The other week, I kvelled in my review of the Enthralled anthology, noting that not only was Meljean Brook’s latest Iron Seas novella, Salvage, utterly amazing, but also that I was pleased to have found a few new authors to enjoy. One of them was Lucy Monroe, a versatile doyenne of the romance world who has mastered the art of category romance, pulse-pounding romantic suspense, and historical paranormals that tug on your heart strings.
I fell in love with her Children of the Moon novella, Ecstasy Under the Moon, in the anthology, promptly hunting down the rest of the series and devouring them in a couple of days. This series forms a nice counterpoint to the more modern shifter series I love (like Shifters Unbound by Jennifer Ashley or the hilarious Pride series by Shelly Laurenston).
Set in medieval Scotland, a murderous betrayal hundreds of years earlier has alienated the many shifter groups known as the Chrechte from one another. While the bird shifters, the Ean, have retreated deep into the forest, the wolf-shifting Faol have integrated with human clans, leading and defending them while keeping their nature a secret from all but their families. The cat shifting Paindeal have disappeared and are usually spoken of as myths among the remaining shifters, but rumors exist they have taken refuge in the Northern lands beyond the ocean. All know that change is coming, whether they want it or not, and that their future depends on their actions.
Note: Each one of the full-length novels exceeds 300 pages, so this is accordingly a long post! I’ve bolded each book name to section it up in case you are just looking for information on one particular book, but it’s meant to be read as one post since I attempt to demonstrate how Monroe connects the books and the larger story arc in the series.
Moon Awakening – Book 1 (Lachlan and Emily)
In Moon Awakening, the English daughter of a Baron, Emily Hamilton, is horrified to discover her stepmother’s scheme to marry Emily’s deaf younger sister Abigail to some Highland laird at the behest of a king bent on punishing her father for his penury in sending tribute. She volunteers herself in Abigail’s place and, after a long and dirty journey, finds herself in the Sinclair holding surrounded by downright hostile clansmen and a laird, Talorc, who doesn’t even look at her. The only friendly face is the Sinclair’s sister, the pregnant and widowed Caitronia, who explains that not only was her brother forced into this betrothal by the king but that the entire clan experienced the betrayal of Talorc and Caitriona’s stepmother, a grasping Englishwoman whose adultery resulted in an attack on the keep years ago and the death of clan members. Oh boy.
Talorc and Emily are oil and water – she at one point yells at him in perfect Gaelic that he’s a goat in front of the entire clan – and he naturally refuses to marry her. As Caitronia and Emily get ready to bathe in the loch while discussing her difficulty, they are surrounded by men not wearing the Sinclair plaid. These warriors are Balmorals and their laird, Lachlan, is incensed at one of his clanswomen turning up mated to the Sinclair blacksmith. The Faol follow Chrechte rules of mating and she was either kidnapped off Balmoral territory or she willingly went with her mate, who still should have sent an official request for mating to her leader.
Lachlan might worry about his duty to guarantee his race continues, but his wolf knows that he only wants Emily.
Either way, it’s cause for retribution and the Sinclair’s sister and the woman who claims to be his English wife are the perfect hostages to force his hand. That the feisty Englishwoman has a delectable scent that makes Lachlan want to rub all over her in his wolf form is just something he’ll have to deal with, particularly since there is no way he would take a human as mate and risk his future children being unable to shift. One look at his angry older brother who is human and it’s obvious that this tension can tear families apart.
Monroe does a terrific job laying out the traditions and rules of the Chrechte, particularly the constant tension of humans and wolf shifters living cheek by jowl. Forbidden to discuss their nature, the Chrechte masquerade as elite warrior families, with many humans never understanding that their friends and neighbors can change form. Emily is confused by the use of the word “mate” but thinks that Caitriona’s stunned and reluctantly affectionate behavior toward Lachlan’s second-in-command incorporates strange Highland traditions. She’s a loyal friend and a brave woman who – when faced with the shifter’s secret – can only find wonder in the process and profound hurt that her being human means that Lachlan is willing to deny the tie between them.
That tie is stronger than she thinks. While unusual, the idea of “true mates” is introduced in this first novel in the series, specifically as a phenomenon which can happen to a couple strongly attracted to one another. After they engage in the physical act of mating, sometimes a lucky pair will be able to speak to one another in their thoughts and human/shifter couples who are true mates can produce offspring. Because of the constantly small numbers of the Chrechte, producing children is of paramount importance, hence the reluctance to take humans as mates since there is no guarantee of the “true mate” bond. Lachlan seems like a prize compared to Talorc’s hostility yet this laird has a wellspring of insensitive behavior, even while he knows that he has a profound connection to Emily. Caitriona’s secondary romance is brilliantly executed, highlighting prejudices between the clans as well as the men’s reluctance to acknowledge the perspective of the perceptive women and/or humans.
Moon Craving – Book 2 (Talorc and Abigail)
With Talorc Sinclair’s acceptance of both his sister’s mating to a Balmoral and that of his betrothed marrying Lachlan (which was a huge relief to Talorc, I’m sure), the stage has been set for him to finally acquire a mate, and he does in Moon Craving.
It’s three years after Emily went north and got married to a Highland laird, but her original intended is still unmarried. The king is not happy that the Hamilton family hasn’t fulfilled his wish in producing a daughter to solidify this alliance.
Abigail lost her hearing after a fever years ago and it was only through the efforts of her older half-sister Emily that she was able to function in the household, learning to read lips and speak in a modulated voice so no one would know her affliction. The church teaches that the deaf are cursed by God and there would be many in their community who would possibly kill her as a result. Worse than that threat is that Abigail’s mother has had nothing but animosity for her lovely daughter who she now deems incapable of making a good match.
Abigail doesn’t want to marry a stranger but her father insists after her mother beats her severely for having an opinion. He convinces Abigail that Emily will not be far, and if her husband and she don’t get along, Emily and her husband will be happy to have Abigail come live with them. Comforted by that fact and desperate to get away from her mother, Abigail agrees. The family travels to a neutral Highland location and waits for the Sinclairs to arrive.
Talorc is no more thrilled to marry an Englishwoman than he was three years ago, particularly the sister of the shrew who is now the Balmoral lady. But in the Sinclair clan, a rigid code exists that wolf shifters do not have full sexual intercourse until they are ready to take a permanent mate; this morality comes with a price as most Faol wolves cannot control their shift until after they have had this intimacy. Talorc is descended from white wolves and as a result has always had control of his shift since he was young, but even he realizes he would be willing to share himself with someone who could be a true mate, he just doesn’t believe she would be English.
That opinion changes quickly when he sees and smells the lovely, gentle young woman who has so clearly been beaten. Both Talorc and his wolf want nothing but to protect her and get her back on their land as quickly as possible, and he uses the journey toward his keep to be one filled with various levels of intimacy with his new wife, who seems ready to like Talorc and his first-in-command, the scarred warrior Niall. Quickly finding a strong connection between them, Talorc takes her to the sacred caves on the Donegal land he just inherited and walks her through the Chrechte mating ceremony, wanting their union to be a spiritual one of his wolf people as well. While Abigail successfully hides her deafness, so too does Talorc hide his wolf nature from her. Mating does constitute a good enough reason to share the secret, but after his father’s disastrous mating to an English human, one who betrayed the clan and their treasure to her lover, he wants to grow to trust Abigail before taking that final step.
White wolves can control their shifting from the start, unlike grey wolves who need sexual intimacy to develop that same control
It becomes apparent that they are true mates and yet, fearful of letting Abigail know that he is a wolf, Talorc does not mind speak her, not until they find themselves in a dangerous situation and she doesn’t react to his yelling at her to run. Realizing her infirmity, he tests her hearing back at the keep and feels horribly betrayed, as do his warriors, at her hiding this part of herself. (Pot calling kettle – he stills hasn’t mentioned his propensity to turn into a wolf periodically, FYI.) Treating her coldly, Abigail is devastated at Talorc’s distance, yet realizes how freeing it is to not have to hide who she is. The Highlanders don’t share the opinions of the English about the deaf, and the majority of the clan actually thinks she’s damn clever for hiding it so well. When Emily comes to visit with her husband and young daughter, it’s Abigail’s turn to feel betrayed as her sister is horrified that Talorc still hasn’t told Abigail about the Chrechte nature of his people. Emily remedies the gaps in her sister’s knowledge and much of the confusing behavior of her husband and his soldiers is finally understood.
It was heart wrenching to see Talorc and Abigail – who were off to such a great start trusting and bonding with one another – fall apart with the various lies each felt they had to give about key pieces of themselves. It’s so apparent that they love one another tremendously, but I still feel that Abigail forgave Talorc way too easily. It’s one thing to forgive him for not telling her about the wolf shifter piece (although he still should have done it) but to not mind speak her AFTER you discover that she’s deaf seemed like a cruel move to me. The romantic subplot in this novel was wonderful – Talorc’s first in command Niall is actually in love with the male senschal of the keep, a human, and almost loses him to jealousy and sheer male idiocy. I loved their characters and the fact that Monroe accurately shows the fact that wolves (like humans) do develop same sex relationships. Not what you expect from a medieval Highland novel, but very welcome!
Moon Burning – Book 3 (Barr and Sabrine)
Niall’s unscarred twin, Barr, is the hero of the third book in the series, Moon Burning, which introduces the concept of other shifter types. Whereas we have clearly seen the prejudice against humans in the previous novels, the profound prejudice of some wolves toward other shifter species, particularly the Ean or bird shifters, comes to light in this one.
Talorc Sinclair has sent one of his best warriors to his newly acquired Donegal holding with the express purpose of whipping the group into shape while also training the young Circin, the hereditary leader of the clan. The previous laird has let his corrupt nature and abuse of the inhabitants run the clan into the ground and Barr has the onerous job of reestablishing order while still dealing with the deposed laird and his cronies sowing dissent at every turn. While taking a group of Chrechte Faol out for a training hunt, Barr finds himself abandoning the quarry to run after a new enticing scent. He discovers a naked, injured woman in the forest who calls to him like none other and brings her back to the Donegal keep despite his feeling that she is something more than she seems.
Sabrine is a raven shifter, bearing the glossy blue-black hair and dark eyes of her kind. After her parents death at the hands of one of the many wolf murderers who hunt her bird clan, she abandoned her royal duties and trained as a warrior. With the theft years ago of their sacred stone – necessary for the coming of age ceremony where extra abilities are endowed on the Ean to help their people – the Ean have made it a priority to acquire it back now that some of their small numbers are nearing this life transition. Suspicions are strong that it ended up in the Donegal clan and Sabrine must do whatever it takes to get it back. Her royal younger brother is next in line for the coming of age ceremony and as he would be king of their people, his abilities are of paramount importance.
Sabrine did not anticipate being shot out of the sky by one of the stupid young wolves accompanying the new Donegal laird. Pretending she hit her head and cannot remember the details of how she got in the woods, Sabrine successfully masks her raven scent (one of her abilities) and appears solely human, although it seems as if the wolf in charge is not exactly buying her memory loss. He still takes her back to his keep, and specifically his room, showing no intention of letting her go. Barr also makes clear from the get go that there is something deeper between them than mere attraction and rather easily makes the mental transition of taking this mystery woman as mate.
While there are many types of bird shifters among the Ean, ravens are actually defensive protectors and cannot bring themselves to kill for anything other than self-defense.
While Barr is wonderful in his relentless pursuit, Sabrine gets a little tiresome in her protestations that they can’t be together. While she doesn’t come out and state explicitly what she is doing there, Barr is able to put most things together and her Ean legacy is apparent after two half-wolf/raven shifters in the clan are outed. Sabrine is a great person, a protector and warrior desiring justice who helps the people around her, even wolves, but her emotional scars and the fact that she knows she must find the stone and return to her people make her feel that any relationship with Barr is doomed.
The secondary romance between Barr’s second-in-command, Earc, and Verica, the half raven/half wolf shifter and clan healer, was great (her brother is Circin, who is also a raven/wolf shifter, and will be the next Donegal laird after Barr deems him ready). This plot line did its job of highlighting the different perceptions wolves harbor of the Ean – some were trained by their families and clans to fear and hunt them as inferior shifters while others thought of them as wonderful myths deserving of great respect and an integral part of Chrechte history. Developing the reader understanding of the Ean is important as the political issues of this world and time period expand. This world-building takes place alongside the hot romance between two incredibly well-matched individuals (even if one of them is too dense to realize it for most of the book – Sabrine!). Seeing the many Donegal clan members damaged by the previous laird’s reign is particularly gut-wrenching and there is at least a happy future for a few of them.
Ecstasy Under the Moon – Novella 3.5 (Bryant and Una)
Enthralled – an anthology of novellas by Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Meljean Brook and Lucy Monroe (Berkley, July 2, 2013)
Since I’ve already done a review for this particular story, I thought I would focus on a few of the pieces of it which connect this tale to the larger world and which lays more foundation for the next two novels. In the Enthralled anthology novella Ecstasy Under the Moon, it’s been a few years since Sabrine and Barr returned the Ean’s sacred stone to the people. Sabrine’s brother Taran, having taken the royal name of Eirik, was gifted with a dragon form in addition to his raven one and now rules the Ean with an eye toward the future. His grandmother is the spiritual leader of the clan who has had a vision that the various Chrechte tribes must become integrated in order to survive the upcoming years.
To that end, Eirik has reached out to the various wolf tribes, asking for good wolf warriors willing to come and live among the Ean as the first of many steps toward accomplishing this unity. When timid golden eagle Una hears of this she is appalled and frightened – she has lived a sheltered existence since an attack by Donegal wolves (who were actually using her torture to induct new members into their secret Fearghall society, a shifter-style Ku Klux Klan bent on proving all other shifters inferior and killing them for sport). She hasn’t even spoken to the golden eagle shifter Lais who moved to their village three years ago when Princess Sabrine brought him from the Donegal clan.
Golden Eagles are a lovely rich brown color, just like Una’s hair.
Bryant is an extroverted wolf from the Balmoral clan who believes strongly in the reintegration of Chrechte. He was thrilled when the Ean resurfaced as his ancestor was a dragon/raven shifter and the family kept tales of the Ean alive in honor of her. One whiff of the shy Una perched in a tree along with several meetings of the two of them on the spiritual plane of their dreams and he knows they are sacred mates. Getting Una to see the light is going to take some work, however, particularly after hearing of her torture. But through Bryant’s perserverance and Una finding the bravery she possessed before her attack, they find their way to each other, forging a new link for the future of the Chrechte world.
Dragon’s Moon – Book 4 (Eirik and Ciara)
I would strongly encourage you to read the previous novella. Not only is it a beautiful love story but it offers an ideal transition to the next book in the series. Dragon’s Moon shows us a Chrechte people both changed and unchanged from previous books. Eirik is even older than in the novella and has finally come to the decision that he must give up his royal title and encourage his people to move to the safety of the Faol wolf clans to ensure their survival. While his grandmother and spiritual leader heads to his sister and her mate’s Donegal keep, Eirik decides to bring a group of bird shifters to live with the Sinclairs. Accompanied by his good friend and golden eagle healer Lais (formerly of the Donegal clan), they arrive at the keep eager to help their people integrate, while keeping Eirik’s dual nature – that of a dragon/raven shifter – secret. The dragon form is a special gift which sometimes occurs in the royal line and is meant as a protection for the Ean people.
Someone living with the Sinclairs already knows Eirik’s secret. Ciara is a wolf who grew up in the oppressive Donegal clan, where her father and brother both bought into the prejudiced spoutings of the previous laird. Denigrated by her family because she was not a boy, Ciara was nevertheless a curious child, plagued from her earliest years with prophetic dreams. One in particular – that of a large green stone which would give its power to wolf shifters – was of special interest to her brother. He took a young Ciara and a friend to look for it, telling her to hide while they scouted the territory. She ignored his order just in time to see his violent friend begin to persecute two little Ean children…right before a gigantic red and black dragon literally opened fire and reduced her brother and his companion to ash.
Having lost her mate before this, the death of Ciara’s brother is the final straw for Ciara’s mother and she commits suicide leaving Ciara alone. Her new laird Barr decides to move Ciara to the Sinclair holding where she will have fewer horrible memories and she is adopted by the Sinclair laird Talorc and his gentle, deaf wife Abigail. Ciara decides to close herself off from any attachments and emotion, but everyone can see her regard for her adoptive parents and the twin boys she treats as brothers. But the wolf stone invades her dreams, giving her little sleep and preventing her from eating, and this along with her avoidance of strong emotion worries her family.
Ciara is a sweet wolf attempting to hide her caring nature in the vain hope she won’t love again and feel the incredible pain of losing the people who mean the most to her.
A reaction from her more than makes an appearance when Eirik arrives. Ciara is so startled by his presence walking across the keep’s drawbridge – he causes her to actually feel something – that she tumbles from her precarious perch on the West Tower right into the arms of the dragon shifter that killed her brother. She makes it clear where she knows him from and Eirik is not pleased to be reminded of the horrible day he first killed as a dragon.
Despite this troubled first meeting, he is called to the little wolf female even while denying to himself what that calling might actually entail. Eirik’s high handed manner infuriates Ciara, yet she can’t deny that he sees her in a way no one else does. He becomes an unexpected ally on the quest to find the wolf stone and it isn’t long before the two of them claim one another as true mates, awakening feelings of happiness they each thought they would never feel. The joy is important as Ciara’s visions and that of other seers portend a huge threat to the Faol and to the Chrechte as a whole, one that will take all the couple’s efforts and that of the wolf stone to help their people survive the upcoming centuries.
I adored this couple, the story line, you name it! This book represents a turning point where we finally begin seeing the bigger picture in terms of the larger story arc present (and Monroe has done an excellent job with it). Past characters are present and wonderful, yet the reader is never bludgeoned with too much of them to distract from the present story. Our secondary romance in this book is that of Lais the golden eagle healer, who still believes his disgrace when he was young and with the Donegal clan to prevent his fully claiming his lovely mate, the sweet Mairi MacLeod, a seer like Ciara. Ciara actually found the pretty MacLeod after the young woman managed to make her way to Sinclair land against all odds after being beaten and left for dead by her father, Uven, the laird of the MacLeods. He takes Chrechte prejudice to a new level, attempting to kill Mairi for being born a human (he killed her human mother, his true mate, because she was not a wolf). The MacLeods are now primarily all Chrechte wolf shifters, with humans killed or driven away while the clansmen hunt Ean for sport. There is great world-building in Dragon’s Moon and the MacLeods are vital to understand for the next book in the series.
Warrior’s Moon – #5 (Shona and Caelis)
Because of my acute discomfort with reunion stories, I almost didn’t read this book. Monroe is not shy about dishing out the emotional pain in her previous novels and I wasn’t sure I could take the premise of true mates separated, particularly with a child involved. But Monroe’s outstanding writing in Dragon’s Moon had me believing that she would make this right for me, and my instincts proved correct. Warrior’s Moon was tied with Dragon’s Moon for my favorite book in the entire series, so I’m glad I knuckled down and bought it!
Shona left the MacLeod clan in what could only be painful circumstances. She had given her heart and body to Caelis, a young warrior who wooed her with tales of true love and the promise he would marry her. When she went to tell him of her suspicion she was pregnant, he informed her the baby could not be his and that he never wanted to see her again. The despotic Uven, who had always influenced Caelis since his parents’ death, actually fired Shona’s father from his seneschal position, leaving the family no choice but to move to England. Once her parents discovered Shona’s pregnancy, their disappointment hurt her even more, and her father forced her to marry an English baron.
Five years of torture later and that baron’s death has set her free. Taking her son Eadan, her young daughter Marjory and her friends, the twins Audrey and Thomas, Shona has made her way back to the Highlands in the hope of seeking refuge with distant relations in the Balmoral clan. Exhausted, she halts at the Sinclair holding and is shocked and horrified to see none other than the man who betrayed her, Caelis, standing in the courtyard.
Caelis first ignores the English group that just arrived until he realizes that the ravishing beauty in the lead is none other than his true mate, Shona. The MacLeod laird duped Caelis into denying his true mate, convincing him that the lovely human was not the sacred partner he thought she was. Since he could only impregnate her if she was his true mate, he repudiated her pregnancy, denying the truth that his wolf and heart was trying to tell him. He has lived in pain ever since, particularly after the evil Uven told him she had died, but the fact that he could never be excited by any other woman told him more than the lies he heard on a regular basis. Captured and rehabilitated by the Sinclairs, Caelis has spent the past years understanding how he has violated the most sacred Chrechte code. He rushes up to Shona only to be confronted with a little girl in her lap calling her mother. Shocked and hurt he turns and looks into the spitting image of himself as a young boy, and faints dead away.
Caelis and Shona are an incredible couple, but young wolf shifter Eadan steals the show for me.
It’s not often that the hero faints in the first few pages, but this romance defied all my expectations in the most amazing ways. Shona has been honed by fire having to accept another man into her body, and for all that she is human, her reactions to a man other than Caelis are truly that of a true mate, although she has no idea what that is. Caelis clearly wants her back and attempts to tell her of Uven’s treachery, but Shona has a backbone of steel and she is not about to cave to Caelis’ desire to be a family until she hears him accept responsibility for his choices and prove he deserves her trust. Perhaps most illustrative is the horror directed toward Caelis when the Sinclairs realize that the sweet little boy Eadan (a seer who knows of his wolf nature and who is real father is) is Caelis’ son – the warrior acutely feels the disgust and dismay by a group of people who know the sacred mate to be sacrosanct.
The love story is outstanding, made even better by the presence of the children, both of whom Caelis immediately accepts and loves as his own. Caelis (and Shona’s friends Thomas and Audrey) have to come clean about being wolf shifters, causing Shona another pang of betrayal with such a large secret being kept. The wolf stone comes into play again, since through it Caelis has received the gift of the true werewolf shape (a huge powerful wolf/man feared in battle as a protector for his people).
Dethroning Uven and taking back the MacLeod clan is Caelis’ ultimate goal but he has a journey ahead him before he understands that Shona and his children are more important and he needs to show them just what they mean to him. The secondary love interest between the English Audrey (a secret English wolf who knows little of her heritage) and one of the tough Balmoral wolves is wonderful and I cannot wait for little Eadan to grow up and claim his heritage as a seer and warrior. He already knows his fate lies with saving a Paindeal priestess and since I’m dying of curiosity about that elusive cat shifter group, I am looking forward to reading his book!
Final Thoughts on the Children of the Moon Series
I really felt that this series filled a gap for me. I love shifter books (totally buying into the “true mate” idea) but while I revel in the modern ones, I wondered about the challenges of a shifter society in an older time period. Monroe’s ability to run a strong, sometimes gut-wrenchingly emotional love story alongside a secondary love story which helps illustrate major story points is an incredible skill that I appreciate. The series’ story arc, not readily apparent in the first couple of books, was revealed in such a way that I could see the careful planning and immediately began appreciating as a reader all the places it could go.
Monroe doesn’t hesitate to bring her characters forward in time, linking them together enough to let us see past couples but always in a meaningful way that forwards the plot – you never get the thought that someone is inserted just for the sake of a cameo. Secondary characters and villains are well-developed for more than antagonistic properties and the world-building never feels heavy or forced. I did notice some complaints in reviews about Monroe’s dialogue, which is more extensive than other writers and often utilizes a peppery back-and-forth style between the hero and heroine. I think this style of bickering appropriate to several of her couples (she doesn’t do it with the others) and never felt that it was too much or detracted from the story. The sex scenes are sensual and emotional (and hawt!) and always, always illustrate the strong and developing connection between the couple.
There is a lot to love in the Children of the Moon series and I consider myself a dedicated fan of the series who will now faithfully pre-order any book associated with it. Shifter fans, be aware that Lucy Monroe is a force to be reckoned with.