Ms. Harrison’s latest addition to the Elder Races series made me wonder: What makes a good paranormal? I started making a list in my head and most of the qualities are common to all good books – decent characterization, sensible plot, etc. etc. However, three things did stick out for me specific to paranormals: The world-building has to make sense; it has to make me care; and it has to keep me wanting more.
In that sense alone, and in many other ways, Serpent’s Kiss works very well. I don’t have all the answers after finishing this book, third in a series. I know that supernatural beings coexist alongside humans; I know there are many different races who are regulated by a body like a United Paranormal Nations. And I know there’s heaps of conflict. (Duh.) There’s also a supernatural plane called Adriyel, which exists parallel to that of Earth, and only supernatural beings can access these crossover points.
So far so good. Do I know exactly how the Council works? Nope. Am I cognizant of all the social and political undercurrents to the dialogue between various parties? Heck, no. But quite frankly, I’m fine with that. Ms. Harrison fed me enough to keep confusion at bay, but not so much that I was blanket bombed with world-building, and as a result I want to read more. Aces, so far.
Serpent’s Kiss picks up right where Storm’s Heart left off, I presume – the gryphon Wyr sentinel Rune Ainissesthai had to save his friend’s life, so he made a bargain with the Vampyre Queen Carling Severan. He promises to give her any favor she requests. Now, presumably Carling is like the Godfather, totally prepared to make good on the debt, and in fact from page one Carling hammers into our heads that she is not a good person. (Sure, hon.) But when Rune arrives on Carling’s other island home, she more or less waves away the favor and tells him to shove off. Rune, being a stubborn gryphon who, despite millennia of experiences, has still retained his curiosity and sense of the ridiculous, does not shove off, and instead discovers what’s biting Carling’s ass.
The answer is that Carling is dying. After being born during the Egyptian empire and surviving slavery, Romans, Goths, the Inquisition, and WWII, her Power is starting to splutter, causing blackouts. Carling’s followers have all left, except for a devoted watery fountain named Rhoswen and a chicken-loving Pomeranian called Rasputin. Carling has researched and searched the world over for a solution to the disease she thinks is afflicting her and her race, but to no avail – until Rune comes along and offers another perspective.
See, up to here we’re still okay. I liked that Carling was not just any old kick-ass, badass knife-wielding chick – she’s a true survivor, and proud of it. She is one strong woman worthy of R.E.S.P.E.C.T., and Rune is a great partner for her. Sure, I think I missed some nuances to their relationship since they were building upon other events, but it’s not big deal. They fit extremely well together.
Until, that is, things get kooky. And, boy, do they get kooky. I can’t say much because it would probably qualify as a spoiler, but I have three issues. First, the plot device that I’m vaguely referring to is super tricky to handle, even without Carling and Rune messing around with things. And when they start to meddle, it gets even kookier. (Yeah, it’s vague, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.) Second, when the Plot Device pops up, it takes over everything else and everything got a bit muddier. And third, it overshadowed Rune and Carling. I was actually sitting myself down for a nice character-driven paranormal, thinking “Gee, this doesn’t come up too often,” when bam came Plot Device and my peace was over.
Cryptic time over. Ignoring Plot Device, Ms. Harrison has an extremely engaging voice that beautifully and most accurately pinpoints humor, sarcasm, tragedy, emotions, and violence. Serpent’s Kiss ended on a note that I would have termed mushy in other books, but that worked well in context. And darned if Carling and Rune didn’t deserve it, after all they’ve been through.