I’m beginning to think that Harlequin’s Nocturne Cravings line is aptly named. These ebooks are novellas of no more than 25,000 words which focus on highly sensual, paranormal romances and, in the hands of a talented writer like Laura Kaye, this results in stories as delicious as a small bite of high quality chocolate that you savor while it melts in your mouth.
I first stumbled across Laura Kaye’s Vampire Warrior Kings series when I was busy devouring her entire body of work (yes, I have read literally everything she has written because she is that good an author). Since I loved her emotionally gritty contemporaries, it startled me to discover she is such a good paranormal romance writer, but Kaye obviously typifies versatility in the romance world.
One of the major indications of her strong writing ability is the fact that she does some complex world-building in shockingly few pages. Each of these novellas is around 80 pages, a length well-suited to the paranormal premise of finding a destined mate since that promises a rapid fall into lust and love. Yet each hero and heroine has been given a strong characterization that – with a few pen strokes – Kaye draws us an image detailed enough to make them breathe.
In the world of the Vampire Warrior Kings, the good vampires numbers are few and they confine themselves to strongholds where these men (there are no female vampires) live as warriors fighting the Soul Eaters, evil vampires who live to devour their victims and then ingest their soul with the last breath of the dying. To insure their strength, the existence of these warriors is supported by a small group of humans who help them hide their existence and train their daughters to be the Proffered, virgins who – at the age of 20 – offer themselves in a ritual where their blood feeds the noble warrior. In return for training their valiant daughters to this service, these humans receive the protection of the vampire warriors as well as their blood to help extend their lives and stave off sickness.
If the blood drinking of the Proffered happens during sex, it is possible that both partners will have their hands marked with a mate mark, or detailed black tattoo indicating that the partnership is a powerful one which shows blood compatibility and would produce strong offspring. The vampire and the woman then have three days to complete the mating ritual, after which time their chance at a mating is lost. Once mated, a vampire can drink exclusively from his female partner, enjoying a strong psychic connection between them.
In the first book of the series, In the Service of the King, Shayla MacKinnon has lost her older sister to the Soul Eaters and that tragedy caused her to embrace her destiny as a Proffered fiercely. Finishing high school and college at almost prodigy-age, Shayla took her training as a Proffered seriously and was honored to be chosen on her 20th birthday to serve the Irish Vampire King, Kael. A Gaelic history scholar and someone who has studied the details of their people, she knows that since the loss of his pregnant mate, Kael does not have sex with his Proffered nor does he drink from their bodies, preferring to bleed them into a chalice from which he ingests their life-giving blood. She is elated to help him in any way possible, even in a version of the ritual that does not chance a connection to a mate.
Kael hates being forced to do the ritual every three months but the unmated warriors under him cannot feed until he does and he needs to keep them healthy to fight their battles against the Soul Eaters. One look at the Proffered Shayla and Kael is both fascinated and horrified. Something prompts him to ask this stunning beauty about herself and her scent and bravery call to him as no one has since his mate died three hundred years ago. Fighting the attraction, he blindfolds Shayla prior to bleeding her into his chalice, but his subsequent callous behavior hurts the lovely girl who he kissed so passionately against his better judgement. Kael doesn’t know if he can live with the knowledge of having something so precious in his life only to lose it once more, but he feels compelled to prove himself a warrior in this arena as well, if Shayla can work past her hurt and let him.
OMG, these vampire warriors are S-E-X-Y and Kael is so isolated and tortured after the lost of his mate. Shayla is an intelligent, committed young woman and this first book manages to pack a ton of world-building yet it feels effortless when reading it. I know in my feminist head that I should be worried about a girl of twenty and a virgin to boot having something so life-altering happen to her, yet I can’t bring myself to get worked up about it. The cause is good, the women are smart and not forced into their training and hell, if these men were my option for first time sex, I probably would have taken it, too!
In the next book in the series, Seduced by the Vampire King, the tortured Russian king, Nikolai Vasilyev, is taking ridiculous risks on the streets of Moscow, still dwelling on the loss of his two brothers, a loss he considers his fault. Attacked by Soul Eaters and isolated from his team, he is barely able to drag himself into a dark alley before passing out.
Exchange student Kate Bordessa doesn’t understand why she feels so restless tonight, restless enough to chance walking the streets of a dangerous city at one in the morning. When she catches an incredible, intoxicating smell on the breeze and follows it to the source, she finds a half-dead man bleeding out in an alley. Bizarrely, his blood seems to be the odor which drew her to find him and she doesn’t understand the protective anger she feels toward whoever attacked him. When his fangs emerge, she immediately realizes what he is – a vampire.
Kate was actually trained as a Proffered but left the program because she couldn’t bring herself to have sex with someone she didn’t know and care for. When a dying Nikolai ravages her arm to drink the blood that can keep him clinging to life, Kate works past the pain to feel the sensual pull of their connection and even thinks she hears a male voice in her mind. Yet she is shocked and dismayed when she is knocked out by his warriors attempting to reclaim him and unhappy when she wakes in a dungeon and no one will tell her if Nikolai survived.
Nikolai awakes from his experience disgruntled from being taken out of a dream in which he is erotically claiming a beautiful woman, but is more shocked to realize that there was a woman, and she saved him from death. Visiting her in his dungeon has him fully realizing his danger. His background check reveals that she is from a family whose blood could make her a potential mate and if the way she calls to him is any indication, that’s a very real possibility. Yet Nikolai kisses her passionately one minute and distances himself the next as he knows, with the dishonor of his brothers’ death on his conscience, that the joy of a mate in the uncertain world he lives in is not possible.
I loved this novella, understanding Nikolai’s angst and self-torture while also admiring Kate for realizing quickly that she was meant to run away from her training in the United States in order to find this man who was her destiny. While almost twenty-one, Kate (like Shayla) has an emotional maturity that gives the reader the comfort level to accept the pairing and Nikolai is so romantic and tender in his heartfelt feelings for her when he works past his dickishness. That the heat between them is caliente-hot doesn’t exactly hurt anything either!
The third book in the series just came out today and I did my usual thing where I stayed up past midnight in order to read it the moment it landed on my Kindle. I’m glad I did – Taken by the Vampire King was my favorite book of the series to date!
Henrik Magusson, Vampire King, is dying. The blood of the Proffered barely sustains him and he knows he will soon give into the madness his condition visits upon him, losing all humanity. Although his warriors have reluctantly agreed to kill him when that happens, his hair and eyes, once a vibrant blond and bright blue, are almost totally leached of color and a daily reminder to him that the clock is ticking.
Danish photographer Kaira Sorenson is elated to have her pictures of the aurora borealis chosen for this prestigious contest. The long lasting winter nights are just ending in this part of Norway and with the excitement Kaira is able to forget the cancer shortening her life with this professional recognition. When she meets a compelling man at the exhibition who seems taken with her and her work, she’s confused as to why he abruptly leaves her with his equally large male companion. Her dismay is quickly forgotten when she is horribly attacked by a group of violent men intent on raping and…biting her? She is rescued by the same mystery man who spoke with her and when he bites her, all she feels is the utmost pleasure before passing out.
Henrik couldn’t resist taking her blood and, by the gasps of his warriors, Kaira’s blood has been able to do what no other woman’s has, restore some of his eye color and calm the beast within him. The effect is fleeting but the potential is there, particularly when his investigation reveals that the adopted Kaira would have been a Proffered had her parents not died when she was young. But while the draw is unbelievably strong between them, Kaira must face a life-changing decision in a mere three days if the mating that could save both their lives is to take effect, and it all might be too much for her to process.
Wow! Henrik, like all these Vampire Warrior Kings, is tough as nails on the outside and a tender marshmallow when it comes to the woman destined to be his mate. I loved his sense of responsibility and how he does try and fight what seems to be a terminal illness. Kaira is a fabulous character, old beyond her years due to her lonely childhood and the leukemia which is killing her, yet that same illness gives her blood the extra white cells which could cure Henrik. Her art showed a depth and connection to the larger world that gave a good sense of the person she is and Henrik’s response to it was further indication of their bond. HIs tender generosity in trying to give her the time and space she needed to come to terms with their situation was so sweet that this novel above all others, actually choked me up a few times.
One of the wonderful elements about this series is not just the quality writing and interesting world, but that these novellas are so affordably priced. All three can be purchased for about eight dollars total, making this comparable in page length and price to a standard novel. Because it’s Laura Kaye, you know that the writing you are getting is of outstanding quality, so paranormal romance readers beware…like those chocolates, I bet you can’t eat just one Vampire Warrior King book without a craving for more.