Dark Brethren, book 2
Harper Voyager (2011)
Reviewed by Stephanie Gunn
Death’s Sweet Embrace is the second book in Tracey O’Hara’s Dark Brethren urban fantasy series. The first book was Night’s Cold Kiss.
In the Dark Brethren world, humans and parahumans live together in an uneasy truce. Parahumans in this world include the Aeternus (vampires) and Animalians (shapeshifters). The first book in this series focused on the Aeternus and the Venators, humans who hunt rogue Aeternus. Specifically, the book’s protagonist was the Venator Antoinette Petrescu, and the main story arc followed her relationship with the Aeternus Christian.
The second book shifts focus to the Animalians, the focal character also changing to a snow leopard shapeshifter, Kitt Jordan. Kitt was a minor character in the first novel, a lecturer in parahuman forensic pathology. She is called to be part of a task force investigating a serial killer targeting young shapeshifters; the task force also includes Antoinette. Her work also brings her back into contact with the werewolf Raven, her one-time lover, and her estranged twin daughters.
The change in protagonist is, at first, quite jarring. Antoinette was a compelling character in the first book, and her romance with Christian would have been a strong hook to many readers. Kitt feels a little more distant as a protagonist, making this book somewhat of a more difficult read.
It is refreshing to have a female character who is (presumably) somewhere closer in age to her middle than teenage years (Animalians are long lived in this world, and Kitt’s age is never specified, but the reader can make some assumptions due to her daughters being teenagers). Also refreshing is the fact that her main driving force is often to try to reclaim her role as mother.
There is a lot of focus on the killings and police investigation, which gives this book very much a feel like some of the early Anita Blake (Laurell K. Hamilton) novels. There is a decent amount of gore, which may be off-putting to some readers who were attracted to the first book as a paranormal romance. There is a romance, and there are sex scenes, but the latter, in particular, feel forced.
While there are characters that bridge the gap between the two novels, as well as (obviously) a shared world, the first two novels in this series suffer from a lack of connection. There’s very much a feel that O’Hara is finding her feet in this world and as a writer. It’s going to be interesting to see where O’Hara takes this series next. There is enough of a unique element to O’Hara’s urban fantasy world to make it stand out from other series, and O’Hara creates characters with enough depth to keep readers compelled.