by Melissa Lopez, fantasy (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-896-8
Dark Sentinel the first book in Melissa Lopez's Netherworld series. The Netherworld refers to, of course, that place of torture and brimstone ruled by Satan. Our hero Nicodemus or Lash at first has no idea why he is suddenly displaced from the Netherworld to somewhere in the Louisiana, but he's understandably happier in his new location since he'd spent ages being tortured in the Netherworld. The fact that he's taken in for some TLC by our heroine, Teva Gibson, who is easy on the eyes and a pleasant company to boot doesn't hurt either.
But alas, Lash soon learns that he's sent by the demons of Netherworld to Teva because he's supposed to corrupt her soul. Since he's not that kind of guy, he's pretty much caught in a most difficult situation. As for Teva, I suppose some people would no doubt say that her current predicament is clearly due to her love for 1980s rock music (not that she plays the records backwards or anything), but I'm more concerned about her easy decision to not take the wounded man she has found, "Nic", to the hospital since she thinks he looks to be healing in her eyes. I mean, hey, if she wants to pick up cute strays for the weekend, good for her, but how does she know that he doesn't have internal bleeding or something? The poor guy may expire in the middle of an energetic bout of shagging and then she will have a difficult time answering questions from the cops. On the bright side, at least she goes to check with a deputy sheriff friend whether Nic is a criminal or not.
Lash makes a pretty decent woobie character who is a good guy stuck in a difficult current situation not of his making but I can't get over my initial bewilderment at Teva's actions with regards to Nic. She feeds him, gives him clothes, and chatters like a silly but well-meaning airhead non-stop, but her behavior seems... I don't know, unbalanced in some way to me. The author says that Teva likes to help people in need, but Teva's behavior seems to go a little deeper than that. There is something about Teva that doesn't feel right to me - a part of me is waiting to learn that she makes it habit to pick up cute guys on the streets to have sex with them before chopping them up to make pies or something. Come to think of it, if she does that, the story may turn out to be a more interesting one.
Dark Sentinel is pretty much a straightfoward hero finds sexual healing story interrupted by the appearance of skanky demons now and then to hiss threats and vile things into Lash's ears, with only some action taking place in the last few dozen pages. Even then, I have to say, the scene where a puny Lash tries to fight with the bigger form of Asmodeus has me laughing because that one is unintentionally comical, what with the demon accidentally stabbing its own body with its tail again and again while Lash is climbing up its body to avoid that tail. I like how the angel Dion (whose full name must be Dion Ex Machina, if you ask me) is an irreverent type, far from the stereotypical depiction of stoic and sober angels, but the urban fantasy elements in this story are sketchy at best. The world building is minimal and the more action-driven scenes can be either full of skanky sex or are awkwardly choreographed.
The story focuses on the developing relationship between Lash and Teva for the most part but I feel that it is a misstep on the author's part to keep Teva in the dark about Lash's true nature for so long. Cluing her in would have at least given her a chance to get involved and play a more significant role in the storyline instead of relegating her to the sidelines of the plot as this babbling airhead who loves Lash for who knows what reason - the same reason one can get attached to a stray puppy one found and brought home, probably. Still, Lash makes a sympathetic hero where Teva is a disappointing heroine.
Dark Sentinel is all in all an uneven read. This is a readable story despite its flaws. Still, the urban fantasy elements could have been stronger and more well-defined, I feel, and the romance is definitely the stronger aspect of the story. However, given the problems I have with the heroine's motivation and behavior, I find it hard to believe that the romance is real on her part. Let's hope that the next book in this series will be an improvement.
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