Review: Wicked Nights by Gena Showalter

We interrupt your regularly scheduled live blog to bring you a review of a new release from Gena Showalter, a leading lady of paranormal romance. I thought I had read Showalter’s work before, but after searching my Goodreads Read shelf, I find nary a novel of hers upon it! Hooray, a new-to-me author! Will she win my girlish heart?

Wicked Nights cover artWicked Nights

by Gena Showalter

Harlequin HQN, $7.99 mass market, ISBN-13 9780373776986, June 26, 2012

Leader of the most powerful army in the heavens, Zacharel has been deemed nearly too dangerous, too ruthless–and if he isn’t careful, he’ll lose his wings. But this warrior with a heart of ice will not be deterred from his missions at any cost…until a vulnerable human tempts him with a carnal pleasure he’s never known before.

Accused of a crime she did not commit, Annabelle Miller has spent four years in an institution for the criminally insane. Demons track her every move, and their king will stop at nothing to have her. Zacharel is her only hope for survival, but is the brutal angel with a touch as hot as hell her salvation–or her ultimate damnation?

The cover art certainly won my girlish heart. Normally I despise clinch covers (that’s genre-speak for “scantily clad passionate embrace” covers), but I love this one. It’s not the chiseled pecks, either. I love how pretty yet razor-sharp the woman is, and how her pose can be interpreted as affection or the moment before a violent crime. Also, bonus points to HQN for using a cover model who accurately depicts the ethnicity of the heroine.

“Pretty yet razor-sharp” accurately describes Annabelle, the heroine. Marked by a demon, Annabelle becomes a target for every one of its evil brethren. (Apparently demons don’t like to share, but they do like to torture each others’ victims because, well, it’s just fun to one-up each other.) Even locked in an institute for the criminally insane after she’s blamed for the brutal murder of her parents, Annabelle manages to defend herself from the demons who find her. Unfortunately, she can’t defend herself against the perverted doctor who sexually degrades her, but she doesn’t let him break her spirit.

Zacharel isn’t exactly your garden-variety cuddly cherub of an angel. He’s more the flaming sword and smiting type, plus he feels no emotion, so he has little compunction about letting human bystanders come to harm in the war between good and evil. Zacharel is so cold, his wings literally snow. Like Annabelle, he lost a close family member and his life changed forever as a result.

One seriously damaged heroine in mortal danger? Check. One seriously damaged hero who’s the only person capable of protecting her? Check. One epic struggle for good and evil? Check.

One awesome paranormal romance? Check!

Showalter’s world-building impressed me. The angels and demons live by very specific rules and have distinct cultures, habits, and hierarchies. I particularly enjoyed (if that’s the correct word for it) reading about the demons. She makes them so gosh-darn evil! They dole out misery and suffering with relish every second of their lives, without wasting time thinking about their motivations. They’re demons and evil is what they do. Period. I also appreciated the lack of sweetness and light attached to the angels. These guys aren’t airy-fairy guardians angels who sit in desks with schoolchildren. They’re soldiers, bound by duty and honor, and many of them have Big Issues. Think about it: How could you fight demons for thousands of years and not have PTSD?

As romance novels go, Wicked Nights is extremely plot-driven. If Zacharel wants to save Annabelle from the demons once and for all, he’s got to kill the demon who marked her, but first he must find out which demon did it. Meanwhile, they’re constantly under attack by hell-beasties and occasionally get out-maneuvered. The story moves quickly and new twists come up constantly.

The romance between Zacharel and Annabelle is unexpectedly sweet. He’s a gruff, possessive alpha male, she’s a headstrong, independent woman who runs circles around him. Their love develops slowly; after all, he has to learn how to feel again, and she must overcome her inability to trust men. Showalter treats these challenges realistically, allowing the characters to work through them instead of ignoring them or wrapping them up in an instant, and I finished the book thinking this couple will live happily ever after. And I do mean ever!

My verdict on Gena Showalter: She lays a great foundation, stays true to her characters, and slips some funny one-liners in with the smoldering glances and heavy breathing. Definitely a keeper!

Overall Rating: 4 of 5

***This review refers to an ARC of the book, not the finished product. No money changed hands in the writing of this review.***