The heroine Vivi is a haguari, which means that she, like her parents can shapeshift into a jaguar. Unlike them, though, she sees this as a curse. All she wants is a normal life. This is trope number one, but I did really like the way Tiernan handled this. Rather than feeling like the stereotypical girl who resents being all powerful and gorgeous, her reasons are explained. During Vivi’s journey, she realizes that her resentment of her heritage is likely driven by not knowing there were people outside of her family with these powers. Basically, she’s lonely and has to be keep this secret from her best friend. Also, her parents shifting in front of her on her thirteenth birthday terrified her.
In the first chapter, her parents are brutally murdered on Vivi’s birthday (this girl must hate her birthday), their hearts cut out. This leaves Vivi even more alone surrounded by mysteries, like the apparent existence of another aunt her mother never mentioned. Curious and wanting to escape her hometown, with its memories of her parents’ deaths and an attempted break-in Vivi sets out on a road trip to New Orleans to find her Aunt Donella. She arrives to find that her Aunt is dead, but that her cousin Mateo and his girlfriend Aly live in her awesome old house with a bunch of friends who are also haguari.
This cast of characters is really well-drawn, and I found myself really liking the whole bunch, even the ones I wasn’t sold on at first. They’re diverse of race and of sexuality. Vivi herself is Brazilian, while her cousin is half-Brazilian/half-Irish. The entire cast has various backgrounds and I love love love how much more this reflects the world I grew up in than the average YA book. On top of that, among her friends in New Orleans there’s a gay couple and a lesbian couple. Her best friend Jennifer is gay as well. The best thing about all the diversity is that no one is token or stereotypical; they’re just themselves. For all that, I did make a face at the book when Vivi described herself as foreign and exotic-looking, but otherwise I thought the treatment of diversity was wonderful.
My favorite aspects of the story are those of her coming to terms with herself and making friends. Vivi’s taken a gap year, though she was planning to head across the country to college before her parents died. She moves to New Orleans spontaneously, with no desire to return to her hometown. She gets her first job. This is a new adult experience, though with paranormal trappings added on. She’s trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do.
So far as the romance goes, I’m torn. There are two options on the table right now, both absurdly handsome. Her boss, Rafael, who’s got the typical paranormal love interest brooding thing going as well as the “I’m drawn to you but we can’t be together” thing. Then there’s Aly’s brother, Alex, who’s a playboy. I could potentially be okay with either one, but there’s not been enough development on either front for me to commit to a ship at this juncture. There is, however, one really steamy scene. Tiernan is excellent at those.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The paranormal plot line is fun, but a bit less fulfilling. There’s not as much resolution to Darkest Fear as I expect from the first installment of a series. I’m a big proponent of there being a completed plot arc to each book within the series and a larger arc running through the whole thing. Darkest Fear raises a number of different considerations: the murders, Vivi’s boss, the family book, Jennifer’s issues at college. None of these are resolved and the ending just kind of feels like jerking to a stop.
The Final Verdict:
Darkest Fear ranks pretty highly against the other paranormal novels I’ve read, and I really wish I had the sequel right now, because, as I said, there’s a lot left open and I must know what happens next.