Curse the Dark
Grade : C

Parts of Curse The Dark by Laura Anne Gilman are quite nifty. Because of those parts, I’d really like to give it a better grade. But I usually reserve grades of B- and up to books that make a little more sense than this one.

There is an entire society of magical beings existing secretly in the world, some of whom are human and some not. This society is known collectively as the Cosa Nostradamus, which I thought was a really stupid name. Genevieve “Wren” Valere is a Talent; she has the ability to tap into the magical current that is latent in all things. She makes a living by using her Talent to find lost or stolen things. Wren’s partner, Sergei Didier, handles the business end of the arrangement. It seems that in the first book of this series (Staying Dead, which I have not read), Wren and Sergei fell in love. As this book opens, they are uneasily coming to terms with their feelings.

Wren and Sergei have been hired to find a missing, magical, Medieval manuscript that was stolen from an Italian monastery. Their employer is the Silence, a shadowy organization which devotes itself to combating evil magic in the world. Wren and Sergei are unhappy to discover that the situation in Italy is far more dangerous and complicated than they were told.

Meanwhile, back in New York, chaos is breaking loose. The human and non-human elements of the Cosa Nostradamus are at each other’s throats. The situation is complicated, somehow, by the actions of the Council, which I guess is some sort of powerful group that attempts to govern human magic-users. When non-humans start talking about making war on the Council, they call on Wren for support, even though she’s human, because she’s (for some reason) on the outs with the Council.

There are a couple things I really liked about this book. One of them is the hero, Sergei. He is an elegant, cosmopolitan, well-tailored man who runs a high-end art gallery. I’m a bit tired of tough-but-simple heroes, and Sergei, with his business acumen, complex personality, and excellent sartorial taste, is a refreshing change. He also has a painful, mysterious past, which, coupled with his devotion to Wren, makes him completely yummy.

The relationship between Wren and Sergei is another of my favorite things. It culminates in one of the best love scenes I’ve read in a long time. These two are in love, and when they finally make love they are tender and just a little awkward. The nervousness they both display during this scene made it more touching than some of the steamy-but-mechanical scenes I’ve been reading lately; Sergei and Wren together are sexy and romantic, both. I’m quite disappointed that there’s only one love scene.

Which leads me to the things about the book I don’t like. Apparently there was a lot of explanation in the first book, and the author didn’t bother to recapitulate in this one. So I had very little idea of the function of the Council or the Silence, and still less of how they go about their business, whatever that might be. Wren spends a lot of time using her Talent, but I also never got a good grasp of how that works and what its limits are. For instance, apparently use of magic tends to short out electronic devices around her. She’s very nervous on airplanes, and I would be, too. But she rides the subway, taxicabs, and elevators without mishap. She can have a computer and a stereo in her apartment (they’re somehow warded against magic), but she can’t have an air-conditioner. I don’t get it.

Wren is, quite frankly, rather annoying. She’s one of those wisecracking heroines who is constantly using witticisms; even the narration of her scenes is full-to-bursting with hilarious comments. The problem is that these comments are never hilarious to the reader and usually do not even provoke a smile; they got repetitive and very, very wearisome after a while. The author frequently seems to be straining to keep up the pace of the humor, and all-too-frequently falling flat. Here’s an example. During an action sequence, when lots of stuff is happening, Wren somehow has time to think, "If P.B. effed with my settings when he was here, or told the elementals to beat it, I’m going to skin the furry little bastard and dip him in boiling sesame oil before selling him as the newest lunch craze."

The plot is obvious and baffling in turns. Far too many plot strands are left totally unresolved. There’s a subplot about someone searching Sergei’s office; we never find out who or why. There are long chapters from the point of view of a member of the Silence, describing the paranoia that exists within that organization; these chapters have no bearing on anything. The secret behind the mysteriously powerful Medieval parchment has been standard science-fiction and fantasy fare for forty years (I remember a variant used in Star Trek), but we never find out who actually stole the thing. The author tries to cover this huge plot hole by having Wren and Sergei decide that discovering the thief’s identity isn’t really important, even though he killed two people that we know about. Not revealing the identity of the murderer at the end just seems wrong.

I read an advance copy of this book, and this may be corrected in the final copy, but Curse the Dark is the most poorly-edited thing I’ve ever read from a reputable print publisher (Luna is an imprint of Harlequin). Perhaps before the book hits the stores, a copyeditor will correct all the horrible misspellings, the unbearable misuses of punctuation, the words that are emphasized using *asterisks* instead of italics, and the numerous other problems that constantly irritated me. That copyeditor has a very big job ahead of her.

All of this adds up to a read that is quite unsatisfying, in spite of its promise. This book has a great hero, a killer love scene, and loads of potential; it is breezy, sometimes entertaining, and presents a merger of magic and technology that is interesting. But pervasive plot problems and a wearisome heroine hold it back, and it’s unfortunately no better than an average read. If it sounds interesting to you, I suggest you read Staying Dead first.

Reviewed by Jennifer Keirans
Grade : C
Book Type:

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 24, 2005

Publication Date: 2005

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