|Reading the third book or so in a series before the first and second is difficult: imagine going straight to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire without first taking in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Not only would you miss out on key details of Harry's childhood, you would also land on a fairly alien world. Skilful authors can make up for this, but in the hands of the less adroit, the reader has to be prepared for either major confusion or massive info-dumping. I experienced both for the first third of Night Season. Worse, I was so busy trying to make sense of who was who and what was what that I could not sit back and enjoy. It's a shame: in other circumstances there might have been a lot to enjoy.
In Wilkes's complex fantasy universe, humans and paranormal creatures (including werewolves, elves, demons and dragons) co-inhabit. Humans are wary of the latter — in fact until recently non-humans were persecuted — and a special division of the FBI is assigned to work with them. Agent Cynna Weaver belongs to this division.
Cynna is a "finder": she has the magical ability of locating lost objects. In a previous episode, the street-wise, tough gal had a one-night stand with Cullen Seabourne, a werewolf sorcerer who moonlights as a male stripper. At the beginning of this book, she is pregnant and unsure of what kind of relationship she wants with the father. By the end of the book, her baby is guaranteed something more than caring co-parents. And somewhere in between the two covers, Cynna, Cullen and others are transported into the "night season" (or months of complete darkness) of another world. There, they meet her long-lost father, fend off attacks from different fantasy creatures, and help find a missing and much-coveted medallion.
Sounds simple? Actually, it is a lot more complicated. Just as soon as I thought I had recognized all the important players, another one was introduced. Just as soon as I understood the intricate web of allegiances, another angle was illuminated. All this made it rather difficult to focus on the main characters and their romance.
Cynna's and Cullen's relationship does not fall into the much-too-familiar plot of the sexy but secretly uncertain charmer who meets his match in the cynical tomboy. Cullen has his share of problems (my guess is they are the topic of a previous book), but Cynna is the one with the really big chip on her shoulders. Abandoned as a child, she has trust issues.
Werewolves have difficulty procreating, so she knows how important a baby is for Cullen. That is why she quickly accepts his involvement. Yet she is also much too insecure to see marriage and monogamy as a long-term option. To his credit, Cullen knows Cynna enough to give her the space she needs. His attitude is an unexpected and pleasant variation from insensitive and dictatorial alpha cavemen. I would have like to see more of it, and could only regret that their interaction had to make way for all the other developments.
Night Season has a lot going for it: a captivating world, intriguing characters and a potentially great romance. In the long run, a lot turns out to be too much. I closed the book feeling a bit like the proverbial poor kid in the overpriced toy store. I walked away holding almost nothing.