Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Dark Stranger" by Susan Sizemore

Title: "Dark Stranger"
Author: Susan Sizemore
Pages: 384
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series/Standalone: Book 8, Prime Series
Publisher: Pocket Books

I received “Dark Stranger” from the publisher Pocket Books as an official promotional book tour participant and it turned out to be a great random pick, although I didn’t ooze particular interest, because of the rather generic cover that did nothing but reveal flesh, which given the genre [paranormal romance] fits the purpose. After all the bigger the bicep the more interest the cover gauges.

Readers are introduced to volume eight in Susan Sizemore’s Prime series, which startled me upon learning this, since it reads as a standalone, but then again her series are not unified by any great arc and introduce new characters with each book from what I understand. Romance readers with infatuation with vampires and an overlapping interest in science fiction elements will get a kick out this novel, which mixes vampires with aliens.

This is the second book ever I read, where aliens mix with vampires, something that seemed impossible and yet is done. Sizemore is no newbie, so there are mostly strengths from the tie between these incompatible elements to world building, setting, plot, pacing to characters and the dynamics involved. The drawback I found was the ending, which resembled a Hollywood scene with a kiss in public and a happy wedding.

But first the blurb:

A twist of fate made Zoe Pappas heir to the Byzant throne. Bound by duty and devotion to keep the Empire safe, Zoe is captured while on a secret diplomatic mission and sent to an underground prisoner-of-war camp. In this strange, shadowy place, residents are governed by fellow inmate General Matthias "Doc" Raven, whose powerful magnetism rouses an urgent desire in Zoe. But the intensity of her attraction is matched by her surprise at discovering that Doc has a secret of his own: he is a vampire.

Zoe's presence puts everyone in the camp in danger. Doc knows it, and knows too that Zoe's royal status makes it impossible for her to bond with a vampire. The only way to save her is to help her escape, and lose her forever. But some fires are impossible to quench, even when following your heart is the ultimate taboo....

Honesty laid out I hate prisons and POW camps as a theme and their inclusion into literature and the entertainment industry has irritated me for a long time, but then again I never read a sci-fi paranormal romance with vampires set it a POW camp on a desolate planet and that my friends is what intrigued. I wanted to see how these pieces could be combined into a story. I wanted to see how the romance will develop into a closed system and when both characters are on the same side and not the set in stone enemy status quo. The result according to “Dark Stranger” is satisfying and although the novel itself doesn’t raise and discuss any deep concepts, it quenches the adventure lust and is an excellent book to read in summer, when it’s hot, your blood is boiling and you want a buzz for your own adventure.

Zoe Pappas makes an interesting protagonist to read as we see her as Zoe the woman and lover, when she is with Doc, lieutenant Pappas the diplomat and soldier in the negotiations with the alien residents in the POW camp and Theodora the heir to the Byzant throne. I was impressed with the effort invested in her character, who springs to life on the pages and although is tough as nails and ready to sacrifice her life for the better of the empire can be vulnerable to the loneliness and darkness, believably so at that. Reading her narrative I felt transported in this dreary place, where tension escalates, boredom can drive you to a dark place and sex is just about the only means of entertainment and aid for the mounting insanity.

On the other hand we have Matthias Raven otherwise known as Doc, who is dedicated to the people in this camp and their needs. The issue I have with military figures in literature is that they are never real enough for me. I imagine that even while a grunt falls in love he would be rough around the edges and not so romantic or buttery in his thoughts. Sizemore has created a man both respected, authoritarian, with a sharp strategic mind and passionate in that rough and possessive alpha male manner without the uncharacteristic gentleness.

When the telepathic vampire meets the enigmatic empathy heiress, not only do sparks fly, but they bond literally. The building to this culmination in their relationship is accomplished in a step by step manner with satisfactory revelations on both characters’ behalves. The darkness and captivity add to the intense and electrified atmosphere in the camp, but the remaining cast also contributes to the richness of the relationship and the plot. From the ever interrupting Arco to the manic and unstable Barb to the geeky Siler and Mischa to the friendly Maria and the ever arguing Adams, there is always something interesting to read about whether be it the alien species, the war and the history of the Byzant empire.

What I didn't like as I have stated was the happy Hollywood ending resulting in a merry and improvised ceremony, where Zoe marries Doc in front of a considerable amount of witnesses according to the vampire traditions, while they fly from the prison camp into safety. It is the happy ending I expected, but I imagine that after a riot and dangerous combat the last thing on a person's mind would be weddings instead of the need to rest, since POW camps keep you underfed and prisoners would be running low on energy. This is my only nit pick with the book.

All in all, Sizemore is experienced enough to know the ins and outs of paranormal romance to deliver a smoking tale with enough action and arousal to her readers. With a great attention to detail and knowledge how to please her audience, “Dark Stranger” is a great book to uplift your spirits.

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