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Friday, June 3, 2011

Thea Harrison: THE ELDER RACES

Author:  Thea Harrison  (pseudonym for Teddy Harrison; other pen nameAmanda Carpenter)
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley Sensation
             Dragon Bound (novel 12011)
             Storm's Heart (novel 22011)
             Serpent's Kiss (novel 32011)
             Oracle's Moon (novel 43/2012)
             Lord's Fall (novel 511/2012) 
            "The Wicked" (novella 5.57/2013)
             Kinked (novel 611/2013) 
             Night's Honor (novel 79/2014) 
             Midnight's Kiss (novel 85/2015)
             Shadow's End (novel 912/1/2015)


            "True Colors" (novella 3.52011)
            "Natural Evil" (novella 4.52012)
            "Devil's Gate" (novella 4.62012)
            "Hunter's Season" (novella 4.72012)
             Divine Tarot (4/2014; available in print, audio, and e-book: contains "True Colors" and "Natural Evil")
             Destiny's Tarot (5/2014; available in print, audio, and e-book: contains "Devil's Gate" and "Hunter's Season")
       THE CUELEBRE FAMILY TRILOGY: 2 novellas + 1 short story 
               "Dragos Takes a Holiday" (novella 6.511/2013) 
               "Pia Saves the Day" (novella 6.66/2014)
               "Peanut Goes to School" (short story 6.77/2014) 
               A Dragon's Family Album (10/2013)(available in print and e-book: contains the first three CUELEBRE FAMILY novellas) 

               "Dragos Goes to Washington" (novella 8.59/2015)
               "Pia Does Hollywood" (novella 8.611/2015)
               "Liam Takes Manhattan" (novella 9.212/22/2015) 

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 12/28/15 to include reviews of novel 9 (Shadow's End) and novella 9.2 ("Liam Takes Manhattan"). The novella is the third installment of the second Cuelebre family trilogy. (Warning! The "Liam" novella contains spoilers for Shadow's End.) These two new reviews appear first (in reading order), followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of all of the other novels and novellas published to date. 

Reviews of the four Tarot novellas and the two Cuelebre Family trilogies are grouped together in general sequence. 

                       NOVEL 9:  Shadow's End                         
     The author of Lord's Fall and Midnight's Kiss returns with an enchanting and sizzling new tale about debts that cannot be repaid and hunger that cannot be satisfied.

     For Beluviel, consort to the Elven High Lord, and Graydon, gryphon and First Sentinel of the Wyr, even the slightest desire for each other is forbidden. But two hundred years ago, after a desperate play to save Beluviel’s stepson left them indebted to the cruel Djinn Malphas, they found their fates inexorably linked together—and the hunger between them growing too strong to ignore. 

     Two centuries later, with their debt to Malphas coming due, Beluviel and Graydon realize that, if they are to stand any chance of saving their souls, they must once again work together—this time more closely than ever before. But every moment they spend with each other brings them nearer to losing something even more vital—their hearts. 

     The hero and heroine of this novel are the gryphon, Graydon, and the Elven consort, Beluviel (Bel). Although they have been deeply in love with one another since a single passionate night they had two centuries ago, they have never been able to develop a permanent romantic relationship for several reasons. First, they are of two different species, and in the Elder world, that’s a no-no when it comes to mating. They are also obligated to live in two different places because Graydon has pledged himself to Dragos in New York, while Bel is tied to her Elven Wood in South Carolina. Oh, yes, one other thing…Back in 1815 when Bel and Graydon had their little fling, Bel—inconveniently—had a husband: Calondir, the Elven Lord. Calondir died in a recent tragedy (in Lord’s Fall), but Bel still has the title of Elven Lady and must continue to keep up appearances. Bel also has parental responsibility for Ferion, Calondir’s son by another woman. Bel raised Ferion from infancy and has always considered him to be her true son. All of these are strong reasons for Graydon and Bel to stay away from each other, but there is a much more dangerous reason, and it has to do with the evil first-generation pariah Djinn Malphas (whom we met in an earlier book). Currently, Ferion has taken over his late father’s position as the Elven ruler, and that makes the problem with Malphas even more dangerous. 

     In the first chapter, Graydon requests a few days off to take care of some personal business relating to Bel. We learn the specifics of this “business” in chapters two through nine, which flash back 200 years to fill in the tragic back-story of their doomed romance. I don’t want to provide any spoiler details, so I’ll just say that it involves Graydon’s efforts to help Bel and Ferion out of a very dangerous situation with Malphas. 

     Chapter ten brings us back to the present, on the eve of Dragos’ elaborate Winter Solstice celebration, the Masque of the Gods. At that point, Graydon reveals his solution to the Malphas problem to Bel and enlists the aid of many of the characters we met in earlier novels and novellas. Now we understand why Harrison had to wait so long to tell us Graydon's story because the stories of the other characters and their varied magical abilities had to come first. Each of those characters is extremely important to Graydon's plan, and it is interesting to see how Harrison carefully weaves each one's skills into the overall strategy. And one more thing: For 200 years, ever since his magical night with Bel, Graydon has been having identical visions of his inevitable death in a rocky, snow-covered landscape. So, Winter Solstice…snow-covered landscape. Could there be a connection here?

     For me, this book was just O.K., not nearly as engrossing as Midnight’s Kiss. Part of the problem is that the lead lovers are in a constant state of mooniness, each constantly gushing over the other’s perfection, bravery, sexiness, physical attractiveness, honor, et cetera, to the point that you want to throw a bucket of cold water on them. To me this seems like an overabundance of hot-and-bothered emotion based on one single night together way back in 1815. Unfortunately, both lovers are paper-thin stereotypes—Graydon is the fearless, flawless, handsome alpha warrior, and Bel is the feisty, flawless gorgeous heroine. Equally stereotypical is the villain, Malphas, who is nothing more than a one-dimensional psychotic. 

     The play-out of the resolution to the Malphas problem is the strongest part of the book as all of those characters from the past ply their various skills to help out Graydon and Bel. Although that conflict is resolved (in the requisite showdown scene), not everyone makes it out safely, so there is some sadness and suffering along with the victory. That grief continues over into the first pages of the 9.2 novella, "Liam Takes Manhattan," so don't read that one until you have finished reading Shadows End. In fact, don't even peek at it because there is a spoiler on the very first page. 

     Click HERE to go to the Shadow's End page on where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art on on the "Listen" icon.

          CUELEBRE FAMILY NOVELLA 9.2:  "Liam Takes Manhattan"          
WARNING! This story contains a major spoiler from Shadow’s End (book #9). If readers do not want to be spoiled, they should read the stories in order of their release dates. This is a short story (15,000 words or 50 pages) intended for readers of the ELDER RACES who enjoy Liam Cuelebre as a character. 

     Reeling from a deep loss, the magical prince of the Wyr, Dragos and Pia’s son Liam Cuelebre, turns inward and withdrawn as he struggles to come to terms with who he is, along with the challenges that lie before him. 

     Hoping to ease his heartache and offer comfort, a concerned Dragos and Pia offer him a gift, something he has desired for a long time. Liam’s response has a ripple effect across all of New York. Soon miracles of all kinds start arriving just in time for Christmas, along with a visit from a mysterious person who gives Liam hope and a vision of his future. 

     “Liam Takes Manhattan” is the third part of a three-story series about Pia, Dragos, and and their son, Liam. Each story stands alone, but fans might want to read all three: “Dragos Goes to Washington,” “Pia Does Hollywood,” and “Liam Takes Manhattan.”

     In response to the deep grief felt by Liam and the entire Cuelebre family (and extended family) after a recent tragedy (at the climax of Shadow's End), Liam has had yet another growth spurt and is now nearly six feet tall with the appearance of being in his late teens (although he was born just a year ago). Along with his physical growth, Liam is suffering through a bad case of teen angst—rebelling against authority (Dragos), feeling suffocated by family affection (Pia), and trying to figure out his place in the world. In Liam's case, late adolescence is even worse because "sometimes he'd had to fight to keep his dragon form under control as it strained to become fully grown."

     Faced with an uncertain future and a need to escape from family pressures, Liam makes an earth-shaking decision that will—I am sure—provide fuel for future story plots. Of course, Pia and Dragos react emotionally to Liam's decision. Liam thinks that, "to them, he was a gigantic, dangerous child." 

     Harrison always writes solid novellas that contain self-contained conflict and resolution but still relate to the overall series story arc. That's the case here, so if you are a fan of the series, you'll want to read this one—but don't even peek at it until you have first read Shadow's End because there is a spoiler on the first page. Click HERE to go to this novella's page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

     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 

    On the surface, 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. Although I found the first novel to be a bit rocky, Harrison improves with every new addition to the series. Before long, the novels are top-knotch in characterization, plotting, and general quality. I highly recommend the series to readers who love well-crafted paranormal romance.

     Click HERE to go to a fan page on Harrison's web site that contains links to more information about the Elder Races Universe, the Wyr, the Dark Fae, the history of Vampyrism, the Djinn, the Elves, and the mysterious tarot deck that is featured in the four Tarot novellas (3.5, 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7). 

                         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 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 excerpts from Storm's Heart.

                         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 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?) Click HERE to read an excerpt from Oracle's Moon on that book's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.

     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. 

                       TAROT NOVELLA 3.5:  "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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "True Colors" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.

          TAROT NOVELLA 4.5:  "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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Natural Evil" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.
                       TAROT NOVELLA 4.6:  "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 big—potentially fatal—trouble. (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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Devil's Gate" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.

                       TAROT NOVELLA 4.7:  "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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Hunter's Season" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page. 

                        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 finalists—all 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 Kiss—a voice that prophesied the end of days—the 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 a future 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 things—with 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 come—the 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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Lord's Fall on that book's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.

                       NOVELLA 5.5:  "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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "The Wicked" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page. 

                         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 cake—other than the fact that they will have to work and live closely together—but they soon discover that someone has invaded Numenlaur in search of something—someone 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 people—any other people—would 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 out—a 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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Kinked on that book's page. Just click on the cover art on that page. 

              CUELEBRE FAMILY NOVELLA 6.5: "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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Dragos Takes a Holiday" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page. 

               CUELEBRE FAMILY NOVELLA 6.6:  "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. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Pia Saves the Day" on the novella's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.

               CUELEBRE FAMILY NOVELLA 6.7: "Peanut Goes to School"                

     This is the third in a trio of novellas about the Cuelebre family. Dragos is still recovering from the brain injury he suffered in “Pia Saves the Day.” He is making progress in recovering his lost memories, but is still missing big chunks (centuries) of time. Pia is still feeling guilty because Liam (aka Peanut) has forced himself to grow much more quickly than he should have. Liam knows that his Mom is worried about him, and he's not sure why: “Last month when Dad had gotten hurt so bad, Mom had said to Liam, You need to be a big soldier now. And Liam had thought, I can do that. He had pushed to get bigger, because Mom needed him to be strong….But for some reason, when he had gone through that growth spurt, it had hurt Mom, and the last thing in the world Liam wanted to do was hurt her. For the first time ever, he thought, Am I bad?”

     Although Liam is just six months old, he is as large as an oversize five-year-old boy, so it’s time for him to be off to school. This experience promises to be full of pitfalls, partly because of Liam’s physical size, but also because he hasn’t yet learned to control his wyr instincts. In his wyr form, Liam is as large as an adult lion and he has a temper to match that of his father. Additionally, he can read at an adult level, write in complete sentences, and has learned high-school algebra. Liam is so smart that he can skim quickly through a book and comprehend the entirety of its content. Both Pia and Dragos are worried about Liam’s socialization skills because he has never been in close contact with large groups of children his own age. 

     The story takes place on the first day of school as Liam encounters a trio of third-grade bullies, an abusive teacher, and a quirky third-grade Dark Fae girl named Marika. By the end of that day, Liam has lots of new experiences with which to shock his parents, including the fact that can spout fire in his human form. 

     This is an charming story that Liam tells in his first-person voice. The little boy is obviously very intelligent, and he has somehow learned to approach hostile situations in a very mature manner. When the bullying starts, Liam thinks through all of the lessons he has learned from his Dad and Mom about wyr behavior, but he has trouble keeping his wyr temper under control. It’s fascinating to watch Liam as he analyzes social situations and relies on his parents as models for his own behavior. (What would Mom do? What would Dad do?) Liam doesn’t want to be bad; he wants to do the right thing—but what is the right thing?

     The scene that I loved the most was the one in which Liam asks Marika to be his girlfriend for a couple of days. She asks, “Only for a couple of days?” Knowing that his growth spurt will continue to accelerate, he responds, “Or maybe a week. It’s kind of hard to explain…I’m not going to be a kid for very long, so I can’t make any long-term commitments.” When Marika agrees to be his short-term girlfriend and walks away, Liam brags to a classmate, “I’m dating an older woman now.” That scene made me laugh out loud. Liam is a real charmer, and I’m looking forward to more story lines that feature the trials and tribulations of his development into an adult wyr which shouldn’t take very long given the rate at which he is growing. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Peanut Goes to School" on the story's page. Just click on the cover art on that page.

                         NOVEL 7:  Night's Honor                           

    O.K., we've had a nice three-novella visit with the Cuelebre family, but now it's back to the adults-only romances. In Night's Honor, we catch up with Xavier del Torro, second in command to Julian, King of the Nightkind (the Vampyres). (We met Julian back in Serpent's Kiss when he clashed with Carling.) Xavier began his human life in Spain, where he became a priest and then left the Church when the Inquisition murdered his Vampyre sister and her husband. Xavier is an extremely powerful and intelligent Vampyre as well as being handsome, sexy, and unmated—yet. When Julian holds the annual New Year's Eve Vampyre Ball, humans are given the opportunity to audition for positions as Vampyre attendants. Xavier is at the ball in his role as Julian's second; he certainly isn't looking for a new attendant. But then, a casually dressed, average-looking female candidate looks out at the vamps and candidly says, "My looks are entirely forgettable and I'm smarter than almost anyone here." (p. 6) Xavier is definitely intrigued, and he raises his bidding paddle, requesting an interview.

     Tess Graham is on the run, and she is scared to death of the dangerous rogue Djinn—her former boss—who is trying to find her, punish her, and probably kill her. On New Year's Eve, she couldn't think of another safe place to hide. When she heard about the auditions at the Vampyre ball, she decided that being under a Vamp's protection might just save her life. But when Xavier requests a follow-up interview and then decides to hire her, Tess is terrified because Xavier has a reputation for being cruel and violent. Xavier's story is a well-known legend. Centuries ago, after his sister's death, Xavier asked Julian to make him a Vampyre and then went back to Spain to hunt down and kill every single person who was involved in her murder. 

     Tess can't keep her fear hidden from Xavier, and she struggles with it all during the early chapters. That's why it's a major surprise when she does one of those insta-love transformations and vows her love to Xavier after being in his presence only a few times. She meets him for the first time on New Year's Eve, has one more brief meeting with him the next morning, and then she doesn't see him again until February. At that point, they fall for each other in just a day or two. Their love story is well told, with plenty of sexual tension, lusty bedroom scenes, and tender and poetic words, but really, it's just too fast. Even Tess has to admit that "the time they had been together could be counted in hours, not days…" (p. 251) The funniest line in the book comes in a scene in which Xavier is lying semiconscious on the brink of death in the aftermath of a major battle. When Raoul (Xavier's assistant) arrives on the scene and demands to know why Xavier has just called Tess querida (which means sweetheart or lover), Xavier murmurs that "Tess isn't one of my attendants any more….I think we might be dating." (p. 246)

     Meanwhile, we have two action-filled sub-plots, but they don't kick in until the second half of the book. In the first sub-plot, Xavier and Tess have to figure out how to get the rogue Djinn, Malphas, to give up his pursuit of her. This is done in a single brief scene in which Tess's ingenuity makes up for the too-easiness of the resolution. The second sub-plot is much more sinister and violent because it involves a possible uprising within the Nightkind kingdom, and it leads into some ominous events in the next novel. As for what part of that story line happens in this book, I'm only going to say that it involves a threat to Xavier's life. If I say more than that, it will be a spoiler.

     Even with the weaknesses that I have pointed out, this is an entertaining story starring two very charming characters: Xavier, the ultimate, polished, old-world gentleman, and Tess, the 21st century I-am-woman-hear-me-roar female who doesn't let manners and tradition stop her from speaking out plainly about whatever is on her mind. Xavier plays classical piano, and in a delightful scene he even tries to teach Tess to waltz, showing great patience when she can dance for only a minute and a half before stepping all over his feet.  

     Regular readers of this series won't want to miss this installment because it is the beginning of a major upheaval in the world of the Elder Races, particularly for the Vampyres. Click HERE to go to a web page with links to two excerpts from Night's Honor.

    FAIR WARNING: This review of Midnight's Kiss       
       contains minor spoilers for Night's Honor.       
                         NOVEL 8:  Midnight's Kiss                           
     At the very end of Night's Honor, Gabriel nearly died after being poisoned by Justine, a power-mad member of the Nightkind Council. Midnight's Kiss begins with this same scene, although by this time Julian Regillus, the Nightkind King, has arrived on the scene. When Julian learns of Justine's involvement, he puts his forces on high alert. Julian knows that he must have indisputable proof of Justine's actions, but at the moment he is concerned only with tracking her down.

     Unfortunately, Justine is an ancient, wily vampire who manages to stay mangy steps in front of Julian and his troops. Her next step is to kidnap Melisande (Melly) Aindris, daughter of the Light Fae Queen, Tatiana, and hold her ransom. Justine contacts Julian and offers to free Melly if he will surrender to her in person. What you need to know about Melly and Julian is that they used to be lovers—back in the 1990s—until an anonymous person sent Julian a set of photographs showing Melly in bed with the Elven prince, Ferion. At that point, a furious and heart-broken Julian broke off his relationship with Melly, refusing to listen to her pleas that she never cheated on him. Ever since then, they have sniped at each other from afar, both continuing to love one another, but unable to overcome their deep pain and anger.

     Of course, Julian immediately gives himself up to Justine, and she behaves just as predictably as possible by not allowing Melly her freedom. In fact, she tortures Julian and forces Melly to watch, taunting Julian with threats of carving up Melly's body and forcing him to watch her die. Justine is holding the pair in a dungeon that is part of a huge tunnel system under the city (San Francisco), and the first half of the book follows them through Justine's torture of Julian, a rape attempt on Melly, and their eventual escape—all very violent scenes. 

     The remainder of the book deals with the revolution that Justine has started within the Vampyre ranks. She wants total power, and she is willing to kill anyone who gets in her way, including any human bystanders or Vampyres who fail to kowtow to her commands. Julian soon learns that he has enemies on the Council of whom he was unaware, and he must fight his way back to power, even though he is beginning to believe that he doesn't really want to be the Nightkind King any more. Eventually, we have the big showdown scene between the opposing forces, and, as expected, peace is restored.

     Towards the end, Julian has several interior monologues and conversations with Melly about the deep depression that has overcome him in the past few years. He is in a very dark place, and he's not sure that his life should continue on the same path. Since his sire, Carling Severan (the former Nightkind Queen), ordered him to become the Nightkind King, he can't resign unless she agrees, so Harrison brings back Carling and her mate, Rune Ainissesthi (who was formerly one of Dragos's sentinels), to settle the matter. (Rune and Carling's love story was told in novel 3, Serpent's Kiss).

     As usual, Harrison tells a great story, with lots of erotic passion, dramatic danger, heart-rending angst, and a tender HEA to bring the story to an end. Julian and Melly are sympathetic characters, even though—at first—Melly comes across as a bit shallow and over-girly. Fortunately, she soon shows her true colors, as her courage and her ability to Macgyver herself out of difficult situations become the key to their escape from the tunnels. To read or listen to an excerpt from Midnight's Kiss, click HERE to go to the book's page and click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

          CUELEBRE FAMILY NOVELLA 8.5:  "Dragos Goes to Washington"       

     Dragos Cuelebre, Lord of the Wyr, needs to throw a party without maiming anyone. That isn’t exactly as easy as it might sound. After the destructive events of the last eighteen months, the Elder Races are heading to Washington, D.C., to foster peace with humankind. Not known for his diplomacy skills, Dragos must rely on his mate Pia to help navigate a battlefield of words and polite smiles rather than claws. With Dragos’s mating instinct riding close to the surface, his temper is more volatile than ever and the threat of violence hovers in the air. Then the human spouse of a prominent politician winds up murdered and Dragos and Pia must race against time to hunt down those behind it before they are held responsible for the crime. 

     For fans of Dragon Bound and Lord's Fall, the latest novella in the Elder Races holds passion, peril, political intrigue, and revelations that will change Dragos and Pia’s lives forever. "Dragos Goes to Washington" is the first part of a three-story series about Dragos, Pia, and their son Liam. Each story stands alone, but fans might want to read all three in order as they will be released. 

     The action part of the plot is described above in the publisher's blurb, but the heart of the story lies with Pia, who becomes very ill as soon as she arrives in Washington—nauseated, vomiting, and sporting an itchy, blotchy, bumpy red rash all over her body. Is she pregnant? Has she been poisoned? Does she have some kind of terrible illness? You'll have to read all the way to the end for the big reveal.

     Meantime, Pia has to perform as the hostess with the mostest as she smiles and chats her way through two dinners, one at the White House and one at Dragos' Wyr mansion. Enemies of the demesnes are everywhere, and when one of those enemies turns up dead in their closet, it's obvious that someone is trying to blame Dragos for the crime. Although Dragos knows that he must solve the murder before he himself is accused of committing it, his first thoughts are for his sick wife when she faints dead away in his arms.

     This is a must-read story for two reasons: It explains the medical implications of Dragos and Pia's efforts to expand their family, and it deals with the growing human hostility against the supernaturals. Both of these story lines are expanded on in the second story in this trilogy. 

     The weakness in the story is that there are too many mushy, gooey interior dialogues in which Dragos and Pia express their love and devotion to one another over and over and over again in the same repetitive words and phrases. Yes, we know. They love each other; they are hot for each other; they can't keep their hands off each other. So please, Ms. Harrison, stop going on and on about it and get back to the real story. For fans of Pia and Dragos' sexy love action, this story has more than its share of graphic bedroom scenes. That's to be expected because they are trying really hard to get pregnant. To read or listen to an excerpt from "Dragos Goes to Washington," click HERE to go to the book's page and click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

       FAIR WARNING: This review of "Pia Does Hollywood"      
       contains spoilers for "Dragos Goes to Washington."      
          CUELEBRE FAMILY NOVELLA 8.6:  "Pia Does Hollywood"         
     After making a diplomatic pact with humankind and the other leaders of the Elder Races, Pia Cuelebre, mate to Dragos Cuelebre, Lord of the Wyr, reluctantly heads to Hollywood to spend a week with the Light Fae Queen, Tatiana, before the busy Masque season hits New York in December. Dragos has never let the lack of an invitation stop him from doing anything he wanted. Unwilling to let his mate make the trip without him, he travels to southern California in secret to be with her. But when an ancient enemy launches a shattering assault against the Light Fae, Dragos and Pia must intercede. The destruction threatens to spread and strike a mortal blow against all of the magically gifted, both human and Elder Race alike. Working with the Light Fae to neutralize the danger, Dragos and Pia find their deepest vulnerabilities challenged and their most closely held secrets threatened with exposure. 

     "Pia Does Hollywood" is the second part of a three-story series about Pia, Dragos, and and their son, Liam. Each story stands alone, but fans might want to read all three in order as they are released.

     At the end of "Dragos Goes to Washington," a human government official came up with the idea that the demesne leaders of the Elder Races could prove their promise of peace amongst themselves by sending a family member to spend a week with another demesne—a take-off on the ancient practice of fosterage in Medieval Ireland in which parents would send a young child to be raised by another family in order to strengthen ties between clans. In this story, the "fosterage" lasts only for a week, which will supposedly lessen the likelihood of inter-demesne violence in the modern-day U.S. Pia is representing the Cuelebre family, and she is dreading her assignment to spend a week with Queen Titiana and her Light Fae in Southern California. Of course, with Pia in the early weeks of a difficult and dangerous pregnancy, Dragos isn't about to allow her to go alone, so he sneaks into California to keep an eye on Pia without the knowledge or permission of Titiana. 

     When the Wyrs arrive in Los Angeles, they land in the midst of a major kerfuffle between Titiana and her twin sister—a vicious family feud that dates back centuries. Unfortunately, the Wyrs are immediately drawn into the situation when Dragos is injured—possibly fatally—by an infection created by a sorcerer's spell. The action plot and the love-story plot are intertwined in this novella, as Titiana's people try to eradicate the infection (which has begun to spread in alarming numbers) while Pia works hard to heal Dragos, even though it means risking her baby's life and possibly revealing her magical abilities (which she and Dragos have kept secret from the rest of the supernatural world). 

     Two elements of this story are essential to the general series story arc. First, Tatiana—a potential enemy—learns that Dragos has lost some of his long-term memories as a result of his head injury at the construction site (in "Pia Saves the Day"). Second, Pia and her developing child have a dream-meeting towards the end of the story in which she discovers all sorts of information about the baby, including gender, form, magical powers, and personality traits. To read to an excerpt from "Pia Does Hollywood," click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

     "Pia Does Hollywood" is the second part of a three-story series about Pia, Dragos, and and their son, Liam. Each story stands alone, but fans might want to read all three in order as they are released.

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