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ChrisHepler

Class-Action Vampires

Author of "Civil Blood" (2018), contributor to numerous video games, infrequent blogger at www.christopherhepler.com. I like thrillers, urban fantasy, science fiction, and the occasional thematic point about human nature.

Dark Prince: Get Some Aloe Vera For That Burning Desire

Dark Prince - Christine Feehan

Dark Prince really likes its male and female leads. Their names are Mikhail and Raven, and they are perfect for each other. I mean that in a factual rather than complimentary way. The book takes great pains to make them two halves of a whole, baking it into the premise of the magic system. The male vampires of the novel must find a lifemate to keep them from succumbing to their darkest urges, and just one person in the world will do.

 

Mikhail and Raven know they're in the throes of destiny right from the get-go. Raven's a human psychic vacationing in Romania when she hears Mikhail's angst via telepathy. Being a giving soul, she helps out, and their communication via direct thoughts conveniently puts their courtship pedal to the metal. Mikhail, a powerful noble Byronic hero type who doesn't take no for an answer, shows up at her tourist lodge in the middle of dinner and uses his mind-affecting powers to cow everyone while he literally carries Raven off to his pad.

 

If you're thinking this is as creepy as it reads, let me just say "uh-huh." Raven tries to resist, but can't because Mikhail is just so damn sexy. This is not from his mental commands -- he specifically mentally commands her a couple of times for other reasons, but Raven chooses not to shit a brick in absolute terror at this violation, and once she's made some protestations, falls in sweeping, all-consuming, dizzy-from-blood-loss love with him. Their banter is meant to ameliorate this power disparity (which it doesn't, really), and carry on in the tradition of heroines who find vampires irresistible despite their danger. But unlike Bram Stoker's blood-drinking-as-metaphor-for-sex, Dark Prince gets straight into sex and blood that is, um, about 75% consensual and 25% coercion. It's never rape, but a girl could use some pepper spray is what I'm saying.

 

Our hero and heroine then have earth-shaking throw-down gorilla sex for about the first half of the book. It's pretty well described the first time, which is good, because the next five times or so it says a lot of the same stuff. Everything is "silken skin" and "burning need," there's a lot of souls becoming one and manful "claiming her as his." To be fair, it's not all repetition: the stakes are upped a little bit each time from sex to sex & blood to lifemate ritual to the vampiric Embrace itself.

 

Oh, did I use a Vampire: The Masquerade term? Don't worry about it. Dark Prince is full of them. There's blood bonding, princes of vampires, sun lethargy, blood potency, lots of sleeping bodily in the earth like in the Protean discipline, and who knows what I've forgotten. To be fair, an entire generation of urban fantasy was influenced by White Wolf, so the author is not alone here. My own writing has gaming in its DNA, too. But for obvious reasons, I'll call out when a mainstream genre writer doesn't file off the serial numbers before reselling Chekov's gun.

 

There are some additional touches not in White Wolf - the weather literally gets worse with Mikhail's mood, the vampires have a fertility crisis and will die without their lifemates, and my personal favorite bit: Mikhail goes off in his own language now and then. (Honestly, I can't tell if it's made-up or just Romanian, but it added nicely to the world-building.)

 

Most of the book is sex, or flirting when the blood-bonded pair are too injured to have sex, or yearning whenever they are apart from each other for literally even a moment. This gets pretty worn, but around the second half of the book, a plot picks up involving vampire hunters and their mastermind bent on exterminating the last few Carpathians, the book's term for "good" vampires. Carpathians are established as vulnerable to bullets as well as the sun, so despite Mikhail's frequently-mentioned amazing powers, the antagonists are a pretty effective threat. It all comes together fine, but the purple prose wore me out about halfway through, so the dramatic heights of the end were not as climactic for me as the author probably intended. All in all, Dark Prince has few surprises, but as evidenced by its gazillion sequels, when your novel is primarily about vampire sex, the market value of surprises is pretty low.

 

I'd give this two stars, but I'm going to bump it to two and a half because of the research necessary to put together the Carpathian language. That doesn't grow on trees. As for who'd like it, if you thought the Mina/Dracula dynamic in that Francis Ford Coppola movie was cheeseball and you picked up this novel, I got nothin' but bad news for you. On the other hand, if you want a towering romance with mountain chateaus and that 19th-century Gothic vibe with lightning storms and noble savage blood-drinkers, Dark Prince tries hard to deliver. And if you just want vampire sex, which there ain't no shame in, you can fill in the other two and a half stars yourself.