If I didn’t love Lauren Dane’s writing so much, she would honestly scare the crap out of me.
It’s ridiculous to find an author this talented, someone who kicks the butt of paranormal and contemporary romance, blasts science fiction romance into another galaxy, and now delivers urban fantasy on a silver platter. Oh, and she dishes all of it up with an erotic level that satisfies readers, like me, who like the bedroom door w-i-d-e open in order to see favorite character’s souls revealed in their most intimate moments (thank you!). I hope she appears normal when people meet her, rather than radiate all this talent which could potentially just shine out of her skin, blinding everyone and necessitating the use of sunglasses during book signings. 🙂
So I don’t know why I hesitated before reading her foray into the urban fantasy genre, because I love urban fantasy and I love Lauren Dane, so what could go wrong? I think I was worried by a few crankypants reviews on Goodreads, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different (and that some people do not know what they hell they are writing about).
First rule of thumb with urban fantasy? One book is not enough. I think this is because the definition of urban fantasy clearly deals with a protagonist who is distinctly “other” by their birth or abilities (often magical) who has to straddle a line between what we think of the normal world and an underworld filled with magic and/or paranormal creatures. Perhaps because of this, the first book of any urban fantasy series has a lot of groundwork to tackle, so I reserve judgement until the second book when characters and overarching plot lines can truly take off.
Luckily for me, the first book of Dane’s Rowan Summerwaite series has been out for a couple of years, so I was able to purchase Goddess with a Blade and grab its sequel, Blade to the Keep off of NetGalley for a one-two punch that totally delivers. Unlike many urban fantasy series which start off with the protagonist experiencing something which reveals their power or the presence of a paranormal underworld, we join Rowan Summerwaite in media res, on her home turf in Las Vegas. She’s a full partner in the Hunter Corporation and a field agent to boot, and under the guise of being a private investigator keeps an eye on vampires in order to insure the safety of humans.
There is probably no one better qualified, as Rowan is the foster daughter of “The First” or the most powerful vampire living and the one who rules their nation. Estranged from him since the age of sixteen when she discovered the truth about her parents’ death, Rowan has always known she is not fully human. Her mother was an acolyte of the Celtic goddess, Brigid, and Rowan discovered while still a very young child that she was one of only a few human vessels ever to have been chosen to harbor the goddess. Not only did this give Rowan another mother figure to thankfully help and heal her, but the goddess’ presence offers Rowan tremendous strength in battle – she’s a warrior goddess after all.
Rowan needed every bit of her divine help. Growing up under the foster father was brutal -vampires over 500 years old (and he’s much, much older) are known for their instability and he sought to make her tough enough to withstand the vampire world. When she fled him, she ran to Brigid’s followers and the Hunter Corporation where she quickly became one of their top hunters, collecting friends and enemies along the way. In Las Vegas, Rowan is currently not super popular among the fanged set as she recently staked the Scion of North America, the head vampire in charge, for endangering humans. Considering he was also embezzling and not a great leader, there are plenty of vampires secretly okay with this, but it’s the principle of a hunter killing such a powerful vampire that has them indignant.
Rowan is beautiful, strong and implacable but nothing could have prepared her for meeting the new Scion. Clive Stewart is a gorgeous, old vampire with the polish of centuries and a voice that sounds like British caramel. That he wears a Saville Row suit like a weapon is a bonus, as is the fact that he’s supremely irritated by Rowan’s demeanor. Sparks are a given and it’s not long before these two discover their goading of one another barely disguises a volatile attraction, one that would horrify both their constituencies.
Avoiding one another is not an option as Rowan’s police contacts let her know that what humans think is a disturbed serial killer is actually a horrifyingly demented vampire. With human women disappearing and crystal meth involved, Rowan and Clive need to work together to quickly find this murderer before the vampires are outed and other women go missing. The tentative trust between them could be easily broken with each of them needing to protect their people (and with Clive’s jealous exes popping up) and Rowan just might need the help of her goddess to come out of this one alive.
It’s obvious why this book is well-rated and it appears that a few people object to the fact that there is not a ton of buildup or simmering sexual tension between Clive and Rowan before they find themselves giving into the insanity of their attraction. I quickly realized this was the point – Clive and Rowan are also astonished by their attraction. I worry that a few of Dane’s dissatisfied readers (who still admit that they enjoyed the book) are thinking like paranormal romance readers and not ones with an urban fantasy book in their hands. While much of urban fantasy possesses strong romantic elements, it’s usually just one subplot of many and a happily ever after is not the goal of the book (with romantic arcs usually taking their course over several books in a series). Clive and Rowan are a fascinating element of the book but even more compelling is the vampire world and the way Rowan straddles multiple lines with her identity.
This identity is vital because the crux of the first book (and the series) is that Rowan is very “other”. She’s not fully human, not fully goddess, and more vampire than most vampires. She’s confident to the point of arrogance but it’s because at the age of 29 she knows exactly who she is and she’s comfortable with it, even when no one around her is. She’s loyal to her friends, is allergic to stupid or pompous people, and can open up a can of whoop-ass like nobody’s business. I love the way Dane shows the goddess as being an entity who works in conjunction with Rowan, and how their long association shows a great deal of trust between them. The goddess Brigid has her own history and possibly her own agenda which offers an interesting twist to future stories.
Which it does in the second and most recent book in the series, Blade to the Keep. Hunter Corporation will be a presence at the next vampire summit due to the vampire nation’s lack of forthcoming regarding the effect of certain drugs on blood-drinkers, information that came out in Rowan’s Vegas investigation. Because this event happens at the Keep, the castle complex where Rowan grew up under the jurisdiction of her foster father Theo, known to vampires as The First, she’s heading the corporation’s negotiations, and there are a lot of disgruntled people – vampire and human – who don’t like her designated role.
For Rowan, this summit dredges up a lot of feelings as she returns to the place she called home (and the man she called father) for the first sixteen years of her life. While she’s confident at the negotiation table, there are some new players present who have formed a “Blood Front” who do not want Hunter Corp. to force them to any additional provisions in the human/vampire treaty (billions of humans mean snack time for them). One vampire in particular seems to have a history with Rowan’s foster father, and she has it out for Rowan. Rowan has her new boyfriend, Clive Stewart, at her side although she understands that he needs to also represent his North American interests, but even with him and the backing of the First, she can’t help but feel it’s time to circle the wagons when she’s continually attacked from weird ancient vampires as well as undermined by pretentious members of Hunter Corporation who want Rowan’s job. The question remains if even the goddess within her can protect her enough to help her survive this diplomatic mission.
This book was even better than the first in the series (and I really enjoyed the first book). Having Rowan come back at age 30 to a place she left at 16 means a lot of reflection on her part resulting in her understanding as an adult things that she might not have been able to comprehend as a teen. Having a chance to mend fences with her mentally delicate and occasionally violent foster father, while also dealing with the pros and cons of being the foster daughter of the most powerful vampire on the planet, is fascinating. Add to that the smokin’ hot relationship with Clive, which both Rowan and Clive are prepared to own and not hide, and this is a recipe for a book with all the delicious political machinations which makes a great urban fantasy novel. The villain, the ancient vampire Enyo who shares a complicated history with Rowan’s foster father, also has history with Rowan’s goddess, which is going to make for a very, very interesting third book, I think!
With the majority of urban fantasy novels coming from gigantic publishing houses and with larger price tags accompanying them, this series is offered at an amazing price, coming in under four dollars for each ebook. Part of the price reduction could be Carina Press’ usual largesse, but it also could be the lower page count. Whereas most urban fantasy novels are in the 250 to 300 page range, the Rowan Summerwaite books are right around 200 pages. Far from being a criticism, I actually can’t believe how much Lauren Dane covers in such a short number of pages. Since I’m not a huge fan of first person (although I’ll make exceptions for great authors), I personally appreciate the occasional slight POV shift from Rowan to Clive and I think this choice would be appreciated by paranormal romance readers looking to try urban fantasy. The decision also allows readers to appreciate Clive (and his unique view of Rowan) as well as sheds further light on the vampire world.
With Dane having proven her chops in detailed world-building with her wonderful science fiction series the Federation Chronicles, she’s at home demonstrating the political world of the vampires and Hunter Corporation in detail. Another trademark Dane detail is to have a protagonist with close friends who are essentially that person’s family, people who accept and appreciate the character for exactly who they are. I also love how Dane always manages to have an awesome villain who is never a cardboard cutout but still is so wholly evil (and who has complicated motivations) that you love to hate them. Yum.
The excellently laid out political world of the vampires vs. the Hunters who strive to protect humans (without their knowledge) is reminiscent of the behind the scenes machinations of the Kate Daniels world, while Rowan’s astonishing potty mouth and lack of hesitancy in getting up in people’s business makes me laugh just like Darynda Jones’ fantastic Charley Davidson. If either of these series are your forte (or if you love Lauren Dane’s writing), you will want to give Rowan Summerwaite a try.