Born to Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann, narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank

Why I read it:  I’m a big fan of Suzanne Brockmann’s books.  Although I credit Sarah Frantz from Dear Author, it was probably Ms. Brockmann that introduced me to m/m romance.  I admit I wasn’t super enthusiastic about her move to PNR – mainly because it meant I wouldn’t be getting any more of her more traditional RS for a good long while, if ever. I have mixed feelings about the book but  I’m not really sure it has all that much to do with the genre change.
What it’s about:  The plot is somewhat complicated but I’ll do my best to summarise and introduce the main characters (of which there are 7 – that’s right there are 7 POV characters in this story  and 3 romantic storylines).  So, here goes.
The book is set in the not to distant (maybe 35ish years) future where the government, law enforcement and most other services have been privatised.  Unemployment is high and poverty rampant.    Various scientific types around the world are studying something called “neural integration” whereby some people naturally have the ability to integrate their neural pathways more efficiently than others and those people train to enhance their talents.  The science is not widely accepted by the government, the authorities or the public.  “Normal” people are called “Less Thans” or “Fractions” and their neural integration is about 10%.  A “Greater Than” (not, in my opinion the most interesting or exciting name for a group of super hero types) may have 30% or more neural integration.  

The Obermeier Institute (OI) in Boston is devoted to the study of neural integration – the Obermeier of the name is completely absent from the story even though she “runs” the institute.  I guess she will appear in future books (?).  Joseph Bach runs the institute on her behalf day to day. He is a 72% greater than.  Michelle “Mac” Mackenzie is a “50′ and so is hottie Stephen Diaz.    Elliot Zerkowski (I may have the spelling wrong – I haven’t seen the name in print) is a Fraction but he is a science geek who works at OI and assists with the training and research.    The Greater Thans have various “super powers” in varying degrees of strength and control, ranging from self healing, telekinesis, telepathy, prescience, thought projection, flying, shielding, super strength – sort of like X-Men.
A new drug is on the black market.  Known as Destiny, it mimic the effects of high neural integration but is instantly addictive.  There is also a nasty side effect – which while inevitable, is unpredictable – known as “Jokering” (the name comes from the Batman comics).  Joseph, Mac and Diaz help the Boston PD take down jokers and try and detox them from Destiny but, so far they have had no success in the latter endeavour.  The makers of Destiny (known as “The Organisation”) harvest some of the ingredients from the endocrine system of pubescent girls with Potential to be Greater Thans – they keep them in a state of intense fear to increase the particular hormones they need to produce the drug.
13 year old Nika (again with the spelling) Taylor goes missing and her sister Anna, is approached by Bach to assist.  Nika had recently been identified as a Potential by OI and he believes she’s been kidnapped by the Organisation.    
Our final other main character is Shane Laughlin – a former Navy SEAL who has been blacklisted (and really, the overuse of the word blacklisted in this book!  It got old early and often) has been offered a place at OI as he has been identified as a Potential with 17% natural integration.
The basic story from there is that the OI people and Anna try to find and rescue Nika.
Diaz and Elliot are gay and they get together (couple 1), Shane and Mac get together (couple 2) and Bach and Anna have a thing also (couple 3) and then there’s Nika.  And, we have POV from all of them.   Melanie Ewbank reads the parts of the book which are from a female POV and Patrick Lawlor reads the male POV – as there are 4 male MC’s he gets slightly more of the air time, which, IMO, was a good thing.
What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This is a big book.  It is over 18 hours on audio; the standard audiobook runs to about 11ish hours.  However, it takes place over only 3 days.  That’s right, 3 days.  The Greater Thans don’t sleep much, so there’s more useful hours in a day for them, but still,  it’s only 3 days.  Shane and Mac meet on day 1, as do Bach and Anna.  Diaz and Elliot have known each other for 7 years but not well (Diaz has kept himself from forming any deep friendships) and they hook up on day 1.  By day 3 we are supposed to accept that we have 2/3 HEA’s.  Bach and Anna’s story is unfinished at the end and this was most unsatisfying.  (I suppose that is mildly spoilerish but it’s the sort of thing I’d want to know).
The beginning of the book was very promising.  Mac’s “special power” is empathy and part of that is that she can ramp up her pheromones and her sexual attractiveness to those who are attracted to women and influence people that way.    The problem with that is that she never believes that anyone is attracted to her for her own sake – she thinks it’s just because of her super power.  She and Shane went round and round with this but I’m not sure it was ever fully resolved, at least, not in any neat kind of way, which was a bit disappointing.
Diaz and Elliot had such a promising start, but going from never having touched at all and only speaking on a professional level to “I love you, let’s get married” in less than 48 hours was too much for me.  There wasn’t anything keeping this couple apart for most of the book and the relationship lacked tension after about the first third of the story.
There were also parts of the dialogue which didn’t ring true to me.  This was the case with both Diaz and Shane actually – sometimes when they spoke it sounded like something a woman would want to hear but not necessarily something a man would actually say.  At least to me.  That’s a fairly small niggle though.  
Anna and Bach’s story will no doubt be resolved over the next or subsequent books but I found it really frustrating that there was something of a cliffhanger as to their relationship.  Thinking on it now, I should have known better – Brockmann is notorious for putting her secondary characters through the wringer and making them work for their HEA (Sam and Alyssa anyone?).  I guess the thing for me was that in the Troubleshooters books I was always clear on who were the main characters and who were the secondary ones and I was clear that I could expect an HEA for the MC’s but not the others.  However, Anna and Bach were much more than secondary characters for me in this book.  It really felt like there were 6 MC’s with Nika coming up very strongly in 7th place.  Still, maybe that one gets blamed on me. 🙂

The ending overall, was, I felt, somewhat rushed. I don’t want to give away major spoilers but something happens to Elliot and Shane which isn’t really explained and the tension of the situation kind of fizzles.  Perhaps this will be addressed in future books?

The story was entertaining enough and when I was listening, for the most part, I enjoyed it.  However, when I stopped listening and started thinking about it, things became a little unstuck.  The really short time frame did my head in.  I just didn’t believe the 2 HEA’s were for real.   HFN’s sure, but forever? Um, no.
As for the super powers thing, well, that was mostly okay – it was certainly different from what’s around in PNR right now,  that I know of anyway, but some of it did seem a little… silly.  For example, when a joker was flying and breathing fire.  That stretched my credulity just a little too thin.  The one aspect of the  Greater Thans that I had a little bit of trouble with – and only because I had difficulty getting my own head around it rather than how it was written – was the stuff that was done in dreams – Bach, in particular would share dreams with Anna and they would visit places and do things in the dream which of course were not real but they were kind of real and then my head asploded.
I will have to get the next one because I want to know what the deal is with Anna and Bach and see how Mac and Shane are going after, you know, day 4.
What else? Patrick Lawlor has been narrating Brockmann books for a while now and I quite enjoy his narration.  He gets the Brockmann style and he has a reasonable range.  When he was doing the girly squeals it got a bit much, but mostly, I very much enjoyed his narration.  The good news was the he narrated all of the Diaz/Elliot storyline.
I didn’t enjoy Melanie Ewbank’s narration as much.  It was just okay.  She sounded too strident to my ear.  Mac was pretty bitchy anyway and it’s possible that in print I would have found her a little on the unlikeable side regardless, but the narration didn’t help.  Also, when she was narrating where a character was calling out for another character, it sounded more like the voice you’d hear in a ghost story which was a bit, um, weird.  There really wasn’t any difference between her voice for Shane and her voice for Mac and it was difficult to differentiate between the two characters.  I didn’t have that problem with Patrick Lawlor’s narration though.
The other thing I’ll add is that this book is not for the squeamish.  If violence against young women is not your thing (think 12-14 year old girls), then maybe this is not the book for you.  The Organisation kidnaps the girls and keeps them terrified.  They want them to be in pain and fearful.  Those bits are kind of full on.
The book was eminently listenable but I can’t say that it ranked up there in my favourite Brockmann stories.  It’s possible the series will improve over time (I’m not sure how many books are planned for it).  I think it may well have been a better book if one of the romances had’ve been deleted or otherwise only hinted at and the extra page time used to put more actual time into the story so that it went for longer than 3 days.  I liked it but there were things that bothered me in the story and the narration and I can’t say I loved it.  The ending felt rushed and managed to drop a brand new problem into the mix which was left unresolved (on purpose) and that’s not my favourite either.
It seems to be getting great reviews (at least the print version is) on Goodreads, so maybe I’m an outlier – it wouldn’t be the first time, 🙂
Grade:  C  (with a C- for the dissatisfying and incomplete ending).
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