Insecurity and feelings of unworthiness can lead to a healthy dose of despair in any storyline, and we see the proof of this in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters series. The entire premise of the series is built on varying degrees of despair, agony, and heartbreak. Everyone pays a price for their lives and some of the prices are unimaginable.
The Dark Hunters come into being through a single act of betrayal. When he or she cries for vengeance against that act, the Gods hear their cry and respond. For this one act of vengeance against the one who has harmed them, the Dark Hunter must give their soul over to the Goddess of the Hunt, Artemis. They are then granted immortality and must serve as her weapon till death. Of course, there is a loophole. Their one chance at redemption. Should their soul be replaced in their body at death by their one true love, then they are granted back their mortality and will live out a normal human lifespan.
One such character in this series who embodies the definition of delicious despair is Zarek of Moesia (Dance With The Devil). Though considered to be an anti-hero in the books leading to his story, it’s only in this book that we learn the truth behind Zarek’s animosity towards everyone he encounters.
Born to a servant and thrust into slavery, he was betrayed time and time again from birth to death. Horrifically used and abused by his parents, his owners, his enemies, and even his friends, Zarek listens to few and trusts no one. His actions are almost always a direct reaction to a trauma he has suffered, deeming him criminally insane in many eyes. When Artemis demands he be put to death for a situation we later learn was not as it was presented, Acheron intervenes, demanding one of the justice goddesses judge him.
Astrid, a justice nymph, agrees to Acheron’s request to judge the heart of Zarek and find out if he is indeed guilty of the crimes leveled against him. Astrid, tired of judging people’s black hearts and never seeing the goodness in anyone anymore, hasn't found anyone innocent in thousand of years. Zarek is to be her last mission, one that she is almost unwilling to take.
From their first meeting, all Zarek’s actions support the evidence that he is indeed insane and unstable. It’s only when Astrid casts aside her own prejudices does she truly see the heart of Zarek and realize that he has been harshly and unfairly judged in the past. The heartache in here is compounded with each scene into Zarek’s past. His story is steeped in brutality and Kenyon doesn’t hold back in its telling.
Astrid slowly and methodically pits her strength against Zarek’s,; breaking through his barriers and dragging forth the kind, compassionate, and unselfish man that has always existed beneath his prickly exterior. Zarek fights Astrid and her compassion every step of the way until she is threatened. Then he falls. Hard. But his insecurities only reinforce that his feelings of unworthiness.
He doesn’t believe he has any rights to his “star.”
He clutched the coat to his skin, burying his face deep in the fur so that he could capture her scent. He held it in trembling hands as emotions and memories crashed through him, racking him.
He needed her.
Oh, gods, he loved her. He loved her more than he'd ever imagined possible. He remembered every touch she'd given him. Every laugh she'd had around him. The way she'd made him human. And he didn't want to live without her. Not for one moment. Not a single one.
Zarek fell to his knees, unable to deal with the thought of never seeing her again.
Holding his coat that smelled of her, he wept.
Seeing our hero finally crashing through that last barrier and admitting that he can only continue to exist if the one he loves stands beside them is truly a momentous occasion. Zarek, in that moment, realizes that no matter what horrors have befallen him in the past, nothing can compare to the pain of his heart leaving him.
Zarek takes a long hard look at the guilt and hatred that has festered in his heart for centuries. If he can finally let go, then his star will be his.