Bonds Of Darkness
by Joyce Ellen Armond, paranormal (2007)
Liquid Silver Books, $5.95, ISBN 1-59578-298-2

Joyce Ellen Armond is the editor of the website Speculative Romance Online and Bonds Of Darkness is her debut paranormal romance.

At first I have some doubts of this book when the author cheerfully has heroine Kate Scott, a victim's advocate, allowing herself to be made over by her friend for her court debut and showing up wearing a skirt that ends above her knees. We're talking about a skirt that, I quote from page 8, exposes the nylon-clad back of her thigh. Let's not even start with what happens she sits down. Since she's not planning to seduce the judge into a quickie session in order to get a ruling in favor of her client, I can only conclude that Kate has no common sense. Am I supposed to take Kate seriously as a victim's advocate who supposedly cares too much about the abused and downtrodden that she tries to protect and find justice for when she doesn't even have the sense to dress professionally to attend a court session?

Kate gets her morning coffee at Café Foy and there's a man who works there, Paul Tristel, that sends shivers up her spine and then some. However, she has been so wrapped up in work that she realizes only now just how much she'd neglected to take care of her own self. She decides that she needs to date more and pamper herself in an indulgence or two, so Paul seems like a good candidate to help her jumpstart her plans to have a more balanced lifestyle.

Unfortunately, she has no idea that Paul is no ordinary man. He's actually much older than he looks, a victim of a curse for about a century now. He was once an artist named Paul Dumond who happened to be caught in the worst kind of love triangle: she fancies himself attracted to Alina, a woman who happens to belong to a powerful sorcerer, Sander Wald. And Sander Wald happens to be hankering for a piece of Paul too. Today, Paul has a demon inside him and this demon will take over him completely Sander doesn't cast a ritual on him every year to contain the demon. The only way Paul can break the curse is if he knows the demon's name but unfortunately the demon isn't cooperating with him. At any rate, currently each night the demon takes over Paul's body and Paul gets his body back from dawn to dusk.

Paul and the demon have a relationship akin to unwilling symbiotes trapped in the same body. The demon can take over Paul's body and transform into its shadowy form with Paul still conscious and aware of what is happening as the demon takes over his body. The demon cannot communicate with him and it is a prisoner in Paul's body which longs to be free of the curse that binds it to Paul as well. Kinda like Spiderman's nemesis Venom with a more benign inky black alien symbiote, I guess.

It is to be expected that Kate will play a role in helping Paul and his allies break his curse. Kate surprises me after her initial faux pas with the skirt - she turns out to be a tough lady who is pretty capable at her job and I'm touched by her dedication as well as devotion to her charges. Ms Armond piles up some drama involving violent husbands of Kate's charges and some damaged charges who can't be saved by Kate no matter how hard she tries, but to the author's credit, these moments never become too melodramatic. Instead, these scenes feel grounded in reality and they serve to highlight Kate's personality rather than to bring on the sentimental moments. Kate turns out to be a pretty tough heroine, emotionally, and her reactions to the various situations she finds herself in on the course of her job make her a well-rounded character with realistic strengths and vulnerabilities.

Bonds Of Darkness is my first encounter with a genuine true-blue unabashed self-proclaimed romantic horror story and I love it. The story starts out pretty slow and for a while I am afraid that this is going to be yet another derivative wham-bang-thank-you-Mr-Wolfman erotic romance but by page 100, I'm at the edge of my seat because this story reels me in, grabs me by the neck, and doesn't let go until I'm done with it. I especially love how realistic Kate's reaction to the demon is. There is no ridiculous hysterical "I am not afraid of my vampire boyfriend because he loves me and has taken my virginity so I trust him! He's not a monster because we have true love!" nitwit yammering. As a result, Paul/Mr Demon's anguish at being perceived as a monster is very real in this story in a heartrending manner.

But towards the end, I admit that I tire of Paul's constant pity-party and determination to sacrifice himself instead of letting Kate help him even when she knows the risks she faces in doing so. At one point, even the author has Paul realizing that the demon inside him trusts and has faith in Kate more than he, the man who supposedly loves her, does. But does that change anything? Of course not. I try to be understanding since it's not everyday one has a demon inside one's body but Paul's behavior becomes stereotypical whiny emo romance hero behavior and this is not something I appreciate since much of everything else about this story is exciting and fresh.

The story has some rough edges here and there, but the author demonstrates that she can create some realistic and tough heroines as well as interesting emo heroes and she sure can tell a wild story. Bonds Of Darkness is creepy at places like a horror story should be, but it is also very romantic at times like a romance story should be. The love scene in this story is in the appropriate context and the author builds up the story and the relationship between the characters before getting them in the same bed. Therefore, I never get a contrived feel like I sometimes do with other paranormal romances where the authors of these stories sometimes come off like they are inserting sex scenes here and there just to qualify these stories as romantic erotica.

And oh my, the author sure knows how to build up her story and keep the momentum going. The events towards the penultimate are wild and dramatic without being too much over-the-top and I'm at the edge of my seat as I turn the pages. By the time the happy ending arrives, I feel as if I'm just finished a crazy rollercoaster ride. Were not for the slow and sometimes awkward start, this book would have been a keeper with me.

Romantic horror, huh? If that means more stories like Bonds Of Darkness, count me in. Just for the love of whatever, keep those tentacles away from me or things will really get ugly between me and the book.

Rating: 89

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