Downtown, $13.00, ISBN 0-7434-9749-X
Awaken Me Darkly is the first book in Gena Showalter’s urban fantasy series Alien Huntress and it features – what else? – an alien hunter named Mia Snow. In this alternate world, instead of vampires and fae creatures, the aliens are the one who have landed. The aliens are of various species, each with their own traits both nice and not-so-nice, and it is up to Alien Investigation and Removal agents like Mia to keep the peace around the place. In this story, Mia investigates a trail of dead bodies that begins with a naked man found dead with a ribbon tied around his no-longer-happy little buddy and implicates an Arcadian alien. What’s an Arcadian, you ask? That’s one of the four species of aliens currently dancing to Will Smith’s Men in Black. No, really, you ask, what’s an Arcadian?
Well, one of the more obvious issues I have with this series is how little detail is provided by the author in this particular book. There are aliens and these aliens can be mean and bad, but I have no idea what these aliens really are, how they look like, or what their culture is like. I’m not asking for an encyclopedic treatise on these matters, of course, but I don’t even get a sketchy picture of the canon in this story. While the lack of details doesn’t really get in the way of understanding the story, it unfortunately doesn’t add much interesting details that would have made this series more interesting.
And Gena Showalter needs her series to be as interesting as it can get because everything about Awaken Me Darkly comes off like a very obvious rehash of the whole Laurell K Hamilton/JD Robb formula. Mia is mouthy, sassy, and insists that she is one badass bitch. She has this very wealthy and very mysterious Arcadian guy who is clearly the designated love interest in the series. There are many little aspects of this story that feel so familiar in a “I’ve read this before, haven’t I?” manner. Also, Mia isn’t as tough as Ms Showalter believes, not when the author is traditional enough to allow the hero to have the upper hand over the heroine every single time these two clash. It’s hard to see the heroine as someone who can kick ass when it’s her ass that is being kicked all over the place, after all.
Awaken Me Darkly has aliens instead of vampires or werewolves but nonetheless too many things about it are familiar. This book comes off like a by-the-number effort with very little about it that is unique or representative of the author’s personal take on things. The lack of solid representation of the world-building and canon to the reader only worsens the problem of this book lacking a distinct and memorable feature. Because this book is meant to sell me on the rest of the series, it should grab me by the neck and make me want to read more instead of tip-toeing around Urban Fantasy Formula 101 matters throwing all kinds of familiar elements of the whole Eve Dallas/Anita Blake/Buffy concept at my face.
This is not a bad book by itself – the pacing is a little uneven with too many things happening late in the story in a rushed manner but the overall story is a decent and rather entertaining rehash of the Kickass Heroine Takes on the Spooks formula. But as a hook to sell me on the rest of the series, it’s a failure of sorts since I am not exactly bursting with impatience to get into the next book in the series. There are many urban fantasy series out there and Ms Showalter needs to show me that there is something special about this particular series that isn’t found in other series. Some sketchily-developed “aliens” alone won’t cut it, I’m afraid.