Dear Ms. Collins,
There’s something almost guilty about watching two characters who should be together, and aren’t, interact. It’s even more decadently wicked when the two people in question are married – and can’t see what’s in front of their noses. Such is the case with Agency Walker Juliana Norris and her estranged vampire master husband, Thomas. It’s enough to have Atlantic Starr’s “Secret Lovers” playing in the background – though not for the reason the song suggests. When Thomas comes back to town to claim his wayward bride, he’s in for a somewhat rude awakening. The cadre of people he’s been squeezing for information about his mate seems to enjoy playing matchmaker for the pair, even as Juliana and Thomas are forced to fight for their lives against a specter from their pasts and a demon who delights in taunts, both of them revealing secrets in a dark comedy of errors that could have far reaching consequences for them all.
As much as I enjoyed the story and characters, I’m afraid to say that a lot of the plot was boilerplate and rather forgettable – though, in its defense, it flowed beautifully. It’s a standard gifted, bad-ass female with a secret meets brooding, super powerful vampire with secrets and they’re surrounded by friends who have secrets love story. While the slightly surprise magical fix to the demon infestation problem was well crafted and a pleasant surprise, it just came off as a little “meh.”
Juliana, as the protagonist, is well developed. She’s strong, mentally and physically, and she tends to think outside the box – which she definitely needs when dealing with everything in her life, especially the demons. The problem with her, though, is that she spends way too much time in pain. If she’s not been beaten senseless physically, she’s been battered emotionally and wants to drink her cares away. Let’s not mention how many times she’s died. At one point, it even becomes a self-referential joke. I flashed back to the movie “Pitch Perfect” and the line “We get it. You have NODES.” Of course, I’d have to paraphrase slightly to “We get it. You’ve DIED before.” Honey, in this genre, it’s the rare heroine who hasn’t died / had a near death experience / had a dead dream lover / dealt with some other kind of death fetish. Death has become the new black, and it’s everywhere.
I’m a little torn on Thomas. The dark, broody vampire thing has become so overdone that you might as well stick a fork in it. Thomas broods so much that I wanted to reach under him to check for eggs. I wanted to see a little more of him, get a bit more of the personality besides the Team Edward oldest fan aspect. Most of the time, he came across as flat and possessive. I didn’t really feel or see the love aspect. On the other hand, he did have flashes of brilliance where I couldn’t help but grin at him, no matter how over the top the situation. Throughout the story, it’s clear that he cares for her, but I don’t know that the love can overcome his static feeling. It’s not giving away too much to say that Thomas arranges for Juliana to have access to Elder Vampire Blood (his, of course – he couldn’t have his precious wife drinking a lesser vintage). Only he has his lackey NOT tell Juliana that it’s Thomas’ blood. And that…left me with a very strange question. See, I figured that if a pair was as mated and bonded as Juliana and Thomas, she might be able to tell the vintage. Apparently, though, all blood tastes the same. Who knew?
I enjoyed the supporting cast of characters, though some of them felt quite interchangeable – particularly Juliana’s boss, Jeremiah, and her boss’ boss (I think?), Ben. Nathaniel and Michael, Juliana’s partner and best friend, respectively, are very well done – I wanted to see a whole lot more of Michael. The interplay between the two way too brief. Actually, even in their short interludes, they had more chemistry than Juliana and Thomas.
All in all, I wanted things to be a little tighter and a little more memorable. I enjoyed the book, but it was easy to put down and didn’t grip me as much as it had the potential for. The ingredients were there, but it could have stood a bit more mixing and a little extra time in the oven.
As always, thank you for sharing a piece of your mental universe with readers. A little escapism never goes awry. For this being your first book as well as the first book in the series, I think you did well – and I look forward to reading more as you grow as an author. C-