Book Critique - Dark Challenge (The Carpathian Novels # 5)

For reviews of other books in this series: Go here

Stars: 3.5 / 5

Recommendation: If you like paranormal plots with hint of romance, eroticism and the other world abilities involving immortals and vampires along-side humans with super-abilities, then this is a series to go for.

Dark Challenge is the fifth book in the longest series, Dark Series, by Christine Feehan which was published in November of 2000. This book tells the story of Julian Savage - a powerful ancient on the edge of his endless life - and Desari Daratrazanoff - a beautiful Carpathian singer. The plot is set several months after Dark Magic. Also this book forms the first book in a trilogy within the series - where each book has a plot for each of the band members. This is the first trilogy in this series. Just like her previous books, this one also earned quite a few awards and honors for Christine including the 2000 RBL Hughie Book Awards for Best Paranormal Romance.

Carpathians are a powerful and ancient race who are near-immortals living for thousands of years with powers and gifts that no man can fathom. Despite their gifts and extended lifespans, they are at the age of extinction as fewer and fewer children are being borne and far lesser of females. Without their female counterpart aka "lifemates" the male Carpathians lose the ability to feel emotions leaving the males with hard choice: either become vampire or "greet the dawn" (i.e. commit suicide). Now that Prince Mikhail Dubrinsky finds a lifemate in a human female who has immense psychic abilities and is capable of converting, there is hope for all the other Carpathian males who have been holding off from turning into vampires – the very creature that they hunt and kill to save the humans and Carpathians alike.

In the fourth book, Dark Magic (Review here), Gregori sends Julian Savage to aid a woman singer named Desari aka Dara. The society of human vampire hunters had targeted both Julian and Desari for being different. That is exactly where the plot begins with Julian trying to reach Desari and warn her of the society of hunters. But little does he know that he not only finds in her his lifemate but also that she comes with her own powers, being Carpathian and all.

He also discovers the missing Carpathians who were thought of lost or dead in a battle that happened centuries ago. Desari is the lead singer of the singing troupe Dark Troubadours formed by these missing Carpathians who go from place to place singing in the old fashion troubadour style.

Other members of the troupe being Darius Daratrazanoff - Desari's birth brother, Dayan - song writer, Barack - the playboy of the troupe and lead guitarist, and finally Syndil - the other female in the troupe and a healer nonetheless. Now the troupe and Desari had captured the eyes of the society.

Although striving to protect Desari, Julian has to deal with Darius - who is an equal alpha male as he and perhaps more powerful - and the deep secret past hidden inside himself. A secret past that made him a loner although he answers to the Prince, a past that could destroy Desari. How Julian and Desari along with the remaining members of the troupe face these hurdles, and the vampires and the human hunters alike is what follows the rest of the book.

Being powerful ancients, it made me wonder how will Christine portray Julian, Desari and Darius. Although this is a tale of Julian and Desari, one cannot forget that Darius forms a key portion of the tale forming the third wheel albeit not in the romance part, just in the Carpathian power and role perspective. She does pit Desari and Julian against each other more to the fact that Julian understands the modern woman no matter how ancient Desari might be and also that she comes with her own powers. However when she pits Julian against Darius, it is a total show of power and dominance. The fight scenes in both kinds of battle that Julian faces are amusing and intelligent, well-written by Christine.

While revealing how lonely and alone Julian Savage has been all of his existence, Christine brings the readers back to Dark Desire plot, the second book in the series - story of Jacques Dubrinsky and Shea O'Halloran - and to a particular scene where Jacques hesitates to take the offered hand. She also gives a brief story of Rand and Shea, although she only names Jacques and no one else while alluding to this past. Thus she ties in past characters will the current plot. 

Christine also always has a humor element through her novels but they are very subtle and hidden beneath the darkness that shadows the plots. This adds another layer making her books to be not just erotic.

Christine introduces the concept of leopard people in this book long before she had written her first book The Awakening in the Leopard People Series in 2003. However her concept is more in the form of shape-shifting ability of the Carpathians, albeit with the characters in this book they prefer more the leopard form than any other animal form. She even talks about mating between two leopards but all pertaining only to the Carpathians learning the leopard way and nothing more. Perhaps this is where the seed was sown by her for another erotic series she would start three years since this book.

Christine although has her primary plot revolving around Julian and Desari, there is considerable amount of sub-plots revealing more about the rest of the members of the troupe. Having so many characters so close, fighting to be dominant to the reader, Christine has masterfully controlled them in such a way that reader's focus lies on Julian and Desari all through the plot. That is why it was surprising to me that the plot was given an abrupt ending.

While she has Julian fight an ancient vampire somewhere in the middle of the book with elaborate fight scenes and unraveling of complex traps set by the vampire. However when it came to fighting his archenemy, it ended in mere seconds. Was it because Christine wanted to tell that sometimes the fear for something or someone one develops as a child are not as monumental as they seem to be when they face the same as an adult. Perhaps. But I would have loved to see a little more fight between Julian and the primary antagonist.

Also Christine leaves the readers wanting to see a family reunion between Julian and his twin Aidan Savage. Would have loved to read about how Aidan would feel now after Julian finally shares his big secret. May be in the next book Christine will highlight on it.

On a side note, I see card inserts for free books in this book as well. I don’t think anyone uses this format anymore. Oh I wish one would, it is so nostalgic. 

On a humorous note, if anyone has seen the 2001 romantic comedy film Kate and Leopold, would not have missed the "Dark Challenge" book there. Apparently Kate's assistant Darci is sitting at her desk, reading this book and crying. When Kate asks about the book's ending, Darci mentions that the character has gangrene, loses his leg, and ends up shipwrecked on an island with his lover. Which in reality nowhere near to the plot of the book. Nonetheless Christine Feehan's books are certainly famous among the Hollywood as well. 

Another powerful erotic plot woven by Christine Feehan keeping us thoroughly entertained and immersed into the world of Carpathians. As always the fight scenes are excellent and love scenes are very romantic. There is repeat paraphrasing of some of the text, but not a lot though. It still is funny to read the archaic nature of Carpathians who stumble to understand and learn to treat their woman as an equal, considering their ways and methods are centuries old.  Definitely a book to pick for a powerful series that follows and enjoyable to read.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Plot reveals:

a. Interestingly enough if the Carpathian male's lifemate is a Carpathian female all they need to do is one blood exchange and utter ritual words as opposed to three blood exchanges. It does make sense since the Carpathian female didn’t need to be converted as opposed to pyschic human females. However, it was prudent of Christine to make that difference in her books for the reader to get more clarity.

b. Darius and Desari are revealed to be birth siblings of Gregori Daratrazanoff - greatest Carpathian healer as well as right hand to their prince Mikhail Dubrinsky.

c. Christine reveals the possibility of more Carpathians being settled in South America as part of a discussion between Julian and Darius. Another segue into future plots that could be set in South America.

d. The troupe badly need a mechanic who can fix their van. Desari insists on posting an ad for the kind of mechanic they need. With this segment of conversation, Christine leaves a segue into a future plot where perhaps the mechanic would end up being a lifemate to either of the male or female unattached Carpathians in the troupe.

e. Syndil had experienced sexual feelings that a Carpathian female can feel only if she was close to her lifemate or sensed him. Who could be her lifemate? Dayan? Barack? But Christine has quite a few scenes where she shows Barack being very protective of Syndil and Syndil being drawn to him. There is more to their story which is partially revealed in this plot and perhaps will be told more in the next plot.

f. Greatest hunter and the greatest and unique vampire come from Daratrazanoff bloodline, per what Julian reveals Desari.  And Julian alludes to Gabriel and Lucian being those two. Quite a bit of their history is revealed definitely adding steps to future plots for Gabriel and Lucian. And naturally one would expect their stories to follow pretty soon.

2) Sub-Plots:

a. Perils that the Carpathians face:

i. In the second book, Dark Desire (Review here), Rand mixes some kind of poison in his blood and infects Jacques and Byron which causes them to severe the mental path the Carpathians share. I have to see if in future books Christine elaborates on this and finds a remedy for the Carpathians.

ii. Few children who have born are Males, most not surviving the first year of their life. No one knows why females are rarely born, although now they discover that paring a Carpathian male to a Human psychic female will give them female kids. However, no one knows why most kids don’t survive the first year.

iii. Vampires are congregating suddenly and attacking in coordinated methods as opposed to their solitary existence posing a tough battle for Carpathian hunters while hunting them.

iv. Vampires also use a hypnotic dance that they try in hoping to transfix the Carpathian hunters during the battle. 

v. Threats from Society of Human Vampire Hunters who constantly hunt the Carpathians mistaking them to be Vampires.

b. Gary Jansen is for the first time introduced in the fourth book, Dark Magic. Having already read the remaining books I totally forgot when Gary's character was introduced. It has been 18 years that his character has surfaced and I still didn’t see a story for him. Not sure what is Christine waiting for but would love to see his story soon.

3) Lifemate pairs introduced as the series progresses: Will Christine have a plot for these pairs sometime in future? Since I have read all the books already, I know for sure there isn’t one yet. But hoping she will have some kind of plot around them in future.

a. Eric and Celeste – Celeste is pregnant with child in Dark Prince, but no mention of who they would be in the later books so far.

b. Vlad and Eleanor - Eleanor is pregnant with child in Dark Prince, but no mention of who they would be in the later books so far.

c. Tienn and Diedre

4) Other Carpathians who are waiting for their lifemates as of this book and we meet as the series progresses are:

a. Byron Justicano - Jacques’ best friend and would become his right hand if ever Mikhail succumbs. He was tortured and hurt by Rand in the second book, Dark Desire. His story hasn’t come yet although he was in two books already.

b. Dimitri Tirunul – another ancient Carpathian mentioned briefly for the first time in a conversation between Jacques and Shea in Dark Desire plot.

c. Gabriel Daratrazanoff and Lucian Daratrazanoff - two powerful ancient legendry Carpathians who had disappeared after the massive vampire hunting and cleanup dealt by the Carpathian warriors during the Middle Ages.

d. Darius Daratrazanoff- Desari and Gregori's brother

e. Dayan and Barack - part of Darius and Desari's family, also members of the singing troupe Dark Troubadours

5) Being so many few Carpathian females born, a few females that Christine still manages sneak in her plots are:

a. Shea O’Halloran – lifemate to Jacques Dubrinsky, first female born after more than 500 years and a natural healer. Her story can be read in the second boon, Dark Desire.

b. Savannah Dubrinsky - daughter of Prince Mikhail Dubrinsky and his lifemate Raven Dubrinsky; lifemate to Gregori Daratrazanoff; who is learning to find the depth of her powers. Her story can be read in the fourth book, Dark Magic (Review here)

c. Desari Daratrazanoff - lifemate to Julian Savage, sister to Gregori and Darius; has the power to sing that could bring peace between humans, animals, birds and Carpathians alike, a voice that could avoid battles if needed.

d. Syndil - part of the troupe Dark Troubadours, unclaimed Carpathian female, with tremendous healing powers and has an affinity to earth.

6) The concept of Claiming their mate in the Carpathian world is so similar to the Swayamvar concept that used to be existing in Indian culture for until 100 years ago, mostly in royal families. In this the female who comes to age of marriage is allowed to choose from a slew of men who arrive at the Swayamvar and show-case their wealth and powers. More about that here.

7) Grammatical / Geographical / Location / Character / Historical Errors:

a. On Pg. 50, line 24, it should be "...Savon called me to meet…"

b. On Pg. 185, line 21, it should be "...Then we can do no other…"

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