by Elizabeth Guest, paranormal (2007)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21482-4
Elizabeth Guest is actually not a new author as this is Suzanne Simmons writing under a new pseudonym. The glowing phrases on the front and back cover by Jayne Ann Krentz, Stella Cameron, and Elizabeth Lowell should have given me a clue, heh, although any reader who opens the book and turns to either the copyright page or the author's bio will learn of this right away. Then again, fans of this author may also recall that Elizabeth Guest is the name of the heroine in the author's first historical romance with Avon, Desert Rogue.
I like Suzanne Simmons but clearly unlike her buddies who always lend their names to her book front and back covers, she hasn't been on anyone's hot list despite having written romances since way back in 1979. I don't know if being Elizabeth Guest will be the author's big break but I can safely say that Night Life is recognizably something that this author will write, either as Suzanne Simms, Suzanne Simmons, Suzanne Simmons Guntrum, or Elizabeth Guest.
The first book in the Pharaohs Rising series, this one is not exactly what one can expect from a typical urban fantasy tale because it is hardly an action-paced one despite the hero being a variation of a vampire. The emphasis is on the courtship of our hero Adrian King and heroine Christine Day, with some plot about great evil being tacked on towards the end in a half-hearted manner.
Like many of this author's books, there is a most amusing kind of irony in the premise. Egyptologist wunderkind Christine Day spends her life, just like her father and grandfather did theirs, researching and looking for the tomb of the great Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah Seti, the last of the great kings of Egypt, only to finally find the man she is looking for... in present day Las Vegas. Drawn to the opulent casino the Royal Palace upon hearing news that the place houses some of the best replicas of Egyptian artifacts, Christine finds herself drawn to the handsome casino owner Adrian King, not knowing that he and she have a thing from way back thanks to dreams and destiny and other magic woo-woos.
Due to a magical rite that has not been made very clear to me, Merneptah Seti did not receive the proper burial process (being made into a mummy and all that). As a result, after a thousand years or so of "death", he awoke thirty years ago. However, he is no longer human. He now feeds on human dreams and emotions as he struggles for control to resist becoming what his people call the Eater of Blood and the Breaker of Bones. That's a long and fancy name for vampire, by the way. In the last 30 years, he has reinvented himself as Adrian King, the master of his vast domain in Vegas. Also, his retainers have also awakened in the years after him, with some coming to serve him while who knows what the others are doing.
Our heroine doesn't know it at first but Adrian has been dreaming of her way back then, to the point that he has a poem and perfume made in the honor of his dream lover. As destiny will have it, the scroll containing the recipe for the perfume has been in her family for three generations now and she happens to be wearing that scent when she meets Adrian. The rest of their relationship is pretty much standard "Destiny! Fate! Sex!" stuff.
However, Night Life showcases what the author does best: sensible and likable characters getting along like a house on fire. Adrian and Christine have personalities that fit like hand in glove that it is hard for me not to get at once that these two are meant to be together. Adrian is a nice mix of alpha and beta hero traits. He's a commanding ruler to the people around him, but when it comes to the heroine he's all hers to use and abuse at will. The author is very coy when it comes to Adrian's physical appearance but what the heck, I'll just imagine that he looks like Oded Fehr.
Meanwhile, Christine is a recognizable heroine from this author: she's smart, she's sensible, and she's not going to plague me with too-stupid antics. Likewise, I can expect the relationship of those two to be mostly free of internal conflicts.
I can also expect the author's lush and gorgeous descriptions of her setting and my goodness, Night Life makes a very lovely picture book thanks to Ms Guest's painstakingly and vividly detailed setting. The Royal Palace is transformed into a personal Egypt-themed paradise for Christine and Adrian and it's a fabulous place. I want to live in that place myself. Ms Guest really knows how to bring to life her setting. I feel as if I've been transported by the author to the Royal Palace. Sometimes I believe that I can actually see that place, thanks to the author's descriptive way with words.
The glaring downside of this story is the canon that is far from descriptive or detailed. I still have no idea why Adrian managed to wake up 30 years ago. Perhaps the author will explain the canon in more detail in future books, I don't know, but the canon is pretty vague here. The author cheats when it comes to the Great Evil subplot too - the villain shows up out of nowhere and the heroine pretty much "discovers" some hitherto hidden special abilities in herself that can conveniently save the day at the penultimate moment. I finish this book with more questions than answers. I don't know what Adrian is and I am also not sure whether Christine is the modern-day incarnation of some magical creature or not... Whatever she may be, I have no idea. Because of the far from detailed canon, I can't help feeling that the author is merely making things up as she goes along with the story.
Night Life is a very readable story and really, the setting is gorgeous. However, I suspect that readers looking for fast-paced action or detailed world-building will most likely be bored by this book. What it has in its favor is a very likable pair of lead characters, some very nicely dramatic last few chapters that actually bring a tear to my eyes even if I have no clear idea what is going on, and plenty of lush and opulent scenery. Let's just say that I have this sneaking suspicion that this book will appeal more to fans of paranormal romances rather than fans of urban fantasy stories because of the slow pace and the emphasis on the romance instead of the world-building. Lucky for the author, I'm both.
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