That is precisely the question I was asking myself when I finished Natasha’s latest Kayla Steele novel, Circus of Sins. I know there is no such thing as the perfect read but this novel certainly came close. Heroine Kayla Steele is a character any reader can relate to—although she is a fledgling Hunter in an underground organization whose mission is to protect humankind from supernatural cabals, she is at heart a loner, an outsider, a searcher, seeking not only some kind of meaningful existential connection but also a place where she can be accepted for who she truly is. I love Kayla—and it’s not just because she has an aversion to wearing underwear—she’s courageous, vulnerable, smart, and has a terrific sense of humor, which I’ll talk more about later.
But while the character of Kayla Steele is obviously a big reason I enjoy this saga, there are so many other remarkable elements: the pacing is relentless, the writing style is concentrated yet carefully considered and darkly poetic (Circus of Sins weighs in at almost 600 pages!), many of the characters are simply unforgettable (Monster, Cyan X, Harlequin, Magnus, etc.), and Natasha’s world-building abilities fusing the superficiality of modern day Los Angeles with the fantastical darkside of supernatural beings is just priceless. Here’s how she describes West Hollywood, where Kayla lives: “a place where it was famously said they’d pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. A place where half the town was dying to be discovered, and the other half was afraid they would be.”
Circus of Sins begins in grand style: as wildfires burn out of control around Los Angeles, Kayla waits for the world to end. A master vampire named Harlequin is planning on committing the ultimate sin—forcing a human to kill an angel—in two days time, and the sacrifical death will trigger Heavenly retribution in the form of Avenging Angels, “the Bringers of the Apocalypse” who will wipe out humankind so that Harlequin and his genetically enhanced “children” can then rebuild a world ruled and inhabited by a new generation of vampires.
I’m not going to spoil any plot twists for those who have yet to read Circus of Sins but the final sequence is epic in every sense of the word—like something out of a blockbuster action flick. Picture the legendary chase scene from The French Connection—now add generous helpings of giant angels, armies of badass vampires, irate werewolves and general mass destruction and you’ll start getting the picture…
But even in the face of seemingly endless tragedy, Kayla (still grieving the murder of her boyfriend) and her friends still have an optimistic outlook on life and a twisted sense of humor, even in the most unlikeliest of situations. Here are a few examples:
Inside the vampire stronghold, Kayla’s werewolf friend Buck says: “It smells like vampire in here… If they eat me, you can have my Star Wars action figures.”
After the master vampire Harlequin waxes poetic to Kayla about love, she replies: “Let me guess. You got ‘Quote-of-the-Day’ toilet paper?”
While Kayla is searching for a friend: “I had to see if it really was Wylie in there, or if she’d ditched him after ten minutes—the usual amount of time it took him before he got drunk on half a glass of Jack and Coke and started explaining Nietzsche’s theories on the absurdity of Religion to the nearest waitress’s boobs.”
And this: “Anyone who thought their boyfriend was tough on their razor ought to try living in a werewolf household.”
The bottom line is this. Paranormal fantasy at this moment in time—the summer of 2010—is still a rapidly expanding literary universe. There are hundreds of singularly unique, utterly readable series out there, with more luminescent offerings being released every month. But in that sparkling night sky of stellar paranormal fantasy, there are inevitably going to be exceptional series that, for whatever reasons, don’t get discovered by the majority of paranormal fantasy readers. Natasha Rhodes’s Kayla Steele saga is one of those series.
What’s your favorite paranormal fantasy saga? After reading Natasha’s Kayla Steele sequence, I’ll bet you that you rank these novels right up there with the very best you’ve read…
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.