I’ve wavered between 3 and 4 stars for a while, and I might still change my mind… While I did enjoy most of the story and characters, there is a couple of points that really bothered me: 1) The Russian. Rasputin is just such a tired and overused figure, when I saw the name I practically groaned. Then there’s the language… It made me feel like watching those tv dramas that think their audience are too stupid to care if they use Chinese actors who can’t pronounce Japanese words to act as Japanese and have a ton of American actors speak some kind of mumbo-jumbo pretending to sound Russian or any other kid of Slavic language. Okay, none of the words used were actually wrong, but… It just felt unnatural. For example, replacing word ‘darling/honey’ where it would fit in English sentences with Russian version is just not enough. Would it fit there if the sentence was in Russian? Would it be used in such way at all? Would it be natural for a male who lived in pre-revolution Russia to use these specific words and in such way? I’m not an expert, but my language instincts tell me ‘no’. It just felt unnatural. It’s a huge pet peeve for me. 2) The treatment of the main male character that is getting very old and tired. We get an enigmatic, whole, character who is attractive in his drive and independence. The whole reader-favorite ‘dark and dangerous’ package. But then as the book unfolds he slowly gets morphed and forced to fit some kid of ‘ideal image from a woman’s perspective’, until at the very end he only says and does things like ‘a woman’ would want him to (with all the ridiculous proposals and sitting quietly in the background). This made me a little angry. For one, not all women like and want same things. For another, it just feels fake, and the concept of the male character just giving up all that he was and had, and then making him fit into the life the female character just decided to choose for herself is unfair and tiring. I don’t like it and this story flow has been used a few too many times already.
This was a bumpy ride, and I couldn’t tell if I’m going to give it 5 stars or lower than 3 half of the time… I really loved some parts of it, maybe even the whole first half, but I also have 2 major problems with this book that spoiled my experience and left me a bad aftertaste. (In fact, it also made me suspicious about the rest of the series I thought I would love…) I was actually a little cautious about this book ever since I finished the previous one and got the hint of who this will be about in the end of it…because I didn’t like Carling in the previous book, and because I felt Rune should have a better story. As I was reading, I eventually saw that Carling was a very interesting character, and especially liked the glimpses of the past. But just as I was about to say ‘I was wrong and I probably will give this 5 stars’ I reached the ‘dressing up and painting face’ episode and my excitement fled down the drain. I’m sorry, but having people buy women make up and want them to put it on is a giant turn off. As are men who care about women using make up. And it made me very disappointed because Rune was really my favorite male character in this series right up to that point… This was the problem numero 1. The second problem was the whole damn ending – I felt many missed opportunities, scrambled events, a boring solution to what was a really interesting set up… and most importantly, personally, the fact that they didn’t go back to New York. Is this how this series is going to go from now on? Sentinels abandoning their lives and places that supposedly spent hundreds of years in, as well as abandoning their friendships and all other responsibilities, and just making their lives all about living on the terns of their mates’ circumstances? I don’t know, maybe it’s supposed to be romantic, to show them, as men, just giving it all up…but it feels wrong and idiotic, especially regarding their relationship with Dragos. I don’t like it. With Rune especially, the way this book ended spoiled my impression of the whole book, and made me afraid of reading the next one because I don’t want to read about another one doing the same thing Tiago and Rune did…
There is this something about Thea Harrison’s characters and style of writing…when, even if usually I would’ve found this ‘teeny-tiny girly woman that likes pink lipstick and stiletto heels’ and ‘very big and very scary power man’ pair of main characters too cheesy and stereotypical, there’s something about the insight into them and their interactions that makes me ignore the voice of cynicism and actually enjoy the story. I did feel a little put off at first at how much sexual undertone there was in this, in descriptions on both sides from the very beginning. But the plot was also there and not actually lost behind it. I have a feeling the first book was tamer, with more focus on fantasy setting, but I might be not remembering correctly. Also, the floating POV… This is very much a female ‘comfort book’ through and through. Tricks was about to leave the safety of her found family out of necessity and begin a new life all alone surrounded by people she couldn’t trust, and this is about having a person who not only came to save her from danger, but decided to stay forever and trade a whole old life for a new one with her, and take it all in a stride. I might not understand high heels and lipstick, but I understand ‘tell me when are you going to leave me, because I need to know what will happen’ and the dream of someone saying ‘never’ and meaning it. And also actually enjoying it.
This might be the closest I felt to a female protagonist. Which is probably over-sharing. And yet, I did find a few too many things I found myself empathizing with. Other than that: Yes to the banter, yes to the setting (though I do wish we would explore it a little more), yes to emphasizing thinking for yourself, yes to keeping your promises, and yes to men in black with swords. I don’t know how much we will come back in the other 2 books of these series, if at all, but it does feel like some of the concepts and ideas were left a little underdeveloped. Like the forms and identities of the remaining knights not being addressed after the beginning, or Dark court relationships in general. I think the ending could be expanded a bit more, instead of saying ‘in next few weeks things like these happened’… But oh well, this is more like asking for more, than real complains. Also, I had about 4-5 scenarios in my head of how this book could go horribly wrong all the time while reading, and I couldn’t be happier that it didn’t touch any of them. One more book like this and Thea Harrison might become a name a on my ‘automatic buy’ list.
After all the disappointing book surprises I had recently, this book was such a pleasant surprise I think I added one extra star just for that. I also have just read the whole book in two sittings in a couple of hours, so my judgment maybe clouded. I’d also like to point out that the pleasantness of the surprise might have been enhanced by rather low expectations, and the low expectations came from the fact that there was something about the cover and the short description of this book that turned me away a couple of times when I considered this book previously. (In fact, I also decided to go and buy the UK edition with a different cover separately after I finished reading this.) The best thing about this book is the humor. I do feel like the I had to turn off a part of my mind that would question the solidity of the setting, because if I questioned if Dragos is really believable in his role of a being who has been around since the beginning of time, I don’t think I would like the answer. But then, I feel like it doesn’t even matter. The humor makes this story just un-serious enough to accept these things and flow with it. It still has a solid urban fantasy world and a story. It’s not heavy, it’s not angsty, it’s has just enough thrill in places, but what it does best is the lovable sarcastic characters and dialogs that just kept me turning pages until I got through the whole book in less than 6 hours. While it’s still an adult ‘romance’ book with its bedroom scenes, there was something about its mood that reminded me of good old fantasy worlds I loved reading so much in my childhood, and I’m very grateful to it for that.