Title: The Darkest Night [Lords of the Underworld 1]
Author: Gena Showalter
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Description/Synopsis: All her life, Ashlyn Darrow has been tormented by voices from the past. To end the nightmare, she has come to Budapest seeking help from men rumored to have supernatural abilities, not knowing she'll be swept into the arms of Maddox, their most dangerous member -- a man trapped in a hell of his own.
Neither can resist the instant hunger than calms their torments... and ignites an irresistible passion. But every heated touch and burning kiss will edge them closer to destruction -- and a soul-shattering test of love...
Though they carry an eternal curse, the Lords of the Underworld are irresistibly seductive -- and unimaginably powerful...
WARNING - SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT - REVIEW BELOW
First of all: The cover. I think it was well done. It's seductive in a way that isn't super-flashy, and the color scheme works well. *thumbs up*. It's one of those few romance covers that wouldn't embarrass you too much out in public. As for the book itself, I'm not sure where to begin. Gena Showalter is an author who's popped in and out of my periphery for awhile now, but I hadn't picked up any of her books until just recently. I went on a bit of a paranormal romance kick last week and shoved a bunch of random titles onto my Kindle, and this was one of them. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed The Darkest Night.
The story revolves around Ashlyn Darrow, a young woman with an extraordinary gift that allows her to hear conversations--ALL conversations-- that have ever happened in a specific location. Because of this gift she's stayed isolated most of her life, working for a scientific group that works to find supernatural creatures, help them flourish, and also at the same time, use their abilities to help the world at large. Unfortunately, Ashlyn doesn't appreciate her gift as much as you may expect. To her, it's more of a curse. People, even those at the institute, treat her badly because she's privy to everything they've ever said... and that includes a lot of secrets. Desperate to remove this curse, she seeks out a group of supernatural beings that have been rumored to be Angels near Budapest. She's heard all sorts of information about how they seem to help the town, supporting it with charity and keeping outside forces from hurting the townspeople. There's also a few rumors that maybe the men living in the secluded compound are demons, but that can't be true. Right? She desperately hopes that these supernatural men will know more about her ability, and possibly help her rid herself of this so called "gift".
From there the story stems into an action-packed, supernatural gore-fest as Ashlyn learns the truth behind the so called "angels" of Budapest, and is taken hostage by the wary group of demon-possessed warriors. She even begins to fall for one of them, despite trying her best not to. The story is dotted with mythology of titans and greek gods, immortal warriors and demons from the deepest, darkest regions of hell. I found the world building compelling without being so over the top that I felt I was watching a history lesson in mythology. There was just enough to build up the world and set the stage without overshadowing the romance of the plot or the struggles of the characters, and I certainly appreciated the way it was done. The writing itself from a technical stand point was clear, engaging, and well written. The only thing that really drew me away from truly adoring it was that the author's voice tended to be a bit... sugary. I guess is the best way to put it. This was a dark story, but the writing wasn't always dark. In fact, one character in particular, a child of the gods, was downright vivacious. I think I would have preferred the silliness to be toned down a bit considering the plot of the story, but I'm willing to let it slide, because it didn't keep the story from being believable.
As for the characters: I loved them. Even the evil demon-possessed warriors at their worst were loveable. Ms. Showalter did an excellent job of balancing the proud, honor-bound personalities of the demon-possessed men with the darker sides of their nature. I had no trouble believing that they were good men, and by the same token, didn't have a problem believing that they were capable of horrendous things. It's often so hard to reach that sort of balance in a character and have them remain believable, but the author did it effortlessly.
There were a few things that weird-ed me out about this story, mainly having to do with the outside help of the Greek god's daughter (I still have no idea what her name was) and her sassy attitude. Her personality seemed so out of place next to all the very serious characters of the book. Another issue for me was the way Ashlyn basically clung to Maddox from the very beginning. On the one hand, I understand that she was desperate for his help and the silence he provided just being around her. (though I should remark that it was never explained why she couldn't hear anything when she was around the demon-warriors). It seemed like she was a kid clinging to a stuffed rabbit. Despite the obvious danger she was in and the very real situation of being held captive (and even starved in a dungeon for a night), she was almost... loyal... to Maddox. She wanted to be around him all the time. I can see the appeal of the silence, like I said, but I have a hard time believing she'd throw personal safety out the window so eagerly.
Another (small) issue I had was that I really wish more time had been spent on the overthrowing of the Greek Gods. It was mentioned and there were certainly some things that cropped up in the story because of it, but there just wasn't a lot of time spent on the upheaval or the consequences as they trickled down to the warriors. I was expecting more to happen (and that's one of the big reasons this is only four stars). Maybe the series will get more into that with subsequent books, but I certainly felt the absence in this one.
Those points aside, I really have nothing else to complain about. I really liked this book despite it's few flaws, and I'm mostly willing to let them go. Overall, I'd certainly recommend the book to anyone who likes Paranormal Romance. (specially if you're like me and like brooding domineering men in your romance novels). It was different than I'd expected the story to be, but I ended up liking it because of that rather than despite the fact. I'll certainly be looking into the rest of the series, and more titles from this author.