The Dark Lord
by Patricia Simpson, fantasy (2005)
Tor Romance, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34861-6


As a book in the Tor Romance romance-fantasy imprint, The Dark Lord is the first book in the The Forbidden Tarot series. As a dark fantasy romance, this book is as fun to read as it is to swallow a mug of fresh vomit. The ideas are there but the execution is a mishmash of confusing contrivances and plot holes, but more importantly, the main characters are absolutely vile in how stupid they are. This is a story that goes as long as it does because both the hero and the heroine are alternating between phases of stupidity, determined martyrdom, and childishness.

The heroine Fay Rae Lambers is the Queen of Mary Sue heroines. She is a walking contrivance, a congenital Victim with a capital V, as if the author believes that the reader ain't rocking with the heroine unless she is a walking tub of dysfunction. Let's see, Fay is a victim of sexual abuse, she is inflicted with congenital arthritis, she has no friends, she has a selfish and prettier sister, she is determined to believe that no man will want her, she doesn't want any man, and she is dumb. Heck, she gets her current position as an associate professor in calculus not because she is any good, mind you, but because her dear Older Male Only Friend dude Prof Thomas Gregory "pulled some strings". So basically Fay is not only humorless and hell-bent on believing that she is completely worthless as a human being, she is also unable to function as a halfway normal human being. Oh boy.

It is hard to sum up this story because this book is like the scatterbrained illegitimate offspring of that book The Da Vinci Code. This book is basically Fae tripping through the story, bent on feeling sorry for herself, while everyone good who meets her naturally sees something pretty and special inside her. There are two men in this story. Simeon Avare is handsome, seductive, debonair, and treats her like gold at first. Michael Gregory was her childhood crush until the Big Misunderstanding followed and now those two argue like petty children bent on being obnoxious at every possible opportunity. One is the villain. One is the hero. You can deduce who is the hero, I'm sure. Let's just say Ms Simpson gets one thing right at least: she knows how to portray a convincing train wreck that is a romance between two dumb people who enable each other.

Fay is a wretched heroine. Every thing she says or does is contrived to make life extremely difficult for her. She won't tell Michael that she has arthritis, for example, maybe because it's more noble if she just suffers in silence when he manhandles her. She meets Michael when the late Prof Gregory wills her half the man's house (the other half goes to Michael) and asks her to stay in the house and never leave. Not that Prof Gregory has the good of all mankind in mind when he orders her to stay out of everyone's way, mind you, but because he has found some super-secret magic duper-wooper sword that some supreme evil force is after. So it is only sensible to ask Ms Determined To Be Unhappy here, who has the brainpower of a squashed blob of slime, to guard the world against forces of destruction. Of course, she doesn't know about the bad plot she is going to be sucked into, she just knows in a video message that Prof Gregory wants her to stay in that house and never ever leave it. What kind of crazy woman will actually consider doing such a thing, you ask? Meet Fay Rae. She's born to do this kind of thing.

Frankly, I'd be happy if she stays in the house like some arthritic Mrs Winchester persona and the story ends there and then but alas, she has to argue with Michael. Michael wants to get rid of Prof Gregory's relics because he thinks that it will be expensive to maintain them. Oh, and he doesn't like his father too, which to me is understandable because Prof Gregory is the embarrassing senile old man that every family member pretends not to have any blood ties with. Fay, however, naturally jumps to the conclusion that Michael is a bad son - never mind that she doesn't really know him that well - and she will spitefully make his sharing the house with her an inconvenience on his part!

I wish I can say that the author's vast amount of mythic canon in this book is interesting but they come off like a crackpot's version of mystic lore. Let me put it this way, when it comes to yin-and-yang principles, the author uses sun and moon as an example of total opposites. Er, the sun and the moon? For a book bent on bringing in aliens and UFOs and mixing them happily with Jesus, no one seems to remember the fundamentals of astronomy. This and many other theories suggest to me that the author is making things up as she goes along instead of having a well-developed credible canon to base her story on. But even so, no amount of canon can save the story if the characters are stupid, and my gosh, they are stupid beyond belief. Every kind of contrived unwillingness to communicate crops up in this story, resulting in all kinds of arguments and misunderstandings that are supremely irritating. Fay is so sure that she is of no use to anyone that she suffers terribly, and late in the story, even horrifically in the name of martyrdom when all she has to do is to laugh at the villain's face. Yes, because underneath his charm, Simeon is as inept as the rest of them. Michael is so prone to jumping to wrong conclusions and acting on his temper that results from each dumb assumption that he comes off as the entirely wrong kind of man for Fay the passive enabler bent on martyrdom.

Between dry and amateurish canon and supremely unlikeable characters, The Dark Lord is utterly devoid of entertainment value. Too bad to be considered a keeper, too inept and too humorless to have any redeeming camp value, this book is like a "When Romance Author Tries To Do Something Different Really Badly" tragedy. The packaging of this book is exquisite but the story between the pages is a Mary Sue fantasy gone overboard-suckily haywire.

Rating: 37


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