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Two moon gifBallantine Books (hardcover), ISBN 0-345-42339-9
Mary Sue (fan fiction writing slang): Denotes a story in which the author, thinly disguised as the hero or heroine, ventures into a world the author longs to inhabit. The author's stand-in invariably emerges as more beautiful/handsome, even funnier and far smarter than all other characters in said world…and enjoys all the fictional nookie he or she wants.

Book: Laurell K. Hamilton, A Kiss of ShadowsIn A Kiss of Shadows, Meredith (Merry) Gentry hides behind a human façade in the bad, sad, mad old City of Angels -- a.k.a. Los Angeles. Merry hopes the assassins sent by her aunt Andais, the Queen of Air and Darkness, will never figure out that mild-mannered private investigator Merry Gentry is, in fact, Merry NicEssus, Princess of the Unseelie Court and possible contender for the throne.

But Merry's under-covered work on an investigation of a Fey-worshipping cult exposes her true identity. Faster than a brownie can sweep a kitchen, Merry finds herself fending off droves of lust-filled assassins, love-potion crazed cops, and sex-starved Sidhe. What's a girl to do?

Go home to Missouri and Queen Andais, of course. Alas poor Merry, despite her beauty, intelligence, wit and street smarts, still can't leave behind her humble beginnings as a Faerie princess. But in Merry's absence someone changed the rules and not necessarily for the better. Where the court once despised her for her lack of height, human blood and seeming lack of magic, they now treat her royally. And the queen wants something quite the opposite of Merry's death.

Book: Laurell K. Hamilton, Blue MoonQueen Andais nurtures no love for her niece. But if Merry provides an heir that carries Andais' bloodline, Andais will crown Merry queen as soon as Merry becomes preggers. There's just one other teensy, weensy, itsy-bitsy additional requirement. Merry must accept the stud services of the gentlemen of Andais' Royal Guard, a bunch of fabulously gorgeous fey guys who suffered under an oath of celibacy for hundreds of years. Merry's gotta take (and make) 'em all -- or at least all the ones that give her a hot case of the southern twitches.

But those pesky assassination attempts just won't stop, and they keep coming at the most inconvenient moments. If Merry's men can't neutralize the traitor who wants Merry dead, the Royal Guard will lose all hope of getting lucky for a thousand years at least.

To put it bluntly, A Kiss of Shadows does nothing more than feature the author's stand-in enjoying sex with all kinds of men. Well, almost enjoying sex. Merry gets more coitus interuptus than she does nookie. But no matter, Hamilton relishes describing how Princess Meredith almost has sex with green-haired fey and blue-haired fey and black-haired/skinned fey, and goblins and some dude with lots of tentacles for a belly button and… Well, you get the picture.

Hamilton's writing shines as usual. The action (pun intended) thunders along and the characters offer some nice bits of smart-mouthed dialogue in between encounters. Unfortunately, all the good writing in the world can't make up for lack of a plot, no character development, and some of the most naïve soft-porn I've read in years. The more I read of Meredith's first-person narration of her conquests, the more embarrassed I got. The fact that Merry's self-description closely matched the author's picture on the back cover just made it worse.

Teri Smith

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Readers Respond:

I guess this is a case of "different strokes for different folks" (no pun intended). In my experience, some books are mood books, and I think almost all of Laurell K. Hamilton's work falls into this category, but Kiss of Shadows especially. Yes, in her world 80 percent of the population is incredibly beautiful and sexy and well dressed. Kinda like network TV. And there is an incredible amount of sex in this book in particular. But it's often purposeful sex -- sex majik drives the story, and sex often equals power and has consequences in "real life" as well as in the faerie world depicted in this book. Plus I think Hamilton's growth as a writer and growing comfort with her prose really shines in this book (perhaps as a reflection of a different editor).

Maryelizabeth Hart