February 12, 2015
(+++) DARK ENDINGS
Order of the Sanguines #3: Blood Infernal. By James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell. William Morrow. $27.99.
Fates #2: Chaos. By Lanie Bross. Delacorte Press. $17.99.
Whether aimed at adults or young readers, whether cast as trilogies or tetralogies or simply as book pairs, supernatural thrillers inevitably ratchet up the suspense and make the stakes higher and higher as they progress, so that the final volume in a series not only answers the questions raised earlier but also provides some additional suspense to keep readers immersed and turning pages with increasing intensity. Both James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell are strong, adept genre writers, so it is no surprise that the conclusion of their five-part trilogy, Order of the Sanguines, adheres closely to genre tropes and pulls off a highly satisfying, if scarcely unexpected, finale. And how does a trilogy contain five entries? The basic sequence started with The Blood Gospel and continued with Innocent Blood – the story involves a lost gospel written in Christ’s own blood and containing the usual dire prophecies and warnings of Armageddon. But before getting to the conclusion, Blood Infernal, the authors created a kind of prequel called City of Screams and a tale called Blood Brothers that takes place between the first two volumes of the trilogy itself. Those two entries expand and enhance the basic story line but are not necessary to follow and understand it; they are for readers who want to spend even more time in this particular Rollins/Cantrell world. It is, not surprisingly, a very dark world indeed, mixing Catholic history and mystery in the Dan Brown vein with vampirism – a rather neat combination, actually, given the biblical quote in Leviticus, “The life of all flesh is the blood thereof,” which became one basis of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There is also an Indiana Jones figure at the center of the Rollins/Cantrell sequence: Erin Granger, another of those heroic archeologists so common in popular fiction and so rare in real life. Between her character and those of Army Ranger Sergeant Jordan Stone and Father Rhun Korza, one of those mysterious pale priests with an unspoken and all-important past, all the usual heroic types are neatly lined up to bring Blood Infernal to an appropriate conclusion. On the other side are forces led by none other than Lucifer, the light-bringing fallen angel, himself, and including the notorious Countess Elisabeta (Elizabeth) Bathory, who proves more nuanced and interesting than the chief baddie and even some of the heroes. Blood Infernal carries readers not only around the world but also through time – it opens with a historical prologue that is not only well-done in itself but also makes it possible to read and understand this book without having read the earlier ones – and, as usual in this genre, focuses on fairly ordinary human beings (Erin and Jordan) caught up in events far larger than they could ever have imagined and tapping reserves of physical and moral strength that they did not know they possessed. The elements of Order of the Sanguines are really nothing new, nor is its underlying premise that the fight between good and evil is far less black-and-white than traditional organized religion indicates. What pulls the series as a whole, and Blood Infernal in particular, above ordinary genre entries is simply the skill of the authors. One part of the reader’s mind will surely realize that the events here, and the characters trapped within them, have appeared in many other supernatural thrillers. But even as one’s intellect says there is nothing unusual herein, one’s heart races and one’s pulse pounds (clichéd images but valid ones) because Rollins and Cantrell pace their book so well and bring their characters so close to the edge of so many disasters with so much skill. Yes, all this is nonsense, but it is mighty convincing and entertaining nonsense, and if it leaves a lingering question or two about what salvation really means and what readers would do to attain it, so much the better.
Plotting is generally less complex and scenes generally less Gothic in supernatural thrillers for younger readers, and there is frequently a significant romantic element mixed in with the derring-do. That is exactly the formula of Chaos, sequel to Fates and the conclusion of a two-book series that does not aspire to or require the length of a trilogy. Actually, in a sense this is a trilogy – Lanie Bross also wrote Destined, another case of a prequel that need not be read to follow the main story. But it is really Fates and Chaos that make up the tale of Corinthe (a Fate) and Lucas (a human boy whom she loves but whose death she must bring about, or risk banishment forever from her home). There is another couple seeking its destiny here as well, as in old-fashioned operettas, where the primary lovers were echoed by a second, related pair. In Chaos, that would be Luc’s younger sister, Jasmine, who is not sure she is even entirely human, and a boy named Ford who is in love with her. As in the longer, deeper and more complex Order of the Sanguines series, the more-surface-level characters here travel through time as well as space and visit mythical lands as well as our real world, or a place much like it. Bross creates a tale populated by Executors, Radicals and Unseen Ones, all of them with their own duties to fulfill, and in Chaos she provides mostly the perspective of Lucas (Luc) and Jasmine (Jas), balancing the strong focus on Corinthe in the earlier book. Bross does not here show the writing ability of Rollins and Cantrell, relying for pacing and thrills more on cinematic quick cuts that rapidly take readers from place to place and time to time. A lot happens quickly in a lot of places in Chaos, and readers get pulled along thrillingly from event to event – but the settings themselves, like the characters, have little depth and little to engage readers, being (respectively) places where things happen and people or sort-of-people to whom things are done. Loosely based on elements of Greek myth, Fates and Chaos get what resonance they have from that point of origin. But neither of the books really asks for or engages any kind of depth of perception or wonder: there is nothing particularly thought-provoking here, just a sometimes stirring adventure spiced with romantic entanglements. However, given the targeting of these books at younger readers – primarily teenagers – the pacing and superficiality of the story may be just right for the intended audience.