Shades of Wicked by Jeaniene Frost

Shades o Wicked Cover

Review of Audiobook

Shades of Wicked (Night Rebel #1) by Jeaniene Frost

Reading Level: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio (Unabridged)
Release Date: November 13, 2018
Source: Library
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

This book is part of the urban fantasy, paranormal romance, Night Huntress (NH) series. In a previous book, the master vampire Ian bartered away his soul to an ancient demon, Dagon, in order to save the life of his sire, Mencheres. Unfortunately, he discovered after it was too late to get out of the evil bargain he had made that he had been duped by Dagon. Now Ian has only two years of freedom before Dagon arrives to murder him and claim his soul for an eternity of torment.

Ian refuses to seek help from anyone in his beloved vampire family-of-affiliation, which includes Mencheres, his vampire brothers from the same sire, Bones and Spade, and the wives of these three male vampires, most especially Cat, Bones’ wife. Ian is absolutely determined to not put their lives at risk dealing with a seemingly invincible demon. As a result, though Mencheres, Bones and Spade know Ian well enough to strongly suspect he is in terrible trouble, it drives them mad that he won’t tell them what the threat is, so they can help him.

Ian believes his situation is hopeless, and he has defaulted into a meaningless round of extreme hedonism–even more so than the party-hearty lifestyle he’s always lived, which was already over-the-top. His first meet with Veritas occurs while he’s throwing a circus-themed orgy in a whorehouse in Eastern Europe.

For thousands of years, powerful female vampire, Veritas, has been seeking an opportunity to wreak vengeance on Dagon for atrocities he visited on her before she became a vampire, as well as countless innocent humans, but he has eluded her grasp until now. Using Dagon’s demon-marked victim, Ian, as bait to draw Dagon into her net is the first viable chance she’s had in centuries to corner her elusive quarry.

Neither of these immensely powerful vampires has any reason to trust each other but, as the saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Ian’s only hope to escape his doom at Dagon’s hands is to kill him and, unlike his attitude toward his beloved friends, putting Veritas’ life at risk to help him achieve that goal does not bother him one bit.

I’m a big fan of the initial, seven-book NH series with Cat and Bones, and I have also read all the spinoff books in the NH world. My favorite spinoff so far is the Night Prince series with Vlad and Leila. There are also two standalone novels, one centered on Bones’ friend Spade, and another with Bones’ maker Mencheres. This novel is Book 1 of a spinoff series called Night Rebel about Ian and Veritas. The whole gang of main protagonists for the NH books shows up in this book as important subcharacters, though Vlad and Leila aren’t directly on stage, but rather exist as off-stage, significant actors in an early scene.

I wasn’t fond of either Ian or Veritas when they appeared in previous books in the series as either antagonists or outright villains. Veritas, a 4000-year-old Egyptian who has known former Egyptian pharaoh Mencheres for thousands of years, is presented as a villain in the final book of the original NH series about Bones and Cat. Ian, a 260-year-old master vampire, is the ultimate “manwhore.” I’ve never been fond of promiscuous romance heroes, because I find it hard to buy that any heroine, even if she is the guy’s soulmate with the proverbial “magic vagina,” can inspire him to move beyond sexual addiction to become faithful. Up until Ian meets Veritas, his promiscuity sets an all time record among horny heroes. Given the numbers he mentions as his typical daily sexual-partner count, times the length of his life, by my calculations, he’s had somewhere in the neighborhood of over 300,000 sex partners. In that regard, he is nothing like any of the other heroes in the NH world. Bones, pre-Cat, is the closest to Ian in the number of his previous lovers, but he was not in the same universe as Ian. Spade and Vlad were very sexually selective in their pre-married lives, and Mencheres was celibate for close to a thousand years. (Talk about one extreme to the other!) None of the female protagonists in this vampire world were/are promiscuous, including Veritas, and that’s pretty standard for the vast majority of romance novels. Though what is unusual for Veritas among romance heroines and Ian among romance heroes is that both are bisexual.

Ironically, though we’re given to understand that promiscuity is no big deal for NH vampires because they can’t catch or spread disease and they can’t get anyone pregnant (this seems to be a common convention of vampire romances), at the same time they are presented in the NH world as being violently jealous of their chosen mate. And in this magical universe, if vampires get married, there is no possibility of divorce, and each partner has carte blanche to murder anyone who dares to sexually approach their mate.

It is a tribute to the talent of Jeaniene Frost that she manages to redeem both of these protagonists from their previous bad impression on us NH fans, successfully transforming them into strong, sympathetic protagonists. She achieves this feat by gradually revealing their respective backstories, thereby peeling back the False Self personas they have presented to the vampire world for hundreds of years, exposing to each other (and to us readers) their secretly honorable True Selves. It is these honorable, brave True Selves who become worthy of the two deserving the goal of all good romance novels, finding True Love with each other. The author also gradually reveals to the audience that both Veritas and Ian have unexpected, astounding magical powers that were not evident during their appearances as subcharacters in previous NH books. We fans of urban fantasy are always delighted by interesting paranormal abilities, and these two are quintessential, “kick-ass,” action heroes.

In addition, in regards to magical powers, for me personally, Veritas wins, hands down, as the heroine having the most unique magical background of any protagonist in this series. It is even more elaborate than Cat’s. I think the author must feel the same about Veritas, because her point of view takes center stage far more than that of Ian in this book.

The sex scenes in this novel are well done, quirky and passionate at the same time. I don’t know if the author did it on purpose, but fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will notice in the initial sex scene between Veritas and Ian a humorous homage to the first sex scene between Buffy and Spike.

There is an adorable little demon dog in this book who is an unusual addition to a series that isn’t known for cute, companion animals.

I experienced this novel as an audiobook. It is read by Tavia Gilbert, who has so far narrated all the Night Huntress novels. She continues to do a great job. She is outstanding at portraying both female and male voices and different types of foreign accents. She is also an excellent actress, not just dryly narrating scenes, but believably acting out dialogue in a manner true to each individual character.

I rate this paranormal romance as follows:

Hero: 4

Heroine: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Worldbuilding: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Action-Adventure Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Audiobook Narration: 5

Overall: 5

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