The Envy Chronicles, Book 2: Embrace the Night Eternal. By Joss Ware. Avon. $7.99.
The Envy Chronicles, Book 3: Abandon the Night. By Joss Ware. Avon. $7.99.
Joss Ware gets big points for consistency. Beyond the Night, the first book in a series now being called The Envy Chronicles, was a post-apocalyptic zombie romance (that’s a romance including zombies, not involving zombies) featuring a man who developed strange paranormal powers during a 50-year suspension of time (and of belief) in a cave while the world collapsed. Much of the book focused on how he and a woman with her own horrible past would overcome their memories and the destruction of the world around them to find sensual and emotional relief with each other – which they eventually did.
The second book in the series, Embrace the Night Eternal, is about another man who was in that cave, who developed different paranormal powers and who – in the new, post-apocalyptic world – encounters a different woman; and the two seek to overcome their memories and the destruction of the world around them to find sensual and emotional relief with each other. Which they eventually do.
The third book, Abandon the Night, is about a third man who was in the cave, and about a third woman, and – by now, you get the idea. But you may wonder what “Envy” is all about. Given the usual meaning of the word, it is an unfortunate choice for a romance-series title; but the usual meaning is not what matters here. “Envy” is “NV” and used to be “LV.” That is, it is what people of the post-apocalypse call New Vegas, which used to be Las Vegas. The remains of this city – now conveniently close to the Pacific Ocean, California having disappeared beneath the waves – are the centerpiece of civilization in Ware’s world. This is one of several elements in these books that indicate the author may not intend them to be taken entirely seriously.
The overt plotting, though, is serious (if formulaic) enough. The first book was filled with mysteries, not only about the individual characters’ survival and the world in which they must now live, but also about the gangas (as zombies are called here), the Strangers (apparent immortals who may or may not be aliens), and the partly known, partly unknown powers of the men who were trapped in that cave. The first book’s primary male “romantic lead” was Dr. Elliott Drake, who has the power to heal with his hands – but only if he takes the disease or injury into himself and suffers any consequences (including death), or passes the condition along to someone (or something) else. Jade (who chooses her name to try to obliterate memories of her previous one, Diana Kapiza) is the woman in this couple. She is a strong character and important provider of services to Envy, but is fighting horrid memories of captivity with a bounty hunter and the Immortals, who are in essence the fount of all evil (they appear to have been responsible for destroying the world). The couples of books two and three were actually introduced in the first book, but they were not front and center; so Ware makes them the core of the followup novels. Thus, Embrace the Night Eternal focuses on Simon Japp, whose violent past eventually comes back to haunt him even post-apocalyptically (and despite his determination to use his newfound paranormal powers for good); and on Sage Corrigan, a computer expert (a few computers have survived) whose knowledge is key to fighting back against the Strangers. Thrown together in a situation that requires them to pose as man and wife (the Apocalypse somehow not having significantly changed the importance of institutional marriage, at least for the good guys), Simon and Sage eventually and not surprisingly find themselves inevitably attracted to each other, and Simon’s paranormal power turns out to come in handy for highly personal matters as well as for battle.
In Abandon the Night, the two primary people in focus are Quent (full name: Quentin Brummell Fielding III), who learned in the first book that his hated father was likely the driving force behind whatever the Immortals did to the world, and who is now determined to kill him; and Zoë Kapoor, who coupled avidly with Quent in the first book but develops a relationship with him only when it turns out they are both strongly driven in their post-apocalyptic lives by the desire for revenge (gangas killed Zoë’s family). Ware does a good job of making both her male and female characters independent and reasonably intelligent: Quent’s driven, intense determination plays nicely with Zoë’s expertise in archery and near fearlessness in destroying as many gangas as she can. These books being romances, though, the characters’ self-reliance goes only so far – to the point where they find they desperately need each other in order to “complete” themselves.
At one point in their pretend-married adventure, when Simon and Sage need to be in bed together, Sage is more interested in him than he seems to be in her, and an amusingly awkward scene results, during which Sage “wasn’t sure whether to giggle or to roll her eyes.” Readers may end up with somewhat similar reactions. Ware keeps making it clear that this is serious stuff, end-of-the-world and near-end-of-humanity stuff, that she is writing. But amusing elements keep creeping in, unostentatiously enough so it is not quite certain whether Ware intends these books to be taken wholly seriously or not – or, to put it another way, whether she is being clever or is just style-challenged. One example from the first book: Elliott contemplating paranormal powers by thinking of the Pixar film, The Incredibles. And one from the second: “Her upper lip had a small freckle right on it, right at the fullest part, and every time he noticed it, the bottom dropped out of his stomach.” Ware’s books are easy reading, in any case, and the characters, while scarcely deep, are interesting enough to make readers care about what happens to them. The books’ plots are rather overstuffed, and some plot points are just plain silly (for example, Sage is a virgin until she and Simon get serious, and her virginity is not detected even when she is medically examined in a community focused on repopulating the planet as quickly as possible). But the destroyed-world background is effectively presented, and the mixture of adventure and romance is generally pretty well balanced. There is little to envy in Ware’s writing style, but The Envy Chronicles has the elements needed to become an enviable popular success.