Dark Embrace 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 life of Bri, a bookworm who works in the basement of the mysterious Agency.
When the book opens, she actually thinks she might be onto something that might explain all the naked corpses…
This is the third book in Brenda Joyce’s Masters of Time series. The first one, Dark Seduction, I mildly enjoyed. The second, Dark Rival, I mildly disliked. This one…I didn’t start this book thinking I would hate it. I was actually excited to read this particular book as it featured the two side-characters I had been dying to get my grubby hands on since book one.
But oh, how this book pissed me off—let me count the ways.
(Skip the bottle of wine and bring the good sh*t (and some rusty tweezers.))
I have said it twice now, but Joyce really is a very talented writer. She has real mastery over her craft that can only be achieved through years of practice.
The setting was superb and a little different from previous books. While we did spend most of our time grounded in the Middle Ages, the was a significant amount of movement in this book. This is probably due to the war skirmishes (which are somehow—it hasn’t been explained thus far—related to the chaos ensuing in modern day) acting as a connecting thread between all books. Remember that mostly competent villain from the first book? Well, he’s back and he means business.
Once again, he was interestingly drawn and very smart. Arrogant to the point of his defeat again, but that was hardly my biggest problem with this book. Frankly, the villain was one of this book’s main redeeming qualities. He really is a very intelligent and a worthy foe. I almost didn’t think the hero and the heroine could win this one.
Plus, he’s this books MMC’s biological father. Doesn’t this all sound like a set up rife with potential? (Read on.)
The secondary characters (mostly, the other couples or soon to be couples in the series) were wonderful and I was actually happy to see them. Malcolm and Claire seem to be getting on well. Royce and Allie, too. Series in general have a wonderful way of allowing readers to grow and live alongside the characters. Build all kinds of lasting relationships. Get all invested in the characters’ daily trials and tribulations…
Which brings me to my next section of this review–anger.
I grin and bore through the second book of this series, mostly because I was so excited at the chance to read Bri and Aiden’s story.
I don’t feel excitement anymore—I feel like I’ve been slapped with the business end of a ferret and I’m a very angry reader. Now that I’ve followed my code of mention the positive first, I’m going to tackle the stuff of my other (much longer) list.
From the top: the hero AND the heroine.
The hero is Aiden. Aiden was introduced in the first book as a charming, carefree guy. The lady’s man of the group of smexy Masters. His development has been based off of that for the first two books. So, we’ve seen him smile and laugh. Roger a Queen to save his friend’s butt. You know, the usual…
In this book, we find a very different man—a tortured soul bent on revenge and destruction after the death of his infant son, Ian. Plus, his son (and it’s mother—who was just some random mistress) was killed by his biological father, the villain of the story. Double whammy! I was like: “Oh my stars…this is it. This is the book I’ve been waiting for. So much potential for emotional strife and connections.” (Not sure, why I’m angry? Read on.)
The heroine was the one Rose sister I had been waiting to read about since I started the series. Bri works in the basement of the agency. The complete opposite from the veritable walking pieces of sex, magic and the random martial art skill. She is not an Amazon, a sexpot or a kick-boxer with no healthy sense of survival. She’s just like me. Mousy, quiet, bookish and for the most part completely ignored. She’s the Hestia archetype of the group and I found her so much more relatable.
I said to myself: this match may be a little well-worn, but damn…I’m already aflutter.
The plot starts. Things are going on rather swimmingly. The heroine is trying to assuage the hero’s darkness. The villain finally takes center stage. Ian might not be dead. Everything is churning at a wonderful pace….except the actual ROMANCE!
First, Aiden is nothing but dark and reticent. Understandable—he lost his kid. And it’s mother to his horrible father. He’s been in morning for the last sixty years ( a little excessive, but everyone moves at their own pace so whatev.). The heroine keeps trying to help. It has all the pieces of the kind of “tortured hero” romance trope we all know and love, but the story failed to bring all the ties together in a way that was emotionally satisfying and convincing.
Everything thing about their relationship seemed rushed and contrived to me. Just filler to give the reader a break from the racing plot.Finally, toward the end ( and I mean, the VERY END) Aiden rescues his son. He puts the kid to sleep, and then, immediately falls on bended knee to declare his love for the heroine. WTQ?*
He had spent every moment he wasn’t crying or screwing her (both literally and figuratively) to be mean and distant. And suddenly after so many pages of being reticent, he just…has a change of heart. Did saving his kid in the last chapter do all that? Okay, well if his kid is so important—if he was worth all this anguish and moaning for sixty years—the first night he’s home you tuck him in bed (where he was stolen from to begin with) and saunter down the hall to roger some chic you’ve been abusive to the ENTIRETY of the book.
No, you tuck him in your bed. Or better yet, you watch over him like that one dad from TAKEN. You hold him close because he’s only been home for ten minutes after sixty years of capture by his sociopathic grandfather. (Yes, you read sixty years—more of that below.) He’s your child and you’ve made a HUGE (almost EXAGGERATED) deal out of him. What? Is this child only the moon, stars and the sliced bread when he’s dead?
Give me a friggin’ break! Like really. I need one.
And the heroine—MY GAWD! Could you be any more spineless? No really? Like I’m not sure if there was two times he wasn’t an assh*le and immediately forgiven because “he’s tortured.”
You know, I wouldn’t have minded if she’d been able to give as good as she got. Nope. To me, just a simpering twit in glasses and cotton panties, with a token flaw and a spine made of jelly. I don’t even know what she was getting from their relationship other than sex and abuse. Maybe any attention will do. I don’t know, but I was not impressed. Even the bookish and competent researcher side of her was eclipsed because she really was that weak.
I mean, on the one hand I appreciated that the TSL “let me help with NO QUALIFICATIONS” aspect of her characters was toned down significantly in this book, but surely that doesn’t mean that the heroine has to become a doormat.
And he really did act like that much of an ass. I mean, damn. Just plain cold and mean. He would screw her out of some kind of raged-filled passion, and then kick her from his bed like mangy dog. She’d think to herself, “Well, that wasn’t very nice, but he’s in pain.”
Some readers might not mind that, but I wanted to her to tell him to get a f*cking Band-Aid and deal. Women have been losing their sons to man’s silly war games for centuries and we mostly manage to put on our big girl panties and deal with tragedy as a part of life. Shit happens. It is no justification to further hurt the world, the heroine and ultimately the reader. She should have taught him that through her love. She didn’t. She bent over and took, and I felt so betrayed I could have killed her myself.
The Steamy Bits
The usual for this series: well-written, frequent and gratuitous.
I didn’t mind the sex in the other two books as much as this one. If anything every time he took her to bed and she offered her trust to him in that painfully personal and loving way only to be heartlessly stepped on later, I was more and more disgusted on the whole.
No, really. It made me a very sad panda.
The heroine almost smacked of something pathetic in her loneliness. I didn’t want to be this heroine’s friend. I sure as hell didn’t admire her. I didn’t want to “be” her. I just wanted to wrap a sweater around her naked shoulders and recommend a therapist.
Fantastic job writing time travel. Once again, “alternate” and “parallel” realties play a very large role in the core plot. They were easier to follow this time.
The Masters of Time have the ability to travel time and an incubus-like ability to take life-energy via sexual intercourse. This book MMC also had the ability to shape shift into a wolf as some kind of recessive trait. At one point, he is stuck in wolf form as he has taken it for so long. That was interesting. It was also interesting that another sister (from a previous book) was brought in to help undo the magic and allow him to remember human form.
The incubus power didn’t make a strong show in this book despite all the rampant sex, but I was strangely grateful for that. Come to find out, they might use the power they siphon to help with the time jumps. Who knew?! Would’ve been nice to know that in the first book, but at least my question was finally answered.
The Rose women are witches, each one has a different ability. I actually can’t remember whether or not this one (Bri) had an ability. That’s how little it actually factored into the story. For all intents and purposes, she could’ve been wielding goblin magic.
One thing I did find a tad bit annoying—especially after three books—is that very little is known about the “Agency” that Bri and Sam (another sister and future FMC) work for. It is all kind of vague and shrouded in mystery like the author didn’t want to take the time to actually develop a working hierarchy and chain of command. Like I really don’t even know what the hell they do aside from have their nose in paranormal stuff happening in modern day and the weird special secret missions that Sam and Nick, Bri’s supervisor, sometimes run off to. Like who is funding them? Where are they based? Why do they exist? Do they actually enforce any kind of law? What do their ethics look like?
Aren’t they worried when one of their operatives is randomly flung into the past? This is like the third girl this series—shouldn’t they say something like: “Hmm…something nefarious is happening in the past as it seems to swallowing our operatives. Best time travel and find out what it is.”
So…um yeah. Maybe I’m asking for too much actual logic. Silly me.
Also, there is this idea that Ian, Aiden’s son, has been under his grandfather’s thumb all this time. He’s also somehow been under a curse that keeps him in the form of a child. He aged the sixty years he’s been missing, so he’s no longer a small child on the inside. I thought that was particularly interesting. And I would’ve appreciated if that had been the focus of the book. Aiden reconnecting with his son and learning love again through Bri. Maybe finding ways to break the curse so his son can have a chance at a semi-normal life.
Can you tell how disappointed I am? I may just cry.
Style and Presentation
The presence of Scottish dialect is there, but it isn’t as terribly thick as it was in the first two books. Aiden is supposedly a much more modern master. In the past books, he’s even seen wearing leather jackets and mooning over motorcycles. (*sad sigh* I really wanted him to be awesome.)
The only issue I had with the narrative style were the random snippet scenes of Sam (a future FMC) and Nick (a future MMC) somewhere in the trenches, staking something or another out. Yeah, it was really that vague. They’ve had this flirty thing going on for the last few books, but it didn’t smack of pointless until this one.
Seriously, there will be entire scenes that interrupt the WHOLE DAMN STORY to randomly clue you into what is happening with Nick and Sam. No, they’re not a subplot or a secondary romance. Just there. Chillin’ in the middle of everything.
Their final snippet reveals that Nick is a Master of Time, i.e. he has to time travel to save them. Where do they land? Who knows. Read the next book and maybe find out in another smattering of random scenes. Or just ignore those bits because they won’t add to the main plot and will only serve to confuse and derail you from the rage slowly building inside. Just a FYI.
Closing Notes and Recommendation
Guys, I don’t normally get so dicey and picky when I review. I like to think that everyone will find and take something different from a book. All I managed to take with me this time was a searing dislike for the Masters of Time and the decision not to waste another penny.
If you LOVED the first two books, you MIGHT like this one. If you didn’t, just shudder and back away from the shelf.
(And for the record, this is what it looks like when I set my phaser from stun to kill.)
Genre: Scottish PNR/Time-travel
Primary Book Format: Print/Mass Market (also available in e-book)
Publisher/Imprint: HQN Books (September 1, 2008)
Blush Quotient: Retina-scarring Red
Smart Girls Rating: 1 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.)