First off, this is a weird book. But you know what? Sometimes weird is good. Within either of Ms. Frank’s series (this one or her Nightwalkers Series), you need to come to the world with no preconceived notions. You think demons are bad? They are not now. You think that BDSM is not a cultural norm? Is it now.
I will be honest; the first book of this series was hard for me to finish. I am not sure if it was because of the vast amount of cultural information I had to get through to understand or if I just didn’t care for our hero. However, this book, Rapture, was one that I liked from the beginning. I re-read the novel often.
A little bit of spoiler here of the first book: Magnus needs a new handmaiden and their God gives Daenaira to him in a vision. Dae is bought and taken to Sanctuary where she is trained. Danger surrounds them both as they discover the true meaning of why they were brought together.
Where to begin. First off: they are Shadowdwellers and the sun can kill them. So think like vampires, but they do not feed off of humans. In fact, their society has absolutely nothing to do with humans. It is actually refreshing to have a world that has relatively nothing to do with humans and Ms. Frank has the luxury of creating an entire society and culture. There is the religious sect (this book focuses on that portion), the Senate (think bourgeois or the Ton in London), and the Royalty (who we see in book three). There is growing evil discontent and this book focuses on the infestation of this evil within the religious house. There are a few “weird things” that I want to mention here:
Weird thing #1: Apparently, there is sexual training and schooling that this society goes through. They are taught in a scholarly fashion, the proper way to make love, how to touch and eventually move to demos and class interactions. I suppose you could think of it like an male model that might pose naked while art students draw or paint them.
If you are a long-lived society, I can understand how education, no matter what subject is important. In some ways, I see their society like the Fremen in Frank Hebert’s Dune. They are isolated, incredibly insulated culture adapting their society because of their environment. After all, Shadowdwellers are forced to live underground, in Alaska for the most part and are long lived. If there were not severe punishments for misbehavior, then there would be constant bloodbath. Here is my problem with the sex school. It felt a bit like, “Whoot! We can do voyeurism now in this series, sexy time!” It felt like having a sex scene just to add sex to the book. It made it go from being a well-written book with erotic scenes to a book labeled erotica for me.
Weird Thing #2: The BDSM themed punishment for breaking religious tenants (aka penitence) is something I have not read in paranormal romance. This goes in hand with our WT #1. I understand the concept; we are a strict culture in some ways, long-lived and hard to kill. One way to keep folks in line is through physical (and psychological) penitence. I get that. Again, they are insular and their culture would have developed independent of humans, so our morals might not be what theirs would be. I get that, in fact, one of the things that I liked about this book, is how different it was; yet it made sense in their world. This aspect is vital for the main plot of the book and the relationship development of our hero and heroine.
Weird Thing #3: How Dae handles our final battle. I do not want to go into detail in this one before you read the book. Read the book, come back to this review, and think about this scene. She makes a judgment call that goes against everything I hold true for a romance and I almost stopped reading the book the first time because of it. It is explained later, but it is not something that typically happens in a romance book. Here’s my problem, I think we could have resolved the conflict without her making that call and the only reason that I can think of why the author chose it this way was for titillation. (AKA WT#1). It just seemed like something the character would not have done.
Now that we have talked about the world, who are our leads? Dae has lived most of her life as a slave, used to punishment, pain, and chains. Other than her mother who died when Dae was young, she has no experience with love or affection. She has little education, certainly nothing that we see that is “typical” in their culture. So she knows of this religious school, but feels that she is sorely not one to fit into it. Dae is a fighter, a spitfire whose first instinct is to strike when threatened, and to observe when she is not.
“No one has touched me appropriately in eight years,” she countered in a cold, bitter voice. “I haven’t given my permission for so much as a finger to be laid on my person in all of that time, yet it happens quite frequently.”
Therefore, we see someone who has been beaten, tortured, and humiliated her entire life, yet she still has her core dignity and will still fight to the death. I imagine, that we all hope that we would have such a strong will and self-determination if we were in her situation. Certainly, some of the things she says I can imagine myself saying. We have a woman who does not even believe that she can love, let alone be some sort of religious woman.
Ahhhh Magnus. This man is hot, capital H O T. I love a controlled dominant Alpha male. I especially like the morally right justice fighter types. The problem is that for Magnus, he has very little people who he can trust and he is the advisor to the Chancellor herself. So where does he turn to when he needs help? It should be his handmaiden, but (SPOILER) the last one tried to kill him.
We open the prologue with Magnus and the first sentence epitomizes him:
Magnus understood the nature of evil sometimes a bit too well. There were times like these when he felt as though he had become a mirror for it, his own soul a distant reflection now as other things crowded it out. It was a thick and unwelcome feeling, a little too much like losing faith.
So here we open with a man whose faith is challenged, yet his duty and honor forces him to continue. His character development is actually one of the more compelling aspects of this novel.
Magnus has been celibate for 200 years, so I imagine that’s must tweak your mind pretty well, so no wonder he’s such a good fighter. The chemistry between Magnus and Dae are some of the best things about this book as they both work to understand each other.
This book is about isolation. And you might do something at first because it was self-defense (in Dae’s case) or because it was the will of the God or good for society (in Magnus’s), but ultimately this good thing turns into a bad. We become so focused on the sin that we forget to understand how it can affect ourselves in our quest to remove it. Dae describes Magnus’s actions:
People and relationships were inconvenient. That’s just the way it was. Sectioning himself off to minimize that inconvenience just proved how out of touch with that Magnus really was.
They learn to work and trust each other and by doing so they save their religious sect. In each case, this focus on self was vital for survival, but this focus also blinded them to things they should have been focused.
I enjoyed the theme, it was not just about the action, but it was about both individual characters and the relationship they develop. Ms. Frank did an excellent job in giving us faulty, fractured individuals who needed to grow before they could be a good partnership. This was not a quick-fix romance where they instantly fall in love. It was a dark book, I liked the intensity. Certainly the penitence scene was incredibly intense, but illustrates Ms. Frank’s ability to write a compelling story.
What could be better?
This book was not perfect. There were some pacing issues where honestly, in re-reads I jump past some scenes. The scenes with the Twins I usually by pass, the princess is clueless and I have a feeling their books would really annoy me. The one scene that I mentioned with Dae at the end, that bothered me. I do think that there was a bit more sex scenes than needed (not that I complain too hard, mind you).
I really liked the Sagan character. I figure he is in book three, I might have to read that book just to find out about him.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I wondered if I should give this a 3 or 4 star for awhile, but the intensity of the character development and the uniqueness of the theme made it to a four star for me.
Note for readers, this falls under “erotica”. So if explicit sex scenes bother you then this book is not for you.