The Darkest Kiss

Keri Arthur
2008, Urban Fantasy
Dell, $3.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0553591142
Part of a series

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Hot

Riley Jensen's latest case is complicated from the start: a high profile politician has been murdered, and his socialite prostitute is also dead. It only gets more twisted when she is asked to look into a BDSM-related death that seems to be suicide, but turns out to be only one of many murders committed by a vampire out for revenge. Riley's convinced she can handle both cases until one of the murders hits a little too close to home.

I consider myself a semi-fan of the series, and have read most of the books. I had hoped for more character and relationship development, as there has been in some of the previous books, but was ultimately disappointed that the personal and interpersonal took such a back seat here to the jam-packed and relentless action. Riley's huge problem her love life is neatly put aside by a few sentences here and there.

As always, I have to admire Riley as a character. I should mention that I like the early-Anita Blake books, so I have a sensitive radar when it comes to strong, female monster-fighting characters. Riley is more well-rounded as a character than Anita, and she has a very real, personable side to her that I find myself drawn to. I like her ability to be soft and emotional; it isn't "all or nothing" with Riley, and she's tough enough in the field without being unfeeling and cruel. I also enjoy her close relationship with her brother, who finally, finally has some interesting developments in this book. Those of you interested in learning why Rhoan is such a tramp when he seems to have found his mate will learn why.

While all the books in the series are action-packed, some feature more action than others. The books all feature Riley's sexual side; both as a werewolf during moon heat, and within various relationships. With all the action in this installment, there's less of that as well, and when it comes, it's late in the book, involving vampire gazillionaire Quinn, whom Riley swore off earlier in the series. I'm a sucker for men who are devoted to their women long before the women are committed, and Quinn doesn't disappoint in this particular book. His "issues" with werewolf promiscuity are on the back-burner. He's open about his feelings for her, helpful in the best way, and handsome as hell. However, considering their past, and how late in the book their scenes are, it was a little too late.

The various allusions to Japanese folk tales and other mythology are well done Ms. Arthur definitely did her research! I also liked the introduction of Vinny, an "emo" vampire who feeds off the emotions of others, instead of blood. Vinny is actually my favorite character in this book, which surprised me. What can I say? If there's no romance to be seen, I gravitate towards the fascinating villains.

A few minor problems: I found it a little annoying that the characters still call each other "wolf girl," "bird man," etc. I also found it a huge turn off to be told that all the characters constantly "smelled his/her arousal." This line was especially frequent when Ms. Arthur had huge blocks of only action and gore, and I got the feeling she attempted to keep those who read her books for the relationship development happy by peppering interactions with scents of arousal. It didn't do it for me. I believe this phrase is pretty standard in romances these days, especially paranormal ones, but after reading it over and over again in this novel, I felt a little like gagging.

There are lots of explicit, gory scenes in this book, so you might want to pass on this one if you get squeamish at the thought of decomposing body parts being tossed left and right. I would give the story an A++ for Ick Factor.

The Darkest Kiss is exciting in the beginning, has a sagging middle, but picks up in the end. It's a tough one to review because it has so many separate elements that are fascinating, but the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. Certainly it's not the best in the series, but there's enough here to keep fans interested, and enough to bring new readers into the fold, although I don't recommend starting here. I'll continue to recommend the series, but with a caveat: it is very slow in development.

-- Emma Leigh

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