Eve of Darkness, by S.J. Day (Tor, 2009)

Some days, you just can’t win. That’s the attitude Evangeline Hollis had adopted ever since she was dragged, rather unwillingly, into a complex world full of monsters and violence. How was she to know that an inexplicable episode of indiscretion with a mystery man in a stairwell would brand her with something called the mark of Cain, or that it would transform her into a super-powered demon-hunter? Moreover, how could she ever have expected that Alex Cain, the fling who took her virginity and stole her heart, would reappear after ten years … as her new mentor? Or that the guy who branded her was Reed Abel, his brother, and eternal rival?

Yeah. Eve. And the brothers Cain and Abel. Yes, that Cain and Abel. The former’s a Mark, essentially an immortal bounty hunter working for a strangely-bureaucratic system that uses sinners to hunt down unruly demons. The latter’s now an angel, and working as a ‘handler’ for Marks. And they both have big plans for Eve. Provided that she survives the training period and doesn’t get eaten by dragons, werewolves, or things that go bump in the night. And it turns out there’s a lot of said things gunning for her for reasons unknown. On the bright side? Eve has super-powers and an inexhaustible sex drive, and Cain is more than happy to keep her satiated when they’re not fighting water demons or being manipulated by archangels.

The first in a new trilogy, Eve of Darkness is … interesting. Frankly, there’s a pretty solid concept there, but it comes off as somewhat convoluted and hard to grasp. Straight answers are far and few between, for Eve and for the reader, sacrificed for the convenience of a fast-moving, action-packed plot. In what’s either a rather clever, or really annoying, move, Eve of Darkness starts off strong with an attack upon our heroes at a ball game, and leaves us on a cliffhanger after the first chapter, devoting the entire rest of the book to filling in the previous six weeks in an extended flashback. Want to know what happens after the first chapter? Pick up the next book in the series, conveniently coming out a month later.

There are things this book does quite nicely. The chemistry between Eve and Cain is strong, and they make a hell of a team, and the addition of Abel to the mix does help stir things up nicely. The sex scenes are sizzling hot and quite erotic, charged with passion, danger, and a hint of forbidden fantasy. The author gets major points for making the protagonist of Japanese descent, while the brothers are quite properly of a non-specific, non-Caucasian origin. I’m intrigued by the Mark system, but at the same time turned off by the seeming lack of specifics, and the same goes for the vast array of supernatural and mythical beings they encounter in the line of duty. Things just don’t hold up when I try to consider the setting as a whole. While I can buy into the emotional ties and conflicts between Eve, Abel and Cain, I can’t quite believe in them as -the- Cain and Abel; they just don’t have an appropriate sense of age, experience, or gravitas to back up their status as stars of Homicide: B.C. And I’m still not exactly sure why Eve was chosen in the first place to become a Mark, especially since it’s made pretty clear she was aggressively recruited against her will. There’s not-so-obvious hints that someone is manipulating just about everyone involved, but why her? What did she do to deserve being reborn as a monster-hunting, leather-wearing bad girl? Don’t tell me that sex in the stairwell with a stranger is all it takes to be designated a sinner and sentenced to a job that’s likely to kill you….

Where this book is strong, it’s pretty good. But where it’s not, it really shows. I wanted to like this much more than I did, and I honestly believe the author has a lot of potential. I’ll admit that I am curious enough to go back for seconds, to see how the next book fares, but it does have its flaws. Call it urban fantasy or paranormal romance; it straddles that line between the two sub-genres, but either way, it could be better. And yet, notice I’m not telling anyone to stay away. It’s a fun read, for all that I pick at it.

Originally reviewed for SF Site, 2009

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