Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Engineering the Ultimate Alpha Male

Megan’s Mark
By Lora Leigh

Paranormal Romance

The Premise: In the not too distant future, a secret government experiment is uncovered: the powerful Genetics Council has been working to create the ultimate weapon by combining human and animal DNA. The result? Men and women who appear to be normal, average people, but whose senses and abilities have been enhanced until they rival those of the predatory beasts whose genetic material helped create them. The Breeds, as they are called, were designed to serve as soldiers, bodyguards, assassins, or any other high risk profession in which their creators decided to employ them. They could be used and abused and were ultimately disposable as far as the scientists who created them were concerned. When the secret is revealed, a horrified public condemns the Genetics Council and frees the Breeds. The Council and its supporters go into hiding, and an uneasy truce develops between the general population and the newly liberated and genetically altered beings that some consider human and some consider animals. But this is a fragile balance, and the Breed leaders know that the tide of public opinion could turn against them at any time. Any incident involving a Breed precipitates a thorough investigation by one of their own, so when two Breeds take off without explanation and head for the deserts of New Mexico, Feline Breed Braden Arness is dispatched after them to see what’s going on. Unfortunately, before Braden can get to them, the two are murdered, and the bodies discovered by Sheriff’s Deputy Megan Fields. Megan’s got a few unusual skills of her own; she is a natural Empath, able to sense the emotions of those around her and pick up residual traces of emotion in places people have been recently. Since her skills developed in her late teens, Megan never properly learned to manage them, and facing the extreme emotions of others often proves to be debilitating. Only when teamed up with Braden is Megan able to exercise some control and learn to filter fact from feeling. Fortunate, since someone starts taking shots at Megan the minute she discovers the dead Breeds, and she will need all of her abilities, and Braden’s, to live long enough to unravel the mystery.

What I liked: I really like the premise behind this story. The subjects of genetic engineering and cloning, once confined to the realm of science fiction, are now everyday news. The next logical question, “If it looks human, and acts human, does that make it human?” is one that has been asked in books and movies such as Cyteen and Blade Runner. Though Megan’s Mark and the rest of the Breed novels are essentially romantic suspense stories, the conflict between the Breeds and their supporters and those who believe they are nothing more than dangerous animals is a central plot element. Breed characteristics, both physical and emotional, are well thought out and consistent. The human/Breed conflict, both within and between characters, adds an interesting dimension. All new love affairs are like embarking on a brand new adventure; throw in a little genetic engineering and both the fear and excitement really get ratcheted up. The relationship between Braden and Megan develops pretty realistically within this context: the need for trust is a central issue, the arguments are passionate, and the love scenes are really hot.

What I didn’t like: I found the reason for Megan being targeted weren’t really clear enough; while I am pretty sure I understand why Mark, Aimee, and the bad guys were looking for her, I didn’t really feel that the reason’s were compelling. Granted, I might have lost some of the nuance in all of the action scenes, which came fast and furious and kept me turning pages late into the night. I also found a couple inconsistencies of time and place that I think an editor should have caught, but these are minor.

Overall: This book does a great job of taking one of the classic themes of science fiction and working it effectively into a romantic suspense novel. Though the setting is futuristic and the science takes things beyond what we currently know, the book has a kind of gritty reality to it. This does, however, put it in the category I call “not for the faint of heart.” The violence, the sex, and some of the horrifying experiments performed on the Breeds are all pretty explicit, but this works in the context of the story. I would recommend this for fans of the more “hard-boiled” elements of science fiction, suspense, or erotic romance, but not those who are looking for a light love story.

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