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Stigmata: The Slayer    by Karen Koehler order for
by Karen Koehler
Order:  USA  Can
Black Death, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

The Slayer: Stigmata is Karen Koehler's much anticipated continuation of her elegant Black Miracles. Alek Knight, a master swordsman and vampire slayer who wields his ancient katana sword with deadly precision, was once considered successor to his Coven Master and mentor, Amadeus. But their relationship ended in betrayal and the destruction of the Coven and all its acolytes, after the gruesome death of Alek's sister Debra. Sickened by his blood-drenched past, by what he's done in the name of the Coven and at the whim of his beloved Master, Alek has now become the hunted, prey for any slayer or vampire who thinks he can best the master swordsman.

Though Alek never refuses a challenge, he wants nothing more than to be left alone to discover his true purpose and the real agenda of the Vatican and its minions, who created him and all those like him. Then one night he accepts a new mission - to protect a tormented and not completely human teenager named Damia -- he soon discovers that she is another unholy creation of the Vatican, one they've named the Antichrist. After she's kidnapped and hidden away in the Vatican's secret underground laboratories, Alek makes it his mission to bring her home. Neither an immortal, indestructible demon called the Griever nor the resurrected Amadeus can stop Alek from fulfilling his promise to this mysterious young girl.

The author presents another spellbinding look into her fantastical dhampir world, steeped in mystery, intrigue, violence, deception and what amounts to a vast, ages-old conspiracy perpetrated by the Catholic Church. Though I found it top-heavy (with long, drawn out battle scenes between Alek and an assortment of otherworldly demons sent to destroy or stop him), The Slayer: Stigmata is a well written page-turner that showcases Koehler's wonderful imagination and true gift for imagery.

Alek is a dramatic, very dark and very troubled character who fascinates us as he struggles to understand the duality of good and evil that festers within him, and tries to discover why he was created in the first place. Equally fascinating are segments in which Amadeus narrates his life story to the priest (and in some small respect his confessor), Father Christopher. As a whole The Slayer: Stigmata is a vast, multi-layered, and truly original book and I look forward to the next installment in the Slayer series.

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