Oh, those Carpathians! Christine Feehan’s vampiric warriors are back for the thirtieth time to brood, lust and make your knees quiver in the latest addition to the series, Dark Carousel.
The wonderfully-named Charlotte Vintage manages to capture Tariq Asenguard’s attention with her scent when she enters his nightclub with her best friend Genevieve. Tariq had been fully prepared to settle for a life of mate-free blood sipping and playing the field, but one whiff of Charlotte sets him into mate-seeking mode.
But Charlotte’s life has its complexities. She and Genevieve have been on the run for ages from a murderous stalker who took the lives of several people close to them, leaving Charlotte’s niece, Lourdes, an orphan. Charlotte’s clairvoyance is no help to their fragile existence, but both are determined to free themselves and save Lourdes from a life of danger.
Charlotte and Tariq forge a relationship made of mind-erasingly intense sex, antique carousels and psychologically wounded children. But the larger world continues to threaten their paradise, leading to a Carpathian/vampire showdown that might take their lives or finally put Charlotte’s enemies six feet under for good.
After so many spins around the block, when you buy a Carpathian novel you know what you’re going to get. It’s all here, from the hypno-sex to the strong power imbalance in the main couple to the sudden strokes of bold, odd violence. If you like the formula, go for it. On the other hand, if you’ve been hoping the author might diversify things just a hairsbreadth this time, then you’ll be in for a disappointment.
Feehan’s biggest flaw continues to be her inability to build suspense correctly. Whenever there is an opportunity to build tension – with the possibility that Genevieve and Charlotte both might be Tariq’s mate, for instance, or the mysterious identity of the killer stalking Charlotte – it is blown aside for more extra-long sex scenes and idyllic gamboling.
Charlotte herself isn’t much beyond a cipher; she has no real will or personality of her own, and she comes off as an object. She’s not the worst Feehan heroine but she isn’t very distinguished either.
If possessive alpha heroes are an automatic DNW for you, this hero is no exception to the Carpathian tradition. In fact, this is perhaps the most Stockholmish Carpathian book yet, and in spite of the lip service given to Charlotte’s feistiness and Tariq’s progressiveness, women are still Angels of the Light anchoring men and injecting color (literally) into their lives while men are stabby warriors who obsessively micromanage the women’s worlds while giving them orgasms and treating them like children. The author might argue that Tariq is a rich, sophisticated man who looks like a GQ cover; I would argue that his love isn’t worth missing sunlight for the rest of one’s existence.
A number of the secondary characters suffer greatly from lack of development; Genevieve in particular is written the way Feehan thinks women talk in this post-post-post Sex and the City world. You will not believe your eyes when Genevieve and Charlotte sit around the breakfast table discussing Charlotte’s so-called “sluttiness” in front of three year old Lourdes. Faring better are Emeline, a human woman who suffers after a blood exchange with the enemy of Tariq and now won’t let a man near her, and most of the child characters. The traumatized and ultimately suicidal Liv (who incidentally ends up chained for life to one of Tariq’s warrior allies at eight years old in a moment that would make Jacob Black proud) and her sister Amelia emerge as intriguing, but unfortunately the youngest, Lourdes, suffers from blandness. We also get stomach-churning descriptions of the violence done to these children by Tariq’s enemy, which gets even more attention than the ugly fates of the villain’s female slaves.
The writing is pedestrian and suffers from info dumps and plot developments that drag the prose needlessly down. It feels like Feehan is stretching every idea out for as long as it can possibly last to feed page quota mandates. Multiple times, we hear about how hot and sophisticated Tariq is, how every time Charlotte touches the mark he left on her she pulses in her between-downy-theres, etc. And there’s also one lulu of a physical impossibility that occurs during the first love scene (when you reach it, you’ll know).
There is this much to say about Dark Carousel: Feehan provides her usual dose of blood-soaked, lust-filled, melodramatic entertainment. You might like it more than I did. But for this reader, two hundred pages of same-old-same-old with one hundred pages of near-death by cursed splinteritis just don’t cut it.
Closing with a Buyer Beware: the publisher lists this book at 400 pages. Forty-four of those pages are a lexicon of Carpathian healing customs and language. A treat for those obsessed with the lore of the universe, I’m sure, but an annoyance to anyone hoping for a longer read. In this day and age, when hardcovers cost over twenty dollars, caveat emptor remains in effect.