Ellen Connor is actually the writing team of Ann Aguirre, who began in sci fi romance and now writes across the genres, and historical romance author Carrie Lofty. Now they have incorporated their talents to thrill — and chill — readers with the new dystopian series Dark Age Dawning that starts with this month’s Nightfall.
Whitney: Morgan, I think it’s only fair that we tell readers that we’ve been excited for Nightfall since we first found out that Aguirre and Lofty were co-writing a series.
Morgan: But it wasn’t just the authors that brought us to the story. It was the plot itself. I mean we’ve got civilization ending, our hero Mason kidnapping our heroine Jenna to save her (not that she would believe that) and hellhounds chasing them as prey.
Whitney: With all of the end of the world prophesies bandied about, i.e. “the rapture” et al., it is inevitable that some authors would tap into our fascination with the destruction of civilization as we know it.
Morgan: And when Lofty and Aguirre decide to bring on Armageddon there is no fooling around. In the story, magic is let loose on the world making all technology obsolete. But more than just living in a world without television (the horror), cars and other amenities, people are actually changing — shapeshifting into monsters.
Whitney: Heroine Jenna has spent her whole life listening to her father raving about society’s impending destruction. He even tries to train Jenna how to survive the end of the world. (But I’m pretty sure that that’s not the kind of thing that someone can actually prepare for. We aren’t talking about a triathlon here.) And how seriously can you really take the training when you think the person organizing your preparation is a total wackadoo? I mean, not even Jenna believes in what her dad has been saying for years.
Morgan: Since I am definitely one of those people who zones out when conspiracy theories are mentioned, I could totally relate to Jenna rolling her eyes when her father tries to explain his “prophesies”. But then, surprise, surprise, they all come true and the apocalypse is suddenly happening.
“But maybe being Mad Mitch Barclay’s daughter would finally pay off in terms of survival, if not inheritance or good memories.”
Whitney: Which honestly, would be the inheritance I’d choose if I were in Jenna’s shoes. Ultimately anything tangible that Mitch left Jenna would be useless, but the ability to survive and John Mason her side to help her do it? Sign me up for a bequest like that!
Morgan: Frankly, I’m surprised Jenna has been able to stay alive as long as she has. Despite her father’s lessons she is just too soft. Thankfully, Mason shows up in time to take her to an isolated cabin away from the chaos where they can hide out until the worst is over.
Whitney: This story certainly made me think that maybe I needed to invest in some survival skills training!
Morgan: But that’s just it. Even with her training from her father, Jenna has no survival instincts in a true emergency. She actually invites stragglers into the fortified cabin where she and Mason are supposed to last through the winter. With the extra people there is no way that they are all going to make to spring. Mason has the right idea — in order to survive you have to forget others. They are just liabilities.
Whitney: No, Mason is just flat out wrong. And Jenna certainly proves it to him by doing her best to keep their little band of refugees alive. Honestly, I loved that seeing all of the different ways that people adapted, from the adults, to the kids. And at least Jenna is trying to help!
Morgan: I agree that saving these kids and adults is the right thing to do, but in Mason’s mind right and wrong flew out the window when the first criminal shifted into a deadly beast out for blood. Mason is a true warrior with one thing on his mind: survival. (Okay, and the occasional fantasy about Jenna, but mostly survival.)
Whitney: Dear Morgan, you forgot the most important thing — because I am shallow like a birdbath — he’s hot. Not just hot, Mason is h-o-double-t, hott! (Alright, in all honesty Mason’s skillz are at the top of my list of his great traits, but still, it’s nice that he’s also extremely easy on the eyes while saving Jenna and co.)
Morgan: Okay, I admit it. Mason is hot and when the apocalypse comes and I’m sure my “type” is going to switch pretty quickly from the quasi-nerdy, funny guy to Mason’s brand of kick-ass.
Whitney: Ha, it’s true; you and your beta heroes would be dead meat in the Dark Age Dawning world. Give me an alpha hero who has no problem shooting dystopian dogs in the head, but isn’t quite sure how to get in touch with his deeper feelings. Mason is my kind of man.
Morgan: But you say that every week, about every hero we Dish about!
Whitney: Lies! Though seriously, you know who Mason reminded me of? The hero of Jayne Ann Krentz’s 1989 romance Shield’s Lady. Both men are determined to keep the people depending on them alive. But more than that, they are dynamic, they have depth of emotion and both are absolutely swoon-worthy. Like Shield, Mason is someone I’d want watching my back in a fight!
Morgan: Yet despite his unbelievable skills, as Jenna points out, Mason is still the most harmless thing in the woods. Those crazy hounds from Hell are terrifying
Whitney: Too true! These beasts are up there with Sophie Littlefield’s flesh-eating zombies, the beaters, from Aftertime.
Morgan: And perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Connor’s monsters is the fact that you don’t really know they are after you until they’ve found you. There are several moments in the story when these decaying shapeshifters just jump out of nowhere. It was almost like being in the middle of a horror movie.
Whitney: The spooky factor is definitely ratcheted up with the eerie quiet of the woods. But not everyone thinks that is bad. The new life without civilization is actually soothing for Mason, who, I can only assume, never quite fit into society.
“There was freedom in letting certain aspects of the modern world go.”
Morgan: While I certainly don’t want to be hunted down by decaying animal shapeshifters, sometimes at night, listening to the crazy sirens, garbage trucks and people passing by my Manhattan apartment window, I could definitely get behind some freedom from the noise and bustle.
Whitney: I am the op-oh-sit! Give me the hustle and bustle of the city any day. Like Jenna, I’m pretty sure that being out in the wilderness means the situation is not very good, or in poor Jenna’s case, very, very bad. That being said, the differences between Jenna and Mason’s survival styles really worked for me. Mason knows that he can survive this disaster, and even help Jenna survive, but she is determined to help society survive — and at no point did this feel contrived to me. Mason’s respect for what Jenna brings to the (metaphorical) table is clearly evident.
“I know how to fight, but that’s not the same as building. That’s what you do.”
Morgan: For all of her not-so-survival-smart moves, deep down Jenna is a really good person, and incredibly loyal. I keep remembering the moment when she and Mason are being attached and she tells him, “I go nowhere without you”. Maybe, just maybe, I’d let her on my team.
Whitney: You can keep your maybes, Jenna would squarely be on Team Whitney. An able-bodied adult with good aim who is able to keep her head on her shoulders when there are crazy shapeshifting wolf-things are running around trying to eat people? Consider her enlisted, what do they say? Dystopian beggars can’t be choosers.
Morgan: We have focused so much on the story’s violence that, I think we are forgetting to discuss the emotional side of the story. For such an action-y book, there was a lot of … hmm, how to explain... romance is certainly not the right word. Maybe intensity would be a better term to describe what is between Jenna and Mason.
Whitney: Tension is the word you are looking for. And I loooved it. While all of the running, jumping and shooting is going on, there is also a real relationship that develops in this story. One that isn’t all, ‘we met and were the only two un-attached humans around’, but is much more about the emotional connection that develops while they are trying to stay alive — their romance seemed very real.
Morgan: Their connection was definitely solidified by shared adversity. But I liked the way that the real bonding moments came from Mason and Jenna arguing. This is when they really get to know each other, shields down, just as two people both trying to do their best to make some really tough decisions. And since neither is a pushover there is bound to be bickering.
“[I]f he wanted nothing from her, he’d get an assload of it.”
Whitney: I loved this! Jenna responds the way that a real human being might, she’s not all “lalala, he secretly really loves me” like a cartoon-ish heroine in a bad romance novel might respond. Jenna gets mad, and then she gets even.
Morgan: Although, it can be kind of juvenile she slaps back at him when Mason hurts her feelings.
Whitney: Juvenile-shumvenile! This is not a woman who is willing to let anyone walk all over her. Even if that anyone is someone who is helping her stay alive. There is amount of raw emotion in the relationship is delicious. I’d call it angst but that might give readers the wrong idea about what is going on here. This is a novel of blood, sweat and tears.
Morgan: This is definitely not a touchy-feely type of story. Seriously, within the first few chapters, the group actually leaves someone behind as monster bait. This is when Mason, in his no nonsense way, starts to think of the group as a “ragtag cluster of walking meat”. Anyone can die at anytime.
Whitney: I loved it. I actually believed that these people were in peril, which meant that I could not, could not put this book down! Italics, that’s how seriously I feel about this book!
For more Nightfall you can pick up your own copy of the story and if you want to read along with next week's Dish, Morgan and Whitney will be chowing down on Falling for the Nanny by Jacqueline Diamond!