Review: Honor At Stake by Declan Finn

Enter the world of Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. It’s a world where good and evil reside. A world where vampires and other creatures of the night battle for control. A world of ninjas and mobsters. A world where personal issues interfere with relationships.

I am such a sucker for a good romance and this one delivered a sweet clean romance that left me begging for the next book to come out. Maybe beg isn’t the right word.

With Honor at StakeDeclan Finn creates a story that expertly balances action, suspense and romance that is less Twilight and more Christine Feehan’s Dark series.

Marco is a monster, or at least he thinks he is. He also happens to be a genius in his first year of studies to be a physician’s assistant, but his impatience with people and a dark secret sets him apart from everyone.

Then, along comes Amanda Colt, beautiful, smart and Russian. She peaks his interest, especially when she goes toe to toe with him while fencing. She is perfect for him, but she also has a secret.

Set in New York City, the story explores parts of Brooklyn (including a vampire bar run by an ex-cop from the 1800s), Central Park, and Manhattan. The fictional university and real Mount Olivet cemetary are the backdrops for important scenes in the story.

When bodies start turning up, the two pair up to take on the vampire hordes threatening the city. They pull together an unlikely team of gang members, Vatican ninjas and an FBI agent into the strange. But, who is pulling the strings behind the sudden surge of vampire activity and what does it have to do with the UN? That is what they have to find out in order to save humanity from the evil trying to overtake New York City … and a bigger threat that is only hinted at.

The fast-paced plot is full of explosive action. Between the fencing, fight scenes, explosions, a killer ex-girlfriend and Vatican ninjas with their 50 cal Desert Eagles, there isn’t a lot of time to rest. This alone makes it difficult to put down.

The vampire lore is consistent with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with a few modern and theological twists added to make it more complicated. Thankfully, we’re back to vampires being killed by sunlight, wooden stakes and holy water. But, unlike Stoker’s version, all vampires are not bad in Declan’s book. Salvation is still possible for these creatures of the night. How? It’s complicated, but it makes sense that he shoehorns in redemption.

Interspersed with the action are scenes of heart touching romance. Declan sets up these two flawed characters who need to overcome their inner demons in order to have a relationship. Neither thinks that anyone would love them if they knew about their secrets. This leads to some very touching moments between the characters as well as moments when you want to scream.

Declan is a master at over the top action scenes that will even make the Pulp Revolution guys happy, but he’s also amazing at the little intimate moments that make you fall in love with the characters.

The Superversives among us should be happy enough with the depth of religious and moral depth added to the vampire mythos. Hopefully, you won’t mind natural law philosophy coming to play here. And yes, he made philosophy readable.

There is little question why Honor at Stake was nominated for best Horror Novel in the Dragon Awards in 2016. And nominated for Book of the Year by the Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance. And put on the #2 spot for best novel for Sad Puppies 4.

It’s not perfect. There are a few places that are a bit heavy handed on the info dumps and Marco’s relationship with his ex is a bit confusing. There are a few scenes that come off as cheesy, but, overall, it’s a great story.

Lucky for you, though, Books 2 and 3 are already out, so you can continue right along with the next book, because you will want to. Trust me on this. The ending of Honor at Stake leaves you hanging.

You can get the first four chapters of the book free here or get the complete book in Kindle or paperback on Amazon.com.

Writing Superversive Romance

Can we have an honest talk about romance in novels?

Now, I’ve done romance before in my books, but mostly as a subplot. As most of us have figured out long ago, most men would rather go see John Wick on Valentine’s Day than the latest Twilight movie. So this isn’t rocket science.

With my novel Codename: Winterborn, for example, there were two romance subplots going on — though not at the same time.  One was between main character Kevin Anderson and his wife. Yes, I know, a romance story between a MARRIED COUPLE– gasp! Shock! Horror! SURELY, THIS IS THE END OF ALL THINGS!!!!!!

… Sorry. Can you tell I’ve been reading Daddy Warpig articles lately?

The second romantic subplot in Winteborn was between with hunter and prey, and even then, it was odd. It was very, … Laura, really.**  Though the main plot is heavy on the action.

[**Laura, a murder mystery in which a detective falls in love with the victim through her portrait. In the case of Codename: Winterborn, it was via files and seeing him in action]

With Codename: Winterborn, however, this took place over the course of months.

But the average romance novel takes, what, days? A week or two? Then the male and female leads jump into bed like sex-starved hyenas during mating season?  I think the longest courting period that I recall in romance fiction was a Sherrilyn Kenyon novel called Fantasy Lover where holding off on sex was a massive plot point, and involved breaking a curse from Geek deities. No, I’m not kidding.

Let’s just say that when I did something similar, it was with my novel A Pius Man. And you have no idea how much effort I put into trying to make that believable.

Then I worked on a Catholic Vampire Romance novel called Honor At Stake …

And that takes place over the course of 9 months. There’s a reason for that. Why?

Because I want a flipping love story. Something that looks real.  Something that feels real. Something that takes time to develop. Because no one — and by “no one” I mean any rational relationship — jumps into bed on the first date and expect the relationship to go anywhere. If you do, please stop kidding yourself.

The next challenge you should be considering is: I’m still a guy. How does a guy write romance? (While not being John C Wright, he can pen whatever novel he wants.)

Anyone who doesn’t know me is probably considering the easy answer: “Well, Declan, you’ve been in love before, right? Use your actual love life.”

To which I must sadly inform them: “Have you read my blogs about my love life? It looks like a train wreck.”

Yeah.  Fun fact: any relationship of mine that survived in real life for any length of time was unreal in so many ways, I can’t even describe it without people calling me a liar. I don’t even believe my own love life. I think if I wrote it up, it would look like fiction.

Besides, I suspect that a love story that is a blow by blow of a real relationship would probably bore the crap out of most people. Granted, I have an unfair advantage in my novels: I have vampires, Vatican Ninjas, and grenade launchers.

However, I was a follower of one of the better romances on television: Castle.

Yes, Castle.  It has character development, a relationship that grows out from mutual attraction, to partnership, to friendship, and then to love. They even get to love long before leaping into bed, and only 1 YEAR of that before engagement.

Which is sadly, an improvement over what we usually see on screen. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen: First Date, Sex, Friendship, love, and Marriage, in that order. Just once, I would like to see the order be: friendship, courtship, love, marriage, sex.

To give Castle it’s due, where else do you see friendship actually develop in the romance genre? The phrase “Let’s just be friends” is usually much the end of any romantic relationship — in romance novels, and in my own experience — but shouldn’t a man and a woman at least shoot for being friends before they leap into bed together? Radical notion, I know, but consider it for a moment.

Another technical that pops up in the occasional romance novel, and in in Castle, almost everyone around the main couple sees this relationship coming. This is traditional in the standard Nora Roberts novel, this is usually represented by the “plucky best friend” of the heroine, trying to push her out of her comfort zone to risk enough to actually end up with her heart’s desire.

Yes, risk and romance. If you think that the concept is merely for conflict within fiction, I suggest you reflect on a simple concept: at the end of the day, marriage is all about investing yourself totally and completely in another person. Each spouse belongs to the other, bound by a full commitment– spiritually bound, biologically bound, connected on all levels. Seriously, read Ephesians 5, and I mean all of it, not just the “approved” readings.

If this concept doesn’t even remotely scare you, please reflect on it some more. It should come to you shortly.

There is also another problem that comes in occasionally in fiction, that is, surprisingly enough, a factor in some actual relationship considerations. This is a belief by some people have that they are unloveable — “Seriously, what sane person could possibly love a creature like me? Only some broken psycho would express any interest — only the psychos have expressed an interest. And why would any “normal” person give me the time of day?”  If you think this is only reserved for fictional characters on angsty CW shows, then I applaud your confidence in how perfect you are.

In my execution of it, with my Love at First Bite series, my leads are Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. And oy, these two have got relationships baggage that look like Samsonite, or maybe a Haliburton. One is a blood thirsty killer, the other’s a vampire. So you have two creatures of the night — would would rather be feared rather than loved, and one who eats people.

Now, I’m not going to say that this is the most unlikely duo I’ve ever created. The main couple in my Pius novels were pretty much the most opposite I could design two people while still making them human.

But when it comes to writing romance, I like little things. Little details. Little innocent things that can be taken the right way if characters looked at them really hard, but don’t because neither one thinks the other wants to go there. Little looks and touches, and smells and “if she hugs me any closer she’s going to realize I’m having a not-so-innocent reaction,” and “stay calm, or the increased heartbeat will give the game away.”

You know, things like that.  I’m told I do that well.

The short version is that in all things, there is a proper order. For a romance to be truly romance, sex should come last, and commitment should be more important than the sex. Because if two people aren’t joined in a blessed union, it just becomes one more carnal relationship, and what romance comes from that?

If you want to see a guy write not-bad romance, try the  Love At First Bite Series
.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, a review

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John Ringo’s second book in the Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, is both better and worse than Grunge.Our hero from the last book, Chad, is continuing his mission to be a Monster Hunting killing machine. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he has to leave Seattle, his home base in Grunge. After complaining — a lot — about never wanting to be in the heat ever again, MHI headquarters has the perfect gig for him: New Orleans. The Big Easy has got a lot of problems, and it needs all the help it can get.

Sinners does a great job of capturing the flavor of New Orleans, especially when you consider that standard policy can boil down to “Don’t scare the tourists.” Every local either believes in the dark arts, or practices the dark arts. Of course, we have at least one team member who really wants to turn every other beastie into jambalaya, shootouts in cities of the dead, and one massive shootout at marti gras.

Oh, yes, and for the record, Mr. Ringo, I saw what you did there with those chapter titles.

Another thing Ringo did better here than in Grungeis build an emotional connection to his teammates. At the end of Grunge, one of Chad’s teammates dies.  Listening to John Ringo at DragonCon, we were supposed to feel the emotional impact of the character death. I didn’t then. Here? Oh yes. Characters were much better established, and for the most part, when characters died, I felt it.

Chad also has had a interesting, as well as a deep and abiding faith. This comes very apparent at the end, with a conclusion that’s uplifting enough that it deserves the label of Superversive.

Critics of Grungewill be happy to know that Chad spends less time getting lucky and more time being pummeled. There is even less sex in this book than in Grunge, and seriously, people, he spent more time on politics than sex. And for some reason, people claimed he was a Mary Sue …. to which I will soon reply with a blog post explaining what a Mary Sue looks like, because obviously, people have little to no experience with the phenomenon. Yes, he’s a super genius who’s good at shooting people, but he’s also hospitalized every few chapters.

The only thing that’s really off-putting about this novel is the marked shift from “looking backwards.”  In Grunge, there is a lot of time spend on his family, and Ringo outright states that the larger evil behind everything Chad is fighting is Chad’s brother. This book? Nope. Barely a whisper of Chad’s family, and not a whisper about what’s the ultimate evil of the trilogy. I’m wondering how much of that is editorial, or how much was in the process of the novel. These books are thinner than Ringo’s usual fair, so if you told me he wrote them as one continuous novel, broken up into a trilogy, that would explain certain things.

Also, in Grunge, time was spent on the moral of the story: “Chad” wrote each chapter to illustrate a point. Here, there’s no such clear lesson plan; “Chad” does have “pro-tips” scattered throughout, but the concept seems strangely abandoned. Perhaps this is due to the chaotic nature of New Orleans, where every night is insane, and the full moon is like Arkham asylum let everyone out on a day pass, so Chad is merely fitting in tips where he can.

Heh, it’s a coin toss.

Final verdict is still the same: Sinnersis even better than Grunge

Anyway, if you like this review, you might want to consider one of the following books for your reading pleasure.