Readers not familiar with the series may want to keep in mind that the world is relentlessly heteronormative; all the pairings involve the ‘fated mate’ trope; plus, there’s quite a bit of cursing and graphic sex, violence and gore.
In this particular installment, the heroine has OCD; I am not overly familiar with this disorder, so I cannot say whether how this is written here is sensitive, informed, accurate, or triggering. (There are spoilers on this in the review.)
Proceed at your own risk.
Dark Desires After Dusk, by Kresley Cole
This is the sixth story in the IAD series, and some of the events in this book overlap what happens in the next title, Kiss of a Demon King. Not coincidentally, these are the stories of The Woede, the two demon brothers introduced in Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night.
The heroine, who I find utterly delightful, is entirely new to the series. And, it turns out, to the Lore as well; one Holly Ashwin, PhD candidate and math professor at Tulane U, and, for her sins, this Accession’s most popular girl.
Here, have a blurb (I hate this blurb–what’s new, right?):
A seductive beauty he can never have, yet can’t resist…
Cadeon Woede will stop at nothing to atone for the one wrong that will haunt him forever. But once he secures the key to his redemption, the halfling Holly Ashwin, Cade finds that the woman he thought he could use for his own ends and then forget haunts him as much as his past.
A tormented warrior she should fear, but can’t deny…
Raised as a human, Holly never knew that some frightening legends are real until she encounters a brutal demon who inexplicably guards her like a treasure. Thrust into a sensual new world of myth and power, with him as her protector, she begins to crave the demon’s wicked touch.
Surrender to dark desires…
Yet just when he earns Holly’s trust, will Cade be forced to betray the only woman who can sate his wildest needs — and claim his heart?
Quick recap on Cade: well over nine centuries or so ago, before he even froze into his immortality, he chose to do something that ended up facilitating the invasion of his home kingdom, Rothkalina, by Omort, an evil sorcerer. In the ages since, Cade has become a very skilled, and well paid, mercenary–so much so, that he’s known as The Kingmaker. Niggling detail: the one crown he hasn’t been able to secure? Rothkalina’s. As a result, his relationship with his brother Rydstrom is…well, strained. And while Cade is good at making the best of his circumstances, guilt, loneliness and frustration do not make for a very happy immortality.
Cade’s existence is not particularly improved by the discovery of his fated mate: a young, sheltered, fragile human female. The one type of being a demon cannot ever claim–apparently, humans are not likely to survive the first sexual encounter with a demon. Go figure, right?
But apparently Fate, being a total dick, decided to make things even better for Cade. Turns out Holly is the daughter of Valkyrie and a human, and the Accession¹ basically jump starts her transition to immortality. In doing so, it also paints a very large target on her back.
It makes her the one bargaining chip in Cade’s hand, which will give him the only known means to finally, finally!, win Rydstrom’s crown back–and free the entire population of Rothkalina from over nine centuries of oppression and misery.
Oh yeah, enviable position to be in: claim your mate and doom countless souls for eternity; or lie to her, and then, hand her over to a thoroughly evil sorcerer, for breeding. (Yes, exactly what it sounds like.)
Adopted by a wonderful and caring couple as a very young child, Holly is a curious mixture of assertiveness and insecurities. On the one hand, she knows exactly how intelligent she is–and no, it’s not about the two masters or the PhD research. She knows she’s good, and enjoys exercising her mind, and maths is just the thing to help her do that.
On the other hand, she has OCD; as she grew older, she developed rituals to help her cope with compulsions she doesn’t understand. She can’t step on a sidewalk crack, she must count things (in sets of three), clean constantly, and rearrange her surroundings. She avoids avoids anything with a sexual content, and sublimates her own sexuality into swimming. Further, she has learned to avoid precious stones in order to avoid becoming mesmerized by them.
(Here I must spoil an aspect of Holly’s characterization, because it may be triggering for people who have OCD: by the end of the novel, after surviving some pretty horrible shit, Holly has a lot fewer compulsions than at the beginning. Mind you, she has not been cured of all aspects of her OCD, but a number of her compulsions and the resulting rituals, are explained away as caused by her unacknowledged Valkyrie nature.)
The best thing about Holly is that, as much as she believes otherwise, she has not let her disorder take control of her life. Yes, she has stopped doing some things that are highly stressful for her–such as traveling–but she still volunteers to teach remedial math to freshmen football players. Yes, she follows a routine, and has specific rituals and behaviours for specific circumstances, but she’s still out there; despite having inherited enough wealth to afford doing nothing for the rest of her life, she continues to put herself out there, and to hope for a normal life.
And when Cade, and the Lore, smash her ordered routine into smithereens, she may freak the hell out, but she still does what she has to do to survive. Time and again, Holly rescues herself.
Aside about the series as a whole: generally speaking, Ms Cole writes authentically strong women, who do not waste their lives bemoaning the hand life has dealt them; women who don’t wait for men to rescue them, but who take matters into their own hands. Of course, in the general scheme of things, it’s a bit easier to do this when you are a) immortal, and b) possess superhuman strength and senses; but still, credit where it’s due.
In Holly’s case, I love that, despite being dropped in the middle of something she knows nothing about, and barely can comprehend, she keeps on swinging. And when Cade is a total pig, she doesn’t let him get away with it.
Unless, of course, she actually wants to.
But seriously, the banter between them cracks me up every single time. He says the most outrageous things, and she puts him in his place without missing a beat. And then, there’s their internal dialogue, which is to die for.
If you go for this type of humour, which apparently I totally do.
I really like Cade; on the surface, he’s this chauvinistic asshat, who doesn’t give a damn about pretty much anything–except that there rather large chip on his shoulder. But there’s a lot hidden behind this public persona, and some of it is hidden even from Cade himself. While he resents Rydstrom, and the guilt he feels about the fate of Rothkalina and its people, he also strives to redeem himself, in his brother’s eyes and in his own. He doesn’t consider himself a good person in any way, and yet, when the chips are down, he stands up–though not without considerable struggle. These are high stakes, whichever side you stand on.
Aside from that, you really need to buy into the world building to fully understand and enjoy the shenanigans, and I do not recommend trying to read this one first. Yes, there’s enough background given through the story, to follow what’s going on (and bonus points, it does not feel like infodumping, as Ms Cole uses Holly’s ignorance about the Lore to educate the reader), but at the same time, there are several of references to centrals events from previous books that may leave a new reader scratching her head.
There are a number of secondary characters, but only a couple or so are developed beyond a type–not exactly a caricature, but certainly not individuals in their own right. I’m happy to report that, save for a few pages, the story stays away from the very annoying Valkyries. There are a couple of longish passages in the novel dealing with Rydstrom’s story, though, which from the first reading (and in each re-read since), I’ve felt are out of place. Except, of course, as a mean to ensure readers will read the next story in the series.
Personally, I like the resolution of both the personal conflict, and within the larger story arc; however, I can see how, for some readers, there is not enough groveling from Cade (and/or, Holly forgives him too easily). Like humor, how you feel about this will depend entirely on your individual tastes.
Dark Desires After Dusk gets an 8.00 from me.
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¹ In this world, every five centuries, give or take a year or three, conflict among the different types of beings int he Lore grows, to a point where a series of battles and other events eliminate a relatively high number of them. It’s believed that this periodic culling of immortals is a natural way to control their total population.
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My reviews of the series so far: