Eve of Darkness, Chaos, and Destruction by S.J. Day – Review

This book reminded me why expectations are so important to the reading experience.  I expected it to be “fun beach reading,” and that’s exactly what it is.  Had I expected something else, I might have been less pleased.

 S.J. Day

Eve of Darkness is an urban fantasy of the “ass-kicking chicks in leather” variety, and also one that could almost fit in the romance section, except it breaks too many rules of romance by being dark and violent and angry.  It is set in modern-day California, where the hapless (although presumably not guiltless) Eve is taken from her normal, orderly life and thrust into a world of demons and werewolves and other creatures that go bump in the night…and sometimes in broad daylight.

She is one of the sinners chosen to bear the Mark of Cain and spend as long as she must on Earth fighting various minions of Hell to atone for her sins.  She will work within a network of archangels, seraphic handlers, and other Marks–an underground society that lives in and around and entwined with human society but must remain separate and secret from it.  As if this shift in perspective isn’t enough, Eve’s mentor is none other than the original Mark, “Alec” Cain (yes, that Cain), and her handler is his brother “Reed” Abel, who still has his wings and is gunning for a promotion to archangel.  Eve is a tool both brothers want to use to hurt and outmaneuver the other, and a tool some of the higher-ups in turn want to use to control both of them.

Eve must find her feet fast in this new world, because everywhere she turns another Infernal minion is waiting…and the only person she can trust is the one she doesn’t want to-Alec, her first love and the man who left her too broken-hearted and jaded to find happiness anywhere else.

I have to admit, I was a little bit uncomfortable with the premise.  Specifically with the idea of reducing angelic figures to oversexed corporate manipulators.  Strangely, I don’t know if being more or less religious than I am would alleviate this, but I decided just to pretend it had nothing to do with the real religion and take it as any supernatural story.  If you can do that, it’s an interesting take on “evil” creatures and who their hunters are.  Lots of politics and backstabbing, an interesting “master” demon that Eve and Cain must overcome at the end in order to get to the next level…er, survive their first big operation working together.

The action was brisk, both in how quickly the story moved and in the actual fights being fast and furious.  And the fights were spread consistently throughout the book instead of being concentrated at the very end.  They were also well-written and anxiety-provoking.  (One of my biggest complaints about the urban fantasy I’ve read is poorly executed action sequences.)

The sex was pretty hot.  Lots of sexual tension between Eve and Alec and Eve and Reed, with the implication that Eve is meant to be with Alec–so maybe that means Reed will get his come-uppance with someone else?  I hope so; I’d read that story.

I did have a couple minor complaints.  First is that the story is told using a device that annoys me:  it starts “now” and than immediately shifts back to 6 weeks earlier and tells the “backstory” in excruciating detail.  But that’s not backstory, it’s the actual story, so the rhetorical device of setting it back like that is just kind of pointless.  Second, Eve’s reaction puzzles me.  She is a self-proclaimed agnostic (although she seems more the quintessential atheist who stops believing out of anger, as a way to punish God, than out of a real lack of belief), but even when all this happens to her she is reluctant to shift her views on God.  Um.  Honey.  He basically just sent a burning bush to talk to you, except it’s stuff that can’t be written off as a drug-induced hallucination, and you’re still doubting?  Really?  Reeaaally?

But other than that, it was a good read for its genre.  A fresh take on the mythos of urban/paranormal fantasies, and one that should be exciting and engaging to anyone who enjoys a world very much like ours but with just a bit more darkness, danger, and demons.  Eve of Darkness is the first in a trilogy (the sequels come out in June and July) and possibly a new world with plenty of openings for other storylines with other characters.

SJ Day

It picks up right where the first book left off, with Eve dying at the hands of an Infernal (denizens of Hell are called Infernals), but quickly skips to a few days after her resurrection, which cost her mentor and her handler, the brothers Alec (Cain) and Reed (Abel), an unknown amount of favors to various higher-ups.  Myself, I’d have liked to know more about the whole dying and resurrection part, but Day really tries to focus in on the pertinent events for her books, and that was not a pertinent event.  The part that mattered was that Eve got to come back and fight another day… although she still has yet to decide whether she’s fighting for the divine or for her own freedom from the Mark.

The focus of the book’s action is split into three parts:  Eve’s field training with her Mark class at an old, closed military base, Reed’s investigation into the unknown class of Infernal that keeps killing Marks in an especially grisly way, and Alec’s hunt for the werewolf chief who sent the ambush Eve walked into.

Eve isn’t close to anyone in her class, and for the most part they regard her with envy or dislike.  Once they are encamped at the base, however, a couple of them make overtures to her in Survivor-like fashion, to band together and help each other during the training.  But when their first training exercise ends with one of the class dead and no sign of an Infernal at the murder scene, all bets are off.  Eve has no one she can trust and must rely on her instincts and what little experience she has gained at Alec’s side to track down the real killer, be it a disguised Infernal or one of her own classmates, a fellow Mark….

Reed is assigned to go to the scene of yet another unclassified-Infernal attack and see if he can discover any clues to its type or MO.  About all that he and the others with him can discover is that the Infernal seems to be absorbing part of the Marks it kills, along with their memories, and that it gets bigger after each feeding.  Reed hightails it to Eve’s side when her training class is so disrupted, and the two of them must fight off their growing attraction to each other–after all, she’s Alec’s girlfriend.

Alec, meanwhile, travels up to the werewolf pack territory and on the way meets with a suicidal band of Infernals, which is an unheard-of aberration.  One of them does not kill herself in hopes that Alec has enough clout to grant her amnesty on Earth if she tells him what she knows…and what she knows is nothing less than the most secret plans of the Infernals and their dark master himself.

The three threads of the story come together and resolve the immediate action well, while opening the door to other complications to be addressed in the third book.

Like its predecessor, Eve of Destruction was a sassy romp through demon-hunting detective work.  I’ve seen these book in the Romance section at most book stores, and I don’t think that’s really where they belong.  For one thing, by the end of this book it is entirely unclear which of the brothers is supposed to be her end-game romantic involvement, and because of this, for me, at least, the sexy parts of the book ground to a screeching halt while the action was really the backbone and strength of the story.  Also, the action and style seem much more tough-edged urban fantasy than the paranormal romance.

Bottom line: If you’re into urban fantasy and aren’t squeamish about things like threesomes and angels being reduced to Machiavellian manipulators and/or irrepressibly sexual predators, then these books guarantee you a fun ride of whooping up on some demon ass with a dance of chaotic action that leaves you breathless.

Sj Day

Eve of Chaos is the third book in S.J. Day’s Marked series, following Eve of Destruction.  It isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to go ahead and jump into the series with this volume.  The author integrates summaries of the relevant back-story, and most of the action is self-contained despite it finishing up the story arc started with Eve of Darkness.

This book picks up, as the second book did, after a brief delay from the end of the previous one.  It has now been six weeks since the disappearance of the archangel Raguel into the underworld and the promotion of Alec to archangel to fill the empty seat at the head of the American firm.  Eve is more disturbed than anyone else that no effort seems to be being made to rescue or ransom the archangel back.  But Eve doesn’t have much time to brood over the situation—now that she has graduated and attained her full Mark status, she is going out almost daily on hunts for rogue Infernals…and more and more keep crossing her path in her personal life.  Because, she discovers, Sammael (Satan) has put a bounty on her head either as a punishment for killing his last, best, and favorite hellhound or as a way to disrupt the Mark system, since killing the favorite of two of the most senior members would cause waves all the way down.

And Eve is even more firmly the favorite of both Alec and Reed now than she was before her graduation.  She has been dating both of them casually, and finds herself falling deeper into a relationship with Reed as Alec pulls further away emotionally (hazard of being an archangel).  Both of them refuse to let her go, and she refuses to choose between them, even as an insidious darkness in Alec begins to make his brother seem not just the better but the only choice….

To complicate matters even further, Sammael offers to make a deal with Eve:  he’ll lift the bounty if she’ll deliver a message from him to Alec and Reed’s mother.  She has no choice but to agree, and hope that the devil can be relied upon to keep his word—and that she can find a way to use their bargain to save Raguel…and, by extension, Alec.

So, as I mentioned above, this book concludes the initial storylines, specifically those of Eve’s training, her acceptance of her Mark, and the mystery of the masking agent that allows Infernals to hide themselves from Marks’ senses.  The end of the book hints at a resolution to the love triangle, but we don’t see which brother it is in the scene.  Clearly it’s meant to keep the possibility of future books dangling but serve as a stopping point for a few months or a year (after three books released between April and July), or, if the series does poorly, an ending.

Personally, I thought this book was the weakest of the three.  Overall I think it had less action and more love triangle than it should have—by the halfway point I was skimming the “romantic” sections, and it made the rest of the book read quickly, indeed.  Also, the explication of previously unanswered questions came a bit too quickly and too glibly for my tastes.  It was necessary for the tension of the story (and also for the plotted events) that none of the answers be revealed, but then at the end Eve acknowledges suspicions that the readers were never told of.  That kind of veiling of key thoughts is not the most graceful way to handle a mystery, because it then makes the final events seem orchestrated and not inevitable.

Aside from that, the events of the story were on par with the other stories in terms of how much happened and the level of excitement and interest it generated for the reader.  And Day at least attempts to address the reasons for Eve’s continuing agnosticism in the face of pretty irrefutable proof of God’s existence, which I appreciated, even if I didn’t find the explanation that compelling.  Faith or lack thereof is an intensely personal matter, and in my opinion it’s difficult to comprehend someone else’s view on the matter, so I can’t take too much issue with the fact that I didn’t comprehend Eve’s view; I was just happy to have it expressed.

Basically, this third book continues in the same vein as the series started:  it’s fast, fun beach reading, so if you’re shopping for something with plenty of demons getting outmuscled, outsmarted, or outranked by the maneuverings of a half-Asian sexpot, keep this series in mind.