Review: ‘Darkness Unbound’ by Keri ArthurPosted: December 30, 2016
The fight against darkness rages on for the next generation—in New York Times bestselling author Keri Arthur’s exciting new series set in the world of the Guardians.
Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife.
Reapers escort souls — not snatch them — but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her “aunt” — half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson — and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose.
I had a vague idea that this was the first book in a series set in a world already established by a previous series. But, because it was the first book, I figured I’d be safe not to read the other series first. I was only partially correct in that assumption.
Keri Arthur’s world is … complicated. By way of example, her main character, Risa, is the daughter of a woman who is a cloned werewolf psychic consultant to celebrities; her father is an Aedh (a spirit being roughly akin to an angel). Her housemates and business partners are a horse shapeshifter who is a powerful witch, and a half-werewolf with pyrokinetic powers.
I managed to wrap my head around that part, but then you have all of Risa’s “aunts” and “uncles” (who I thought were really her aunts and uncles until towards the end of the book, when I realised they were her mother’s friends, presumably from the first series). They include half vampires, werewolves, guardians and I don’t even know what else. There were so many names and supernatural backstories that they blurred together. But I found once we got past the cameos and associated info dumps and I decided it didn’t matter, Darkness Unbound was an easier read.
The other thing I had to put to one side was that Risa is a bit of a Mary Sue character: gorgeous, with a selection of awesome superpowers and scad-loads of money. She even describes herself as “obscenely wealthy” at one point, and she had her housemates co-run a successful restaurant. I found her a little hard to relate to, because she never seems to really struggle for anything in her day-to-day life (and her restaurant income doesn’t seem to explain her alleged wealth). Again, this might be a symptom of the second-generation nature of the story — maybe her mother and the aunts and uncles already did the struggling so that Risa could benefit? I don’t know.
All of that being said, I still gave Darkness Unbound three stars, which is “I liked it” on the Goodreads scale (which I use because I’m lazy!). There are redeeming features in the story itself: there are bad guys with dastardly plans that Risa gets drawn into investigating. There’s a fair amount of shirtless eye candy (although a baffling lack of regular humans given the story is set in Melbourne!). Risa does get her ass handed to her on occasion, but she is also competent and quick-thinking when she gets into a jam, and can kick a decent amount of butt in her own right. That’s my favourite kind of heroine, so she gets points for that too.
One thing I should point out that didn’t bother me but that may not be to everyone’s taste is that werewolves in this world have the morals and sexual drive of a cat on heat. It may be related to the moon being full? I wasn’t clear on the details, but the upshot is that Risa is part-werewolf and casual sex is a thing. (I gather she has also used male werewolf sex workers in the past to satisfy her lusts — I personally like that girl power angle!) There’s even an orgy at one point. We’re not talking “Anita Blake later in that series” numbers of sexual encounters, thank goodness — it’s not the point of the story by any means. But the sex scenes in Darkness Unbound are explicit to the point of being erotica.
The last quarter of the book is where things really pick up pace and get more interesting, and that’s what saved Darkness Unbound somewhat for me. But there is less closure than some might like. The plot involving the “gates of hell” mentioned in the blurb is obviously the meta-plot for the series, and — although some questions are answered and there’s a twist that I found motivating (if not that surprising as it was well foreshadowed) — there are a lot of threads left unresolved.
If you’re looking for a complex urban fantasy world with some steamy sex, then I’d recommend this series. Actually, no, I think I’d recommend the other series first. That way this one will be less of a shock to the system.
(Edited to add: Goodreads tells me the first book in the original series has a lot more sex than this one … if that influences your decision-making one way or the other! 😉 )