Sunday, May 01, 2011

Book Review: "Dark Descendant" by Jenna Black

Nikki Glass can track down any man. But when her latest client turns out to be a true descendant of Hades, Nikki now discovers she can’t die. . . . Crazy as it sounds, Nikki’s manhunting skills are literally god-given. She’s a living, breathing descendant of Artemis who has stepped right into a trap set by the children of the gods. Nikki’s new “friends” include a descendant of Eros, who uses sex as a weapon; a descendant of Loki, whose tricks are no laughing matter; and a half-mad descendant of Kali who thinks she’s a spy. But most powerful of all are the Olympians, a rival clan of immortals seeking to destroy all Descendants who refuse to bow down to them. In the eternal battle of good god/bad god, Nikki would make a divine weapon. But if they think she’ll surrender without a fight, the gods must be crazy. . . .

     Greek mythology always fascinated me when I was a kid. Despite the fact that popular fiction will overdue any given trend, I have been interested in the recent flood of books that I've seen that feature Greek gods. So when I was conveniently sent a copy of Dark Descendant by Jenna Black, I thought I'd give it a try. Unfortunately the Greek myth that is supposed to be the backbone of this particular story isn't featured the way the back-of-the-book description (shown above) would have you believe.
     Like most paranormal fiction "Dark Descendant" is told from a first-person perspective. Nikki Glass, our heroine, is a fairly common staple character in the paranormal genre in that she is a private investigator. The twist in this particular story is that she is a descendant of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, which is supposed to make Nikki unusually good at her job-- so were frequently told. She is unwittingly pulled into the world of the Liberi Deorum, or "children of the gods" and the ongoing conflict between two groups of descendants.
    Unfortunately I have more critiques of "Dark Descendant" than I do compliments. It is, like most books of its type, very readable, but it also has the most common flaw of lacking depth. Nikki is a likable enough character who, at first glance, has some decent character development. But the problem is that we're mostly told what kind of person Nikki is rather than shown. And we're told so often that Nikki is a good investigator or that she is a "bleeding heart" that it gets to the point where I wanted to yell at the pages I know, I know, I get it already. There are a couple of flashbacks that do a lot for establishing Nikki's character, but the overall trend was to let Nikki tell us in her first-person narrative who she was rather than let her actions do the talking for her.
     But the biggest disappointment for me was the total lack of content concerning the gods the Liberi were supposed to be descended from. I was especially intrigued by the idea that the book wasn't only supposed to draw on the Greek gods, but instead include gods from all pantheons. I don't know much about Kali or Loki and I thought it would be fun to read about characters that drew from those mythologies-- except that "Dark Descendant" didn't include any mythology featuring those gods. At all. In fact there wasn't any mythology of any kind included in the book other than the notion that Zeus had a way with lightening bolts.
     "Dark Descendant" was a frustrating book for me because there was really no back-story about Liberi Deorum. We're given a sketchy notion about the characters and what powers one or two of them have, but they are mostly outlines and caricatures that feel like they're there to give the main character something to do. The summary above makes it sound as if we're going to read a book that has something of an ensemble cast, maybe something like the X-Men series, but instead of having an intriguing set of characters with varying powers, most of them are merely mentioned by name before they disappear.
     What could have been a unique book ends up being extremely pedestrian as Nikki ends up trying to prove herself to the good guys while trying to avoid capture by the oh-so-evil bad guys. The potentially interesting aspects of the story are virtually ignored. The characters are the stereotypical good vs. evil, though the "good" characters start off as extremely unlikeable and then make a very sudden-- and unlikely-- turn into much more benign personalities, which makes the narrative very uneven and not terribly believable.
     I don't like to rip a book to shreds, so I hate to do nothing but knock "Dark Descendant." But the truth is that the book didn't really do anything for me. Perhaps it's a style thing. Maybe I'm unfair in that I expect paranormal fiction to have more depth than this. But I couldn't help but feel that "Dark Descendant" was over 300 pages of missed opportunities. It was okay, but not something I could recommend.


Charles Gramlich said...

Even good Urban fantasy is not exactly my cup of tea. If it isn't really well written I probably wouldn't trouble myself over it.

SQT said...

I like it when it's done well. I particularly like something light when I'm between heavier, epic fantasy. But I'm also finicky about it. Just because it's light doesn't mean it doesn't have to be good.

Blodeuedd said...

Too bad, cos it sounds so good