I realized in looking over my posts that I had yet to do a review of a book or series which would be characterized as urban fantasy. Despite having my favorites in this genre, it’s actually a category of romance I steer clear of, largely due to the commonality that it is usually written in the first person. I love getting both the hero and heroine’s perspectives, so I naturally shy away from books filled with “I” but in the hands of a great writer, all my objections are swept away and I’m along for the ride.
Jeaniene Frost is a REALLY great writer.
I think I was surfing the vampires books list on Goodreads when I came across the Night Huntress series by Frost and I remember being incredibly impressed by the devotion of her fans and the effusive kvelling over Bones. It annoys me that so many readers are ready to stick up their noses when you mention a book or series has vampires as some of the main characters. I understand that there is a level of saturation in the paranormal market attempting to milk the Twilight wave for all it was worth, but should I stop recommending Jane Eyre simply because someone has read a few tepid gothic romances? “Oh, thanks for the rec, Tori, but I’m all moored out. Got anything else?” Nuh-uh. Readers should seek to find the best examples of a subgenre prior to determining if it’s really not for them.
In my opinion, the best vampire series out there is this one – Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress World. Now, I have to give you fair warning, because I will be doing an overview of each book in the series – in the order you should read them – there has to be spoilers. I’m totally okay with spoilers, in fact I’m one of those readers who absolutely hates shocking or rude surprises and would rather gird myself for any big issues. I’m not planning on ruining things for you, but just be aware that you are able to determine how certain story lines might play out. Heads up.
Technically Reckoning is the “first” work in this series is listed as #.5 (a prequel) to Halfway to the Grave, so I’m going to mention it here first on the list. In actuality, this 59 page novella is probably best read after reading the first book in the series. It’s a wonderful work that does a good job describing the power structure in New Orleans (a mecca for vampires and ghouls) while simultaneously helping the reader envision what Bones was like prior to heading to Ohio and meeting Cat.
I’m not sure anyone who didn’t read the first book in the series could necessarily be tearing their hair out until they read it, but Frost never disappoints and this is an excellent work that any series lover would enjoy. Keep in mind that this was first published in the print anthology Unbound, which contains other novellas by such urban fantasy heavyweights as Kim Harrison and Melissa Marr, so don’t double buy it now that it’s offered on its own. (I’ve done that more than once and it drives me crazy.)
Halfway to the Grave is the real first book of the series and you should start here for your Cat and Bones adventures. The book has a great opening when local Ohio girl Cat Crawfield is pulled over in the wee hours by the sheriff in her rural community. Looking at the redheaded bombshell dressed for partying and more than a little mussed, he’s willing to believe she’s been up to no good, particularly when it’s well known that Cat’s mother got knocked up years ago with Cat. She manages to convince him of her good intentions and drives away, only to later get rid of the body in the back of her truck. The vampire body.
Cat knew as a child that she was different – her strength, her hearing, and the way her eyes would glow when she was upset. When she was 16, her mother sat her down and told her the truth about her father. He was a vampire who raped Cat’s mother. Justina Crawfield has passed along her virulent hatred of vampires to her daughter to the point where she has encouraged Cat to go seek them out and use her abilities to kill them whenever possible. Since her teen years, Cat has dressed to party and gone to the bars where she has lured vampires and then staked them. Despite her mission, her relationship with her mother is troubled to say the least, but Cat believes her mother that vampires are monsters and that she is doing the right thing by killing them.
That is, until one night when she sees a beautiful blond vampire with a killer British accent. Struck by his beauty she attempts to lure him away but he is having none of it, until the following night when he takes her up on her offer. Rather than succeeding in killing him, she finds herself chained in a local cave where he plans to torture her into giving up which vampire she works for. It takes some convincing, but our hero, Bones, realizes that Cat is what she says she is – an incredibly rare vampire half-breed who is almost totally ignorant of the vampire world. He convinces her to let him train her to lure and really fight vampires (she’s been lucky to not have been killed yet) and help him figure out why so many young women are disappearing from Ohio without a trace.
Naturally in the course of her training, Cat has to face up to her own prejudices. Vampires are strong and they can be cruel, but as Bones explains the complicated world of the supernatural to her, Cat has to face the realization that there are good vampires and bad ones the same way there are good people and bad people. This revelation has to come sooner rather than later as she confronts some very real feelings for Bones. But just as she tries to figure out how to get her mother to accept the man she loves, all hell breaks loose and Cat has to figure out a way to keep Bones and her mother safe, and it might mean giving up the man she loves.
I cannot emphasize enough Frost’s ability to draw characters that are so full of life you end up having more affection for them than a few of your family members. Cat’s complicated feelings regarding her own birth and heritage combined with her facing her prejudices (and that of others who know of the vampire world) make this a series that tackles issues of intolerance and acceptance.
Bones is not only a sexy beast, but has such a fascinating history that he is more than a pretty face and great sense of humor (he was a gigolo for the British aristocracy in the 1700s prior to being transported to Australia as part of his prison sentence and was turned by a fellow prisoner who had successfully escaped). The only person funnier than Bones is Cat (although Bones’ friend Ian is up there on the laugh-o-meter) and since the story is told from her point of view, there are lots of snorts and chuckles to be had while reading this series. But don’t forget to keep the tissues handy. Frost’s ability to tug at the emotional heartstrings is also unrivaled.
Happily Never After is a novella that comes between Halfway to the Grave and One Foot in the Grave chronologically. Bones is in the midst of searching for Cat but is called upon by an old friend, Greta, an elderly woman living in Philadelphia. Her lovely granddaughter, Isabella is being pressured into marriage by a local mafia wanna-be kingpin who is lording over her some trouble Isabella’s brother is involved in. Bones makes a couple cameo appearances, but sends one of his line, a vampire named Chance, to investigate and help.
Isabella knows that the man showing up in her family restaurant has a death wish. Yes, he’s incredibly good looking and says that her grandmother arranged to have him help, but Isabella knows that it’s going to take more than good looks to get her out of this bind. But Chance seems to be able to do the impossible and she discovers a lot more about her seemingly frail grandmother than she anticipated. There are creatures in this world that Isabella had no idea existed and she might very well be in love with one of them. Can she put aside her preconceived notions and accept love when it’s right in front of her?
FYI, this novella (which is over 100 pages) originally appeared in the anthology Weddings from Hell, in case your local library has got that on the shelf, or in case you need a print version versus an electronic copy of this story.
One Foot in the Grave picks up five years after Cat made her painful decision at the end of Halfway to the Grave. She’s taken the dubious bargain offered by the government to head up an elite squad of vampire hunters. She’s trained her team incredibly well and they’ve been successful, so much so that Cat now has a reputation of being the “Red Reaper.”
Cat has tried to go on with her life. She’s immersed in her work, is dating a local veterinarian, has a good girlfriend who knows what she is, and her team are her friends as well as her crew. Her mother is pleased Cat’s hunting vampires again, but all of this does not add up to happiness for Cat, not by a long shot. As she prepares to be a bridesmaid in her best friend Denise’s wedding, she acknowledges the fact that she will always be in love with Bones. Imagine her surprise when she walks down the aisle only to see that Bones is one of the groomsmen.
Bones is so incredibly pissed. He’s looked for Cat nonstop for years and finds her totally by happenstance. In the midst of getting her to face the fact that she simply didn’t trust him with the truth of the threat to him and her mother, an assassination attempt on Cat takes place and he is able to save her.
Cat has a lot to deal with in this book. She’s facing the knowledge that she loves Bones and there is no way she can deal with the pain of him not in her life (not that he’d let her). She also has to juggle the reactions of her team who have no desire to trust him, particularly her lead team member, Tate, who has feelings for her. Her mother, who is completely bonkers at the thought of them being back together, puts nuclear mushroom clouds to shame with her response to the news. Cat also has to deal with the minor detail that someone is trying to kill her, a someone who has offered the Red Reaper bounty placed upon her. Complicating things is the fact that, now that she’s been found by at least one assassin, Bones’ longtime friend and master vampire Ian is bound to try and “acquire” her once more. So she has a couple things on her plate. Poor Cat.
Your heart aches when Cat and Bones find each other again. Even though he’s angry with how she left, it’s obvious that he still loves her to distraction and seeing Cat finally begin to take down that wall she’s built, brick by brick, is so damn satisfying. Frost helps you understand that this isn’t going to be an easy process for Cat, but having a vampire lover who is 200+ years old helps a little. Understanding that Bones was Cat’s first real relationship and that, despite his age, Cat is Bones’ first relationship helps you have the patience you need to support these two as they figure out how best to deal with each other.
At Grave’s End starts out focusing on Cat’s facing problems in doing her work for the paranormal squad. One of Bones’ conditions of them being together is that he work for her because he can’t handle the idea of her risking her life without him there to help. It quickly becomes clear that every vampire who walks among the living has heard of the famous Red Reaper, hence her ability to lure bad vampires to their inevitable staking is rather compromised. The squad ends up having to make some decisions about changing and there are a few hiccups in that road that are fascinating.
But things get spooky quickly. Bones’ grandsire, the cool and powerful Mencheres has a scandal in his closet. He’s been married for a couple thousand years to Patra (daughter of the original Cleopatra) and she wears a t-shirt marked “uberbitch” like you wouldn’t believe. Patra knows that Mencheres can’t bring himself to kill her so she decides to work to decimate his and Bones’ resources. This results in the horrifying disappearance of Bones for a while and your stomach is literally in knots while this is getting worked through.
The final showdown has got to be one of the best large scale battles written in urban fantasy (Ilona Andrews has probably written the top three of them). Patra uses black magic (any magic use is a major no-no for vampires by their laws) to attack Mencheres’ rural Canadian hideout and all the vampires and ghouls are faced with something much scarier and harder to kill than they are. There is some great Mencheres insight and development in this book, and we get the introduction of tall, dark and Romanian Vlad (yes, the original Dracula) who becomes friends with Cat despite Bones hating him (he thinks Vlad’s pyrokinesis ability is “showy”).
Devil to Pay is a 99 page enovella about a reclusive vampire, Elise, who stumbles across a tortured man who claims to be fighting demon possession. She calls upon her loving sire and mentor Mencheres to help her figure out if he can be helped and is dismayed when the answer is no.
Despite having no interest in interacting with humans or other vampires, this handsome human, Blake Turner, stirs up long-dead feelings in Elise. Yet she and Mencheres must take him to the salt flats of the southwest to drive out the demon in a safe location where it can not infect any human or animal. Unfortunately they will have to kill Blake in order to guarantee the demon’s demise.
Cat and Bones have a cameo in this novella and I always enjoy seeing them from someone else’s perspective. This story is a sweet palette cleanser that I think helps you understand why so many vampires follow Mencheres – he is such a caring mentor to Elise as her sire and he understands her emotions for Blake long before she does. Let’s face it, any vampire who is willing to stay saddled with a power-crazed murderer like Patra (see previous book) and not kill her has a romantic side.
Devil to Pay was also published in print in the anthology, Four Dukes and a Devil, which you can easily order new or used if you don’t have an ereader.
The hardest book in the series for me to read is the fourth novel, Destined for an Early Grave because of how rocky Cat and Bones’ relationship becomes. Cat begins having disturbing dreams about a mysterious vampire calling her his wife. She’s willing to chalk it up to something she ate until she hears that a previously imprisoned master vampire, Gregory (known as the “dreamsnatcher” because he can literally steal people through their dreams), is claiming that Cat cannot be married to Bones because she married him in Paris when she was sixteen.
Bones is incensed that someone would dare to claim his wife as his own and Cat thinks this is a new level of vampire crazypants until Mencheres comes on the scene. Cat has always felt resentful and unsettled around Mencheres and now she knows why. Mencheres admits that he did in fact rescue Cat from a hotel in Paris when she was sixteen – and that Gregory claimed to have married her before his arrival. Mencheres used his powers to suppress Cat’s memory because he saw her in a vision as destined for Bones (and he knows Gregory is a son of a bitch who wants Cat’s powers and abilities at his disposal).
Bones feels incredibly betrayed by Mencheres keeping this knowledge from him as well as for altering Cat’s memory but he focuses on getting Cat away from Gregory. Gregory has some heavy hitting allies, namely in the ghoul queen of New Orleans, the famous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who calls Cat to her for an audience (which is an awesome scene – who knew a ghoul queen would be a Matrix fan?).
Cat gets a sense of all the political nuances of Gregory’s claim while at the same time realizing that he has the ability to read her thoughts (and as a result, her location). She has to begin taking some experimental no-R.E.M.-sleep pills in order to avoid Gregory in her dreams and it makes her understandably stressed. Bones does his best to sequester her, telling her nothing about where they are or their defenses so she can’t leak information accidentally to Gregory, but the deprivation of information leads to Cat making a rash but understandable decision to get to Gregory and figure out what is going on, particularly after she discovers he can restore her lost memories.
Despite the logic that led her to her decision to engage Gregory, it causes a major rift between her and Bones, who finds her actions indicative of how Cat is unwilling to trust him. He leaves her in such a way that she believes its permanent and in her despair turns to Vlad as a friend. He takes her to one of his Romanian castles where she can mope in peace. You can imagine that Bones has no intention of leaving her alone, but the appearance of his actions is very hurtful to Cat who does everything to help him while avoiding him. Bones forces not only a confrontation but a very major decision on Cat’s part and there is once again a major showdown against Gregory.
After re-reading this book so many times, I think what is so amazing about it is how Frost is able to take two characters we adore and highlight the barriers they impose on themselves to success in their relationship. Cat is faced with the decision of becoming a vampire and she realizes that it’s something she’s avoided, not because she still believes vampires are evil, but because if she became immortal it would mean facing the fear that Bones might not want her for all eternity.
I come down pretty hard on Cat’s side in this relationship kerfuffle – Bones’ anger is clearly from being afraid he’s going to lose Cat because she doesn’t trust him to talk over actions before she takes them, but as is so often the case, that we fear most usually comes to pass because of our fear. The confrontation Bones orchestrates is his way of trying to get Cat to admit what her real fear is, but I think there should have been more apologizing on his part, particularly considering how she was drugged out of her mind during most of the proceedings. Nevertheless, their reunion is fabulous and the reader feels like a weight has been removed from their chest once it happens. When Bones finally turns her, it’s typical Cat that even as a vampire she has to be different!
In the novella “One for the Money,” found in Magic Graves, Cat and Bones are stuck guarding a spoiled heiress who has stumbled on more than she can handle. I’m not sure this enovella lends more understanding about the world our characters inhabit, but it’s a story which highlights why we love them so damn much.
There are some very witty one-liners (the heiress is completely hot for Bones much to Cat’s annoyance) and Cat’s Mom Justina is evident. It’s hard not to appreciate Bones when he begins to teach Justina how to defend herself, even though they loathe one other.
This is an enovella anthology (partnered with Ilona Andrews’ prequel for her Kate Daniels’ series which is amazing) and it’s nice to see the bonus material of the beginnings of Once Burned and the start of the “Home for the Holidays” novella, but you can now get both of these (see below descriptions) so don’t torture yourself. If you need a print version of this story, it was published in the Death’s Excellent Vacation anthology, compiled by Sookie Stackhouse creator, Charlaine Harris. The enovella has only the two stories and is cheaper, but if you read the other authors in the print anthology, it might be worth it.
At some point, Frost and her publisher had the brilliant idea of focusing on some of the secondary characters in the series, so the related works, known as the Night Huntress World series, was born. Keep in mind that despite being a related series, these books are meant to be read between the books in the Night Huntress series and if you don’t, you’ll be baffled by some of the relationship developments of these characters in the subsequent books in that series. Thankfully, Frost shows that she is not just a Cat and Bones one-trick pony, but instead a veritable queen of romance with each of them. The first in this related series, First Drop of Crimson, focuses on one of Bones’ best friends, Spade.
Spade was born Baron Charles de Mortimer, transported to Australia along with Ian and Bones as part of his assuming his father’s place in debtor’s prison. Ian turned him at the same time as Bones over 200 years ago and now Spade, like Ian and Bones, is a powerful master of his own line.
Denise is Cat’s human best friend who has moved to Texas away from her family after she lost her husband in the epic battle against Patra at the end of At Grave’s End. She wants nothing to do with the supernatural, but when her young family members start dying mysteriously of heart ailments after enjoying excellent health, her knowledge of the supernatural has her wondering if something else is going on. When she witnesses one of these murders and sees something she can’t explain, she knows she needs powerful help. Aware that something crazy is going on with Cat and Bones (referring to Gregory), she doesn’t want to bother them so she turns to Spade.
Spade has been attracted to Denise from the second he walked into the mountain cabin and saw her laughing with Cat, but as both Cat’s best friend (and therefore under Bones’ protection) and as a married woman he has steered clear of her. The last time he saw her was when Cat met up with her former paranormal teammate Cooper and Denise in Texas. Spade ended up killing a bunch of rednecks who wanted to lynch Cooper and rape Cat and Denise (the men obviously didn’t know Cat would have killed them herself and probably not worked up a sweat), but he realizes that Denise must associate him with death and violence. When she calls claiming something strange is happening, he wonders if it’s just post-traumatic stress from everything she’s been through, but plans to go check it out and get the hell away from her.
But Denise isn’t making anything up. Spade actually arrives right after a demon has attacked Denise, branding her with his mark, and claiming that he won’t remove them until she finds her long-lost family member who reneged on a deal with him. If she doesn’t deliver this mystery man, the demon will kill everyone in her family, including Denise. Denise is completely freaked out with no one but Spade to turn to, but she feels guilty having him help her when he’s clearly got better things to do.
Spade realizes the ramification of helping Denise more than she does. Bones will be incensed at not being notified because Denise clearly comes under his protection in the vampire world. Spade knows that he can’t fight his attraction for Denise and will end up seducing her despite not having taken a human lover in hundreds of years. Add to this the discovery that Denise is in serious danger from now having demon-powered blood, making it a powerful drug on the vampire black market, and it’s understandable that Spade’s overprotective instincts go into overdrive.
I liked Denise a lot from the previous books and Spade was certainly an interesting character, but I had no idea I would fall so heavily for the two of them. Denise has been through hell and back but despite her panic attacks and tremendous loss, she’s a spunky, independent heroine whose intelligence makes her as attractive as her good looks. When you discover why Spade doesn’t believe in taking a human lover and the extent of his emotional baggage, it’s obvious that he’s been denied love and happiness for a very long time so you’re truly pulling for the two of them to make it.
The second book in the Night Huntress World series and next in the chronological reading order is the book devoted to Mencheres, Eternal Kiss of Darkness. Mencheres is super scary in the other books. He’s not only always cool and unruffled, but he has visions of the future, can read minds, and has an unbelievable amount of power (anyone with the ability to decapitate people without touching them falls into the “yikes!” category for me). But this power is tempered with a terrific, wry sense of humor and strong emotional ties to those around him. He respects and cares about Bones, to the point of making him co-ruler of his line and sharing some of his powers with him. But like so much with Mencheres, even this is done with an ulterior motive. Mencheres believes he’s going to die.
Or in his case, he acknowledges it might be committing suicide by vampire/ghoul. He’s over 4000 years old, after all, dating back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, and other vampires have made the choice after they have gotten tired of living. The main reason he believes final death is around the corner is that his visions have ceased – whenever he attempts to look in the future he sees nothing but darkness.
Kira is a hard-working private investigator who has overcome a difficult past and now just focuses on doing her job so she can help support her sick sister and hopefully not support her lazy brother. When she is walking home in the early morning hours and hears an attack in a local warehouse she goes to the rescue of the handsome man strung up in chains who is being repeatedly knifed by a bunch of hoodlums.
As soon as she does, Mencheres’ plan to succumb to the group of ghouls for his own purposes immediately changes. This lovely human with her brave heart cannot suffer on his behalf, so when she is wounded he dispatches the attackers with ease and takes her to his home to recuperate. He is dismayed to discover that she is part of the small percentage of humans immune to memory manipulation and thinks it might be due to the intake of his blood which he used to heal her injuries. He tells her she needs to stay with him for the week to see if it will wear off and explains how no human not under the protection of a vampire can have knowledge of their world. Kira isn’t thrilled but she understands his power so she stays the required time, learning more about Mencheres in the process.
They are definitely attracted to one another but Kira is not going to act on it while essentially being held captive. Mencheres thinks it’s Murphy’s Law that he would find a beautiful woman right after his heinous wife is finally dead – finally freeing him to love someone else – and now that he sees his own death. After releasing Kira, he can’t help watching her to make sure she’s all right, setting up events so that her life is a little easier.
Kira realizes that Mencheres is helping her in secret and her time with him has her thinking about some of the unsolved cases that seemed crazy in the past but might actually overlap with his world. Investigating one of them, she stumbles into a very dangerous situation with some low-life vampires who torture her into mentioning her connection with Mencheres. They call to check and Mencheres flies to her rescue, but not before a chain of events is set in motion to discredit him by a rival vampire. Mencheres ends up forced to make Kira a vampire and flee with her to safety, protecting her as best he can while also protecting his people from the vampire who wants all of Mencheres’ power and who will stop at nothing to get it.
Mencheres is an unbelievably sexy man (all those water scenes!!) who deep down is a die-hard romantic and one who had 900 years of celibacy forced upon him. He is astonished to find that not only is he falling for Kira, but she seems to see him – the person – behind all his power, to the point of getting testy and protective when people make insensitive comments about his former wife. Seeing the other vampire’s reactions (like that of Cat and Bones) to Mencheres with a woman is priceless and it makes your heart light to see this serious, powerful man finally happy with someone.
At this point in the reading order, we go back to the Night Huntress series. In book five, This Side of the Grave trouble is brewing between the ghouls and vampires and as usual, Cat is in the middle. The leader of the ghouls is stirring up trouble claiming that vampires, particularly Cat, are bent on subjecting ghouls to their will – basically a rash of the ghoul equivalent of the KKK. Unprotected vampires are being attacked and killed, and Bones and Cat are investigating to figure what on earth is going on.
When the Queen of New Orleans Marie Laveau calls Cat to come visit her, Cat and Bones are understandably worried. The only vampire Marie had any loyalty to is dead and Cat and Bones were the ones responsible. Marie suspects that Cat’s powers stem from her unusual diet, a fact Cat has tried to keep a secret,and the Queen forces Cat to drink some of her blood, gifting her with some of her power.
This “gift” opens up a world of complications for Cat as she is now a magnet for ghosts everywhere. Luckily she at least has power over them, but it’s just an added problem to the bigger one of the possible ghoul uprising. Cat and Bones are still terrific in this book, and it’s good to see them finally able to at least not have the stress of any relationship problems on their plate.
In the sixth and most recent full-length novel in the Night Huntress series, One Grave at a Time, it just goes to show you that living in the vampire world equates to not catching a break. Bones, as my husband would say, is clearly not Jewish. When he makes a comment at the start of the book about how great things are going, you know trouble is around the bend!
Cat’s resident ghost friend Fabian brings a beautiful female ghost with a serious problem to Cat and Bones for help. This lovely young woman was burned at the stake as a witch by the evil man who literally wrote the book on witch hunting hundreds of years ago, but there’s a major problem. The evil bastard practically responsible for the genocide of thousands of women accused as witches isn’t content just being dead like everyone else. He has used his misogyny to give him additional power, to the point that he is able to take corporeal form every Halloween and torture and kill three new victims.
Cat definitely comes from the “Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Murdering Bastard to Live” school of thought and Bones is willing to help her, but how do you kill someone who is already dead and who for 364 days of the year doesn’t have a body? Cat’s power over ghosts is dissipating as the influence of Marie Laveau’s blood leaves her, so they turn to ghost hunters for help.
Just to demonstrate there is no shortage of problems in their world, Cat’s now deceased uncle is hanging around as a ghost, not sure of why he is still trapped on this plane. A possible reason presents itself when Cat receives news from Tate that he has been removed as head of the paranormal hit squad and replaced by a scary, evil bureaucrat who is convinced that all vampires, Cat especially, are evil. This a-hole finds it more productive to concentrate his attentions on Cat rather than do his job, endangering lives and hindering the pursuit of the evil ghost.
Our rotten-to-the-core ghost not only finds his victims (he tortures them mentally weeks ahead of Halloween) but also repeatedly attacks Cat prior to the big showdown. The final battle against him is absolutely chilling and I imagine you might find yourself, as I did, literally in a muck sweat as Cat fights him by herself before help can arrive. I think this ghost was one of the best villains Frost has penned yet! Cat and Bones’ sex scene while flying also ranks up there among the Chapter 21s and Chapter 32s of her books. (These are chapters that represent some very hot and very famous scenes between Cat and Bones in previous books. Prepare to dump ice in your panties while you read them.)
Last Christmas, Jeaniene Frost was nice enough to give us a present in the form of “Home for the Holidays,” a novella published in the anthology The Bite Before Christmas. Cat is eager to throw a surprise birthday party for Bones right before Thanksgiving and she’s managed to gather a bunch of their friends to help celebrate. But on the night of the party, Bones’ friend and former lover Annette is brutally attacked while she waits for Bones’ birthday present to arrive in her hotel room, the present being a long-lost relative Bones didn’t know he had.
But this person’s arrival is making Bones and everyone else act strange, with the exception of Cat, Denise, and Ian, and together they must figure out what is going on…preferably before Cat must fulfill her promise to Bones that she would kill him if he ever endangered his people.
Gah! I can’t believe something that packs this much emotional punch is a novella. This is easily over 100 pages and Frost delivers her usual great writing, demonstrating a facility and intimacy with her characters that is unrivaled by other paranormal authors. It is terrifying to see favorite characters like Spade and Bones turned against the people they love with such ease and fabulous to see flippant Ian come to the fore the battle to win them back. (When are we getting Ian’s story in the Night Huntress World series? I’m dying here to know more about him!)
Some fans, upon hearing that Frost was going to begin a third related series centered on Vlad, became cranky. I read a lot of “Okay, Vlad’s fine, whatever, but what’s the big deal?” What’s the big deal? Are they nuts? He’s Vlad the freaking Impaler, that’s what, who happens to be good looking, can read minds, can set things on fire, oh, and did I mention he’s good looking?What is wrong with you people! Sheesh.
Vlad had me from the moment he brought Cat back to his castle during her temporary estrangement from Bones and asked if he could sleep in the bed with her just as a friend, because they were both lonely. Right then, I knew there was a lot more to this fiery despot than met the eye and Frost can take as many books as she likes to reveal him to me!
In Once Burned we not only get Vlad, but also get a fascinating heroine, and in fact the story is told from her perspective. Leila Dalton has traveled as a circus performer with her best friend and vampire Marty for years. It’s the perfect cover for her startling abilities. She was electrocuted by a downed power line when she was thirteen, ending her Olympic dreams of a gymnastics gold medal and leaving her with an electric current running through her body, particularly her right hand. But that hand does even more than shock anyone who touches it, it also shows Leila the person’s darkest secret from the past, and once she has a hold on their essence, she can see a person in the present and even see their future.
An inadvertant run-in at a bar has her preventing a woman from being killed and there’s been more than a little publicity about it, to the point where a group of vampires kidnaps her and takes her to a local hotel where they insist she touch a series of objects to test her ability. Considering that at first touch of an object involved in a murder causes Leila to relive their death, this is a bit harsh, but it’s not like she has much of a choice. Over and over she sees the same handsome, cruel vampire dispensing fire and death. Her kidnappers are elated as this man is who they are looking for, and she is asked to locate him in the future so they can track his movements.
Leila finds him with ease, but it’s in the present and more disconcertedly, he is aware that she is with him, watching. When he confronts her, she takes a chance and tells him her present situation, hoping he can help her escape. He does just that, killing her abductors and taking her back to his castle for protection. Most disconcerting to Leila is the fact that not only does she have a very physical response to this vampire, but he also has no problem touching her. With his ability to produce fire, her debilitating electric current is merely a tingle to him. Having avoided anyone’s touch for literally years, Leila is aghast with the possibilities, particularly because she can see a mile away that this man would be t-r-o-u-b-l-e for her previously untouched heart.
Vlad is the perfect contradiction. Leila sees all the cruelty he has performed in the course of his life, but because of her gift, also sees his personal pain and sense of loss over the death of his wife and son. His care and tenderness toward her is another facet of this confusing personality and brave Leila is able to admit to herself that she is falling in love with Vlad while acknowledging the fact that this is man who has stated he is incapable of love.
“The way he looked at me – possessive, passionate, and unrepentant – made gooseflesh ripple over me. This complex and infamously lethal man was now my lover; a relationship I’d chosen of my own free will. Part of me wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into while the rest didn’t care.”
Have I mentioned how hot Vlad is? A virgin like Leila doesn’t stand a chance from a man who has lines like “‘If I didn’t want you so much,’ he said in a deadly purr, ‘I’d let you keep fucking me with your gaze, but you make me impatient.’” Um, waiter? Cold drink over here?
I’m sure you can discern from my enthusiasm for each of these books that this is a series unmatched by any other – remember, I truly believe with all my reading (and I’ve read 90% of what’s on that Goodreads vampire books list) that Frost’s Night Huntress world is the BEST vampire series on the market. In a world of so-so paranormal and urban fantasy, her consistency and quality of writing, her ability to build a world we almost wish we lived in, her creation of characters who breathe as much as the person sitting next to you, is utterly unrivaled. These are books I’m happy to pay full price for and ones I reread every few months just from the sheer enjoyment of journey she takes me on. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do!