Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tempting Evil (book) by Keri Arthur

This is the third book in the Riley Jenson Guardian series. In her first mission as a guardian, or at least a potential guardian, Riley has agreed to infiltrate Deshon Starr's house of horrors. In the previous book, it became clear that Starr has been using his laboratories to create horrific and dangerous mixes of human and supernatural creatures. In order to infiltrate Starr's building, Riley has to pretend to be a moral-less thief and half-werewolf willing to fight naked in the mud with other women for the entertainment of others. Riley's twin brother, on the other hand, infiltrates the building by pretending to be a guard and becoming one of Starr's lovers.

Although Riley is a half-werewolf, half-vampire (the werewolf side of her is stronger, whereas the vampire side is stronger in Rhoan), she's still inexperienced with this kind of work and is a bit in over her head. Rhoan can help her in some areas, and Quinn, a vampire and one of Riley's lovers, also helps her as much as he can, but Riley is mostly on her own against vicious psychopaths and killers who may know more about her than she wants them to know. Not only does she have to keep herself alive, she's got to destroy Starr's labs and get out with a baby Starr is holding hostage.

This is definitely not a book to read if you haven't read the previous two books. I read them a few months ago, and even I had problems following some of what was going on.

I know my description of this book makes it sound like a hokey excuse for lots of sex. In some ways, you'd be right. Arthur has created a world in which were-animals of any kind need to have sex in much the same way that vampires need blood. Because of this, they have a general culture of not being shy about sex - providing Arthur a chance to add sex to the story whenever she likes. In this particular book, Riley has sex with her current usual lovers (Kellen, Quinn, Kade), she has sex with people she needs to have sex with in order to learn about the organization and keep her cover, and she sees others either having sex for kicks or for punishment.

All this could definitely upset some readers. However, I'd like to add that, although they're usually graphic, Arthur does tend to keep the sex scenes short - there's still plenty of time left for her to tell the story. When the sex turns horrible (sex as punishment, usually involving sodomy), Arthur mercifully doesn't describe it in detail, although it may still be upsetting if you've got an imagination good enough to fill in the gaps. There certainly were scenes here and there that I could've done without.

If that hasn't scared you off, several of the characters can provide good reasons to read this book. Riley and Rhoan are interesting characters with a very good, loving relationship. If they weren't related, and if Rhoan weren't gay, I'd say that Rhoan is the guy for Riley. He's pretty much the only guy in her life that hasn't tried to use her and has made it clear that he cares about her well-being. Quinn, the mysterious vampire, does a few things in this book that indicate that he might actually care for her, but he's also done plenty that indicates he's hiding things from her. Riley's got such crappy taste in men - who knows how he'll turn out? Even if Quinn does work out for her, there's still the fact that she wants children. In Arthur's world, Riley's half-vampire status means that she's infertile, but recent events have made her temporarily fertile. Unfortunately, Quinn wouldn't be able to give her children. Of the others among her men that could, Kade is a were-horse, so his species and his culture cross him off the list of potential permanent mates, and it remains to be seen whether Kellen, a werewolf, really cares about Riley for more than just sex.

What all that amounts to is that the relationship aspects of this book can be pretty interesting. In addition to Riley's relationships with her men, there are Rhoan's relationships with his men, particularly Liander. However, this book doesn't touch on Rhoan's relationships much, and Liander only shows up for a short while near the beginning of the book.

The story itself is complex and action-oriented, with a bit of spy stuff (the part where Riley gets dressed up for her new identity is fun, very Alias-like). Riley sneaks around, digs through people's heads with her newly enhanced telepathy, and beats people up when she has to. Although she occasionally gets into hot water, she also tends to be able to get herself out of it. She's not adverse to using help when it's offered, but she's not a damsel in distress type either. Riley occasionally has to beat up people who she doesn't think deserve it, but, for the most part, the bad guys in this book are very bad - there is no pesky moral ambiguity when it comes to dealing with them. Riley, on the other hand, shows herself to be one of the good guys by doing whatever she can to save the baby hostage, free some of the creatures trapped by Starr, and avoid killing people she doesn't have to.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Kiss of Shadows (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - This is the first book in Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series, set in an alternate world that is much like ours, except that faeries have made their existence known and have come to America after they were ousted from Europe. For years, Meredith has hidden her identity as a faerie princess of the Unseelie Court from everyone, convinced that her aunt, the queen, would kill her if she found her. Meredith is part sidhe, part brownie, and part human (and maybe part other things I can't think of right now), and the only magic she's ever really been good at is personal glamour - she'd never stand a chance against her aunt's assassins. While in hiding, Meredith works for the Grey Detective Agency, which specializes in supernatural cases. The agency gets involved in a case where someone is using magic to seduce women with fey blood and drain their power. Meredith's cover gets blown, and suddenly she's got more to deal with than she can really handle. Like Riley, Meredith comes from a culture where sex is something to be enjoyed, not ashamed of, although this book (and this series in general) has sex scenes that are much more graphic and lengthy than anything in Tempting Evil. Some of the sex scenes are also weirder. Meredith wants to have a child, much like Riley but not for the same reasons - this first book sets up the overarching storyline that Meredith must have a child in order to inherit the Unseelie throne and survive. Meredith, like Riley, is surrounded by gorgeous men, some of whom are hiding things. This particular book is a bit like a fantasy-mystery with several action scenes, although in later books the political intrigue aspect becomes more important.
  • Alias (live action American TV show) - Sydney Bristow believes she is working for the CIA. She finds out she's actually working for SD-6, the bad guys, when they kill her fiance after she tells him that she's an agent with the CIA. Sydney becomes a double agent, working for both the CIA and SD-6, in an attempt to take SD-6 down. If you liked the action and some of the spy aspects of Tempting Evil (especially Riley's excellent and lovely disguise, as well as some of the technology she's given) and don't mind something that isn't in the fantasy or horror genre, you might like this show. Although Sydney doesn't actually have sex to get information, she does often use her looks while she's on missions, and Sydney's romantic relationships are an important aspect of the show's appeal.
  • Origin in Death (book) by J.D. Robb - Like Tempting Evil, Origin in Death is set in the near future (2059), although Origin in Death is romantic suspense (heavy on the mystery/suspense aspects), rather than horror/fantasy. New York Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas is investigating the killing of plastic surgeon Dr. Wilfred Icove by one of his patients. Another murder occurs, and Dallas' investigation starts uncovering a bizarre mystery involving genetic engineering and cloning. This is the 21st (or 22nd) book in the series, so it would probably be helpful to try out some of the earlier books - the mysteries themselves tend to stand alone, but the relationships between the characters are developed throughout the series as a whole. This particular book's topic, cloning and genetic engineering gone wrong, matches well with Tempting Evil. Although this is a fast-paced book and there are action scenes, Dallas do as much, or more, investigating as anything else. Eve Dallas is happily married, so she doesn't have the multiple partners that Riley does, but her husband is definitely eye candy and relationships (both romantic and friendships) are an important part of the appeal of this book and this series.
  • Shadow Touch (book) by Marjorie M. Liu - This is the second book in the Dirk & Steele series, a slightly better match for the topics and feel of Tempting Evil than the first book, Tiger Eye. Artur Loginov is a private detective who can pick up people's memories through touch. He is kidnapped and imprisoned in a facility full of the paranormally gifted, where he meets a woman named Elena who can perform miraculous healings. Artur, Elena, and others work together to stop their captor's plans for world domination (a cheesy way of putting it, but it's the best I can do at the moment). Readers who liked the suspense, paranormal abilities, and romantic elements in Tempting Evil may like this book.

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