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Friday, June 3, 2011

Thea Harrison: THE ELDER RACES

Author:  Thea Harrison  (pseudonym for Teddy Harrison; other pen nameAmanda Carpenter)
Series:  THE ELDER RACES 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation
      NOVELS:
             Dragon Bound (2011)
             Storm's Heart (2011)
             Serpent's Kiss (2011)
             Oracle's Moon (3/2012)
             Lord's Fall (11/2012)
             Kinked (11/2013)  
             Night's Honor (9/2014)  

      NOVELLAS:
            "True Colors" (2011)
            "Natural Evil" (2012)
            "Devil's Gate" (2012)
            "Hunter's Season" (2012)
            "The Wicked" (7/2013)
            Three-story arc featuring Dragos, Pia, and Liam (aka Peanut)
               "Dragos Takes a Holiday" (novella 6, 11/2013) 
               "Pia Saves the Day" (novella 7, 6/2014)
               "Peanut Goes to School" (novella 8, 7/2014)  

          This post was revised and updated on 7/2/14 to include a review of  "Pia Saves the Day," the second novella in a trio of stories about the Cuelebre family. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of all of the other novels and novellas published to date.    

          NOVELLA 7:  "Pia Saves the Day"           
     For security reasons, Pia and Dragos are moving away from New York City to a mansion/business complex in upstate New York. Soon after Pia arrives with Liam, Dragos is badly injured in a construction accidenta head injury so severe that it wipes out all of his memories of his family and his life as Dragos Cuelebre.

     Showing amazing presence of mind, Pia makes a number of practical arrangements and then sends everyone but Dragos' best friend, Graydon, away—back to the city. She then heads into the forested mountains to confront her mate and try to convince him to allow her to heal him. Poor Dragos has retreated entirely into his distrustful, fierce, Wyr shape and mentality. When Pia tells him her name is Pia Cuelebre ("winged serpent"), he loses his temper and actually pins her to the ground with his talons because she is obviously not a winged serpent. Every time he tries to access his memories, fiery shocks of pain jolt through his head, making him even angrier. 


     The story follows the gradual redevelopment of their relationship. At the beginning we see Dragos as he was back in Dragonbound—wild, angry, and possessive of his treasures, but Pia definitely does save the day by cleverly using her deep knowledge of Dragos to help him remember who he really is. Dragos' recovery, though, is difficult because he feels as if he is two very different men/dragons—one a civilized businessman and the other a wild creature—and he's not sure which one is real. 


     The novella has some particularly touching moments, particularly when Dragos learns that he and Pia have a child—a son whom he can't remember. Liam, by the way, has a major surprise for Pia at the end of the story when she learns that he has taken her request to "be a big soldier now" quite literally. This is a charming story, and, as always, Harrison does a great job with plot construction and characterization. This is the second in a series of three novellas focused on the Cuelebre family. The third story will feature Liam as he goes off to school for the first time.

          WORLD-BUILDING          
     Here is a paragraph from Storm's Heart that explains the mythology of the series in a nutshell: "Time and space had buckled when the Earth was formed. The buckling created dimensional pockets of Other land where magic pooled, time moved differently, modern technologies didn't work, and the sun shone with a different light. What came to be known as the Elder Races, the Wyrkind and the Elves, the Light and Dark Fae, the Demonkind, the Nightkind, human witches and all manner of monstrous creatures, tended to cluster in or around the Other lands." (p. 2)

     In the modern world, the Elder Races have lived openly among mortals since the 1500s. The Races are extremely territorial and maintain seven distinct demesnes in the U.S.:  
    > Wyrkind in New York: all of the shape shifters
    > Elven in Charleston, South Carolina
    > Dark Fae in Chicago: black haired, gray eyes, metallurgists      
    > Light Fae in Los Angeles: blond, green eyes, aversion to iron         
    > Nightkind in San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific NW: Vampyres    
    > Demonkind in Houston: includes Goblins and Djinn    
    > Human Witches in Louisville

    This is a fairly typical paranormal romance series: big, strong, macho, alpha males and cute, smart, sassy, trying-to-be-independent women (who love to be dominated in the bedroom). It's all about a group of immortal warriors fighting against evil and falling in love/lust along the way. If you love immortal warrior love stories (and who doesn't), you might also enjoy reading some similar series I have reviewed. Click HERE to go to CREATURE SEARCH. Then, scroll down to "Immortal Warriors" and click on any series title to go directly to my review. 

          NOVEL 1:  Dragon Bound          
   The heroine of book 1 is Pia Giovanni, a half-breed (Wyr/human) who has manifested a small amount of magic (she can open any lock without a key), but has never been able to shift. Pia grew up moving from place to place with her mother in the hope that no one would ever discover her true Wyr form (and the reader isn't let in on the secret until near the end of the book). As the story opens, Pia has been blackmailed into stealing an artifact from the hoard of New York's billionaire leader of the Wyrkind, the dragon Dragos Cuelebre. Dragos is tens of thousands of years old and his security system has, in all those centuries, never been breached. Even though the stolen object is of little value, and even though Pia replaced it with an object of equal value, Dragos is determined to catch and punish the thiefit's a male pride issue. Many reviewers have compared Dragos to Raphael, the hero of Nalini Singh's GUILD HUNTER series, and that's an apt comparison. Both are rich, powerful, alpha males who are accustomed to getting their own way, and both are brought down (in the romantic sense) by modern American women. 

    Pia leaves an apologetic note behind, and when Dragos reads it and gets a whiff of her scent (wild sunshine—whatever that smells like), he is immediately attracted to her. (If you hadn't already guessed the identities of the loving couple, this is the first clue that Dragos and Pia are soul mates.) Of course, we need a conflicted plot to provide a few interruptions in the bumpy romantic journey, and that is provided by the Dark Fae king, Urien, who is Dragos' bitter enemy. Supporting characters include mostly members of Dragos' security team (aka sentinels) and Thistle "Tricks" Periwinkle, niece of Urien and heir to the Dark Fae throne. In this book, Tricks works as the public relations director for the widespread Cuelebre Enterprises and is one of the first to befriend Pia.

    You may struggle a bit to get through the exposition-heavy first section of  Dragon Bound, in which the author strings together paragraphs full of short subject-verb sentences and seems never to have met a clichéd simile or tortured metaphor she doesn't like. She even uses that old favorite "like a knife slicing through butter" (p. 11).  And what does this one mean: "The Cauldron [the magic district] flaunted caveat emptor like a prizefighter’s satin cloak" (p. 2). How does a prizefighter's satin cloak flaunt "let the buyer beware"? Keep reading, though. If you can get past the first chapter or two, you'll get pulled into the story. Dragon Bound is strongest in its action and adventure scenes, especially when Pia is fighting back against her captors. The lighter scenes, like those between Pia and the sentinels, are also well written. Dragos and Pia's relationship scenes get a bit melodramatic at times, but that's fairly typical in paranormal romance, so I'll give that a pass. Click HERE to go to links on Harrison's web page to free excerpts from Dragon Bound.


          NOVEL 2:  Storm's Heart              
     In this book, the romantic hero is Tiago Black Eagle (a Wyr sentinel), and his heroine is Tricksnow known by her Dark Fae name, Ninianewho is soon to be crowned queen of the Dark Fae. We got a few hints about their attraction to one another in the previous book. Tiago is a Thunderbird (from Native American mythology). He is thousands of years old, and his nickname among the Wyrkind is "Dr. Death." Try to imagine Conan the Barbarian hooking up with Elle Woods from Legally Blonde (but with black hair), and you'll get the picture.  As the story opens, Niniane has gone to Chicago with three Dark Fae escorts who attack and stab her in an alley. Tiago immediately takes off for Chicago to rescue her. The plot follows the couple as they try to discover which of the Dark Fae is behind the scheme to murder Niniane and take over the throne. In the meantime, they must also figure out how to deal with their flaming hot attraction to one another. In general, the Dark Fae have no love for the Wyrkind, so no one in Chicago is happy about their relationship. As Niniane meets each of the Dark Fae leaders, she and Tiago must be very cautious, because one or more of them is a traitor who wants them both dead. Additional supporting characters include Rune, another Sentinel; Aryal, a Wyrkind Harpy; and Carling, the Vampyre Queen.  

     Here is a quotation from Storm's Heart in which Niniane takes a good look at Tiago: "Her gaze bounced around his dark saturnine features. The force of his presence was such that the tiny hairs on her arms rose....He had the extreme physicality of an apex predator, his body tempered by years of fighting, the thick muscles corded with sinew and veins. His Power was a heavy, sulfurous force that pressed her into the mattress." (p. 25) (And, believe me, there is a LOT of "mattress pressing" going on in this book!) 


     During a climactic moment, Rune Ainissesthi, one of Dragos's sentinels, promises Vampyre Queen Carling that he will owe her a favor if she will save the life of his friend, Tiago. Carling delivers, so now Rune must reciprocate. The couple has a lustful moment near the end of the book Storm's Heart when Rune watches Carling bathing in a brook, so we already know that there's an attraction between them. Click HERE to go to links on Harrison's web page to free excerpts from Storm's Heart.



          E-NOVELLA 1:  "True Colors"           
     This one tells the love story of Alice Clark, a chameleon Wyr school teacher, and Gideon Riehl, a wolf Wyr who is a detective in the Wyr Division of Violent Crime where he reports to the Sentinal Bayne. Gideon was formerly the captain of Lord Dragos Cuelebre's Dogs of War. The two meet and fall in love after three of Alice's friends are murdered and Gideon investigates the crimes.

          NOVEL 3:  Serpent's Kiss           
     As the story opens, it's pay-back time as Rune, a gryphon, heads out to Carling's other-worldly island home off the coast of San Francisco. The favor turns out to be minor, but he sticks around when he learns that Carling is dying. She is having daily "fading" episodes in which she goes into a catatonic state for short periods of time, placing her in an extremely vulnerable position. When Rune is accidentally drawn into one of Carling's fades, he does some inadvertent time traveling back to her childhood. The two spend much of the book in conversation about Carling's devastating situation, the meaning of the time-travel incidents, and the possible outcomes of their obvious attraction to one another. 

     Up until the last 50 pages, this book is entirely about the romance, but with the exception of a few sexy scenes relatively late in the story, the romance is all talk and no action, which results in a big bog-down that's sometimes hard to plow through. Eventually, the action does kick in, typically fueled by betrayal and greed, but the secondary plot thread is so thin that it doesn't quite save the book from being a bit tedious. 


     In terms of characterization, Carling's character is well drawn, and her situation certainly arouses our sympathy, but we don't really learn much about Rune's history. He seems nice enough, with his god-like good looks and his typical alpha ways, but we don't see much deeper than that. For me, this is the weakest book of the series so far. The next book heads off to St. Louis for a romance between the Oracle of Delphi (Yes, that's right, she lives in St. Louis now) and a Djinn. We meet them near the end of Serpent's Kissand already they are snarling at one another—a sure sign of true love. Click HERE to go to links on Harrison's web page to free excerpts from Serpent's Kiss.

          NOVEL 4:  Oracle's Moon          
     We met the hero and heroine of this book at the end of Serpent's Kiss when Khalil, a Djinn prince, accompanied Carling and Rune to the home of Grace Andreas, the Oracle (formerly of Delphi, currently of St. Louis). It was hate at first sight (always a sign of eventual lust/love), and as this book begins, that relationship isn't going any more smoothly. Grace was never meant to be the Oracle; that job went to her sister, Petra. But when Petra and her husband were killed in an automobile accident three months ago, the Oracle power transferred to Grace, as did the responsibility for raising Petra's two young children, three-year-old Chloe and 9-month-old Max. On the night that Khalil first visited Grace's home, he vowed to protect the children, and a Djinn never reneges on a vow. So...Khalil is still hanging around, making friends with the kids and driving Grace to distraction in any number of ways. The plot is mostly focused on the development of their romantic relationship as Grace struggles to take care of the children, figure out how to pay her overdue bills, and recover from her own injuries suffered in the accident, all the while dealing with an arrogant Djinn who has a very low opinion of humans and to whom she is lustfully attracted. About halfway through the book, a secondary plot kicks in when Grace gets some major backlash from a coven of witches about her burgeoning relationship with Kahlil. Apparently bigotry is alive and well in the supernatural world just as it is in the mortal world. When an attempt is made on Grace's life, the action ramps up and some important and heart-breaking secrets are revealed.

Yul Brynner in
The King and I
    This is a great addition to the series, with well-drawn protagonists and a compelling story line. The more I read about Kahlil, the more I kept picturing Yul Brynner as the King of Siam in that classic movie The King and I. Both have similar mannerisms and colloquial language and the same ignorance of the social customs of their heroines. Kudos to the author for a wild, multi-dimensional love scene that is unlike any I've ever read—very inventive. (Who knew that djinns had that kind of talent?)

     Book 5 will take us back to the Pia-Dragos relationship that began back in book 1. Events take a turn for the worse when the two are separated, with pregnant Pia going off to South Carolina to mend fences with the Elves while Dragos stays in New York to handle other important matters. 

          E-NOVELLA 2:  "Natural Evil"           
     This one tells the love story of retired Green Beret Claudia Hunter and Wyr dog Luis Alvarez, who is a peace keeper with the Elder Council. Claudia is on a road trip in the Nevada desert when she finds Luis in his dog form near death by the side of the road. Mix in a corrupt sheriff and a raging sandstorm, and you've got yourself a romantic suspense story with an HEA. The tarot cards from "True Colors" are the link among these novellas.

          E-NOVELLA 3:  "Devil's Gate"           
     This one tells the love story of medusa Dr. Seremela Telemar and lawyer Vampyre Duncan Turner, who appears in Serpent's Kiss as Carling's legal advisor. Seremela is a coroner whose niece runs off to the lawless, magical town of Devil's Gate and gets in bigpotentially fataltrouble. (The niece previously appeared as the tarot cards thief in "Natural Evil.") When Seremela heads off to Devil's Gate, Duncan goes along to help and fall in love along the way. Seremela appears briefly in Storm's Heart and Serpent's Kiss.

          E-NOVELLA 4:  "Hunter's Season"          
     This one tells the love story of palace guard and Dark Fae assassin Xanthe and Chancellor Aubrey Riordan. Both are members of the Dark Fae Court of Queen Niniane. You'll remember Aubrey from Storm's Heart, where his crazy wife tried to assassinate Niniane. When someone tries to kill Aubrey, Xanthe becomes his protector and cupid takes over from there.  

         NOVEL 5:  Lord's Fall           

     In the fifth novel, we check back in with Pia and Dragos, the romantic couple of book 1. The lovers are settling into their mated relationship with lots of love, but with some rough spots. Not all of the Wyr have accepted Pia, and they resent the fact that she will not reveal her Wyr form. As the story opens, Pia is seven months pregnant with their son and looking forward to another year and a half of pregnancy. Yes, that's right, the gestation period for dragons is about two years, give or take a few months. 

     If you remember what happened in book 1, you'll know that when Dragos was tracking Pia down, he invaded the demesne of the Elves, almost instigating a war, and the relationship between the two bordering demesnes has been rocky ever since. The Elves accept Pia, but hate Dragos. Pia is determined to negotiate a treaty with the Elven ruler, Calondir, so she takes a road trip down to South Carolina accompanied by a crew of Wyr bodyguards. In the meantime, Dragos has his hands full back in Manhattan where he is hosting the Sentinel Games in Madison Square Garden. Dragos lost two of his best Sentinels (Tiago and Rune) when they met their soul mates and quit their jobs. He has set up a huge competition that will provide him with seven finalistsall of whom will be his new sentinels. 

    When Pia gets to the Elven demesne, she learns that Calondir is deep in the Lirithriel Wood (a huge magical Elven forest) with some unexpected Elven visitors from another realm. When she and her escorts go into the Wood to meet with Calondir, they run into the book's villain, a deranged Elf whose voice Dragos heard at the end of Serpent's Kissa voice that prophesied the end of daysthe apocalypse. "It had spoken of stars dying in agony, and the nature of evil, of Light and Dark as creatures, and Lord Death himself having forgotten he was a fraction of the whole." (p. 99) 

     The story follows Pia and Dragos as they find themselves in danger and strive to keep the prophecy from coming true. Oh, and don't forget about the baby, who has his own surprise planned for his parents.

     Don't try to read this book if you haven't been following the series. The cast of supporting characters is large, and the references to events from previous books are frequent. If you're familiar with the series, though, you'll probably enjoy this book. Pia and Dragos were a great couple in book 1, and they're still fascinating to watch, as Pia tries to tame the beast within her mate, and Dragos finally realizes exactly how much Pia means to him. As usual, Harrison gives us a peek at what will probably be the romantic couple in the next book: the Harpy Aryal and Pia's best friend (and former boss) Quentin, who despise each other so much that you just know that they are destined for a soul-mate HEA


     This is, for the most part, a well-plotted story, but I have to mention one improbable scene between Pia and Dragos that takes place in a pup tent in the middle of a frigid, snow-covered war zone. Right in the middle of thingswith the villain's magical fire roaring just a few tents away and battle-weary Wyrs and Elves resting all around them before the big battle to comethe couple has a major make-out session and plans their wedding and honeymoon. I realize why Harrison did it this way (It's one of the few scenes in which the two are physically together in one place), but really, it's a bit far-fetched. Otherwise, though, this is a nice addition to the series and brings some resolution to Pia and Dragos' love story.  

          NOVELLA 5:  "The Wicked"          

     This novella reaches back to the plot of Serpent's Kiss as it deals with the continuing fall-out from the estrangement between the Vampyre Carling  Severan and her progeny, Julian Regillus, who is currently the Nightkind King. Carling has permission from the Elder Tribunal to send a team to her Other island to retrieve the contents of her library, and the story follows that team as they complete the task after confronting several obstacles along the way.

     The heroine is Olivia Sutton, a witch/librarian who is a close friend of Grace Andreas (from Oracle's Moon), and her hero is Sebastian Hale, a Wyr (eagle owl) who owns a renowned security firm that Carling has hired to guard the retrieval team. Since this is a novella, the action and the romance are compressed into just 115 pages with each of the four primary story threads getting about equal coverage: 1. Phaedra (Khalil's daughter) is on her own for the first time as she is hired to guard the passageway to the island and must do her best to control her violent Djinn instincts. 2. Sebastian is forced to deal civilly with Julian and his men as they attempt to slow down the team's progress. 3. A traitorous team member causes death and injury to the team. 4. Sebastian and Olivia fall for one another and begin their mating process while Sebastian copes with a powerful curse that is threatening his health and perhaps his life.


     This is a well-constructed story that adds to the Carling-Rune story and introduces several more characters. We'll probably see more of Phaedra in later books or novellas because she is quite a fascinating character.

          NOVELLA 6:  "Dragos Takes a Holiday"          
     This is another snippet of the ongoing story of Dragos and Pia, but this one also features a starring role for Baby Liam.  (aka Peanut). Dragos has been working long hours for the past year, and it's time for his family to take a vacation. Pia encourages this thought by bringing home some books about shipwrecks in the Caribbean, and that's enough to pique Dragos' interest. After all, Dragos is a dragon, and all dragons are fascinated by shiny treasure.

     After the family arrives in Bermuda, some local thugs try to stop Dragos from searching for an ancient, treasure-filled shipwreck by threatening his family, and Dragos takes exactly the actions you'd expect from the most powerful dragon in the world. 

     Meanwhile, Liam is developing new abilities at an astoundingly young age, but he's also a very cute baby who steals all of his scenes from the adults. This is a nice little story (90 pages) that adds depth to the Pia-Dragos story and gives us some clues as to Liam's future otherworldly talents. By the end of the story, Dragos and Pia are planning to move to Dragos' estate in northern New York, which will change the setting of future books in which they play a part.  

          NOVEL 6:  Kinked           

     For me, this book is the strongest in the series so far. It tells the love story of two warriors who begin by hating one another and follows their unlikely romance to its ultimate HEA. The lead lovers are Aryal, a foul-mouthed, rage-filled, self-hating Harpy, and Quentin Caeravorn, a rare and powerful mixed-breed who is part Wyr (black panther), part Elven, and part Dark Fae. Quentin is the proverbial bad boy trying to be good; he has a great deal of darkness in his past that he has had to overcome. From the beginning of their acquaintanceship, Aryal has been investigating Quentin with a lethal vengeance because she is certain that he is a contemptible criminal who is involved in illegal actions that will bring danger to Dragos Cuelebre, leader of the Wyrkind. Aryal has never been a big fan of Pia, Dragos' new wife, and the fact that Quentin is one of Pia's best friends makes Aryal even more suspicious of him. When Aryal goes too far with her anger-filled investigation, she and Quentin get physical in a spectacular knockdown, drag-out brawl in the halls of Dragos' tower. Dragos responds by banishing the couple from New York: sending them off on a reconnaissance mission together that will last two to four weeks and forbidding them to harm one another. This doesn't stop the couple from contemplating devious ways to cause the other's death. 

     The two set off for the Czech Republic, where they enter the realm of Numenlaur, the mystical Elven land whose population was decimated in Lord's Fall. Dragos wants them to make sure that no one is looting the now-unpopulated land. At first, they think that this assignment will be a piece of cakeother than the fact that they will have to work and live closely togetherbut they soon discover that someone has invaded Numenlaur in search of somethingsomeone who is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way.

     Of course, the real action (and entertainment) in the book revolves around the couple's mutual antagonism and the development of their romance, which begins in hate and lust and then simmers erotically for quite awhile before boiling over into passionate, X-rated heat. Both Aryal and Quentin are dominants, and both are definitely into the whole kinky (per the title), pain-pleasure scene, so most of their lust scenes are based on modifications of BDSM (light on details, but still graphically portrayed). Some reviewers have objected to the physical-sexual violence in the story, but I have to disagree. These are characters with dark and violent emotions, and each is attracted and aroused by the other's willingness to use physical violence to make a point, be it vengeful, humorous, or sexual. Late in the book, Quentin muses about their relationship: "This thing with Aryal wasn't aberrant. Those things in his nature that she showed him weren't aberrant. They were a part of him that he didn't know existed until Aryal brought a light to shine on them….He barely heard over his internal realization what she said next. 'You know other peopleany other peoplewould think we are crazy.' He understood exactly what she meant. Hell, they didn't even do BDSM in any straightforward fashion, and they certainly didn't follow the norm or any of the suggested guidelines….She quieted that internal whip that drove him because she become the whip, her soul as sharp as a knife….They were so unapologetic, so kinked. He said, 'We're perfect.'" (p. 206)

     Harrison's character development for her lead lovers is top notch. They are both dark-natured outsiders who believe that they can never live like "normal" people and that they can never find true love. Quentin has a particularly grim secret that dates back to the events in Dragon Bound, and Aryal is a thousands-year-old Harpy who has no real life outside the Sentinels. Her only happiness comes when she flies, all alone and soaring as high as she can go. Part of the drama of this story deals with some flight problems she suffers at the hands of the villain.

     If you're not comfortable reading love scenes that include violence and pain, this might not be the book for you. But if you're a fan of the series, you'll enjoy watching this love story play outa very different romance than we've seen between other couples in the series. We've watched both of these cryptic characters in previous books, so it's great to see them find one another. Aryal, in particular, has been an abrasive presence in earlier books, so it's nice to finally see into her soul and understand her ongoing emotional state. The conflict that revolves around the villain in Numenlaur plays second fiddle to the romance, but the romance is so well written that you won't mind at all when that conflict gets resolved very quickly.

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