The primary narrative elements (character development, plot structure, etc.) are all essentially conventional paranormal fantasy – Abby begins as very much an everywoman, struggling as much to come to grips with the tragic death of her mother as she is trying hard to find meaning in her life and her own place in the world. But as the story progresses, the sarcastic bookstore clerk with the blue and pink highlights gets in touch with her inner butt-kicking warrioress...
As the novel begins, Abby is the naive Touchstone to a very powerful Faery woman – who happens to be missing – and she quickly becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding the disappearance of numerous succubi. When she fatefully meets tall, dark, sexy and seemingly egomaniacal incubus Brystion – who is desperately searching for his missing succubus sister – the two reluctantly join forces to unravel the potentially deadly mystery. As the two uncover more clues, specifically information surrounding a series of paintings featuring supernatural beings – and Abby learns more about the complicated politics and histories involving the Fae, angelic and demonic societies – she begins to understand her own singularly unique powers and abilities... Throw in an enchanted iPod, Hello Kitty panties, and an oversexed miniature unicorn and you've got yourself a story!
It’s fitting somehow that A Brush of Darkness references lines from the 17th Century ballad “Thomas the Rhymer” – about a man who, after meeting the Queen of Elfland and staying with her for seven years, must chose the correct path home – because for a large part of this novel, it seems like Pang is unsure which direction to take the storyline in. There are many sequences that are just downright hilarious, comparable to something Nicole Peeler, Mark Henry, or A. Lee Martinez would write. Here are just a few examples:
• “The woman in the painting was soft and pale and naked. There was a proud thrust to her jaw as she stared down at me, her dark eyes half-lidded and smoky with kohl. I would have had to slaughter a horde of Avon ladies in ritual sacrifice to have skin that luminous and milky white.”
• Abby asks an incubus this question: “If you masturbate, would that make you an incubator?”
• “There are no happy endings. And vampires are over-rated, bloodsucking tools.”
• "...there was a naked man in my kitchen! With bacon!"
But unfolding simultaneously is a decidedly steamy storyline à la Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, etc. Here’s an excerpt early on in the novel when Brystion enters into Ally’s dreams:
“Look at me,” he demanded, tipping my chin upward. I arched a brow at his tome of voice, but I didn’t pull away. I didn’t look at him either, not directly, and I could feel him tense in anticipation. My lips curved into a savage smile, and I wondered if my little act of rebellion would finally unleash what I knew was hovering beneath the surface. My gaze drifted to the standing mirror, slowly rising up the reflected length of his body; I lingered over the tempting curve of his ass, his taut muscles coiled and trembling. His grasp tightened around my wrist, and I chuckled, daring him to make his next move.
“Checkmate,” I murmured, as his breath came hard and ragged. He snarled softly, lips brushing over my forehead. His hand slid down the small of my back to press me up against his growing erection, pushed tight in the confines of his leather pants. I let my hand stroke boldly downward, my fingers aching to set him free, to grasp his turgid magnificence...”
The supernatural foundation of A Brush of Darkness – which deals with the CrossRoads and the three pathways that the OtherFolk (angels, demons, Fae) walk – is key to the success of this novel. As I struggled to empathize with the protagonist and understand the tenor of the story, the strength of Pang’s realm building and her utilization of various folklore and mythologies kept me turning the pages. It’s not until the latter half of the novel that the seemingly conflicting elements eventually blend together to create a coherent, entertaining story that is both funny and sexy – and vaguely smelling of freshly cooked bacon.
Did I love A Brush of Darkness? No. Did I love parts of A Brush of Darkness? Yes. Pang’s comedic sensibilities were seriously extraordinary and her realm building is loaded with potential. Will I read Pang’s next novel? Absolutely. I applaud Pang for her ambitiousness – but I think at times she was trying to do too much too soon, to be all things to all readers. (Something not uncommon in debut paranormal fantasy novels, I might add…) Although paranormal fantasy is virtually limitless when it comes to narrative content, it still does have some well-defined niches – I think some readers may walk away from this read still uncertain about where this one fits.
Bottom line: Pang has succeeded in creating an intriguing foundation for future installments – I’ll be curious to see how see handles Book Two… hopefully, like A Brush of Darkness, it will come with a generous side of bacon…
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.