Full Moon Rising

 
Embraced by Darkness
by Keri Arthur
(Dell, 6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0553589610
****
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?  One thing that can just break a reader’s heart is when his or her favorite author suddenly takes an unexpected turn (needless to say, that is often for the worse).  That can’t be said for Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson, Guardian series.  For those that have read any or all of the previous four books, Embraced by Darkness will prove very familiar.  To readers who thought what Arthur refers to as Riley’s “werewolf” outlook on sexual morality (or lack thereof) was a little hard to chew, this latest installment will be a welcome relief and maybe even a pleasant surprise.  For those of us that enjoyed the other books, it is important to know that it was an action-packed, quick read that is just as entertaining, if not overly inspired.

Riley is trying to bask in a much-needed vacation from her Directorate duties when she is summoned by the alpha of the Jenson Red pack, the pack from which she and her twin, Rhoan, were evicted at the tender age of sixteen.  Though tempted to ignore Blake, the case he presents her - missing blonde werewolves - draws her in.  This look into Riley’s past is what fascinates the reader initially.  That line in the story disappears, however, and we’re led into a fairly provocative mystery.  In each book, Keri Arthur has improved on her ability to blend the paranormal and mystery genres together, much like early Laurell K. Hamilton.  A secondary mystery (that, it seems, was supposed to be the main plot initially but got overshadowed) explodes into the book early on and will keep you on your seat … until it fizzles out with a very anti-climactic ending early in the novel. Unfortunately, most of the character-building went into the second bad guy, so it is difficult to develop an exciting level of interest in the real antagonist.

Riley, as usual, is at odds with herself.  In this book, though, she actually seems to be confronting some issues; or, at least, approaching them.  There is the fact that she and Rhoan have little choice but to deal with their former pack.  Also, she is progressing with her job as a Guardian - a job she avoided until one of her mates tried experimental drugs on her; now, the Directorate is her only hope of monitoring the effects.  As mentioned earlier, Riley’s sex life takes what is for her an unusual turn: she’s only sleeping with one guy, Kellen, and Kellen has started making commitment noises.  Even commitment-phobe Rhoan is trying out semi-monogamy (meaning he can still sleep with others “on the job”).  Quinn, vampire, lover, and person about whom Riley feels the strongest romantically is out of the picture entirely; unlike many a heroine, Riley can stick to her guns.

Arthur sticks primarily to characters introduced previously, and why not?  She’s created  a great chemistry between the lot of them in her alternate-reality Australian setting. The beauty to her characters is that they all have flaws, and no bones are made about them.  They’re out there for anybody to see, just like a normal human being - or superhuman being.  Riley is a strong, self-reliant character who nonetheless never hesitates to ask for help when it’s needed and leap to help when she’s needed.  She’s loyal, smart-assed, and tough with a vulnerability that doesn’t shame her.  

Without the usual multitudes of men floating about her and her twin, this book gave the reader an opportunity to know the Jensons better.  A little more ingenuity (or maybe even just a little more strength to the sub-plot), and this would easily have been a five-heart review.  As it is, the slightly cliff-hanger ending is sure to leave fans old and new waiting with baited breath for Riley’s next adventure - be it work - or relationship-related.

--Sarrah Knight


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