(This commentary has been cross-posted on The Toasted Scimitar)
I just finished this SFR and what a dark psychological journey it was. I started reading it once and had to quit. I just couldn't get into to. When I decided to give it another try, it took me by surprise—total hooksville. It's been quite awhile since a book has made me sit back and say "OMG!" out loud and bring real tears at the conclusion, but this one did. Powerful stuff here. I'm going to do this commentary/mini-review (unlike one of my quirky, full-blown reviews) to offer my overall impressions and thoughts.
This book is the sequel to Linnea Sinclair's GABRIEL'S GHOST and follows the continuing story of former court martialed fleet captain Chasidah "Chaz" Bergren and outlaw/heir Gabriel "Sully" Sullivan as they face a monstrous political upheaval and diabolical threat--a floating lab breeding killing machines called jukors. As Captain Bergren, former Pride of the Sixth Fleet, Chaz once pursued Sullivan on the fringes of colonized space trying to apprehend him. After her court martial, Sully (who's supposed to be dead, hence the title) rescues her from a dangerous prison colony and smuggles her away to help him find the beast-breeding lab that's at the root of a political scheme. This is the beginning of their love affair and their covert struggle, and also their conflict, when Chaz discovers Sully is a rare human form of a universally hated telepathic/telekinetic entity.
While Sully travels the path down into a dark place called the Kyi, he grows more powerful in his abilities, at quite a cost. The introduction of "Del" as his alien co-conspirator, instructor-bond brother added a character I was very uncomfortable with in terms of his influence on Sully and his constant sexual pursuit of Chaz. Del is also a contributor to Sully's personality "split" between his human side (Sully) and the side that isn't quite human and at times very frightening (Gabriel).
The sex scenes between Chaz and Sully were frequent and very intense, although not explicit or graphic. It was an emotional intensity fortified by the fact that she could feel his pleasure and he could feel hers through their mental link, and at times the sex reached some very high emotional heat pinnacles.
The author took chances with Gabriel's character and took him places few writers would take an MC. As it turns out, sex is one of the ways Sully increases his power as he "feeds" on emotions. But that need to feed has a very twisted side to it. At one point in the story, Chaz decides to leave Gabriel when she discovers what he's done, and I was right there in her corner. What Gabriel participated in was IMHO beyond redemption and very disturbing, and the author delivered that gut punch in a very artful way. (My OMG moment.) My feeling was "Get the hell outta of there, Chaz, while you still can...and take Philip with you."
Philip is Chaz's ex-spouse, ex-Fleet Admiral and soon to be ex-living soul when he crash lands in their ships' shuttle bay and Del threatens his life to pressure Chaz into sex. I didn't like Philip in Gabriel's Ghost. I thought he was an interfering, overbearing jerk and control freak. In SHADES OF DARK, Philip came through as an absolute doll, accepting of Chaz and Sully's relationship even as he still mourns her loss, and I could completely understand the strong bond Chaz still shared with him. He's the only one totally looking out for Chaz's welfare and concerned for her safety because of the dangers of Sully's fully-phased Kyi self and requirements of his bond with Del. I had no interest at all in reading HOPE'S FOLLY—the next spin-off book due out in 2009 and Philip's story—until I read SHADES OF DARK. Now I'm a huge Philip fan. I'm not so sure how this one left me feeling about Sully, quite honestly.
In the end, Gabriel betrays Chaz in the worst possible way, and then takes steps to redeem himself that results in what is certainly not a complete HEA but probably the best possible resolution under the circumstances. It didn't change what Sully had done but his acknowledgement and deep remorse for crossing the line did bring his human side back into play.
This book may not appeal to those who go for lighter romance content or blissful HEAs, but if you crave a psychological Twilight Zone spiced with sexual and moral dilemmas, you should check this one out.