Race the Darkness
While I wouldn’t want a steady diet of them, I do enjoy well-written dark romances every now and again. Many of my favorites tend to have well-developed characters, razor sharp tension and a great degree of complexity, and they challenge me to take my mind places I wouldn’t ordinarily go. Race the Darkness initially showed signs of promise as a dark paranormal, but ultimately I ended up finding it repulsive rather than thrilling.
So, where did it go wrong? Well, there’s not just one thing I can identify. However, for starters I’d say that the poor heroine – Isleen – is so tormented that it creates a huge power imbalance between her and the hero. Isleen and her grandmother were taken prisoner by a madwoman when Isleen was still a teenager in high school, and the two have been held captive in a trailer and tortured for eight years. You don’t just bounce back from that overnight. Maybe Isleen does heal miraculously, but this needs to have been written in such a way that one could truly believe in it, and that just doesn’t happen here.
And that takes me to the paranormal element of this book, which is a part of the story I actually found quite interesting. Our hero, Xander, survived a lightning strike but it left him with the power to hear the thoughts of those around him. The local police have been using this power to their own advantage by bringing him in to assist with interrogations. As a sidenote, Xander’s interrogation scenes are some of my favorite parts of this book.
It also turns out that a voice Xander hears and disregards as a dream has been real all along. He has heard Isleen crying out for rescue and finally one night, he finds himself almost compelled to go to the field where her prison/trailer is located. There he finds and rescues her in an action-packed scene that eventually leads to him taking her to his family compound.
It’s an intriguing setup, but it quickly starts to fall apart. First of all, we have to be inside Xander’s head and hear him rather graphically lusting after Isleen right after she’s been freshly rescued from the torture trailer. I can buy that Isleen would be attractive, but someone who has been locked up and tortured for years on end probably has a lot of healing to do. As a reader, I really don’t need to hear about the “monster rocket in his pants” not even twenty-four hours after Isleen’s rescue.
My distaste for Xander as a hero didn’t stop there, though. We learn that he has a girlfriend of ten years standing that he’s more than willing to drop in an instant for Isleen. Apparently, he only ever wanted the girlfriend for sex and if she wanted more, he figures that’s her problem. What a charmer. At several points during the book, mention is made of Xander being a jerk for this and other reasons, and I found myself nodding and thinking, “Why, yes. Yes, you are.”
Insta-love can work for me on occasion, but in this book, it happens a little too instantly and that made it hard for me to really believe in the romance. Xander is all too willing to drop his girlfriend (or hookup partner, as the case may be) and go straight to bonding with Isleen. And then there’s the little matter of Isleen’s history. One would expect a person who has been imprisoned in a torture trailer for 8 years to have some lingering issues related to that. Add in the fact that Isleen was basically still a child when she was captured, and the issues compound. This just isn’t the kind of thing that we can gloss over with a bit of Magic Sex. And yet that’s where the author takes us. I couldn’t tell whether the reader was intended to see all this healing bonding as being brought on by Isleen’s magic hoo-ha or Xander’s mighty wang, but either way, it really does not work in this book.
Beyond the romance, I found some of the plotting intriguing. As I mentioned, Xander can hear the thoughts of others, and it turns out that Isleen has a power of her own as well. She dreams about events actually happening. While her dreams aren’t for the squeamish, I did find the psychic aspect of the story interesting even as I wished it had been a bit more developed. For example, Xander’s father is well known for his institute where he apparently researches sleep and dreams or… something along that line. Things at the institute are left a little bit vague and my questions about the institute and Xander’s father never do get answered in the story.
And one last note: If you don’t like skanky villain sex, this probably isn’t the book for you. The bad guys in this book definitely engage in some sexual practices that would strike many readers as unsettling. Oh, and they’re also religious zealots of some sort – the exact nature of their faith and motive for their actions doesn’t always make sense. The violence in the story is shown fairly graphically but these other portions of the plot get glossed over to an extent.
Overall, Race the Darkness had potential, but quickly squandered it. The book does have some interesting aspects, but these are overwhelmed by the unlikable hero, haphazard insta-love romance and rushed storytelling. In the end, it was definitely a no-go for me.