Night Play
by Sherrilyn Kenyon, fantasy (2004)
St Martin's Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99242-4


Sherrilyn Kenyon isn't rocking the boat where her formulae is concerned. Night Play features her now-typical over-the-top tortured hero, the goody-goody heroine who is more concerned about depreciating herself while overly romanticizing the hero, and a roster call of characters from books past and future. On the bright side, there is a marked emphasis on plot and characterization in the last few books, including this one, over flippant one-liners and sex in previous books.

It all begins when Vane Kattalakis, half-Katagaria, half-Acardian... oh, recounting the mythology in this book will require me to go on and on for hours. Let's just say that he is a shape-changer who can turn into wolf even while doing the wazoo (don't ask, I'm still not sure whether to laugh or groan). He also kills supernatural baddies and that's all I have to say about the convoluted mythology of this story. Readers new to the author's Dark-Hunters series shouldn't start with this book. I'm sure Ms Kenyon will have a companion book in the works to help readers (and I suspect, herself) keep track of her huge amalgamated-from-too-many-European-folklore mythology. Vane's past is over-the-top tortured with many dead puppies lining up the pages in his history book.

While taking a break from being an artfully tortured character, he meets Bride McTierney, the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (insert the author's "Oh just buy the books already!" cackle here), and they have a one-time wazoo at the store room of her cozy little store. Since nobody in Kenyonland can be happy, Bride has bad luck with men and she doesn't do that sex thing too well. Because of this quickie, Bride attracts the attention of Vane's enemies. Meanwhile, every paranormal romance has to have a mate thingie going on (just like every hero has to be a werewolf or vampire) so Vane and Bride are now mates. The whole "love from a quickie" drama is so much like Britney Spears and her husband of the moment, so romantic, isn't it? But Vane just cannot be with her (so he becomes a "stray dog" to be by Bride's side instead) just as Bride knows that he cannot want her (with her being overweight and all that), oh the melodrama! And I wonder why Ms Kenyon cannot be a little bit restrained with the whole cannot thing.

Sure, this book has an unusual hero and a very unusual love scene - trust me, it's surreal - but there is an increasing sameness to the author's books. The whole "I'm just too tortured! Our love cannot be, cannot be, because our brooding melodramatic angsts defy rational thinking - we just want to be unhappy, damn it, and have broody angry sex!" schtick is really getting old. The characters still come off as uber-cheesy too-tormented one-dimensional cartoon characters and the plot is spiraling into a complicated mythology whose depths clash awkwardly with the superficial characters going through the motions of being ridiculously baggage-laden.

I want to like Night Play much more than I actually do. Plot-wise, premise-wise, this is the most interesting and promising of the Dark-Hunters books. But the execution remains shoddy and half-baked. I can't help thinking that Ms Kenyon may be dumbing down her stories in favor of sequel-baiting, cartoonishly tortured characters, and the final products being rushed to the printers when more work could have been done on fleshing out further the characters.

Rating: 71


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