A Darker Crimson
A Darker Crimson is the fourth book in LoveSpell’s multi-author Crimson City series and Jewel’s departure from historical romance. As an author, I think Carolyn Jewel shows promise, but sometimes her execution is flawed. She does some good things here with world-building and plotting, but her characterization is a bit spotty, and her pacing and clarity are uneven in places.
Claudia Donovan is a cop in Crimson City – the alternate reality version of Los Angeles. The nature of her work ensures she encounters otherworldlies like vampires and werewolves on a regular basis, but demons? That’s a new one. When she discovers a dead one and famous vamp Tiberiu Korzha in the same location, she knows she’s in the middle of something deep. Still, she didn’t expect to find herself suddenly in the middle of a demon ritual or forced into the demon plane of Orcus. And if that’s not enough, her daughter Holly has also been kidnapped. Claudia must make a deal with the demons and with Korzha to make sure the both get back to Crimson City alive.
If the above paragraph sounds a bit sketchy, that’s because the book reads that way, at least at first. Granted, I’m new to this series; this is the first Crimson City book I’ve read. So it’s possible that previous books set the stage for the action in this one. Still, the beginning of the book is more than a trifle confusing. There’s a lot taking place, with demon violence following demon ritual, and it’s not immediately clear to Claudia or to the reader what exactly is going on. Once everyone arrives in Orcus, things start to sort themselves out a bit, but the reader needs to have a high tolerance for things not being spelled out right away. On the other hand, nothing here is predictable or cliché.
Jewel does some interesting world building with Orcus. The rules aren’t at all the same, either for Claudia or for Tiberiu Korzha. These new rules make them both more vulnerable in Orcus than in Crimson City, which ups the stakes and the tension in their attempts to save Holly. It also requires them to rely on each other more. Tiber is the usual uber-powerful-yet-rich-and-urbane vamp leader, but his occasionally amusing internal monologue saves him from a stock character fate.
Claudia and Tiber have some good chemistry together and several scenes between them are pretty hot. Adding fire to the heat index rating is another “relationship” Claudia has imposed upon her by the Bak-Faru demon, Lath, who hates humans and fights his need to possess her. It’s not immediately apparent why the Feehan-esque Lath is part of Claudia’s story, except perhaps to make the story’s main conflict harder to resolve. He doesn’t shed light on Claudia’s character, and he isn’t amazingly well done as a stand alone character. It would have been far more interesting had Jewel chosen to develop Holly, Claudia’s daughter, as a character, especially in terms of her complex family heritage. There is also a female character on Orcus – Siath – whose interaction with Claudia, given their interconnectedness, could have been far more interesting than the pages devoted to Lath.
A Darker Crimson started out confusing, but then moved into a plot that was brisk, action-filled, and interesting. Unfortunately, as the book moved towards its conclusion, it lost momentum. Also, a number of Claudia’s and Tiber’s seemingly complex problems were sewn up abruptly within the last few pages. I would rate the middle section of the book as a B or even a B+, but I must subtract points for the beginning and the end, making it overall just a slightly above average read.