I was won over several years ago by the strange and fascinating world of Christine Feehan’s Carpathian race. Dark Symphony intersects the Carpathians with the Scarletti family, introduced in the melodramatic Gothic romance The Scarletti Curse. While this book, the 10th full-length romance of the Dark series, isn’t my favorite, it’s also not my least favorite. Not a stellar recommendation, but not a pan.
For those of you new to the Carpathian world, here’s a very brief primer: The Carpathians are a race separate from humans, but they live among us. They are psychic, communicate with animals, have “otherworldly” strength and power, can shape-shift and are incredibly gifted healers/artists. They are not immortal, but they live extremely long lives (centuries, in fact) and are difficult to kill. They also happen to be blood-drinkers, but they’re not evil and are not vampires.
Carpathians mate for life. If a male is unable to find his life mate after some centuries have passed, he begins to lose his emotions and the ability to see color. Many male Carpathians are driven mad by this and turn vampire (vampires are wholly and irredeemably evil). Many other Carpathians live as vampire hunters, spending their time traveling the globe in search of both their life mate and vampires to be killed. The Carpathians have also learned that human females with psychic ability may successfully be converted to be Carpathian if a Carpathian male can find the one who is his life mate.
Byron, the hero of Dark Symphony, is a character who first appeared in Dark Desire, my personal favorite of the series. An ambiguous character in that book after being tricked into betraying his best friend Jacques, Byron realized his mistake too late, almost causing Jacques’s death. In penance he has exiled himself from his Carpathian mountain home and has dedicated himself to the preservation of the race and the elimination of vampires – all in an attempt to atone for his past mistake.
We meet Byron on the seaside cliffs of Italy, where he has been patiently courting the human woman he knows to be his life mate, Antonietta Scarletti (called Toni by nearly everyone except Byron). Patience does not come easily to a Carpathian male, and possessing that trait sets Byron apart from the others of his ilk. And while he is still the arrogant alpha male Carpathian readers love/hate, his sensitivity and willingness to compromise from the beginning with Toni¹s foibles and fears is not typical behavior for a Carpathian male.
Perhaps this difference is attributable to the fact that this Dark hero is not by nature a hunter/killer. Byron¹s special talent is gem-calling, the finding of precious stones/metal to be used in jewelry. He’s a vampire hunter only by necessity and for atonement, which is a twist in the Carpathian hero mold and a good twist at that.
Toni is blind and her blindness adds an interesting dimension to her relationship with Byron. She doesn¹t react solely to the amazing Carpathian male physical beauty/strength, but instead responds to his voice/character. This is a refreshing difference between Toni and some earlier Dark series heroines who were often overwhelmed by the sheer physical impact of their gorgeous mates.
Unfortunately, Toni is an uneven character, which makes her a rather typical Feehan heroine in my experience. The premise of her situation as a disabled yet independent, strong-willed businesswoman (who is also a world-famous composer) held promise, but Toni ultimately frustrated me with her inconsistency. She was too passive in some scenes, yet shrill and imperious in others.
Despite my reservations about Toni, the evolution of her relationship with Byron is mostly enjoyable and believable, but not profound. The sexual tension between them remained strong throughout (even if the love scenes are a bit overdone). Less enjoyable were the members of Toni’s family, whom I found to be – almost without exception – the most irritating secondary characters I’ve read in a great while. They did serve multiple plot purposes though, both in this book and because the Scarletti heritage may be important to the future of the Carpathian race. Several characters from in earlier books in the series make appearances, including Jacques and Shea from Dark Desire, and some appealing new Carpathians were also introduced.
The intensity of the life-mate storyline has resonated strongly with readers since Feehan introduced the series in 1999. At this point, this is perhaps both a blessing and a curse. While the books continue to pull new readers in, long-time readers of the series may now find the Carpathian bonding/conversion process repititious, as I did. It’s true that the author mines some new ground here. She played with her character types enough to make me feel I wasn’t re-reading one of the older books and advanced the larger plotline of the Carpathian race enough to keep me curious about what will happen next in the series. But those changes weren’t quite substantial enough to make the reading experience as new and different as I would’ve liked. It may also explain in part my own muted reaction to the book.
Continuing fans of this series will no doubt want to read Dark Symphony, and those who’ve considered giving up may want to give Feehan another chance given the changes she’s made to try and keep the series fresh. Readers who are uninitiated into the Carpathian universe won’t be lost if they jump in on this one, but to get the best start on the series, I recommend beginning with Dark Prince and/or Dark Desire.