Laurell K. Hamilton branches out from her bestselling Anita Blake novels with a new, fae-oriented series. She really shouldn't have bothered. While "Kiss of Shadows" starts off dark and intriguing, the plot rapidly degenerates into a NC-17 fantasy without much more than sweaty gyrations to recommend it.
Part-mortal Princess Meredith NicEssus -- undercover as Merry Gentry -- is a P.I. in Los Angeles, which apparently is swarming with fey and fey-wannabes. Keeping her identity a secret is vital, since she knows the dangers that would follow being uncovered. But while investigating a supernatural date-raper (and falling prey to him) Merry's identity leaks out.
Before you can say "bonk 'em all," she is given an ultimatum by her aunt, the queen of the Unseelie Court: she and her evil cousin Cel are both going to try to have a baby. The one who succeeds will be the next ruler -- the other is toast. Merry is assigned a harem of fae men, all of whom want her as much as she wants them. Physically, anyway.
Here's a warning: "Kiss of Shadows" has a lot of sex. A LOT of sex. A sufficient amount that, among other things, Merry hops in the happy sack with any guy lucky enough to meet her. Oh, and she has a male harem. Sound like an adult movie? Well, it pretty much is -- lots of excuses to have sex, including an enjoyable rape (did a woman really write this book?) and Merry nearly being molested by the entire L.A.P.D. And that's before it gets really raunchy.
For anyone hoping for more than soft-porn, the book is lacking. It starts off strong, with a battered woman and a magical want ad, and Merry going undercover to lure out the magic-sucking guy involved. But once she bonks her selkie boyfriend, the plot goes down the tubes. What is worse, the sex obscures the mysterious cultures and subcultures of the fey and sidhe -- Hamilton hints at interesting cultures, rituals and different races, but seems to lose interest in the idea.
Without a developed backdrop, the actual plot feels rushed and half-finished. Hamilton also could use a better editor, since her writing quickly becomes repetitive -- lots of hair, unusual eye color, strange powers. All the men are madly attractive, chiseled, and devoid of any individual personality. All the women are beautiful, usually dainty.
Merry isn't terribly interesting -- she starts off as a moderately entertaining P.I. with a barbed sense of humor. Then it just sort of fades away. Queen Andais is also moderately interesting, as the villain of the piece. Merry's harem guys have paint-by-numbers personalities, and after the initial introductions they just become a heap of interchangeable sexy bodies.
Buried somewhere in "Kiss of Shadows" is a really good novella, but it's choked by a poorly thought-out soft-porn movie. Hamilton had the right idea, but the execution is a painful "Kiss."