Review: Dark Rival by Brenda Joyce

darkrivalAlas, here we are at book two of Brenda Joyce’s Masters of Time series. For those of us just catching up, here’s a link to my review of book one.

Dark Rival by Brenda Joyce is a time travel romance with a sexy, Scottish medieval Master of Time who comes forward to help save the world from a string of sexual murders plaguing modern day; simultaneously disrupting the very glamorous life of heiress and vigilante, Allie.

Does this all sound vaguely and strangely familiar? It does, doesn’t it? A little too familiar? That’s because it is.

Yes, bring that bottle of wine I mentioned last time—you might need it.

Setting/Story/Characters Impressions:

First off, I am going to say right up front this book is kind of a weird awkward place for me. The whole time I read it I felt like a mouse caught in a Klingon’s* armpit. (Shsh. Just go with it.) Mostly because I couldn’t quite decide whether or not I liked it, but I digress.

I shall start with something positive as I always do. As I have said before, Joyce does a wonderful job of grounding readers in the settings. Great descriptive language and there’s a well-researched timbre to her story one does not normally find in PNR.

The secondary characters were clearly drawn. I especially loved the author’s depiction of the Queen, who for all intents and purposes acts as the story’s antagonist. (We meet her in the first book.) Hollywood and literature usually portrays that queen as a sweet, ingénue. On the contrary, Queen Isabella put the royal “itch” in bitch back in her day.

Good historical fact checking makes me happy.

There were some cameos, i.e. the couple who starred in the first book and the subjects and pairings for the next books. As for the characters we knew, I was actually happy to see Claire and Malcolm. Aiden (another reoccurring and future MC) was also a nice breath of fresh air.

All right, the first up on my other list—the hero. This (much like the rest of the book) is a mixed and matched issue. Royce is drawn as a much older, much more experience hero than our MMC in book one. He has lived more life, has more battle scars. Oh, there’s the bit with a previous marriage that ended badly. And that kind of maturity appeals to me as a reader. Frankly, I was able to enjoy and *lust* for him in a way that I couldn’t the previous hero because there was something undeniably more…manly…about him.

That being said, his character was grossly exaggerated. In everything. From his golden Fabio looks (not knocking Fabio—I like him) to his sudden and pulsing love for the heroine. Yo, I totally get the whole “truemate/fated” romance concept. I understand that the purpose of that kind of romance is not to illustrate how those two people find once in a lifetime love. It goes a deeper, slightly abstract direction. It is supposed to depict that REGARDLESS of the two people being “fated,” their once in a lifetime love is tested and reinforced because of all the trials and tribulations they endure. Together.

Therefore, that type of fated romance is kind of a sub-genre in its own.

Brenda Joyce attempts to do this in her Masters of Time series. It doesn’t work. Why? Because by page 30, the hero was all pulsing boy bits, and “Holy Mother! Why I’ve never seen such a beautiful creature! What’s her name? I love her. I’m sure of it. Oh, come with me to my mansion and let me roger you on my Ralph Lauren sheets until your wits are just as addled as mine. So much so, you wake up the next morning and declare your undying devotion to the rhythm of my fallengi poking your who-ha.”

I’m not exaggerating. It was really that bad and that superficial. Like I shudder. Really.

That being said, I did rather appreciate that because of the hero’s age (which strangely did not factor into his sexual characterization or emotional maturity at all) he seemed particularly competent and steady in his paranormal abilities and battle prowess. Well, mostly. (More on that below.)

Now then, the heroine….THAT WENCH. First off all, we open the book to find her naked, pondering the city from her window. Nothing wrong with that. I like to ponder the city from my window. And I mostly like to eat oranges naked. So naturally, I get it.

So I’m eating my orange and she’s contemplating the city, the recent violent murders, her family’s wonderful money and yet another random guy she’s just finished having sex with a few hours ago. He’s still sleeping in her bed, btw. And then, she gets a feeling. She’s an empath, you know. This feeling propels her to don her vigilante gear of Nikes and sweatpants. She’s racing toward the crime, all the while “feeling” it’s progression. She gets there, the woman is dying! And do you know what she accomplishes? NOTHING! Like nothing! She gets herself knocked unconscious in two seconds and one has to wonder what would have become of our heroine if the hero had not come along.

And I’m not kidding you. That is how I was introduced to the heroine.

What the quad? (Quad is short for quadrant. You love it, don’t you?)

Was I actually expected to like her?

Allie continues to be this strange mix of “okay, I’ll bite” and “I will shoot you myself” for me throughout the rest of the book. On the one hand, her actions and general line of thought made much more sense (not that I could relate—we’re talking comprehension only) than the FMC from book one. And yet, that pesky TSL brand of “Oh! Let me help! With problems I have NO QUALIFICATIONS to handle” kept her just shy of being completely useless.

That is pretty much the beginning and the end of her character. Spoiled rich girl. Terrible Vigilante. Indiscriminate sex pot. The end.

Strangely, given all those problems the book wasn’t terrible. I think that has more to do with the little things like nice dialog, the few character cameos from previous books, etc. and real writing skill.

The Steamy Bits

The sex scenes were well-written but hardly unique to the characters. I actually found myself skimming a lot of the time to get to the good bits. (You know, like story.)

Really there were so many, so often and most of them helped nothing. Not the plot. Not the characterization. Just senseless steamy text useful only for bolstering word count. Sigh.

So yes, the sex is actually gratuitous in this book for the most part. But hey, some people like that in their romance.

Paranormal/Sci-Fi Aspects

Joyce is a skilled writer and she’s already proven her mastery of time travel. However, things did get a little confusing this book because “alternate” and “parallel” realities were a core plot device. So as a note to anyone who plans to read the book: pay really close attention to time shifts. Even the small, seemingly random ones. (Not counting the shopping trips–those are pretty much pointless.)

From the top, the Rose women are all witches with a supernatural ability. Allie is an empath. A supposedly stupid powerful one. I wouldn’t know because she never actually uses her power with any degree of skill. It only serves as her one redeeming feature and the basis for most of her captures and kidnappings in this book. (Oh, yes–you read right. That was plural.)

The Masters of Time have the ability to time travel. They also have an incubus ability to harvest life-energy via sexual intercourse. (Remember! This is a romance.) An ability which I now suspect serves no other purpose other than sex appeal. Like this is book two and I have yet to see where all the energy they gather is used for something useful. They don’t seem to need it to time travel. They eat oranges. (Naked, remember? Or maybe that was me. Just go with it.) So really…um…what is the purpose? I could understand if they were some kind of actual incubus, but they’re not. They just live an extraordinary long time and cavort from bed to bed until The One comes along (or gets herself captured.) I guess, that’s okay. It was kind of disappointing because I was expecting something magical to be done with mythology. Some kind of miraculous weaving of the kinky threads into the actual core premise of the book. Silly me.

There is a bit in the book were Royce loses himself in her sweet “who-ha” to the point of taking too much sexual energy in the middle of some kind of honored, sacred proving ground for Masters of Time. Why do they start fooling around on this scared ground? (Everyone hold onto your surprised faces!) Why not. We have pages to kill and he’s really, really missed her.

So they do this thing and once the smoke has cleared from the hole they burnt in the ground with rabid rabbit sex, everyone (and I mean every single Master in the camp) knows what an unspeakable taboo has been committed. Don’t worry because Royce is redeemed faster than the speed of shame. And it was all weirdly anti-climatic. Yeah, totally not worth all the hype. He got a slap on the wrist.

This is when the world started to smack of something unbelievable. This, of course, is not helped any more by the wardrobe. Yes, I—the girl who cringes to shed her sweat pants—had a very serious problem with the wardrobe. (Actually, I had this issue with the last book, too.)

If you’re in the Highlands, are you really going to put on dainty gold sandals to trek through the damn Hold? Um, no. That’s nasty.

Those times were riddled with disease and filth. There’s no f&@#ing way I’m going to surrender a pair of sandals (especially gold, strappy ones) to the possibility of stepping in something while I wear them. I’ll wear a pair of bloody combat boots like a sensible hippie.

Oh, and has anyone ever tried to ride a horse wearing sandals? It’s terrible. Even Native Americans were like “f*ck that noise” and either went barefoot or wore moccasins.

Does anyone (in the story) ask questions about the modern clothing these women are wearing in this historical time period? Why yes, the Queen does….long enough to steal one of the heroine’s red dresses.

Oh, the horror….No, really. This causes the heroine real annoyance. I actually whipped out the world’s tiniest violin for that one.

Plus, there’s that weird abuse of power that no one in the book ever mentions. Every time one of the heroines needs a wardrobe change a Master just time travels, does some shopping and comes right back. Really? What’s wrong with the clothes in the Hold, your majesty? And what a strange abuse of supposedly “precious” power, of which comes all this monster responsibility of epic Spidey proportions. Give me a break, would ya? Like really. I need one.

So really, I think my problem with this book as a whole had more to do with consistency than anything.

The only notes I have for that plot is that it was solid. Much more solid than the characters. Honestly, I almost wonder if this author should try to take the “romance” out of her books. I think given open reign she could pen something really wonderful.

Style and Presentation

Once again, there may be readers who are a little thrown by the Scottish dialect the author uses when writing period dialog. If you didn’t mind the first book, you won’t mind this one. If you’re not sure whether you’re going to mind it, give your brain at least three chapters to get used to it. You’ll get—I promise.

Closing Notes and Recommendation

You know, I am reading over this review and I’m really starting to wonder whether I actually liked the book at all or whether I was simply too enthralled with the major crap portions to put it down. If you REALLY enjoyed the first book, Dark Seduction, I think you will heart this one.

If not…well, this book will walk a very thin line between being “loved!” and “f*cking hated!” Or you might not make it past page 30. Many of my comrades fell some ways after that, never to find out whether or not Allie ever found her orange. (Or the proper attire.)

So all in all, I would recommend this book to those who: a) liked the first book, b) appreciate the era and really frequent, graphic sex in their books and c) are able to suspend their disbelief a little farther than the average reader.

That last one is very important.

That being said, the author did masterfully set up the third book. Again. Damn her. And I am super excited to read this next one because it features two side characters that I love—well, the only ones I really love at this point.

So, Joyce has one more chance to make me fall in love. Or will set my shit from stun to kill. (I mean it.)

Length: Novel

Genre: Scottish PNR/Time-travel

Primary Book Format: Print/Mass Market (also available in e-book)

Publisher/Imprint: HQN Books (October 1, 2007)

Blush Quotient: Obnoxiously Red

Smart Girls Rating: 2 Star

Buy it Here: Amazon

Find out more info about the author and series here: Author Website

(Disclaimer: This book was purchased by the reviewer. She has elected to offer an honest review.)

*Completely separate and unrelated note: do you know Microsoft Word 10 recognizes “Klingon” as a legitimate word, but I have to fight spell-check tooth and ink at every turn for my bloody first name. And it’s not even one of those crazy ones with weird punctuation and swirly bits. WTF.

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