Fans of Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series will be surprised if they’re expecting her new Game of Shadows series to be anywhere near similar. Rising Darkness, the first book in the new series, is, well, dark, y’all – emotionally affecting, creepy-delicious, D-A-R-K dark. It’s also technically impeccable, completely absorbing, and, although I haven’t stopped thinking about it, I still haven’t decided whether or not I like it.
The premise is that thousands of years ago an alien race whose society was based on twinned souls and complete harmony somehow birthed a sociopath. The sociopath abused his mate, became murderous, and escaped his own planet to travel to Earth. Knowing that he would do untold damage if not stopped, six twinned souls and the psycho’s mate drank magic-infused poison in order to die and be reborn on earth. The fight with the enemy soul has been going on ever since. While the good guys have to be reborn every time they die, losing their memory in the process and having to relearn their history, their enemy jumps from adult body to adult body, retaining his skills and memory. Four of the good warriors have lost their lives in the fight, leaving only one twinned pair and the psycho’s soul twin left to fight on.
The hero is Michael, an angry, embittered man, filled with the rage that has plagued him since childhood. He has evolved enough in this incarnation, with the help of the seventh alien soul, Astra, to remember pieces of his history, and to realize that his anger stems from the fact that his mate has been missing for nine hundred years. He and Astra have been quietly gathering allies, but the recent loss of a highly trained and importantly placed friend has left them both reeling and demoralized. This setback in their plans makes it even more imperative that Michael’s mate be found quickly if possible.
The heroine, Mary, is certain that she is going insane. She has always had strange, alien dreams, but recently they have become intensely vivid. Her innate reserve has become disassociation and her home has become chaotic. She’s an ER doctor and has been able to perform in that capacity, if nothing else, until that last fateful day when she begins to hear voices in the wind.
To escape her ex-husband’s worried meddling, Mary takes an afternoon road trip that includes an impromptu psychic reading and a meeting with a strange apparition in Notre Dame’s grotto. These events lead to an epiphany that causes Mary to finally become visible to Michael and, unfortunately, to their ancient enemy. Within hours Mary’s home is burned to the ground, she narrowly escapes an abduction, and several innocent bystanders are killed. Mary, fearing for her life, goes on the run and then the race is on. Who will find her first, Michael or the bad guy’s minions?
You can’t beat this book for gut-churning suspense. It starts from the first paragraph, as the book opens with a dream sequence that makes it clear that a scary story will follow. Mary’s thoughts and actions when she realizes she’s in peril are very true-to-life, which made her anxiety feel personal. Simple things like stopping for gas are fraught with terror. Part of Mary’s worries are concern for her ex-husband, a smiling, mischievous charmer, because he was supposed to meet her at her house around the same time that the fire started. When you realize what actually happened to him, waiting for the culmination of that scenario is almost physically painful because you like him so much. That liking is part of what makes the entire book suspenseful. You can’t help but love the protagonists and their travails are difficult to endure.
Rising Darkness also has no lack of action. Chases and murders and last minute rescues abound. All the while Mary suffers from a psychic wound that was killing her slowly, but since her epiphany has escalated to killing her quickly. The plot flies along, events zipping toward you until you want to hide your eyes or put the book down but can’t. I don’t know what was more thrilling and wearying, the suspense or the action.
There is a lot to like here, and a lot that is hard to like. Instances of grody torture, the sad backstory of what happened to the other pairs, Astra’s difficulties, the enemy soul’s treachery, all make for interesting reading, even if they don’t fill you with joy. But it’s not all sad. Michael and Mary’s budding relationship, beyond the twin souls thing, is the start of a very promising romance. I’m definitely interested in finding out what happens next.