His Dark Desires

The Mistress of Trevelyan

Touch a Dark Wolf
by Jennifer St. Giles
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-4165-1332-9
With everybody jumping on the paranormal bandwagon these days, authors are a bit pressed for ways to present alternate realities in some original new way. Unfortunately, Ms. St. Giles’ solution is to throw everything into the mix – demons, werebeasts and vampires, as well as the shapeshifting Shadowman warriors from the spirit world who battle them – creating a mythology so convoluted she can’t actually explain it successfully to the reader.

Erin Morgan discovers that her boss, Dr. Cinatas, is a murderer, killing people for the blood he needs to treat his ultra-rich clients with his amazing transfusion therapy. Although it’s not clear until later in the story, Erin is headed for Cinatas’s R&D facility in Tennessee, I guess hoping to find some answers there.

En route, however, her car hits some kind of terrifying beast locked in combat with what appears to be a silver wolf. The wolf drags the beast off the hood of her SUV, allowing her to escape. She doesn’t get far before she goes off the road in some kind of fog, crashes and blacks out.

The wolf is actually a shapeshifter named Jared, a Shadowman warrior in the Guardian Forces – in fact, one of an elite band of warriors known as Blood Hunters. (Was it really necessary to have this many layers?) The Blood Hunters don’t hunt for blood but, in fact, protect humans who have Elan blood from the evil Army of the Fallen, led by Heldon, who feed on Elan blood. How humans come to have Elan blood is unclear – apparently it’s not hereditary – but it’s particularly tasty to the evil creatures of the Vladarian Order, who are also, as far as I can tell, Heldon’s minions. Dr. Cinatas is finding Elan blood and providing it to the Vladarians.

Got all that?

Anyway, Jared sustained a bite from the creature he was fighting, and the bite will poison him slowly until he turns into a demon himself. Jared’s cohorts in the Blood Hunters had taken a vow to kill any of their number who fall prey to this fate, but for some reason they don’t kill Jared. Instead, they decide to see if the old legend is true – that his soul can be redeemed by finding love in the mortal world. Hoping she can help, they dump Jared’s naked body on the hood of Erin’s SUV, where she finds him when she regains consciousness.

The story is mostly about Erin and Jared fleeing from Cinatas and the Vladarian demons while Jared tries to fight off the evil poisoning his system and Erin tries to figure out what’s going on. In case it’s not complicated enough, about halfway through the book, the author introduces several new characters, including a psychic with a particularly excruciating Irish accent.

The author has to spend such a lot of time trying to explain who all these people are and how they’re connected that not much actually happens for most of the book except running and fighting. Erin and Jared create some really nice heat when they’re allowed to stop for breath, but romance and characterization take a distant back seat to all the elaborate world-building. Still, I liked these two characters, and would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it had actually focused on their relationship.

To give her credit, the author must have put an enormous amount of thought into creating this complex universe. But having done so, she was apparently reluctant to leave out a single detail – or perhaps was unable to tell which ones were actually essential to telling this story. The result, unfortunately, is not so much an adventure story as a flood of information that overwhelms rather than informs – or engages – the reader.

This is apparently the first in a series of books that takes place in this universe. There’s a lot of potential for entertainment here – if a lot more discipline and a lot more focus on the characters can be brought to bear.

-- Judi McKee

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