by Nathalie Gray, paranormal (2007)
Ellora's Cave, $5.95, ISBN 978-1-4199-0914-6
In Nathalie Gray's Book Of Masks, our heroine Jasmine Dunmore unexpectedly inherits a house on the Great Canal in Venice from an aunt she doesn't know she has. Look, she's in Venice right now, excited to check out the house and the rest of Venice. All thoughts of gondola rides with a hot hunk and selling off the house for a tidy sum vanish however when she sees the house that she has inherited for the first time. Let's just say that if that house is ever once haunted, the ghosts must have long fled in embarassment. Alas, due to the Carnivale di Venezi, all the hotels in Venice are fully booked so poor Jasmine has to sleep in her house.
When Jasmine goes to sleep in the house and wakes up somehow to an actual masquerade party taking place in the house, things become surreal. She must be dreaming, right, especially when Vespero, a masked hunk, steps forward and asks her whether she has the "key" to some portal? As the party turns into an orgy, he tells her that everyone in the party is hers for the taking. This is like an X-rated episode of The Twilight Zone, wow. Jasmine and Vespero get down and busy until they are interrupted by another masked guy, Lumere, who says a lot of angry things at Vespero while he's still shagging Jasmine. Jasmine then wakes up and finds herself thinking of Lumere who reminds her of the illustration on the Hermit card in her Tarot deck.
Jasmine soon realizes that her house is more than what it seems to be at first. It turns out that it holds a portal to the demon world and she holds the key to unlocking the portal and letting Vespero and his minions loose into the world. Lumere, as a guardian charged to ensure that the portal does not open, may have to destroy Jasmine if this is what it takes to keep the portal locked. Can he do it? And no, before you ask, Jasmine's private parts are not the key, thank goodness.
Now, let's start with the good things first, shall we? The atmosphere is very nicely done. Book Of Masks has a nice build-up of chills since Jasmine arrives at the house. In a way, this is a well-written ghost story. On the other hand, gosh, Jasmine is annoying. Her personality is all wrong for this story because she tends to produce annoying one-liners that ruin the mood of the scene. The scene will build up into something scary, something big, and then... woosh! Jasmine deflates the scene by saying something flippant that doesn't match the gravity of the situation.
The sex scenes on the most part also feel tacked on either to titillate or, in some instances, to shock and disgust. They aren't integrated well into the story because for the most part the sex scenes feel gratuitous rather than necessary. I often find myself enjoying the non-sexual darker fantasy aspects of the story and become frustrated when the author causes everything to come to a screeching halt just so that her main characters can get to have sex. The story and the sex seem to be working against each other here and I believe I prefer the story which is far more interesting than the sex here.
A part of me will always wonder whether Book Of Masks will be a much better story if it gets a chance to be a more straight-up dark fantasy story without having all those compulsory sex scenes clipped on here and there to meet the Ellora's Cave standard. There are an intriguing plot and a nice build-up but somehow the overall story doesn't come together as well as I'd expect.
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