St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-98483-9
Fantasy Romance, 2003
Sherrilyn Kenyon’s fourth Dark-Hunter book is a tried-and-true formulaic bad boy story with characters that are very, very familiar. Still, with a more focused plot and a reduction on the number of blatant sequel bait product placements (of which I am grateful for), Dance with the Devil is the strongest entry to this series to date. Which, admittedly, isn’t saying much.
Our hero is Zarek, supposedly the worst, baddest, maddest exiled Dark-Hunter of them all. After all the nonsense he get into in Night Embrace, now the Greek goddess of war Artemis wants him dead but Acheron is more eager to give Zarek one more chance. Into this problem comes Astrid, the sister to the three Fates who must judge Zarek if he is worthy to redeemed. So she takes Zarek into a nice little place in Alaska that she shares with her werewolf bodyguard Sasha (someone will have to sit me down and tell me how an Egyptian demigod come to be named Sasha) and the usual familiar pop-psychology games begin.
It becomes apparent enough that Zarek isn’t a bad guy as much as a poor-me-oh misunderstood sad lil’ man whose past is filled with what seems like every lousy cliché in existence. Blindness, bad parents, you know, the usual. Astrid, for a supposedly impartial judge that has judged many men in her centuries of existence, is a complete pushover – she’ll be at home in the audience at the taping of Oprah’s live show because upon hearing Zarek’s sad, sad story, she can’t spread her legs wide for some good old sexual healing fast enough. This is where Dance with the Devil delivers the biggest disappointment – after Ms Kenyon has built up Zarek to be really, really bad, it turns out that he’s just a sad little boy that still refuses to kill human beings despite laying claim to the title of the nastiest goon of them all. Do I feel cheated? Of course.
Some external conflicts arise from people wanting to do Zarek in, the usual. These are nothing too spectacular: like the romance, everything else is familiarity brewed into a thick malt drink and served chilled.
Dance with the Devil is not a bad book. But take away the mythology and what’s left is a very, very, very generic book. It will do if one wants something to pass the time, but if you are expecting a really bad guy in need of redemption, try to look elsewhere. Zarek is a classic fake bad boy stereotype moping over his laundry list of sad cliché baggage while Astrid is the too-understanding and visceral heroine to shag him back to earth. The fact that this is the best book in the series to date suggests that there are many things that need improvement in this series. Some depths, more complex characterizations instead of cardboard cutouts, and a little less over reliance on clichés and stereotypes will be nice, for a start.