Eos, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-178314-2
While Death’s Sweet Embrace may be the second book in Tracey O’Hara’s Dark Brethren series, it features a new set of main characters, although be warned that this story will still contain some spoilers for the previous book in this series. The overall arc tying these books, so far as I can see, is that the villains that give this series its name are some kind of not-of-this-world beings who seem to be out to get the woo-woo folks in this alternate Earth. They are up to no good here once more.
The main characters this time are the Animalians. No, not cartoon superheroes – these are the shapeshifters, so yes, expect a lot of tedious pack drama involving women who are shuttled around and paired off by the men like cows in a farm, good for mostly breeding only, and our heroine Kathryn “Kitt” Jordan is not challenging this at all. In fact, once she gets her man, she’s all for pushing her kids deeper into the system so… I don’t know. Maybe Keri Arthur praising this series is apt, considering that her bestselling urban fantasy series of that time is basically that of women being herded in a sexy farm animal fantasy in which women are the livestock and men are in charge.
Anyway, Kitt is a snow leopard Animalian. Her history is long and convoluted, involving her being raped and, in order to avoid being married off to her rapist, was married off instead to some gay cat fellow who was then murdered, but not before Kitt had an affair with the wolf Animalian Raven (yes, the wolf is named after the black bird) and got two kids, and when Raven was framed for the dead gay cat dude’s murder, they were understandably separated and then she was asked to leave her kids behind as she went off to become a forensic pathologist and is later recruited by Oberon in the past book to be part of the woo-woo version of CSI: My God Is This Sentence Freaking Long or What. Got that?
Anyway, some fellow is killing teenage Animalians and ripping their hearts out for the grand finale, and Kitt is on to the case. Only, Raven is on to the case too, and now, he is on to her and, ooh, on to her indeed.
But if you’re expecting a gory, thrilling paranormal tale of heroes racing against time to track down an inhumane villain, you won’t find it here. Once this angle is introduced to get Raven caw-cawing at Kitt, the author for some reason chooses to focus on Kitt’s pride drama instead. This is where things get bizarre. The pride is ruthlessly chauvinist to such a degree that men can freely beat and abuse their wives, homosexuality is not allowed, and men dictate everything a woman can and cannot do. At any rate, Kitt longs to be part of such a pride again – she feels nostalgic for the very society that treats her this way. It’s probably a good thing that I know I am not allowed to make comparisons of these pride twats to real life people, or else I may say something here that will really get me into trouble with woke people in social media.
Anyway, the bulk of the story focuses on bewildering yet tedious, done-to-death already pride drama which boils the heroine down to basically her only thing of value: her vagina, or rather, her fecundity. Given that I am not interested in bearing a litter of brats every six months to some dog dude, I am not exactly at the edge of my seat. Much of the hand-wringing here is caused by the heroine’s passive acceptance of the ways of her pride. She can’t see her kids again! She can’t do this! Or that! Because the men in her pride said so! I find myself wondering whether this woman realizes that she is an adult, and she is perfectly capable of finding ways to solve her issues instead of just moping like a perpetual wet rag. Do something, for heaven’s sake!
During the occasional moments when the author remembers that something is out there killing something, things aren’t very exciting. Okay, the opening scene of this book is deliciously gory, but nothing else after that comes close. The villains are too much in the background for too long to be taken seriously, and when they do appear, their “Muah-ha-ha-ha!” vibes are unintentionally hilarious. From the Scooby-Doo villain-style ranting to the overwrought posturing, these villains are just so cute. There aren’t much suspense here because, once again, we have an author who is so afraid of letting her precious main characters get scratched even a little that she gives her Animalians healing factors that kick in immediately after these creatures break a nail.
Therefore, Death’s Sweet Embrace is basically a tedious story of a woman whinging non-stop about she loves to be part of an oppressive society that views her as a cow for breeding and nothing else, with occasional scenes of Wolverine-wannabes pitted against under-baked cartoon villains to break the monotony. Like I said earlier, perhaps this one is best read by folks who enjoy the fantasy of being a cow in a breeding pen.