Death’s Sweet Embrace: Doesn’t really stand out

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book reviews Tracey O'Hara Dark Brethren 1. Night's Cold KissDeath’s Sweet Embrace by Tracey O’Hara

Death’s Sweet Embrace is the second novel in Tracey O’Hara’s Dark Brethren series and the follow-up to 2009’s Night’s Cold Kiss. Here, O’Hara focuses more on the shapeshifters of her world than on the vampires, and introduces readers to the Dark Brethren themselves, a creepy faux-angelic race that once enslaved all parahumans and wants to regain its supremacy.

The central plot deals with a serial killer who preys on shapeshifters and whose grisly crimes may be connected to the Dark Brethren. Kitt Jordan, a werecat doctor who had a small role in Night’s Cold Kiss, becomes involved with the hunt for the killer while trying to wrestle with romantic and family issues. Years ago, she had a relationship with a wolf shifter, Raven Matokwe, and had twin daughters. Pride politics broke them apart, but now she is thrown back into close proximity to her ex-lover and her now-grown daughters and has to decide how to mend the relationships.

Kitt and Raven and the girls are good people, and I was rooting for them to work out all their issues and become a true family. The murder mystery keeps the pages turning, too, as does the constant threat of trouble from Kitt’s family.

But while Death’s Sweet Embrace held my attention, it has issues as well. Part of the problem is characterization. Kitt is upstaged by almost everyone else in the book. There’s just some intangible spark missing from her character, though I did like that she gets several opportunities to use her medical skills. Meanwhile, I don’t feel like I have a good grip on Raven. About all I know is that he loves Kitt and the twins and gets angry when they’re threatened. Oh, and that he considers himself “damaged” due to his stint in an order of assassins. Yet neither he nor Kitt seem bothered by the thought of the twins joining that same organization… Then there’s Antoinette Petrescu, the heroine of the previous book, who does get to do plenty of awesome buttkicking — in a Necrodreniac-hunting plotline that never really connects with the shapeshifter-murders thread.

The story is told from a variety of points-of-view. I like the idea of a big team of good guys working together, but the downside of the shifting perspectives is that it feels like Kitt and Raven have been crowded out of their own book. The scenes from the villain’s point-of-view work well, however. They establish a creepy mood and give clues without revealing the whole picture.

The book also has some “Wait, why did they…” moments, plus a bad case of Burly Detective Syndrome (there’s a lot of “the ursian male did this, the Aeternus female did that”) and some sloppy proofreading.

Overall, Death’s Sweet Embrace is an OK urban fantasy to pass the time with, featuring plenty of action and sex. It has several nagging flaws, though, and doesn’t really stand out in the crowd.

Dark Brethren — (2009-2015) Publisher: For centuries war raged between the humans and Aeternus vampires — until courageous efforts on both sides forged a fragile peace. But the rogue Necrodreniacs will never be controlled — addicted as they are to the death-high… and bloody chaos. Since witnessing the murder of her mother, Antoinette Petrescu has burned with fiery hatred for the vampire race — even for Christian Laroque, the noble, dangerously handsome Aeternus who rescued her. Now an elite Venator, Antoinette must reluctantly accept Christian’s help to achieve her vengeance — even as he plots to use the beautiful, unsuspecting warrior as bait to draw out the bloodthirsty dreniacs.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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