by Sandra Hill, fantasy (2012)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-206461-5
I haven't caught up with Sandra Hill in a while, and Kiss Of Pride - the first book in what seems like a new series called Deadly Angels - seems like a decent point to get reacquainted with her. Unfortunately, this one is so ridiculous that it's like being in a horror movie where I'm that unfortunate victim number five that was fatally mowed down by a clown car.
Okay, let's start with the premise for this series. We're back to those bloody boring Vikings, because, I guess, Ms Hill couldn't get enough of writing the same hero again and again. So here, we have a bunch of uniformly hot and gorgeous Viking brothers - all seven of them - from long ago who pillaged, plundered and pilfered with abandon until they all died. By that point, God wanted to smite humans off the earth for being such useless creatures, but Archangel Michael had a plan.
You see, Lucifer had created evil vampires called - now don't laugh - Lucipires. These Lucipires were causing mayhem and havoc, and Michael's plan was to create a bunch of good vampires. And what better way of creating warriors of righteousness than to give these seven plundering ruthless murderous Viking brothers - each embodying one of the seven sins, although we can all be assured that the gluttonous one still has six-pack abs - eternal life, super powers, and more, right? It's all part of the plan to make them repent. And when they slip up - and they always do - Michael adds a few hundred more years to their lifespan as "punishment". These Viking brothers are called - now, please, try to stifle your laughter - "vangels". Vampires and angels, get it? Which is worse, "vangels" or "Lucipires"?
In this story, the leader of the vangels Vikar "Vik" Sigurdsson is given a new mission: the vangels are to congregate in Transylvania, Pennsylvania, in anticipation of a Lucipire plot by evil Jasper and his minions. At this point, Vik's entourage has swelled to, and I quote from page 23, 267 members. Hmm, doesn't that seem like a Lucipire plot to ensure that Sandra Hill, her daughter, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter have enough materials to create a series that will never end? At any rate, Vik decides to renovate a castle in the neighborhood, because discretion is the best policy and the bad guys will never see the vangels coming, what with 267 nitwits coming and going in a big castle and all. Aren't these good guys sneaky?
The renovation plans have everyone in Transylvania talking, and news reach the heroine Alexandra Kelly's boss, who decides to send her to cover the story of this mysterious dude in town. Alex has some angst about how the bad guys that murdered her husband and daughter would be most likely getting off on a technicality, and she'd rather try to take down those villains herself, so she's not too keen on wasting her time in Transylvania. But once she's in that town, she soon gets into a vangel tango with Vik, who has to decide between killing her or turning her once she's bitten by a Lucipire.
I don't know why Ms Hill decided to introduce angst in her story, because the cute lighthearted atmosphere of the story makes it very hard for me to take these issues seriously. It's "Ha-ha, cute joke, dirty joke, slapstick comedy, time for some angst, okay, back to funny moments!" where this story is concerned. Alex's personality lacks the gravity needed to make her determination to avenge her family believable. It doesn't help that the story is awkwardly paced, with the angst coming into play only late in the story. As a result, the drama feels tacked on for the sake of having something to get worked up over once the sex and sequel-baiting are done with.
Speaking of awkward pacing, this book alternates between introducing me to the world of the vangels through Alex's experiences and shoving future heroes down my throat. The plot of the story feels like an afterthought, as if the author had decided that there is no need to bother telling me any story now that I have already purchased the book, so she'd rather sell me future books instead.
There are also some head-scratching treatment of morality and Christianity here. It's Christianity layered over with right-wing sentiments. The people in this book don't like Bill Clinton, let's just say. And yet, the morality that is backed by religion here seems inconsistent. These guys were okay with redeeming Jeffrey Dahmer, but they want to kill Alex merely because she's bitten by a Lucipire, for example. Alex is doomed to eternal damnation for wanting revenge for her family, and, similarly, a secondary character forced into prostitution at the age of ten is forever damned. But hey, God agreed to let these Viking vangels - who plundered, murdered, and more with abandon - to be his personal warriors of righteousness. The whole thing is like attending Sunday school taught by a nun high on magic mushrooms - there are plenty of unfortunate implications in the totally crazy portrayal of divine punishment versus mercy here.
Also, Vik indulges in everything but actual penetration, because God frowns on premarital sex - which only reminds me of those jokes about Catholic schoolgirls and anal sex - and yet, he advises another character against masturbation as it is a sin. Maybe it's just me, but if the author wants to have a divine-sanctioned sex education class in her books, won't it make more sense to not make her heroes a bunch of crazed libidinous Fabio clones? Or is this a case of "Do as I say, not as I boink"?
There are also unfortunate implications in how Alex finds joy and contentment in cleaning after and cooking for everyone in the castle when she's not decorating the castle. She's one of those weirdos whose reaction upon discovering that she's surrounded by woo-woos that drink blood is, "Oh! How sexy! I'd better start cooking for everyone - show me the kitchen!" The unfortunate implications culminate in the presence of a character who was once forced to sleep with men and contracted AIDS in the process, and now he wants to spread AIDS and venereal diseases to gay men in the name of revenge. That is such a loaded minefield, I'm going to stop here and not touch that one anymore, even with a thousand-foot pole.
Bottom line here is that Kiss Of Pride is an unsatisfying read because it's a flimsy story with a romance that feels rote and a plot that feels tacked on. It serves more as an advertisement for future books in this series, and you know I feel about paying money only to get commercials instead of stories. However, it is the "I see the world in beautiful psychedelic colors after a few Jesus pills!" portrayal of good and evil, mercy and retribution, and other matters, along with a pile of inconsistencies, double standards, and unfortunate implications, that sink this book from being merely a mediocre sales pitch masquerading as a book into a mistake that should have aborted with extreme prejudice upon conception.
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