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Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Author:   M. J. Scott
Plot  Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publisher and Titles:  ROC Fantasy
        Shadow Kin (9/2011)
        Blood Kin (6/2012)
        Iron Kin (4/2013)
        Fire Kin (5/2014) (FINAL)        

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 7/8/14 to include a review of Fire Kin, the fourth and FINAL novel in the series. The post begins with an overview of the world-building, which is followed by my reviews of the four novels. 

     The author describes the first book of series as "this weird book with mages, assassins, vampires, Fae, secrets and oh yeah, kind of quasi Victorian level culture.” On her FAQ page she says that the book is definitely not steampunk. "The world of Shadow Kin and Blood Kin has a Victorian-ish level of tech because iron and silver are controlled and rationed and that has impacted technology. But there aren’t goggles and gadgets and some of those other cool things that steampunk has. The closest term for it is gaslight fantasy. Dark romantic gaslight fantasy."

     In Half-Light City, humans live alongside several different types of supernaturals:

     > Vampires (aka the Blood), who have white skin and hair and live in the Night World
     > Fae, who live in the Veiled World (aka Summerdale)
     > Shape shifters (aka Beast Kind) who live in packs

     The all-human, all-male Knights Templar serve as a peace-keeping corps that protects humans and Fae from lawbreakers, primarily the Blood and the Beasts.

     Some humans become Nightseekers, choosing to serve the Blood in the hope that they will someday be changed over. They are the source of much of the blood consumed by the Blood, because in this world vamps can legally drink from those who willingly consent. Sometimes, vampires share their blood with humans, but humans who drink too much vampire blood become mindlessly blood-locked (i.e., totally addicted), at which time they are usually killed , either by their families or by the vamps, because the condition is thought to be irreversible.

     The Blood live in a below-ground, sunless compound where they are free to imbibe in human blood as they wish, day and night. All of the Blood are ruled by a single powerful vampirethe Lord of the Bloodwhose word is law. There are also a number of less powerful Blood Lords, each with his or her own minions. The Blood hire Beasts as their daytime soldiers. They also have a human staff, drawn from the Nightseekers and called the Trusted, who take care of their blood needs as well as the maintenance of their compounds.

     The citizens of Half-Light City live under a treaty that that is explained here by one of the supernaturals: “All four races to live in something like harmony. Proven transgressions by any of the races were punished with cuts to their privileges. The humans could lose their precious iron and silver rations—key to so much of their industry and their protections against the rest of us. Similarly, Fae or Blood or Beast offenses might result in the humans winning concessions or territories being reduced.” (p. 76) The treaties are renegotiated every five years. Certain places in the city have been set aside as Havens, neutral safe-places where any injured human or supernatural can come for healing. The Healers in this world are mostly sunmages, humans who pull their power from sunlight—the antithesis of the Blood. The humans, of course, are at the biggest disadvantage among the four races because they are magically less talented than the Fae and so much weaker than the Blood and the Beasts. The humans rely on the treaties for their safety.

                  NOVEL 1:  Shadow Kin                   
     The heroine of book 1 is Lily (aka Shadow), a wraith who can use the shadowy dark to become incorporeal (i.e., invisible and intangible). Lily is half-Fae and half-something else. She was sold to the Blood by her Fae mother and has never known the identity or race of her father. Lily is an outcast, shunned by the Fae (they call her an abomination) and feared by the Blood. She has been owned by Lucius, the Lord of the Blood, since she was a child and has been his pet assassin since she was fifteen, when he first brought her under his complete control by forcing her to drink his bloodover and over again. Being a wraith, she can't become blood-locked, but she is definitely addicted.

     As the story opens, Lucius has sent Lily to kill a human—Simon DuCaine, but Lucius fails to tell her that Simon is a powerful sunmage. Lily sneaks up on Simon as he sleeps, but just as she prepares to stab him, he turns on his sun powers, forcing her into her solid shape and neutralizing her powers. Then, he holds her captive until dawn. During those hours, Lily and Simon feel a strong attraction to one another that grows into true love as the story progresses. Simon lets Lily go that first night, but later carries her away from Lucius and convinces her to testify to the Fae that Lucius is attacking humans. The story follows Lily and Simon as they try to keep Lily out of Lucius's clutches and eventually attempt to take him down.

     The book is written in the first person voice with Lily and Simon telling the story in alternating sections. Even though the publisher strategically places a sun or crescent moon symbol to alert the reader to the change in voice, this continual voice-switching is sometimes confusing, particularly if the story is particularly intense and you read past the changeover symbol without noticing it. A more jarring notifiction—like having a different font for each narrator—would solve that problem. (Note: In book 2, the speaker's name has been added to the identifying symbol at the beginning of each change of voice, making the transition a bit more noticeable.)

     One reviewer on criticizes the book because "Surroundings are barely described at all except when it's relevant to what the characters are doing." Well, Duh! That's the way a writer should reveal the setting. Too often, writers use an information dump approach to unveiling their mythology, but this author does it with more subtlety, revealing the city and its denizens as the characters interact. Having said that, I must point out that the plot does have at least two implausibilities. First, Lucius values Lily highly because she is the only wraith in the city, but Lucius supposedly knows the secret of how wraiths are created. So...why hasn't he created more wraiths so that he doesn't have to rely solely on Lily? Second, Lily has belonged to Lucius for many years and has lived among the Blood for most of her life, but she is still a virgin. This seems improbable when you consider that Lucius is a hedonistic, sex-driven, unscrupulous vampire and that all of his fellow vampires share those same traits. 

     Lily is a courageous heroine, trapped in Lucius's possession by the magic of his blood, but determined to break away. Even though Simon is the hero, he is more beta than alpha. He's a gentle Healer who is trying to forget the tragedy of his warrior past. The couple falls in love a little too quickly—a common problem with paranormal romance in general—but, on the other hand, they keep mistrusting each other a bit too long. Almost all the way to the end, they still doubt each other's other motives, so it's difficult to accept their professed love for one another. All in all, though, this is a solid beginning to a series that I will continue to read. Scott has created a fresh and inventive mythology—a dark and mysterious world with interesting characters and an action-filled plot. Click HERE to read the first two chapters.

                  NOVEL 2:  Blood Kin                     
     The hero of book 2 is Guy DuCaine, brother of the hero of book 1. Guy is a Templar—a by-the-book soldier of God who works with his brother Templars to keep the city safe from lawbreakers, mostly blood-thirsty vampires and ferocious Beasts. In book 1, Guy was introduced as a stern, but relatively caring, straight-arrow warrior who was surprisingly open-minded about his brother's relationship with the wraith, Lily. In the opening scene of this book, Guy and his heroine, Holly Evendale, meet cute when she tumbles off a rooftop into his arms while he is out on Templar patrol and she is on a spy mission. Holly is half Fae and half human, and she makes her living in two ways. To the general public, she is a modiste—a dress maker, but this is just a cover for her real money-making career. To the Night World, Holly is the Owl—a spy for hire who uses magical charms to enhance her meagre Fae talents. Like Lily in book 1, Holly is under the control of a vicious and powerful man. In Holly's case it's her Fae father, Cormen, who pulls her strings. Cormen has put a magical, unremovable pendant around her neck that forces Holly to respond when he calls for her, and early on in this book he adds a geas—a binding—that requires Holly to spy on Simon DuCaine and report back to him with her findings.

     To review: Back in book 1, Lily and Simon have some secrets. Simon is attempting to find a cure for the blood-locked, which would generate all kinds of trouble if the Blood found out about it. In addition, Simon and Lily worked together to eliminate Lucius, but no one but Guy knows what really happened. The citizens of Half-Light City know only that Lucius has disappeared. No one knows for sure what happened to him—although they suspect that Simon had something to do with it. With Lucius's disappearance, the Night World is in an uproar, with various Blood Lords vying for supreme power and with the Fae and the Beasts waiting to see who will win. Holly's power-hungry father is up to his ears in Fae politics, and he is taking advantage of the chaotic situation to make a major power move. What Cormen needs desperately is verified information about Simon's secrets.

     As this book begins, the Templars are being regularly and frequently ambushed by gangs of Beasts, and these battles have resulted in the death of several Templars. Guy is determined to track down and punish whoever is orchestrating the attacks. In the meantime, Holly's father kidnaps her mother (whom he long ago ruined and discarded) and Holly's best friend to ensure that Holly follows through on her spying task. Since both Guy and Holly need more information, they decide to work together by going undercover into the Night World. Both are filled with conflicting emotions. Holly is torn by her growing fondness for Guy and his family, but she can't fight the power of the geas that relentlessly compels her to spy on them. Guy is forced unwillingly to turn his back on the Templars when he decides to go into the Night World.

     Guy is a much stronger hero than his brother was in the previous book—definitely an alpha who is used to giving orders and winning his battles. Holly is not quite as fierce as Lily, but she's just as smart (except for one big TSTL moment when Guy has to rescue her from some vampires). Both Lily and Holly start out with the huge handicap of being totally controlled by the primary villain, and I'm hoping that trend doesn't continue in future books. Blood Kin is a nice follow-up to Shadow Kin, making this a solid series with a nicely crafted mythology. Click HERE to read the first two chapters.        

                   NOVEL 3:  Iron Kin                   
     The first two books of this series told the love stories of the two DuCaine brothers. Now we have the story of their younger sister, Saskia, who is a 23-year-old metal mage apprentice. Saskia's true love is Fen, a halfbreed seer with a Fae father and a Beast Kind grandmother. Fen's visions cause him tremendous pain, and he wears an iron chain around his wrist to keep them under control. Early in the story, Fen accidentally touches Saskia and is shocked to discover that her brief touch stops his pain. As the story moves along, the two become more and more attracted to one another even though they come from different economic levels and different species. Needless to say, this generates a multitude of interior monologues from both characters, although they don't have as much angst as you would expect.

     The action part of the plot continues the series story arc as Ignatius, the new leader of the Blood, plots to take control of the city. It's time for the treaty talks, which take place every five years, and if the four races (humans, vampires, Fae, and shape shifters) don't come to an agreement, there will be an all-out war, which the humans will probably lose. When the Fae are attacked at the beginning of the talks, chaos reigns and the future becomes uncertain. 

     The best part of this story is the action plot, which moves along at a fast pace and ends in a cliff hanger, with hints that some new characters will come to the rescue of the humans. The romance, on the other hand, is kind of dull. For much of the story, Saskia is portrayed as a relatively naive and innocent girl who lets her lustful emotions lead her. Then, towards the end, she become (almost instantly) forceful and somewhat aggressive in the relationship. Although it's always good for a character to develop as the story moves along, that character should develop gradually in order for the transformation to be believable. In this case, that doesn't happen; Saskia's changeover happens way too fast and without any transition.

     Still, this is a fascinating mythology, and the characters' vastly differing back stories lend interest to the relationship development. Click HERE to read the first two chapters.

                   NOVEL 4:  Fire Kin                   
Recap: (WARNING: The first paragraph of this review includes spoilers for previous books.)
     Now that the Veiled Queen of the Fae has been murdered, probably by the vampire Ignatius Grey, the treaty that has long kept the peace among the humans, Fae, Blood (vampires), and Beast Kind (shape shifters) has been broken. The Fae have retreated back to Summerdale to find a new ruler and have refused to ally with the humans in their defense against the newly united Bloods and Beasts. The city has been divided into two sections: one controlled by Ignatius and the other controlled by the Templars. Meanwhile, Simon and his crew are still working on the cure for blood-lock, keeping their patients secured behind warded iron gate deep in the tunnels below St. Giles Hospital. Blood-locked humans are those drink too much vampire blood and become mindlessly addicted to it, at which time they are usually killed, either by their families or by the vamps (after they drain the afflicted victims), because the condition is thought to be irreversible. If the Templars can come up with a cure, they can save lives, increase the human population, and keep the vamps in check. Here, Ash sums up the situation: "If the humans had a cure for blood-locking, then it changed the balance of power between the races considerably. The humans had...agreed that those who chose to go to the Night World and drink what was on offer ceded their rights to protection as part of the original treaty. At the time, they'd probably never imagined that quite so many people would continue to willinglyor stupidlygive themselves into the Blood's power…The Blood needed the humans…Most of their food came from the humans and most of that from the blood-locked. If the humans could cure the blood-locked, then they would not be so willing to declare them lost. And then what would the Blood do?"

And now, on to novel five: 
     In the previous novels, Scott told the love stories of the three DuCaine siblings. To finish the series, she turns to a familiar character: Bryony, the lovely and powerful Fae healer who heads up St. Giles Hospital. Bryony is part of a noble Fae family, but she left Summerdale long ago, sickened by the fallout from Fae politics and feuds. One of those feuds resulted in the forced exile of Bryony's true love, Asharic sa'Uriel'pellar (aka Captain Asher Pellar, aka Ash) after Ash let himself be drawn into an illegal duel that resulted in the death of his opponent. Ash has been gone for thirty years, but Bryony still misses him. He tried to talk her into going with him when he was exiled, but she was so angry at what he had done that she refused his pleas, and they have not seen each other since. Bryony has remained in the human world at St. Giles all these years, while Ash became a mercenary soldier who now commands thousands of mostly human soldiers.

     Desperate for military assistance, the Templars hire Ash and his army to help patrol the border and keep the vamps and shifters away from the human population. When the Templars send Ash their offer of employment, Ash is stunned to learn of the death of the Veiled Queen because it means that his long exile is finally over and he can go home againto Summerdale and to Bryony. As usual, there are two closely related plots: the love story and the action story line that relates to the series story arcmaintaining the peace among the humans, Fae, Blood, and Beasts and creating a cure for blood-lock. 

     The love story is filled with all the angst that you would expect. Ash wants Bryony back, but she is settled into her life in the human world and isn't about to hand her heart over to a man who has already broken it once. Of the two, Ash is the more sympathetic character. He has made the most of his exile, learning to use his formidable Fae powers and hardening himself to life as the leader of soldiers. He has obviously matured greatly since the dare-devil days of his youth, but Bryony chooses not to believe that he has changed. She is comfortable in her life at St. Giles, where she is highly respected and well loved by the humans and the Templars alike. Both Ash and Bryony have been dreaming about one another all these years, but Bryony is too proud and too fearful to admit her feelings to anyone but herselfat least at first. Eventually, she and Ash fall into bed together (about half-way through the book), but each of their love-making sessions is immediately followed by Bryony's withdrawal from Ash as she continues to overthink their situation. Near the end, she counsels Ash to accept a certain position (which I can't describe because it would be a spoiler), but refuses to stand with himan action that comes across as weak and mean-spirited. 

     The action plot has several interwoven story lines: the border battles with the vamps and shifters, the political and personal unrest in Summerdale, the kidnapping of several Fae women, and the search for the blood-lock cure. Obviously, since this is the final book int he series, all of those conflicts are resolved. 

     The story is told in the first person, alternating between Ash and Bryony. First-person narrative isn't my favorite story-telling point of view, but Scott does an adequate job of it, although there are some awkward spots. The best parts of the story are the scenes that take place in Summerdale, where Ash is forced once again into a duel and the Fae discover the depth and breadth of his powers. His reunion with his parents is a touching scene. 

     This has been a solid series with a well-conceived mythology, strong plotting, and well-developed characters. Fire Kin ties up all the loose ends and makes for a satisfying finale. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Fire Kin

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