Signet Eclipse, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21564-8
Savannah Russe’s Beyond the Pale is the first book in the vampire covert agency series The Darkwing Chronicles. Unlike the label on the book (“paranormal romance”) there is nothing much to offer in terms of a romance here. This book is actually the start of a series featuring our vampire heroine Daphne Urban. And despite the fact that the heroine and the other agents in the US covert agency Darkwing being vampires, there is nothing else paranormal about the series. The villains are a right-wing zealot’s boogeymen made life: weapon dealers, foreign terrorists, and drug dealers.
I guess you can ask a legitimate question here: how on earth are a bunch of wussy human terrorists ever going to stand up to vampires, especially when they don’t know that the Darkwing people are vampires? Beyond the Pale actually demonstrates how utterly boring the story can be when this happens. There is not much suspense in this story because it’s clear that whatever the human villains do, the vampires can do so much more to kick their butts.
The reason this book has 295 pages and not 95 pages is because Ms Russe details the formation of Darkwing and the painfully juvenile relationship between Daphne and a rogue agent Darius della Chiesa. Daphne is nearly 500 years old when somehow the US government detects her presence as well as several other vampires and forces them to become Darkwing agents to save America from its enemies. You may be wondering why Daphne doesn’t just swing her hand and send these annoying people’s heads flying. J, the Bosley of Darkwing, sells Daphne a vision of patriotic vampires being the heroes of United States and Daphne, with visions of 9/11 and all swimming in her head, decides that finally, her life has a purpose.
I have a feeling that some non-Americans will find this book too funny for words.
And so the book crawls, pretty slowly, as Daphne stumbles upon this man, Darius, who may or may not be an agent on her side. They end up having hot sex. Meanwhile, the Darkwing go on small orientation missions, although heaven knows why they need all those bothersome missions since they can just go on a bloody rampage on the enemies and have J blame Iraq for the mess that results.
So, really, this book really feels unnecessarily slow and prolonged because the vampires are clearly more powerful than whatever Osama bin Laden wannabe that dwells in this story. In the meantime, Daphne tries hard to be some wisecrack-delivering smart-ass sassy type of heroine that is all the rage among authors nowadays after MaryJanice Davidson demonstrates that romance readers like that kind of fanged heroines. Unfortunately, there are many moments when she clearly lets her lust for Darius overrules her common sense or she just does plain stupid things that she comes off as really dumb. Towards the end Daphne completely goes against her team to make Darius happy. She never seems to be taking her mission seriously despite the author’s assertion that Daphne is this vampire with a high IQ, but I suppose I can’t blame Daphne since her enemies after all are mere silly humans.
As for Darius, he is a complete pain in the ass because he’s a misogynist judgmental bastard. But then again, apart from the gay male vampire here, all the men that are automatically hot for Daphne are never pleasant men – they are extremely xenophobic about either her sex or her race. Yeah, yeah, make your own “Hmmph, right-wing zealots – whaddya expect?” jokes here. Even the chemistry doesn’t ring real. Ms Russe insists in one scene that J spewing how much he hates Daphne’s kind is a sign that there is some kind of chemistry between them. Yeah, the chemistry behind the Haber’s process, I suppose, because eeeuw, what’s that stench? As for Darius and Daphne, the attraction and chemistry are told rather than shown.
The impression I get from this book is that Daphne should have been human. The story will in fact be better off because then at least Darkwing will face some challenge in defeating the terrorists and weapon dealers in this story. The good guys clearly overpower the bad guys here despite their inexperience with United States intelligentsia protocols (and really, why bother – just get them on a rampage and blame Iraq when someone doesn’t like what Darkwing did) so there is no suspense to keep me intrigued and turning the pages. Some of the secondary characters are amusing and Daphne’s mother is a most unusual variation of the meddlesome mother overly invested in her daughter’s love life stereotype, but too much of this story feels like a pointless meandering effort to make the story longer than it should be.
I suppose some extra points should be given for the hilarity of the scene where the lying pig Darius curses Daphne bitterly as he sobs into a piece of her ripped underwear, but I suspect that I find the scene more hilarious than the author intends it to be.