I have four words for you – Kristen Ashley does vampires. All the usual suspects that you would expect in a KA book are there – sexy alpha males, strong and outspoken heroines, sizzling chemistry, great secondary characters, interesting plot – but this time we are in a world of supernatural creatures.
In this world, the existence of immortal beings is veiled in secrecy except to a select group of mortals. These mortals include concubines, women who live to serve vampires by feeding them. Each concubine is selected by a vampire during a Selection and the length of her service depends on the vampire’s wishes.
Lucien is his species’ über-alpha male whose status among his kind is legendary. Leah comes from a long line of proud concubines but she is a reluctant concubine. She has never wanted to serve the vampire species that way and she has so far avoided participating in a Selection. This time, however, she has no choice because she has been summoned. Leah is unaware of the fact that Lucien had selected and “marked” her as his future concubine twenty years ago and has waited for her all this time. What she also does not realise is that concubine agreements only allow feeding, no other physical intimacy between vampires and their concubines. Lucien changes that contract, making Leah believe that “servicing” a vampire implies sharing his bed as well.
This is in essence a Taming of the Shrew type of story – the heroine is under obligation to fulfil a family legacy but she is everything but a willing participant. The hero gets a kick from taming the heroine, he appears to want her compliant and obedient. Initially, this was a major obstacle for me in this book but I also do get that the world that Ms Ashley has weaved for us is a world where immortals and mortals are not equals and where those servicing vampires are considered just that – servants. They are expected to be respectful and never insolent, but I found that hard to swallow when we are given a female character like Leah whose strong personality and independent streak make her a believable match for someone like Lucien. Leah’s desire to assert herself as an equal in her relationship with Lucien made me love her even more as a heroine and made me cringe at Lucien’s do-what-I-say-and-don’t-ask-questions type of behaviour in the first half of the book.
It soon becomes clear, however, that their perceptions of taming are quite different. Leah fights it because she equates it to giving herself to him, trusting him with all that is truly her and believes that Lucien needs to gain her trust before she lowers her defences with him.
“The mass of bad traits, stubbornness, impatience and sometimes fumbling idiocy and all the good traits too, my loyalty, sense of humour and compassion. I wouldn’t hold onto me anymore. I would be giving it to him and I didn’t trust him to take care of it.”
For Lucien, on the other hand, it is an issue of being accepted for what he is rather than breaking Leah’s indomitable spirit or changing her. He loves her strength and he wants her to stay exactly as she is, but also freely acknowledging him in her life, forever. “Until the sun falls from the sky.”
“He wanted her trust, her acceptance of his power, his dominance, not to wield it against her, but to use it to keep her safe, protected, nurtured, thriving.”
I believe what he really wanted from her is submission – he wanted her to accept him as a mate willingly rather than pretend to be the perfect concubine. He preferred her stubbornness to her untruthful compliance, and in a world that either sees his as an unreachable hero or makes him hide the essence of who he is, he desperately wanted to let someone into his life who would accept him and allow him to be himself around them. He wanted to look after Leah, to be her protector and for her to be his life. In every way. When Leah finally accepts him with her heart, their bond grows and changes everything.
This book might have fangs but it is ultimately just a story of two people learning to trust and accept one another. Their dynamic was slightly warped due to the paranormal nature of the world they live in and the embedded imbalance between mortals and immortals, but even against that backdrop, they are just a couple learning to communicate with each other. Most of the conflict that gets created between them emerges out of misunderstandings and truths withheld. Once they start trusting each other with their secrets and feelings, their relationship blossoms.
The storyline around Leah and Lucien’s romance is perhaps not as strong as I would have liked it to be, a few things get resolved with minimal conflict making it all appear somewhat rushed given the seriousness of those issues, but it is still strong enough to set the scene for quite an original and very imaginative trilogy. I really liked this book and have great hopes for the rest of the series.
Did I mention that KA does vampires?