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The Dark Gate, by Pamela Palmer

A paranormal romance published by the Nocturne line of Harlequin/Silhouette, The Dark Gate is Ms Palmer’s debut book. The novel introduces us to the world of the Esri and their human descendants, the Sitheen, and bears witness to the clash of their cultures, their ambitions and their powers.

Here’s the back cover blurb (yeah, I know, almost worse than nothing):

An ancient evil has found its way back to our world…

And the only ones who can stop it don’t know it exists.

Larsen Vale has a secret: she sees things. Terrible things. Deadly things. And her latest vision features a strange albino man… and her own death. Haunted and afraid, she trusts no one, not even the handsome cop who seems fascinated with her.

Washington, D.C., detective Jack Hallihan has one mission: find the man who is assaulting young women. But the police have not clues, no leads and no witnesses. And Jack has a deadly secret of his own—a secret Larsen holds the key to.

Time is running out. If Larsen and Jack can’t learn to trust their attraction to each other, the Gate will be opened—and the world will be forever changed…

After a relatively unimportant theft at a museum, there is a string of rapes, each marked by extraordinary attending circumstances. The witnesses and the victims can’t remember what happened. What physical evidence there is, points to brutal violence, but no one can explain how, what, or even when exactly it happened.

Jack, one of the detectives involved with the investigation, fears that he’s going insane. All of his life he has heard voices, a cacophony of unintelligible thoughts not his own, and they have grown louder since the attacks started. Through serendipity, he finds the one thing that has ever quieted them: Larsen’s touch. For her part, Larsen has started to see the attacks before they happen—sometimes by as little as half an hour, sometimes by half a day or longer—and realizes that whenever there are individuals who are potentially able to give accounts of these attacks, they are killed.

There were many things about this book that I liked.

The juxtaposition of normality and supernatural events was very very good, very well executed. It made the brutality of the violence and the coldness of the cruelty all more pronounced, if possible. Magic that is not quite magic; psychic powers that are inherited; elves and faeries as beings from a different dimension; enchantments and holly to break them…

The ties of trust that develop between people whose only knowledge of each other is that they are immune to this enemy’s powers, and that they are the only ones who can stop him. That the world will end if they don’t stop him. And, in the midst of the eerie and magical, utter normality. A teenager’s crush. Unbreakable familial ties. Deep friendship rooted in trust and years working side by side.

The pacing is good, going from action to drama to crisis to revelation fairly smoothly. There are a few hitches were my willingness to suspend my disbelief was a little strained (yes, even for a paranormal romance), such as having a man wearing nothing but boxers drive a stolen car across state lines without being stopped. But hey, they could have been lucky, right?

Most of the secondary characters were interesting in their own right, even a couple who only had extremely brief appearances, such as Brenda Kettering, one of the first Sitheen to survive an encounter with the villain. Sabrina and David, the children of Jack’s partner Henry were very likeable, and Sabrina was particularly well drawn. Henry, Hamilton, Myrtle, Charlie… while their characterizations are limited by space, they come across as real, ordinary people confronted with the extraordinary and forced to rise to the circumstances.

In fact, the flattest characterization is that of the villain—we are told that he gains power from the rapes, and he seems to exact some sadistic satisfaction out of causing pain, but it feels all too stock villain to me. The final confrontation doesn’t reveal either his original motivations or how he crossed into Earth.

For the most part, I liked both protagonists, even though I can’t say that I felt terribly invested in their relationship. I felt sympathetic towards Jack for most of the book, the notable exception being when he thinks that he would even be willing to marry Larsen—whom he doesn’t know from the moon—as long as her touch brings silence to his mind. Cold blooded use of another human being much?

On the other hand, at no point did I buy Larsen’s reasons for not telling Jack sooner about her foresight/visions/whatever, once she saw that a) her actions could, and did, change the outcome, and that b) her silence not only allowed the crimes to continue, but also endangered those like Jack and her. Larsen’s irrational resistance to tell Jack is explained away as childhood trauma, but to me it felt more like a plot contrivance, and the repetition of “she couldn’t tell him, she couldn’t tell anyone!” grated in my nerves pretty much from the second time on.

Of course, it could be argued that Jack should have trusted her with his secret, but frankly, I can understand his reasoning better. When dealing with an armed guy, it’s not particularly reassuring if he tells you he’s hearing voices. Oh and by the way, if you touch him, they go quiet, so please touch him.

Sure, dear, just let me get something first… like a loaded gun?

The universe Ms Palmer builds is complex enough that not all the answers are given in this first novel—which made me happy, actually, since it would have been an enormous infodump if she had even tried. Still, there are some questions that I really want answers for (did it occur to anyone to get Myrtle to help Stephanie? why didn’t Larsen foresee the first three attacks?) The good news is that the second Esri novel, Dark Deceiver, was released in July 2008, with a third slatted for summer 2009—hopefully there will be a firm date soon.

In the end, I enjoyed the fantasy aspect of the story more than the romance, but I’m glad to say that neither character turned stupid at any point. And I really want to hunt down a copy of Dark Deceiver, find out what else is happening…

7 out of 10

The Dark Gate can be found at amazon.com here and at amazon uk here.

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