Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Darkness Rising #1
Genre: Paranormal (YA)
Source: Given for a RAK!
Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn't know much about her background - the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip - but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island.Until now.Strange things have been happening in this claustrophobic town - from the mountain lions that have been approaching Maya to her best friend's hidden talent for "feeling" out people and situations, to the sexy new bad boy who makes Maya feel . . . . different. Combine that with a few unexplained deaths and a mystery involving Maya's biological parents and it's easy to suspect that this town might have more than its share of skeletons in its closet.
Kelley Armstrong has been a long-time favorite for me. Both with her adult Otherworld series and then her venture into YA with the Darkes Powers. I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that she was planning on starting another series within the Darkes Powers universe. Kelley is SO gifted at weaving little glimpses of her other characters into her entire series. Someone offhandedly mentioned in a newspaper in the adult series will be the villain of one of the YA books or vice versa. In The Gathering, we find ourselves on the opposite side of the good and evil totem pole...kind of....
Anyone who has read the Otherworld series is familiar with the cabals. They are basically the organized crime of the paranormal world. In the beginning oMaya, the main character, is resident in a city populated entirely by the St.Cloud employees. She is actually part of one of the communities that are so discussed and feared in the overall series. But at the same time, Maya isn't evil. She doesn't know about her powers or that their town exists on the sufferage of one family. She only knows that the "pharmicutical company" on the edge of town keeps the residents comfortably employed and happy with immense benefits for their kids.
Maya and her adopted family were my favorite characters. Though everyone had depth, from the most important to the least important characters, Maya's mom, dad, and of course Maya herself seemed to have the funniest interplay between each other. I love that her parents act like real parents. You typically either get parents who seem to set out to ruin their kids lives or parents who are entirely absent, yet that is really unusual. Maya and her dad actually really reminded me of me and my dad. They are in a perpetual competition to freak each other out...like me and my dad are. He tries to casually reference that he and my mom need the whip cream tonight, to which I reply that I just can't seem to find my handcuffs and I should probably find them before my date the next day...then we both struggle not to throw up at the mental images that come from those horrific situations. lol :) Maya and her dad do almost the exact same thing...only Maya's dad seems to freak out much easier than mine. Still..it was hilarious, and awkward, and just plain funny..a perfect blend for a normal, great family. It makes no difference that Maya is adopted and in fact, seems to add another dimension to the character and the book. We now have the mystery of Maya's ethnic origins to help explain her cougar-shifting.
I did feel that this book suffered from "first book in a series syndrome". This is a bookish illness that involves a lot of set-up and world building at the expense of a super detailed plot...among other things. Also there can be some rushed character relationships, cliche-cardboard characters, and predictable plot elements. Sometimes this leads to a book that doesn't seem to go anywhere at all. I found myself kind of taking a while to actually become immersed in the story. It was good...but not great, and a lot of it was as predictable. I was upset because it just seemed like there was a lot of questions being asked without any definitive answers. We learn that Maya (and Rafe and his sister) can shift into cougars, but not why. We learn that Dr. Davidoff (the villain from the Darkest Powers series) also has a role to play in this series...but not what that is. There was so much information, so much world-building, that it felt like things were being glossed over or left out. That is understandable for a first book, but was it was kind of bewildering to be in the last half of the book and not understand where the story was going. Still, the way Kelley writes and the way she builds such 3-D characters had me reading late into the night anyway and it wasn't long before I was so buried in the story that I couldn't stop reading if I tried.
Kelley is pretty great at creating unpredictable love-relationships as well. In The Darkest Powers, there was a TON of chemistry between the heroine and one character, but then she ends up in an awesome relationship with someone entirely different. I'm not going to lie...I kind of hope that happens in this series. Rafe is nice, and has a really interesting and complicated life...but he's also infuriating, and not in a nice oh why-doesn't-he-just-accept-his-feelings way. He makes really REALLY stupid decisions and I find myself looking towards Daniel for more emotion and depth. I guess I'm a sucker for the best friend getting the girl in the end. Still...all in all there was some pretty swoon-worthy Rafe moments and you can't deny the pull of the only other member of your species that you've ever meant. There's a lot of room for change and development love-wise so I can't wait to get to the rest of the series and find out what happens.