. The novel starts in Lachlan's point-of-view, and for the most part, the story focuses on him, because where he is, the action is. When the book starts, he habitually wears the disguise of a priest. This disguise sets the tone for the Christian aspects of the novel, which are partially Catholic in origin.

Rachel is a divorced mother of a fourteen year old named Emily, and she has her hands full. In the first scene of the book, Lachlan saves Emily from a bus accident. Ever since the bus crash, Emily has undergone a marked personality change. It turns out that Hell has a greater-than-usual interest in her, and they've sent one of their best lure demons to "lure" her into a spectacular death-suicide. And it turns out that this particular lure demon has a history with Lachlan.

Lachlan is a great dude, with a tortured past and rock-hard pecs from all the sword fighting he does to keep in shape and battle demons. The only problem I had with him is he was once a Scottish laird, which I'm starting to find a bit tiresome. Surely, there are lords of other nationalities who might be just as interesting. I liked him better than Rachel, who isn't even up to an argument with her daughter. I do feel for Rachel--having a rebellious teenager must be a horrible thing to go through. But she's just so danged weak. She doesn't even call the police when her daughter is dating a 22 year old man. I wanted to shake her. Part of the point of a novel is to have the character grow, and Rachel does grow, but it was hard for me to develop true sympathy for her--rather than just pity--when I found her actions so infuriating.

I don't mind a novel that draws on Christian themes as long as it is respectful. Ms. McCleave is respectful, but she imposes odd restrictions on the power of God that at times defied logic. For example, there's a Trinity Child, whom God creates every thousand years or so, and who can visit all three of the "planes", Heaven, Hell and Earth. However, God himself cannot visit Hell -- even though he created the child. Another logical problem was that God could not reverse a death mark, even though a certain resurrection is one of the basic tenants of the Christian--and Catholic--faith.

There are only two sex scenes in the novel, of which I was glad. We fantasy fans don't read for sex scenes. Even urban fantasies tend to keep sex scenes to a page or less. Fortunately, Ms. McCleave didn't give away any plot secrets in the midst of the sex scenes, so I was able to skip past them without feeling like I missed out on the story.

All in all, the pages just flew by and it was a nice way to spend a Saturday when I didn't feel well. The originality of this story might work well for lovers of urban fantasies who are tired of the usual mythologies.

This novel releases on September first. I'll link back to this review when I do the Debut Showcase, at which time I'll do my usual linkfest.


Raven said...

But Scots are dark, brooding, mysterious, and romantic!

With my almost-quarter Scottish blood, I seem to have only gotten the genes for dark and brooding. :D

Chicory said...

Plus, the Scots got all that great press from Robert Louis Stevenson. (I still have a huge crush on Alan Breck Stewart from `Kidnapped'. (Swoon.))

Tia Nevitt said...

Well, as a half-Irish, I would like to see some hot Irishmen! Me own Mum came straight from Burr in Co. Offaly.

No Prob, Chicory. It must have been a problem on your end.

Chicory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Using Christianity in a fantasy or paranormal book is tricky. I don't like what your review says that this author did. I also can't stand those paranormal stories where the romantic lead is an angel involved in an armorous affair with a mortal, or things like that. I mean, if you're going to hinge your plot on Christian themes, you can't just ignore the beliefs that are inconvenient to your story. That's what makes a good author--one who can weave a fascinating story while staying true to the research facts. It's much more of a challenge to find a way to make your story work without altering the facts than it is to bend the facts for your convenience. And I think it's worth rising to that challenge.

Tia said...

Lachlan is no angel--I won't read books with angels as the romantic love interest either. This novel is based mostly on Catholic beliefs.

I think you make some good points. Writing about Christian beliefs is dangerous because there are so many conflicting ways that people believe that if you embrace one, you are sure to alienate another. This is certainly not a novel that an evangelical would approve of.

I also think we need to be careful about making Christianity off-limits in fiction. I called out the parts that I had problems with. Other parts I was silent about because I keep to a word count limit. Therefore, I voiced my concerns over the parts that I was most concerned about.

Chicory said...

`we need to be careful about making Christianity off-limits to fiction'. I think you're right about that. There's a danger of Christians censoring away any chance of representation in the media.

That said, I steer clear of books that I know I'll find offensive. That's why I never finished the `His Dark Materials' trilogy, even though I really admire Pulman's writing style.

Tia Nevitt said...

Same here, Chicory. Back when I first started this site, one of my first author-provided copies was from an author of a children's novel lit who trashed Christianity pretty thoroughly. It was my first negative review and I agonized over it for three weeks.

That novel was downright hostile to Christianity. I detected no hostility in the case of this novel. Liberties, yes. Hostility, no. So I didn't come down hard on the author. This novel even had more depth than your average romance--or at least the romances I remember from the 80s and 90s.

Anonymous said...

"if you're going to hinge your plot on Christian themes, you can't just ignore the beliefs that are inconvenient to your story."

This statement was so true (and so frequently broken in the writing industry) that I actually chuckled.

Christianity in mainstream novels (and by mainstream I mean anything outside the Christian publishing market) is indeed a tricky, tricky business. Besides offending certain denominations, you also have to consider how many religious elements the average reader can handle. Some readers will read a story that puts much emphasis on faith, while others will find the mere mention of it a turn-off (and then there's a whole spectrum of people in between). If, as an author, you are religious, you must figure out how to stay true to your worldview while not writing something that non-religious people find inaccessible.

And if you're going to change the rules of a religion to fit your story--well, watch out, because that may end up looking silly. :)

Rachel Heston Davis
Up and Writing