Gena Showalter is one of those authors that has been on my wishlist for years but I've never gotten around to buying any of her books. So, when I stayed at a friends house recently and noticed that she had the first book in Showalter's Alien Huntress series I decided to be anti-social and read it.
Mia Snow is an Alien Huntress, her job is to hunt down any violent aliens, or any aliens suspected of violence, and kill them. Mia and her partner Dallas are hunting down an alien who has murdered a human when Dallas is shot and left fighting for his life. It becomes clear that Dallas is going to die and Mia is holding vigil at his bedside when Kyrin, one of the deadly Arcadian aliens, appears. He tells her that he can save Dallas. But Kyrin isn't going to save Dallas out of the goodness of his heart. In return he wants his sister, a suspect in the recent murders, to be released. Mia can't release a hostile alien but how can she leave her friend to die? And how can she deal with the inappropriate attraction that she feels towards Kyrin?
-A Dark Future-
When I start reading a fantasy series, even a romantic fantasy series, one of the things that I look for is an interesting world. In my experience the first book in a series tends to not be as good as the later books so what I'm usually looking for is potential. This series certainly seems to have that.
Awaken me Darkly is set in a future that reminds me a lot of 1984. People can be traced by their voices (there are microphones everywhere, recording voices), the alien hunters are judge, jury and executioner for aliens and it just seems like a restrictive place to live. Of course this is nothing original, the fact that I'm comparing it to 1984 illustrates that, it's not even original in the romance genre but that's not something that I usually hold against books, it's difficult to have an original concept. In many ways this is a lot like other urban fantasy settings, except where you would usually find vampires or demons you now have aliens. At first I thought it was interesting to have aliens instead of earth born species, something original but now that I've read it it doesn't seem very original at all. The fact that they come from other planets is completely irrelevant to the novel, as I said, it could just have easily been vampires or demons.
Although the setting is not original I still liked it and think that it has amazing potential for this series. At the moment a lot of this world is still a mystery to the reader. We know the basics, that it's the future, aliens have landed and humans have allowed them to stay but under restrictive laws that give aliens next to no rights. We know that aliens have different powers and abilities but we don't yet know the extent of those abilities. I would continue reading this series just to see how Showalter develops her world. She has let the reader in on bits of legislation, lifestyle and culture but it's still quite fragmented and left me wanting to know more. Everything I found out about the world only raised more questions for me. I don't think this is a bad thing, particularly for the first book in a series. It leaves the reader wanting to read on and that has to be a good thing.
Romance novels tend to be character driven but this one is less so than other fantasy romance that I've read. It's not a long book and so much of the book is dedicated to building the world and the murder plot that there aren't many pages dedicated to building the characters yet Showalter manages to develop characters in far more depth than in most other romance novels that I've read. Mia in particular is very well developed. I'm probably a bit biased because I love strong female characters and Showalter has managed to write an extraordinary female character in a way that doesn't make her seem like a Mary Sue. I do feel though that Mia falls a little too comfortably into the stereotypical heroine of urban fantasy novels and it would have been nice to read something a little more original. Parallels could be drawn between Mia and Anita Blake or Morgan Kingsley, other heroines from urban fantasy novels. Kyrin isn't as well developed as Mia, by the end of the book he still something of a mystery but as he was not the central focus of the book, that was Mia, I didn't mind this so much.
-Awaken Me Darkly-
One of the great things about this book is that it's really readable. It's not a long book and the writing is quite big so it's not surprising that it didn't take me long to read but even putting that aside this book is very easy to get into and could probably be read in one sitting if you have a couple of hours to spend reading. I think the strength is in the simple writing style, nothing too fancy or overly descriptive, very easy to follow. The problem is that although it is readable and I devoured this book I'm not sure if it was actually entertaining reading. I finished the book with a slight sense of disappointment.
The biggest disappointment was the lack of romance and eroticism. The front of the book promised something a little bit naughty, perhaps something kinky, the actual book delivered nothing of the sort. There was one scene that bordered on kinky but that was short and actually quite dull. There is a romance between Mia and Kyrin but it's so poorly developed that I found myself not caring at all about it. If anything the romance gets in the way of an otherwise good plot.
What I liked about the book was Mia's work. Although I didn't agree with her politics (she didn't think aliens should have any rights) I did find myself getting really drawn into her cases. When she's questioning suspects or having a meeting with other hunters I felt like I was part of it and found myself thinking about the things she was saying as though I was there in the room working on the case with her. Showalter seems to abandon this halfway through the book though and just kind of throws the murderer at Mia. It starts off as an interesting mystery, you get really into it and then suddenly there's no mystery any more. I don't want to give away too much about the plot so I'll resist the temptation to explain this in more detail! It was just a big disappointment. I think part of the problem here is that Showalter has spread herself too thin when it comes to genre's, she's trying to fit the fantasy, the romance and the crime into one very short book and the result is that she doesn't do the romance or the crime particularly well.
The beginning of this book moves at a good pace with Showalter taking the time to build up the world, introduce a lot of different characters and weave some mystery around Mia but somewhere in the middle she seems to lose it. The second half of the book feels very rushed and incomplete.
I'm undecided about whether or not I enjoyed this book. There were parts that really gripped me and overall it was very easy to read and get into but at the same time it left me feeling disappointed. This is a book that promised a lot, started to deliver it and then changed its mind halfway through. I think the series has potential though so I'm going to read the next book. I'll let you know if I recommend this series after I've read that one!