Review: One for the Wicked

Reviewed by Jen

Karina Cooper wraps up her Dark Mission series in grand fashion with this final installment.  It’s a romance, yes, but it’s more than that.  Cooper brings back all the characters and couples of previous stories to wrap up the overall arc involving the mission, the church, the witches, and the genetic puzzle that’s been causing so many to die.

But let’s start with the love story.  Our hero is Shawn, a member of the resistance.  His life’s mission is to destroy the man who killed his parents: Laurence Lauderdale, head of the Order.  Now he has his chance to get even. The resistance is planning to kidnap Lauderdale’s daughter Kayleigh, hoping the brilliant doctor can help them with the cure to what’s causing the witches/ missionaries to degenerate.  Instead, Shawn uses the opportunity to snatch her for his own gains.

Before the kidnapping, though, Shawn masquerades as Kayleigh’s bodyguard.  And despite the hatred he bears for her family, there is a sizzling connection between them.  There are even a few, er, physical interludes.  But when the chips fall, Shawn goes forward with his plan.

Kayleigh feels understandably betrayed when her sexy bodyguard goes from kissing her to taking her prisoner.  The two of them go round and round, from passion to fury and back again. The sexual tension is always right there, simmering at the surface.  Sometimes, I questioned how Kayleigh could keep wanting him, the way he runs hot and cold with her.  But no matter how often he pushes her away, she keep giving in when he pulls her back.

The bigger arc explodes when Kayleigh’s dad sets his master plan in motion.  Not only must Kayleigh and Shawn end up working together to save New Seattle, but they are also joined by Silas and Jessie, Naomi and Phin, Caleb and Juliet, Parker and Simon, & Danny and Jonas.  Each has a part to play in averting another apocalypse.  It’s kind of epic, and I am glad that Cooper didn’t rush the climax.  It was, however, difficult at times to remember all of the people and threads from the previous books.  Even one, admittedly, left me scratching my head when the book was over. (If you catch the subtle nod to May’s parentage, I bow down to your excellent memory and attention to detail.)

All that being said, you may want to even consider a series re-read before you start this one.  (Don’t forget Before the Witches either.) Part of me wishes I had done that.  By the same token, if you are a new reader, you could probably still catch on to the romance, but the rest will leave you majorly confused.  I suggest you start the series at the beginning for maximum enjoyment.

Overall, it wasn’t my favorite romance in the series, but it was definitely a worthy end to the Dark Mission saga.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Avon

Click to purchase: Amazon
One for the Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Avon

Review: Wicked Lies

Reviewed by Jen

I have been reading the Dark Mission books since the very beginning, and I was so surprised and excited when I found out A) this book is about Jonas; and B) it is a m/m novella.  I have been intrigued by Jonas for, well, forever and I love that his character is gay and gets a romance of his own.

If you need a quick refresher, Jonas is the techie who worked for the Mission up until the end of the last book. His legs are messed up from an old injury.  And he’s always there to help out the heroes when they need support.  Now, he is on a mission to save the grandson of the rebel leader.

Jonas is drawn to Danny from the moment he sees him on surveillance cameras, being tortured by Mission operatives.  He organizes a rescue and the two make a quick connection over the coms.  But it’s not until they are alone in the safehouse that things really heat up.  From there, Jonas has to decide whether to let Danny in, or shut him out, like all of the casual lovers who came before him.

So let me tell you what I liked.  Both heroes are very compelling. I already sort-of loved Jonas from previous books, but we learn so much about him here.  It’s really interesting how much of him has been hidden from the other characters and the readers –and I’m not just talking about his sexual orientation.  He hides himself!  Here we really see him, maybe for the first time.  (He’s pretty screwed up, BTW.)  –And Danny… I loved that he knew what he wanted and he didn’t give up. I loved that he saw the beauty in Jonas and held on with both hands.

I also really enjoyed the sexual tension and the love scenes.  Hot. And with attention both realism and detail. –In addition, I give bonus points for Karina Cooper giving just enough backstory to remind me what was going on, without any major info dump… plus cameos from familiar faces from previous books.

I only have two complaints.  One, it was love too fast.  It’s my biggest peeve in romance of any subgenre.  And I wished the story would have been longer.   There was a lot of promo stuff behind the novella in my ebook and I felt the ending sneaked up and bit me.  I would have enjoyed a whole 200+ pages devoted to watching these two make a go of it.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Avon

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Wicked Lies
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Avon

Review: Sacrifice the Wicked

Reviewed by Jen

If you still have a copy of All Things Wicked sitting on your bookshelf, heed my advice and reacquaint yourself with it before you pick up this book.  I didn’t and I wish I had.  If you’ve never read a Dark Mission book before, I suggest you start with Blood of the Wicked. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea what is going on here.

This book draws heavily on the events of the previous installment and while there is a little bit of recap, there is not much.  So I spent a little too much time, straining my brain to remember who, for instance, Nadia Parrish was, and where the hero fit in to the Eve project.  The book assumes a working knowledge of the world-building and of past events.

All that being said, I think this is my favorite book in the series.  The romance was smoking hot.  Phenomenal sexual tension and sweltering bedroom action. (*fans self*)

Simon Wells is an agent for the mission, but he is also a genetically engineered witch.  He’s been placed in the mission as a spy for another sector of the Order.  There are, in fact, other witches who have been placed in similar positions.  But their DNA is degenerating. And it’s Simon’s job to take them out cleanly, before they die an ugly death and expose the program.

Parker is the Mission’s director and she takes her job seriously. She knows there is something amiss with Simon and Sector Three, but she has no idea how deep it goes.  The fact that she is wildly attracted to Simon only makes matters worse.

When Parker’s name appears on Simon’s hit list, he decides enough is enough. He won’t kill this loyal, amazing and dedicated woman, just because she is getting too close to the truth. So the two of them go on the run… trying to get one step ahead of Sector Three and the timebomb of Simon’s faulty DNA that’s ready to blow at any moment.

Parker is this amazingly put together woman, who maintains absolute control at all times. Except with Simon.  There is a sinful dominating quality about him that simply makes her melt.  (And me too!!) He reduces her to her most feminine and pliant… and he is so sexy and growly and… It’s just really hot.  She fights it and fights it, which makes it all the more satisfying when they finally get together. Rraw!

I’m not going to say too much more except to warn you that there is a big, wet, sticky cliffhanger.  None of the other books ended this way, so when I got to the last page, I was unprepared for the story to end without resolution.  Boo!!!!  Clearly, I will be reading book 5 to see what the hell happens next.

Rating: B

*ARC Provided by Avon

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Sacrifice the Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Avon

Review: Tarnished

Reviewed by Jen

I don’t usually read steampunk. It’s not that I dislike the genre, but I’m still kind of new to it. Reading the blurb on this book, I found myself intrigued.  Cherry St. Croix leads something of a double life. By day, she moves among London society, while by night, she enters the the soot-filled underbelly of the city to work as a bounty hunter.

What the blurb doesn’t tell you is that Cherry is an opium addict.  That her employers run a sick Menagerie… a den of iniquity, powered by slave-like pets.  Cherry takes gigs to pay for her drug habit, but operates on the fringe of the Menagerie –until she is hired to find a sadistic killer who has been targeting the prostitutes who work for her employers.  Soon the hunter becomes the hunted and Cherry gets wrapped up an ordeal of even more powerful drugs, threats to her life, and sexual situations beyond her control.

All this, as her life in society is shaken up as well. She is barely tolerated by the upper-crust because of her late father’s reputation as a mad scientist.  While putting on a brave face to the sharks of the ton, she ends up in an unlikely sort-of relationship with the handsome Lord Compton.  I really thought these two might make a go of it. Then I thought maybe she’d end up with Hawke, her mysterious boss at the Menagerie.  Then everything went crazy and all the relationship stuff got shoved aside in place of outlandish experiments and near death experiences.

I was intrigued by the world building. The upper and lower London set-up was really cool. But I felt like there was too much going on. Especially in the second half, when it seemed to drop off the deep end a little. It all started out pretty straightforward, but when the story started dipping into magic dust and Frankenstein themes, it started to lose me.

I actually liked one of the two love interests more than the other, but I think she’s going to end up with the other guy.  Either way, it was left very unresolved, which is a blow to my romance-oriented heart. In fact, when all was said and done, just about everything was left open ended. It’s one of those stories that doesn’t get finished in one book –and you should know that going in.

I have mixed feelings about this one. The set-up was good, but the more I read, the less I felt like it was the right fit for me.

Rating: C-


*ARC Provided by Avon

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Tarnished
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Publisher: Avon

Review: All Things Wicked

Reviewed by Jen

Caleb Leigh is not a bad guy. I’m telling you this off the bat, because it was something I had to keep telling myself over the course of the book. Yes, he killed three people in painful, horrible blood sacrifices in Blood of the Wicked and it seemed like he was going to sacrifice his very own sister to his coven –until their leader turned on him. But he had his reasons. I think? But we’ll get back to all that in a minute.

It’s been a year since Caleb destroyed almost everyone in his coven and went on the run from the survivors and his sister Jessie. But as our story begins, someone has tracked him down. That someone is Juliet, the innocent witch who lit his fire back in the coven days. They only hooked up once. –Oh yeah, and her sister Cordelia was one of those nasty sacrifices I was talking about. But now we learn Cordelia agreed to the ritual -1- because she was dying anyway and -2- because Caleb promised her that he would get Juliet away from the coven.

Juliet doesn’t know about her sister but she does know that Caleb betrayed the coven and left her high and dry, so now she wants to kill him. OK, not really. But she wants to want to kill him. Anyway, she attacks him, but she can’t bring herself to end his life, so she alerts the remaining members of the coven to his location –and is surprised when they not only take him captive, but her too. Because he feels really guilty about killing her sister –and because he still wants to get into her pants– Caleb takes Juliet with him when he escapes.

Juliet is a big target for both the coven and the Mission alike. Everybody wants her (though we don’t find out why until the very end.) In the meantime, there is much angst, some great sexual tension and some hot sex to keep us occupied.

I did get confused a little bit when all the particulars came out about Juliet’s history, but I could take most of it in stride. Cooper is great at crafting unlikely relationships and making them sing. I found myself rooting for Caleb and Juliet to work it all out. But a guy killing your sister in a ritual sacrifice is a pretty big obstacle to overcome in a relationship.

Which brings me back to whether or not Caleb is really good guy. Well, he sure is painted that way here.  And he seems to feel some shame and self-derision for his actions.  But we only got a justification of sorts on one of the three people he killed. What about the others? What about what happened with Jessie in the first book? Obviously, this didn’t entirely work for me. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t put his dirty deeds behind me, nor could I see them as some kind of martyr-like actions, where he takes things on himself. I couldn’t reconcile the man we get to know in this story with his actions in the first one. But there were alot of things I did like about the book, so I just had to keep telling myself “he’s not a bad guy” and let myself enjoy the rest of the story.

But I kind of felt like I was cheating. And it leaves me struggling for a rating. Hell, I don’t know… let’s go with a little less than 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

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All Things Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Publisher: Avon

Review: No Rest for the Witches

Reviewed by Jen

This is a great little short story for fans of the Dark Mission series to tide you over until the next full length novel. It picks up shortly after the events of Lure of the Wicked, and follows Jessie, Silas and Naomi as they adjust to the changes in their lives.

For Jessie, it’s about finding her own value, living among the ex-soldiers. She is pushing herself further and further to use her skills as a witch to contribute. Meanwhile, Naomi is struggling with her new found powers and her separation from Phin. Her confusion and frustration only intensify as Phin is injured in an attack above-ground and his surviving mother is kidnapped.

I like that Karina Cooper opted to devote this novella to the characters we already know and care about, as opposed to trying to stick in a whirlwind romance between unknown characters in the same world. Too often, the development of PNR characters stops after their book is over. It’s cool that these characters are still growing and struggling… even after they have found their HEAs.

It’s a short story –less than 100 pages. And it probably wouldn’t mean much to readers unfamiliar with the series. But for those who are fans of the previous books, it’s definitely worth reading. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

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No Rest for the Witches
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Publisher: Avon Impulse

Series Reading Order: Dark Mission

This is the reading order for the Dark Mission series by Karina Cooper:

*Denotes short story/ novella

Review: Lure of the Wicked

Reviewed by Jen

The magic is back with this latest installment of Karina Cooper’s Dark Mission series. And by the time I got to the end of Lure of the Wicked, I was every bit as enthralled in Cooper’s dark and creative world as I was in Before the Witches. That’s a mighty compliment, because I loved that novella.

The book begins with a missionary, Naomi, on an undercover job to capture a rouge agent. She is assuming the role of a rich society woman at a posh spa. But almost right away, things get more complicated when a witch attacks her in her room. He gets away and Naomi now must not only find her original target, but the witch who is targeting her.

Phin runs the fancy resort where Naomi is staying. His parents founded the place. When he and Naomi meet, sparks fly instantly. Of course, he has no idea who she really is or why she is there. But despite her assumed identity, her real personality shines through. And perhaps just as importantly, her real life starts seeping in and mixing with her pretend one.

At the beginning of the book, I was kind of struck by the fact that there was very little supernatural at play. Really, Naomi could have been any kind of agent on any secret mission and the story would have played out in a similar fashion. But the otherworldly and post-apocalyptic elements got more involved as the story went on. Luckily, the stumbling blocks I found in Blood of the Wicked seemed to be righted here. We’re back to characters that I felt invested in. Naomi’s backstory is clear and sympathetic. She made for a much better “gruff agent with a wounded heart” than Silas did. And Phin was a character with depth. He had other relationships in his life that helped flesh him out as well.

I cared about Naomi and Phin both as individuals and as a couple, something I couldn’t really say about Silas and Jessie. The sexual tension was great and, frankly, so was the sex. There is one particularly enjoyable scene at the end of chapter 13 that I may have read two or three times. But more than that, I felt the evolution of an emotional bond between the two of them. It was very well done.

It was a pleasant surprise to see characters from the last book pop up toward the end. And I can see a direction for the series to progress. I was a little surprised to see the who the male lead will be in the set up for the next book… and I can’t wait to see how he will be redeemed. It seems like a tall order, but one I’m anxious to see Karina Cooper fill. 4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Lure of the Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Publisher: Avon

Review: Blood of the Wicked

Blood of the Wicked (Dark Mission, #1)Reviewed by Jen

I really wanted to love this book. The prequel novella Before the Witches was awesome. It left me wanting more. I thought Blood of the Wicked would be cut from the same cloth, but it had a very different feel. Don’t misunderstand… the book isn’t bad. I liked it. But I didn’t love it.

The story is set about 50 years after a series of cataclysmic events changed the face of the world. Many blame witches for the near-armageddon. And they are persecuted relentlessly. Jessie is a witch in hiding. Silas is a witch-hunter, determined to find Jessie’s brother, Caleb. He targets Jessie, not because she is a witch (he doesn’t know that she is), but to help track Caleb.

Silas and Jessie are undeniably drawn to each other. He has been hardened by his life, and is worn down physically and emotionally. He’s been off the job for 14 years, doing other things. (And it’s never really clear to me how “The Mission” got him to come back to find Caleb.) He thinks all witches are evil and with the exception of Jessie, it looks like he’s not entirely wrong. You would think that because he’s the heroine’s brother, Caleb is really a good guy who has been unfairly targeted. You would be wrong. He is horrible. But Jessie doesn’t know that. Just as Silas is using her to track his prey, she is using him, hoping to find her brother and save him.

I think my biggest problem with this book was that I found myself confused by some of the world building. I understand that a new Seattle was built above the rubble of the old, and only the upper class live above ground. After a time, I figured that city below ground was the remnants of the Old Seattle (?) but when we started talking about levels in between, I got lost. That was a distraction. So were my questions about Silas. Did he leave the Mission after the big incident where his friends died? Did he hunt witches in Florida? For who? How did they force him back to Seattle? I also had questions about the big ending. Why was Jessie a target? There are other witches who could have served the same purpose. Right? Or why not? Was I not paying close enough attention to the details?

The concept of the series is good. And it’s fresh. The book is rather dark, which I like. And the sex is good.. a little rough and demanding. Hot. And morbid anticipation of Silas’ discovery that Jessie is witch had me on the edge of my seat. The series has potential. I’ll give Lure of the Wicked a try, and see where we go from there. 3 1/2 stars.

*ARC Provided by Avon/Harper Collins Publishers

Blood of the Wicked
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: May 31, 2011
Publisher: Avon

Review: Before the Witches

Reviewed by Jen

You won’t find a boring moment in this action packed short story. The whole thing is only 78 pages long, but Karina Cooper packed those pages with enough story that it felt like more. There was sex… death… explosions… and dammit, I even cried.

Nigel is a cop trying to bust a Russian slavery/prostitution ring. When he infiltrates a brothel, posing as a dirty cop, he meets Katya.  She is prostitute who is looking to escape and find freedom for the other women.  The two make a fast connection.  Fast forward a few pages and the earthquakes are ravaging Seattle.  Nigel rushes back to the whorehouse just in time to rescue Katya and her friends.  Most of the other women go their separate ways but Katya returns with Nigel to the police station.  It’s there that the apocalypse really kicks into action and the two of them are on a mission, simply to stay alive as the world falls apart around them.

The story has a lot going for it.  The sexual tension and the romance action were great… and so were the fantastic scenes of destruction. In a very short time, the author had me caring about these characters –even the secondary ones.  I could see the sequence of events playing in my mind like a great action movie.

But there were two moments that jarred me out of my complete immersion in the book. The first was, upon their second meeting, Nigel and Katya are doing it in his office.  Without a condom. SHE IS PROSTITUTE, MAN!  He should have more sense than that! –And second, when the two of them swing out the “L” word on the day after they meet.  It wasn’t necessary. We can see that they fall in love in the Epilogue.  It doesn’t happen in a day!

Those two things aside, it was a fantastic read.  I’m very excited to start Blood of the Wicked to see how the rest of the series plays out.  4 1/2 stars.

P.S. If you’re wondering if there are any actual witches in this book, the answer is yes… sort of.  Katya has a little bit of premonition and some consider her a witch.  But most of the witch-reference is in the Epilogue, where the author explains that many go on to blame witches for a hand in the apocalypse.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Before the Witches
by Karina Cooper
Release Date: May 17, 2011
Publisher: Avon