WTF Friday: Awaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

Okay, so this is going to be a bit of a different WTF Friday selection, in that the WTF element is less about the content of the book and more about the fact that I read a paranormal romance. Yes, I actually read a paranormal romance. I'll just let you digest that for a moment . . .

Well, anyways, I'd had the Alien Huntress series recommended to me a while back, and while I was curious, I didn't really pay it much attention until I found a copy in a used bookstore over the holidays. The cover had a dangerously sexy vibe to it, with some very stark red lettering, and I liked the contrast of the knife against the dress - the way it looked almost dull against the shiny black material. What ultimately won me over, however, was the blurb about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Alien Nation.”

Even if it just became a hate-read to destroy that cover blurb, there was no way I could pass up such an intriguing homage to my teenage addictions.

Let me just come right out and say it - Awaken Me Darkly was a damned good read. Gena Showalter more than delivered on my expectations, with a story that hooked me from the opening scene. It was exciting, it was mysterious, it was action-packed, it was sexy, and (yes) it was even dangerously romantic.

Mia is definitely one kick-ass heroine, and I liked the fact that she fully embraces her role (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comparison is completely valid). There are no whiny moments of guilt, no lovelorn angst, and no bitching about past regrets. She knows what she has sacrificed for her career as an alien huntress, and she’s okay with it. Even when Kyrin begins to draw out the woman inside the huntress, she fights it all the way, and not because she’s afraid of her emotions (it never feels like Showalter is just playing to the will they/won't they trope) but because she knows they’ll interfere with her judgment.

For a book that's promoted as a paranormal romance, this struck the perfect balance. The romantic elements weren’t just tacked on to broaden the appeal beyond a genre audience, but they also didn’t overwhelm the telling of a good story. I thought the pacing was very good, providing the reader with a few chances to breathe, but otherwise keeping the story racing towards a conclusion. Sure, the mystery surrounding Mia’s origins was tad thin, but I don’t think a big reveal was ever the point.

For the first book in a series, Showalter deftly introduces the concept of aliens among us (the Alien Nation comparison is also completely valid), and easily passes off sci-fi elements like pyre guns, self-driving cars, and water-less showers as common-place, with no need for her characters to comment on how cool and advanced their technology is. I hope that, at some point, she explores the back story of our first alien contact, but I'm equally glad she didn’t bog down this first volume with such necessary details.

The next book in the series (Enslave Me Sweetly) has an even kinkier bondage-themed cover, which makes me wonder about that balance I mentioned, but I did glance at the opening chapter, and it's pretty solid sci-fi action. Plus, I'm curious about the fact that cyborgs (Savor Me Slowly) and vampires (Seduce the Darkness) enter the series later, so all-in-all I'd say I'm definitely up for giving Showalter another read.

Paperback, 306 pages
Published March 1st 2006 by Downtown Press