Series: INNKEEPER CHRONICLES
Plot Type: A mash-up of Suburban Fantasy and Intergalactic Science Fiction
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Clean Sweep (12/2013)
Both books (both print and electronic) contain black and white illustrations of the leading characters, which adds to the enjoyment.
Dina's life is moving peacefully along—too peacefully, in fact. If she doesn't attract some more guests, the Innkeeper Assembly will drop her ratings and she might lose the Inn. Here's how Dina explains the Assembly to her friend, Sean: "The Assembly just sets policies and rates the inns, kind of like a cosmic Triple A. If someone walks in here and kills me, they'll do nothing about it. if you went to them complaining about me, they'd just rate my inn unsafe, which means nobody would stay here." Currently, Dina has only one guest, a fierce and mysterious woman named Caldenia, who is on the run from one or more of her enemies. Then, trouble comes to the Avalon subdivision when three dogs are found dead—mutilated by some kind of monstrous creature. The humans keep talking about mountain lions and wolves, but Dina is pretty sure that magic is involved.
Dina knows that her new neighbor, Sean Evans, is a werewolf, so she approaches him for help. Sean thinks that Dina is just a boring human B&B owner who can't possibly know his true nature so he rudely ignores her request for assistance. Sean soon finds how wrong he is about Dina when she tracks down and kills the monster just as it is getting ready to pounce on one of her neighbors. At that point, Sean and Dina reluctantly agree to work together because after dissecting the monster's body and doing some research, Dina discovers that this is a Ma'avi Stalker, described in her Creature Guide as "predatory, deadly, hunts by sight and scent, travels in packs." Yes…packs. So they can expect more attacks.
Not long into the story, a vampire clan drops out of the sky asking for information. They are after the villain who controls the pack of stalkers. In the final quarter of the book, Sean, Dina, and Arland of the House of Krahr (a sexy vampire marshal) set out to take down all of the bad guys in the requisite showdown scene.
On the romance front, there is a bit of flirting between Arland and Dina and a single passionate kiss between Sean and Dina. Both men are definitely interested in taking things further, but Dina is very cautious about entering into relationships with magical men who have fangs, claws, sharp weapons, and serious control issues.
You won't be surprised that Dina has a sad back-story. When she was in college, her parents and their entire Inn vanished from the face of the Earth—gone completely in an instant and never seen again. Dina's brother, Klaus, is still roaming the galaxy searching for them. Her sister has married and moved to another planet. Dina misses her parents and her siblings, but she is determined to make a success of her Inn, one way or another.
This book was originally a serialized novel published chapter-by-chapter on the authors' web site. Apparently, it was then published in print and e-book form as is, with no additional editing, so there is sometimes a bit of a bumpy feeling to the story line. That really wasn't much of a problem for me because these authors are such good story tellers. Dina is a fully developed character who is as different from Kate Daniels as night is from day. Unlike Kate, Dina can't be a snarky-mouthed, street-tough badass because she is an Innkeeper—a hostess who must placate her guests and wear a smile on her face at all times (even if that smile is often very strained and doesn't reach her eyes). She has managed to resurrect the Gertrude Hunter Inn from near-ruin with a lot of hard work, and now she is striving for it to be as successful as her parents' five-star Inn in Georgia, where she spent her childhood. I enjoyed this book very much, because these authors always deliver solid plots, well-developed characters, and, in this series, a nice mix of easy-going, bickering humor and fierce, fang-and-claw action. Click HERE and scroll down to read an excerpt from Clean Sweep.
NOVEL 2: Sweep in Peace
"So if you need someone to blow up a bridge in enemy territory…Vampires would send a team of five…all five will know how to arm and disarm the bomb….Otrokars will send a group of twenty…Five will know how to operate the bomb, and the rest will keep them alive until they get there."
The Anocracy and the Horde "hated each other so much their feud had become legendary. Half the jokes in the galaxy started with 'a vampire and an Otrokar walk into a bar…'" Once Dina learns the identities of her future guests, she has a few second thoughts, but she is so desperate for money and for guests, that she agrees to take the job.
One major character from book 1 is missing: Sean Evans, the werewolf who went off to pay off a debt and see the wonders of the galaxy. It's been six months since he left, and Dina hasn't heard a word from him. When she visits the werewolf merchant to whom Sean's debt was owed, she senses that he isn't telling her the whole truth about where Sean is and what he is doing. Although Dina hasn't fallen in love with Sean—not exactly—she does miss him and is hurt that he hasn't kept in touch.
In order to house the three groups—with twelve members in each—and keep them separated, Dina enlarges and completely remodels the Inn's interior, creating three separate suites of living quarters that are decorated according to each group's religious customs, cultural traditions, and preferred color schemes. Each group has its own dietary restrictions, so she has to find a chef to prepare massive quantities of the right kinds of food for these huge, hungry warriors. Orro, the melodramatic diva chef she hires, provides some welcome comedy relief throughout the book. Dina describes her seven-foot-tall quilled chef as "an oversized hysterical hedgehog with a martyr complex."
An additional complication comes in the form of the subdivision's human policeman, Officer Marais, who played a part in book one. He has a gut feeling that something strange is going at Dina's Inn, and he won't stop spying on Dina until he figures it out. In this book, Marais gets much more than he bargains for, and his scenes, like Orro’s, provide some welcome humor in this otherwise dark tale.
The plot is not a straight-forward hero vs. villain story as it was in book 1. In fact, there are really no traditional villains at all. Each primary and secondary character has a strong sense of justice, a profound respect for his or her own culture, and a deep religious commitment, but each group disdains the culture, traditions, and religions of their rivals. (Sound familiar? Just read today's newspaper.) As the peace negotiations proceed (or, more likely, deteriorate), we get to meet the leaders of each faction and glimpse their sad back-stories (all have lost loved ones in Nexus battles). One of the vampire leaders is Arland, Dina's admirer from book 1, and he continues to vie for her attentions. Over a period of several days, the delegates argue, curse, glare, and sometimes fight, with Dina being forced to use the Inn's magical talents to keep them from killing one another. As events begin to spin out of control, Dina realizes that one of her guests is at the center of all of the drama, and that is the beauty of this creative, meticulous plotting because—for me, anyway—these devious machinations were not obvious until very late in the book. I love to be surprised! (I will say, however, that figuring out the true identity of one particular character was no challenge at all, although that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.)
Let me interrupt myself here to add some historical perspective to the character list: George Camarine, the head Arbitrator, arrives in this series by way of the authors' THE EDGE series, in which he and his brother, Jack, and their cousin, Gaston, play prominent roles, along with Sophie/Lark. In EDGE, we left this quartet of eccentric magical beings as teenagers, but now we get to see what has happened to them in the ensuing years and how the events of their childhoods have influenced their adult behavior. You don't need to have read EDGE to appreciate these characters, but if you haven't read those very entertaining novels, I highly recommend that you do. Click HERE for a reading-order list of the EDGE novels, an overview of the world-building, and reviews of the four EDGE novels. And one last character point: In the prologue, the man who recruits George to the Arbitrators is Dina's long-lost brother, Klaus, who makes just that one very brief appearance in the book. I'm hoping for another INNKEEPER novel (soon, please) that tells his story.
All in all, this is a terrific book, even better than Clean Sweep. It is a tale that deals with the horrors of war, the pain of the survivors, and the balance between religious faith and fanaticism. Aside from its engrossing, complex, fast-paced plot, it has a cast of interesting, fully developed characters, each of whom behaves according to his or her personal code of beliefs and morality and in response to tragic past events. Although Dina is the heroine, she isn't the sole focus of the story, which is rather refreshing. Dina continues to be a low-key kind of person, but she does get her revenge when her guests break the Inn's rules. (Her ice-cold payback after George destroys some of her apple trees is hilarious and satisfying.) As the conflicts accumulate and the "peace" negotiations devolve into violence, the authors turn the final chapters into one big surprise party for the reader. This is a terrific book, and I highly recommend it. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Sweep in Peace.