Berkley Sensation, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21400-8
Fantasy Romance, 2007
Touched by Darkness is the first book in Catherine Spangler’s series now that she has moved to a new publisher. The series revolves around some folks with super powers, actually men from Atlantis reincarnated in human bodies, called the Sentinels who do the gung-ho kick butt thing on villains, also from Atlantis, called the Belians. At the heart of all this drama is the Tuaoi Stone, a magical crystal used by the good guys of Atlantis to communicate with their deity until naughty Belial and his followers tried to misuse it and caused the whole island to sink.
So, when the story opens, we have a Sentinel, Damien Morgan, protecting the special child of our heroine Kara Cantrell as they go on the run from the Belians who want to get their hands on Kara’s psychic kid. Kara, a widow of a Sentinel, is reluctant to love another one of those people because she fears for her kid (a Sentinel comes with enemies crawling out of the shadows, after all), but… well, this is where I have some big problems with this story.
When it comes to the external conflict, Touched by Darkness is actually a very gripping and exciting read. The pacing is very well done, the element of suspense is developed in a manner that has me intrigued enough to keep turning the pages, and the characters don’t do anything too stupid to make me want to scream, although there are times when Kara can get on my nerves with her inability to see the obvious danger signs before her eyes.
The problem here is the romance. You see, the author has created an interesting setting, although the reincarnation part has me scratching my head, but she has also decided that her setting needs some sexy magical woo-woo stuff so she has set it up so that a Sentinel and a Conductor (a conduit that can help the Sentinel channel the woo-woo stuff better) must be attracted to each other and that using the magical chakra thingies to scry and locate the bad guys will also stimulate arousal in those two. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a hard time imagining that two very sexually aroused people can concentrate fully on solving crimes. And yet I am to accept that this is how magic works in the setting – the same magic you use to locate the bad guys also makes you horny at the same time. What on earth? Oh, and sorry, guys, no homosexual woo-woo here. The author makes it clear that the Sentinel and the destined Conductor are “always” of the opposite sex.
So, in this story, the only reason these two characters will even remotely fall in love, if I can call it that, is because the utterly ridiculous chakra-makes-me-hot thing makes them all randy and ready to shag. And yet, the author tries to convince me that Damien and Kara are in love by the last page.
If Ms Spangler hasn’t come up with an utterly ridiculous short cut in this story to force the characters to be “in love”, this one would have been a solid read. As it is, this could have been a good read, but it is ruined by the very stupid way magic works in this setting and the even more stupid “we are compelled to have sex, so it must be love” way love is supposed to work. This book comes close to getting there, but ouch, I must ask what the author is thinking to even imagine that getting all hot and aroused is a good state for her characters to be in when they are confronted by grave danger.