Amara walked down the hallway of the castle she had grown up in, appreciating the tall, stained glass windows arching the length of the corridor. It had been months since she'd returned home – if she was allowed to call this place a home. She high-fived several demons walking in the opposite direction and gave each a specialized greeting. These naturally beautiful demons were the reason why she couldn't find mortal men attractive.She slipped through the room at the end of the hallway and smiled at the stunningly beautiful demoness, who possessed the most bewitching, violet eyes. Her long, silken black hair was rich and vibrant, trailing behind her graceful footsteps. Her foster mother was physiologically twenty, or perhaps even younger. She looked the same as she had eleven years ago when they first met. If it wasn't for this woman, Amara would have been long dead and frozen under some godforsaken bridge.
Romance novels are "not my thing." Paranormal romances I consider to be even less attractive, because the now-standard tropes of werewolves, vampires, lamias, zombies, and even stand-ins for Danny Bonaduce-like sleazebags just accentuate the formulaic approach toward the commodification of romance. If Karl Marx were alive today and were given romance novels to read, I have little doubt that he would revise Das Kapital to include a passage about the perniciousness of capitalist sexual commodities. If Hobson and Lenin were writing about imperialism after having encountered some paranormal romances, doubtless they would have noted it as one more factor signifying the decay and eventual future collapse of international capitalism. But they are all dead and I have been dared to read and write a review of Dahlia Lu's The Dark God's Bride, the first volume in a planned trilogy. This will not be pretty.
Despite my general antipathy toward paranormal romances, I have at least read at a few of them, enough to tell the difference between a work, that even though it does little to excite or even interest me personally, is at least competently written and absolute dreck that contains clichéd passages on sexual roles/lust, haphazard plotting, paper-thin characterizations, and execrable themes. The Dark God's Bride firmly falls in the latter category. Consider the passage I quote above, taken from the beginning chapter. We encounter the female lead, one presented from the very beginning description as being a ward and by nature (being mortal) inferior to those around whom she grew up. Then comes the jarring informality of high-fiving demons. Needless to say, Lu takes what she wants from a plethora of global religious beliefs/cultural practices without rhyme or reason. So we have demons that exist as some sort of cross between otherworldly brooding super-attractive objects and, with a few exceptions, passive entities that exist as a sort of lazy plot device that allows Lu to move Amara around at will whenever the herky-jerky excuse for a plot calls for it.
The basic plot (before an ill-developed side plot is boiler-plated to it near the end) is that a former enemy of Lucifer (yes, that Lucifer, although he is never called Satan here) escapes from "half an eternity's" imprisonment, ignorant of his name but aware of Lucifer's role. This god, who takes on the nom-de-guerre of Noctis so he could be the "night" to Lucifer's "light" (excuse me while I chortle over how this melding of Hebreo-Christian and Greek mythology is executed), learns that Lucifer, who is for some ill-explained reason is sleeping for 3000 years, has taken a mortal (later revealed to be turned into the immortal stepmother of Amara, with the oh-so-coincidental name of Kali) lover. Naturally he decides that the way to revenge himself on Lucifer would be to take his lover by force and torture/kill her once he learns how to awaken Lucifer. This makes a ton of sense, n'est ce pas?
So of course there is a mistake and the adopted daughter, Amara, is seized. Amara, lest the reader begin to fret, is 99.44% Ivory soap pure (it should be noted that despite later being soaked on several occasions in water, including a few near-drownings, that Amara does not float like the soap). Lu regales us with repeated descriptions of her "small size," her "plump breasts," and "grey eyes" until one may be pardoned if there is the sense that Amara is meant to exist simultaneously as the virgin-to-be-sacrificed and the sexy temptress that is meant to reduce the man-god-object to a quivering pile of lust-filled flesh. Although I suppose in a more skilled writer's hand this situation could be redeemed to at least the level of providing interesting sexual tension/release, Lu butchers these moments by having the interactions between Amara and Noctis feel more like a bad '80s teen comedy with lines such as this (imagine permed hair and jeans jackets while reading this):
"Is this going to take long? I'm hungry."
He stared at her with disgust. "Mortal," he sneered.
"Hey! You are the one who kidnapped me! You are my captor! That means I am your responsibility and you are to provide me with food and shelter, until you can decide what to do with me."
"An annoying mortal," he spat.
"Yes, I am a mortal, and that means I can die if my needs are not met. If I die, then you won't be able to lure Lucifer out and get your revenge."
His hand rubbed the back of his neck and let out a frustrated sigh [really? Hands can sigh?]. "What is it that you need, mortal?"
"Well..." She got up to her feet. "It is getting dark, which means I need a comfortable bed to sleep in for the night. I am hungry and kind of thirsty. My clothes are dirty, because you ruthlessly threw me to the ground. I have bruises that may need medical attention."
He muttered a string of curses. "Anything else that you need to survive?" he asked in a sardonic voice.
"Yes, I need to shower and brush my teeth before I sleep, or cavities will form. That would mean painful trips to the dentist, and I hate my dentist."
He pinched his forehead. "Lucifer has terrible taste in women. Do you really need all of that?"
Yes, the writing, especially when it comes to dialogue, is quite poor. As you might have already guessed, The Dark God's Bride is self-published, based as much on the noticeable issues with grammar and punctuation as on the poor transitions between paragraphs and chapters (and the whole so-called plot and those things that if you squint hard enough to the point of having a headache might be construed as being close to a thematic element). There is no real sense of threat to Amara; it is quite obvious that there's going to be some blue balling taking place that will infuriate Noctis, however.
What follows is a series of redundant passages of how Noctis wants to hate her for being mortal and apparently Lucifer's POA, followed almost immediately by descriptions of Amara's breasts, hair, and eyes. He wants to smack the taste out of her mouth; he ends up funding this:
For this one, semi-auspicious occasion, Amara would put her sense of money on hold. Exclusive clothes, jewel-encrusted purses, limited edition shoes, as well as every othe rluxurious, brand name item she may or may not need, were all on her shopping list. If the store could provide, she would buy. And why not, when she has a nouveau riche deity to foot the bill?
"The times may have changed a number of things, but women are incorrigible when it comes to materialistic needs."
"And what do you know about women?" Amara asked as she tried on the dazzling pair of shoes with diamond soles. "They fit perfectly!"
Frequently, romance (and of course paranormal romance) novels are criticized for their reinforcement of the notion that women are materialistic entities who value an expensive shoe more than how women are treated in society. Passages like this just serve to reinforce this questionable social stance. But even though some might argue that this is just overblowing a mostly innocent passage, the following quote should serve to underscore just how dodgy the overall premise for this story really is:
"My appearance could easily be altered. If I remove my core, he will not be able to sense me. If I remove my core, he will not be able to recognize me. He would be able to love me."This scene, taken from late in the novel, is reprehensible. Not only does it reinforce the reduction of human lives/emotions to objectified status, it strengthens the repulsive idea that it is better for a woman to chance dying for a man's love than to be alive for her own sake. This is a putrid belief system, all the more sickening because it is fed to so many others. It does, however, serve as the only real hint of a theme in this novel, as it ties together all of the flight/capture scenes between Amara and Noctis (although the barely-appearing parallel of Kali's son Trent - yes, such a fitting name for a demon - and Trent's "instinct" Nala is more about Nala's unrequited love for her other half) and a gloriously bad sex scene where Amara finally surrenders her virginity to Noctis:
"All I want to know is, will you come to regret this decision? You won't be yourself anymore, Nala. You will only be a walking corpse. You will only be able to maintain your body with magic and potions for up to three years...four years at most. Meanwhile, your core will be building another you. Can you tell me for sure that you will not regret this?"
"I have never regretted anything that I have ever done. I assure you that I will not regret my decision. If he cannot fall in love with me, then dying would be an escape."
Her small body suddenly froze when she felt him against her entrance. Panic set on her face. She knew what he wanted and so did he.
Kissing her reassuringly, he entered her slowly, inch by agonizing inch. He couldn't rush it. He was a man twice her size, and proportionally blessed.
Yes, let's have the real point of this novel be the Stockholm Syndrome-suffering Amara falling in love (lust?) at last with her erstwhile captor, lest all of the blue balling that took place for the first 95% of this e-book lead to accusations that Lu was emulating Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series a bit too close for comfort. It just makes for a nice, sweet ending...until yet another disappearance occurs to set the stage for the inevitable sequels. By this point, most readers probably are having their hands sighing while rubbing their necks. The Dark God's Bride is garbage: its plot is redundant when it is not non-sensical; the dynamics of the Amara-Noctis and Trent-Nala relationships are disturbing reinforcements of hideous social values; the prose is, charitably, uneven; and when taken as a whole, the novel would serve best as a stereotype for why romance/paranormal romance novels are viewed dimly by readers who want more than clothing porn and awkward almost-porn involving very questionable character interactions.