By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
[Note: I reviewed each book individually, as spoiler-free as I possibly could. This review of the kindle bundle (the edition I actually read) is my review of the series as a whole. Here there be spoilers. You have been warned.]
I have averaged only 2-3 hours of sleep per night all week. Partly because of the nocturnal, tortured, ravening beast that is my teething 7-month-old son, but mostly because of Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. Like the Sinsar Dubh, the book of dark magic the series revolves around, Fever is absorbing, addicting, and unputdownable.
When I started Darkfever, I wondered if this series could live up to the hype. Fever has A.LOT of very, very enthusiastic fans. Now having read it myself, I see the appeal. The worldbuilding is amazing. The narrator/heroine's (MacKayla Lane) personal growth is satisfying and inspiring. Some of the supporting characters are so appealing, and the dialogue is snappy, snarky, and funny. I will probably re-read the series at some point just because I don't think it's possible to take it all in one go-round.
But I will not join the ranks of the squeeing Fever fangirls. This series has some deep issues that really diminished my enjoyment. As I noted above, spoilers ensue. Don't click "Read More" unless you're okay with that.
Mac's Imperfect, Sometimes Maddeningly Annoying, and Sometimes Untrustworthy Narrative:
The whole series is told in the first person, limited perspective point of view of the heroine, MacKayla Lane. There are at least two really great things about Mac as a narrator: 1) through Mac, we learn what we need to know, and only as much as we need to know for each scene, in a way that is tied up in the action of the plot rather than having an omniscient third-person narrator infodump all over the story, and 2) the best part of the series is Mac's personal growth from a self-described Barbiedoll to a strong, powerful woman warrior capable of saving the world, and her narrative gives us a front row seat to that incredible transformation.
There are also some real drawbacks to reading this story through the warped lens of Mac's narration. First, she can be really fucking annoying. In the first book, I was irritated with her endless descriptions of what she was wearing, how she painted her nails, how she styled her long blond hair, what color lipgloss she chose, how her shoes matched her accessories, how tanned her long golden legs were. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she's pretty, we get it. As the series went on and Mac's cheerful happy rainbow bubble popped as she faced one unimaginable ordeal after another, her narrative became (thankfully) a lot deeper and darker, but not always less annoying. The later books, and especially Shadowfever, are burdened with Mac's long, rambling, inner monologue as she considers and questions and doubts every single decision she makes. I get that the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders and she doesn't know who to trust, and it makes total sense that in those circumstances she should deeply examine the repercussions of her actions, but the pace of the plot sometimes suffered from all of that navel-gazing.
Second, I mentioned in my review and status updates of Darkfever that Mac's narrative was prone to spoilery foreshadowing statements like "Later I would look back on the next few days as the last normal ones of my life, though at the time they seemed anything but" (Darkfever, Loc. 1152). At first, these statements annoyed me because they were distracting and sort of patronizing, telling us when something was important the way a sitcom laugh track assumes the audience is too dim to know when something is funny. Now that I have read the whole series, I have two new objections. First, Faefever ends with an emotionally devastating cliffhanger, and KMM basically says in the afternote (which the reader gets to while lying there, metaphorically bleeding with empathy for Mac), "Ha ha, I know you feel like shit right now, but you can't say I didn't warn you this was coming." Yeah, she did warn us, but that's a copout. The fact that we coulda/shoulda/woulda known it was coming doesn't mean KMM didn't intentionally set us up to have our guts ripped out, and then leave us hanging. Furthermore, there's a lot of really important stuff that Mac's narrative doesn't foreshadow, and since the entire series is told in retrospect, the realization at the end that there is a lot of information that Mac withheld makes her an untrustworthy narrator, and that, too, strikes me as unfair to the reader.
Barrons is STILL a Total Douchenozzle.
My early reviews objected to the fact that Barrons was physically aggressive and violent toward Mac from their earliest encounters. This didn't get better. In the first book, he leaves a wide band of bruises around her chest and holds her against a bookshelf by her throat. In the second book, he chains her up in nothing but a bikini (Jabba the Hutt, anyone?) in order to give her a tattoo she doesn't want. In the fourth book, he has sex with her when she is not physically capable of giving consent. And in the fifth book, the finale, leading up to the HEA (or as close as we can get), he still manhandles her and threatens to kill her at least as often as he treats her with tenderness.
I know this is part of a larger trend toward darkness and violence in romantic male leads, and some will argue that supply-and-demand theory suggests that this trend wouldn't exist if female consumers weren't lapping it up, but I hate it. I hate how the trend both stems from and contributes to rape culture and the cycle of domestic violence, and I hate what it says about our society that women write this shit for women readers, and we readers eat it up. In Dreamfever and Shadowfever, Mac is disgusted by the women who offer themselves sexually to the gruesome Unseelie demons in exchange for some kind of dark, sexy thrill, and the lure of the violent male alph-hole hero is not at all unlike that: ugly, debasing, self-defeating, and sad.
Even if I could set aside Barrons' violence and sexual aggression, I didn't find their relationship emotionally satisfying AT ALL because it is entirely one-sided. Barrons uses Mac for his own purposes throughout the series. He urges her to trust him, then berates her, belittles her, and punishes her when she doesn't or when she puts her trust in anyone else, but he gives her no reason to put her faith in him. Yes, he saves her life -- but not always, and he is not the only one to save her: sometimes others do, and sometimes she saves herself. He never answers any of her questions. He offers no confidences. He tells her nothing, and unapologetically lies, misleads, cheats, and deceives her over and over again. In Shadowfever, we're finally given a reason for his evasion --(show spoiler)
but even that is a copout. Trust, intimacy, and love are reciprocal: you cannot get back what you don't give out, and Barrons doesn't give. Anything. At all. Ever.
My last objection to Barrons ties in with what I was saying above about Mac being an untrustworthy narrator. The early books raise a lot of questions about what Barrons is: good, evil, human, fae, druid, vampire, the Unseelie King? I have no doubt that KMM intentionally built up the suspense and fanned the flames of speculation with hints and foreshadowing, which kept the readers invested and boosted sales. But what Barrons is is entirely unpredictable and unforeshadowed. You won't guess, because you can't possibly have any idea: he is unlike anything you could imagine, because his race is entirely unique. Kudos to KMM for imagining something so new and different, but Feck 'er (as Dani would say) for manipulating us by planting so many red herrings. Foreshadowing can be fun if you drop hints and let your reader have a sense of superiority if they're able to piece together the mystery before the narrator reveals it, but if the foreshadowing is entirely misdirection, it's just manipulation. Maybe some readers enjoy that. Not me.
The Role of Women, Throughout the Fever Series, Leaves MUCH to be Desired
Yeah, Mac and Dani are pretty kickass. Flawed, but pretty tough, impressive, independant women. Good on them.
Every other woman in the series? Villain, Slut, Doormat, and/or Victim. The Fucking Fae are supposed to be a Matriarchal race, but their original Queen (now dead) was a jealous bitch who couldn't hang onto her man. Their replacement Queen is absent and ineffectual, and there is no reserve of strong Fae women waiting to take up command. The only Fae in positions of power (or players in the game, as Mac describe them) are men: The Unseelie King and Princes, Darroc, V'Lane. All of the human players are also men: Barrons and his associates, Maluce, the O'Bannions, Inspector Jayne, the MacKeltars, with one exception -- Rowena, the leader of the Sidhe-seers, who is an evil old shrew.
Like the Fae, the Sidhe-seers are also supposed to be matriarchal, but with the exception of Rowena and Dani, they are ineffectual, untrained, uneducated, and mostly sitting ducks. I think a greater proportion of them end up dead in the final tally than the losses in the human population of the earth.
Fiona, Barrons ex-lover and employee, is also a villainous shrew, turned evil merely because she had the effrontery to fall in love with Barrons. (Mac, take note, sister.) Mac's sister Alina was a slut (inasmuch as she was banging the evil Lord Master) and victim. Mac talks about how much she loves her adoptive parents, but when she speaks of them, she speaks of all that her lawyer father has taught her about survival, and all that her emotionally fragile housefrau mother has taught her about accessorizing and acting like a lady. *Rolls eyes in exasperation* The MacKeltar women cook, gossip, and make babies, but don't do anything at all to advance the plot. *Rolls eyes some more.*
And the woman who caused all this trouble, the way Helen of Troy is blamed for sparking the Trojan War with her beauty (when in fact she was just a scapegoat for the wreckage caused by the violent egos of men)? The Unseelie King's human concubine, who has no powers other than those her man gives her and no speaking role in the entire story.
Feck that shit, dude.