Erin McCarthy's second venture into a darker world has proved to be more intriguing than the first. Originally, when I picked up My Immortal, I didn't know that it was McCarthy's 'dark side.' But while I found the concept interesting, and definitely a journey away from her lighthearted romantic comedies, it just didn't do much for me. The story, the characters...it didn't work as well as I had anticipated. However, I wasn't about to write off the second installment, Fallen, simply because I found some hiccups with the first book. Good thing, because Fallen was much improved.
Gabriel was sent to Earth to watch and protect humans. But once he waded into the darkness of humanity, the sins, the crimes, the sorrow, he turned to the bottle to drown out the desperate cries. His fall from grace is due to the sin of gluttony. Specifically that of addiction. Addicted to absinthe, and other various drinks and drugs, Gabriel lives for every night to crawl away from the grime of Earth for the comfort of his mistress's arms and the green fairy of absinthe. But when his mistress, Anne, is murdered right before him, Gabriel cannot remember a thing because of his drug-induced haze.
Soon after Anne's murder, Gabriel discovers his penance for his sin. Every woman he comes into physical contact with, especially after sex, all become obsessed with him. Obsessed with his touch, his presence, his entire being. The women become obsessed to the point where they feel like they cannot live without him. Many took their own lives. The need to be with Gabriel consumes the women. It mirror's Gabriel's obsessions of addiction.
A hundred and fifty years later, and sober for seventy-five of it, Gabriel is still seeking to solve the murder of Anne. When a similar murder pops up in the present day, Gabriel contacts the victim's daughter who is also a forensic scientist to collaborate on the true crime novel he's writing. Gabriel, however, isn't as focused on writing the book as he is determined to find out once and for all, with the aid of modern science, whether or not he was the killer.
Sara has an a personal motive to help Gabriel as well. Not only does she see the similarities of both murders: her mother and Anne were murdered with a similar weapon, setting, and both boyfriends were accused of doing the deed, but Sara's interest is just as personal as Gabriel's. What Sara is hiding is that not only was her mother murdered, but Anne is her great-great-grandmother. The women of her family, save one, have all been cursed to die from unsolved murders. And as the sole surviving female in the family, Sara's next.
Working together to slowly piece together the details of Anne's murder, Gabriel finds that Sara's quiet presence in his life is making him crave contact again. While the draw together, Gabriel knows that he cannot touch Sara. Though it's evident that Sara's will is strong and can therefore kiss Gabriel without falling into addiction, Gabriel cannot risk too much contact for fear that Sara will meet a gruesome end.
As their relationship moves to its zenith, the search for the answer to the murders come together. The murders of Sara's mother and of Anne seem to be more than just similar, all signs point to the same killer.
In some sense, Fallen follows closely to the example set by the first book. They both deal with a heroes that are fallen angels whom are now demons, heroines that have a link to the hero's past, a climax that involves the heroine finding out that the past and the present concerns the same man, and a desperate search to be together. The heroes have both been burned by love in the past and for that, they are currently paying for their sins. The biggest obstacle in both books is the fact that the heroes are immortal, while the heroine is not. Similarly, the sex in both are very limited with large portions of the book dealing with the eventual slow build up because of the nature of the story: the heroes know that it is 'forbidden' to touch in the sense that it can cause the heroine harm.
However, what makes Fallen a better story for me is the characterization and the surprising twists of the plot itself. Fallen doesn't deal too much with the 'forbidden touch' effect as much as the character's need to solve the murders. So, from the beginning, while the slow sexual tension builds for Gabriel and Sara, the story is much more about them finding out clues about Anne's murder than it is Gabriel and Sara each internally dialoguing how they want to be together. That element was much appreciated because the reader wasn't constantly barraged with fact that Gabriel can't touch Sara for her own sake. The plot moves quickly because they are coming closer to the mysteries of the murders.
The characters were also written in a more fluid manner this time around. Each deal with their own problems, though they mirror each other's. Not only does Gabriel struggle with his past addiction, but so does Sara. And while Gabriel has had a hold on his addictions for the past seventy-five years, he can see Sara's fresher struggle with sleeping and pain pills. Since Gabriel knows what Sara is going through, it creates a safe haven for Sara to finally begin to cope with her inner demons. But what made this story flow much better is the fact that it does have its moments of light heartedness. Not a lot, but enough to give a ray of light to shine here and there. Specifically, the fact that Gabriel instigates a few of those moments, and doesn't resist some lines of gentle teasing, lightens a dark paranormal book just enough for the reader to feel like they're not constantly surrounded by darkness. For me personally, My Immortal was too consistently dark, page after page with no moments of relief. And while Fallen is written in the same dark prose, setting, and feeling, the few moments of lightness are enough to balance the story. For example, the discovery of the kitten, the random quality of Gabriel's character, and other tiny moments were appreciated to give the story a more well-rounded feeling.
Another thing that makes this story better than its predecessor is the surprisingly quality of Gabriel being the one to express love first. While it was ironic for this kind of plot for the hero to say the three fateful words first, it felt right for the story. Additionally, it wasn't until the very last pages for it to happen. It was about seventy-five percent of the way through. I thought that it was a good move to place the acceptance of love (somewhat) earlier in the novel so that the real climax centered back on the murders and of Sara deciding if she can have a relationship with Gabriel knowing that they can't physically touch. I liked how the big explanation of Gabriel being immortal and an ex-angel who's now a demon wasn't too drawn out. McCarthy sneakily slipped in Gabriel being able to open a person's mind and giving them his own memories. It was a nice little device for McCarthy to write in so that there wasn't going to be a whole denial scene where Sara just rejects the truth. There's no denying it when Sara is able to feel all of Gabriel's past and present emotions for herself. It was refreshing to read that Sara just accepted the truth for what it was with little to no rejection of it being impossible.
While categorized as paranormal, there wasn't too much paranormal things happening in the story itself. Other than the fact that Gabriel is a fallen angel and an immortal, there isn't a lot of paranormal elements in the sense that most of the story is very much 'normal.' Gabriel still eats and sleeps, functions during the day, and everything else that is normal to a man. Even though it's labeled as paranormal, this way works much better because the story is all about the solving of the murders and of Gabriel drawing closer to Sara.
Like I mentioned earlier, because of the basic premise of the story, the sex is limited and most of the novel is spent on a slow sexual build up of tension. Surprisingly enough, I didn't feel cheated in terms of a lack of sexual chemistry. The tension between Gabriel and Sara was a slow culmination and while the actual deed was done with little bells or whistles, it was sufficient. I didn't feel like the passion exploded off the page as I would expect for so much build up, but it wasn't lacking so much that I felt disappointed. Funny enough, I wanted the murders to be solved more than I cared about the sex scenes (which is practically a first), but I felt that the emotional connection was written strongly enough that I wanted to read about it instead of the actual sex. So, while this story contains minimal amounts of the actual sex, the emotional content was done nicely. The characters took their time in getting to know one another instead of just jumping into bed and their feelings took precedence over physical release.
I can't say that I appreciate the cover very much. The angel concept I think was a good addition to parallel the actual story, but the figure of the woman didn't jive. The lower back tattoo was especially out of place. Too much of an obvious attempt to sex up the cover. It didn't match with the characterization of Sara other than the fact that she's a blonde. But the cover does reflect the darker turn of writing that McCarthy is trying to advertise. While not the best of covers, it's certainly not the worst I've seen and other than the back-baring dress and the out-of-place tat, it's a decent job of the art department.
The concept of the seven deadly sins coupled with that of fallen angels that are now demons is an interesting one. From the first book to the second installment, it seems that McCarthy is honing the delicate craft of writing a darker romance. There seems to be an evolution of her writing and I can only hope that the next one continues that learning experience.
4 out of 5: Novel is focused more on the actual plot than the sexual tension but it's written in a way that that reader wants to find out about the mystery more than read a run-of-the-mill sex scene. Connection of hero and heroine is more emotional than physical but it fits with the tempo of the story. Plot provides a twist here and there and is interesting to see the mystery continue on for a bit even when it seems that questions have been answered. A few moments of light heartedness are provided to balance out the darker overall feel of the story. A keeper and a reread copy for when I'm in the mood for a bit of darkness.