October 22, 2009


Dark Days: #1, Nightwalker; #2, Dayhunter; #3, Dawnbreaker. By Jocelynn Drake. Eos. $7.99 each.

     In a world preoccupied with vampires and their many depredations, focused nearly incessantly on variations on the vampire legend and mystique – that would be our world – there are certain characteristics that vampiric protagonists inevitably possess. Call them the three S adjectives: sinister, sleek and sexy. It’s a good thing that Jocelynn Drake has a couple of S words of her own – steady self-improvement as a writer – because, unfortunately, her central vampire character, Mira, has a fourth S that does her no good at all: stupidity.

     Mira is supposed to be more than 600 years old (although she looks 25, having become a vampire at that age). But from the start of Nightwalker, she is put off her game with such ease that it is simply not believable that she has survived so long and risen to a position of significant power. Just drawing her attention to something disturbing is enough to send her into a thoroughly unbecoming tizzy. Furthermore, throughout the first three Dark Days books, Mira consistently makes rash decisions that imperil her existence and cost others their lives; and although she attributes many of her problems to bad luck, readers will notice that she makes a lot of that bad luck for herself by doing things that just don’t make sense (and then has enough good luck to survive). Drake shows how Mira gets away with making errors time after time, turning these books into modern-day “Perils of Pauline” stories (with bloodsucking); and taken one at a time, Mira’s escapes do indeed make sense. “Most of my decisions were made on the fly,” she comments at one point in her first-person narrative, “and the fact that I was still alive was testament to my own stupid luck.” Or, as she comments elsewhere, “No matter what I did, I kept wading deeper and deeper into the mire until there was simply no escape.” Six hundred years of this? Even in the urban-fantasy genre, that’s stretching credulity.

     Luckily for Drake, she writes more stylishly than many other novelists in this genre, and has some interesting plot twists as well. That makes the Dark Days novels highly readable despite their many frustrating logical flaws. (Not to mention less-than-adequate editing: the books are filled with typos and errors, some of which create unintended hilarity: “No one had ever anyone vocally sworn to protect me.” “His laugh caused my eyes to open my eyes and focus on his handsome face again.”) In Drake’s world, there are humans, vampires (nightwalkers), werewolves (lycans), witches, warlocks, and two older, mysterious “guardian” races that “the gods created…to maintain the balance. The naturi were guardians of the earth, while the bori were guardians of all souls. The naturi existed in five clans – water, earth, animal, wind, and light.” Well, all right – except that the naturi, it turns out, are pure evil, because…well, just because Drake needs Mira to have super-powerful enemies: “They were horrid creatures whose only goal was to destroy anything that was not of their kind.” The first novel in this series, Nightwalker, is mostly about Mira’s discovery of the extent of her powers and the limits on them (again, after 600 years); the initial attempts of the naturi to return to the world after having been banished to another; and the deepening mystery of a man (or part-man) named Danaus, a vampire hunter who tends to steal scenes from Mira because he is in many ways a more interesting character than she is. Mira and Danaus develop an uneasy truce and (of course) turn out to be powerful allies – although just how powerful is revealed only in the second and third novels. Unfortunately, Drake returns repeatedly and increasingly unbelievably to the notion that Mira and Danaus have every intention of fighting to the death once the whole business with the naturi is concluded – despite their obvious compatibility and growing attraction to each other (unconsummated: these books are surprisingly light on sex for their genre, with Mira having only one brief fling). As Mira and Danaus save each other’s lives again and again, only to return to the notion that one day each will try to kill the other, it becomes harder and harder to accept the underlying eternal-enemies premise (which Drake will hopefully drop soon).

     One thing Drake has going for her is the ability to set scenes effectively. When Mira is forced to go to England at one point, she muses about the difficulties her kind and other with extrasensory powers have with their usual perceptual abilities in Great Britain: “There was too much old magic in these lands. Too many old gods had been born and died on this island; too many powerful warlocks had stretched their arms here. Magic doesn’t just die – it fades into the air and seeps into the earth. After centuries, this ground was saturated.” And, to Drake’s credit, she does not make Mira a completely sympathetic character – certainly not when pushed to her limits: “A part of me was aching for a fight. A couple of naturi to deal with, something to rip apart; their flesh squishing warmly between my fingers and collecting under my fingernails. …I craved just the sight of blood. I wanted to see it splashed across the skin and soaking into torn and shredded clothing. I needed the violence, an outlet for the frustration and the fear. In the brief moment when you are struggling to stay alive, you convince yourself that you’re actually in control of your life and destiny. And when you kill that which was trying to kill you, you bask in a moment of true power.”

     Purple prose, to be sure; but effective. Dark Days is, at this point, essentially a single long novel, with the second and third books picking up where the first and second, respectively, leave off. By the end of Dawnbreaker, Drake has thoroughly mixed and remixed her characters’ loyalties, created tensions between individuals and among groups, and given Mira the opportunity to stop the return of the naturi once and for all – but has then, rather unbelievably, snatched that chance away. That’s too bad, because it means that the fourth book in this series will likely be yet more of what has gone before. Since the books are becoming increasingly stylish and better-plotted as they go along, Drake may soon have the self-confidence to make more of Mira and take the Dark Days plots in new and more interesting (rather than merely more complicated) directions. She does not need to do this – in our current vampire-fascinated milieu, Dark Days already contains everything needed to mount the best-seller lists. But there are signs in these books that Drake can write something more than effective potboilers – if she decides that she wants to.

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