Dear Ms. Brady:
Last year’s release, “Hearts of Darkness”, was one of my favorites of the year. The post apocalyptic steampunk world building was as unique as I had read in my many years of digesting paranormal romances. “Hearts of Shadow” is no different in its uniqueness, but it did require a big effort on my part to not only understand the world but fall into it.
“Hearts of Shadow” picks up almost a year after the end of “Hearts of Darkness”. Another apocalyptic event has occurred, changing the dynamic of the world once again. I found this to be disconcerting because it felt like I had to learn a new language almost instead of adding to the knowledge base that I had begun to build in “Hearts of Darkness.” Grace Mercer is a blood slave to a shapeshifting dragon, Leif, who inherited the position of Regent as well as the blood slaves from his now dead brother.
In addition to being a blood slave, Grace also slept with the now dead brother. It was difficult for me to tell exactly whether she was forced into it and hated herself for that or she was attracted to the now dead brother against her better judgment and hated herself for that. Whatever it was, Grace’s attraction to the dragon shifters, first the brother Sven, and now Leif, is an aspect of her makeup that she dislikes and tries hard to reject.
In this world, soul suckers called wraiths or aptrangers roam the land as do other stronger beings, all preying on the weaker. Grace takes it upon herself to defend the humans, fight off the wraiths, and eventually to help train people to fight for herself. In some sense she’s an underfunded superhero equipped only with a magical blade, her own street savvy, and the occasional infusion of dragon’s blood for healing.
Leif is a scientist cum shapeshifting dragon and reluctant new Regent in Seattle. I’m not quite sure what his position of power is supposed to be and Leif would rather spend his time in the lab, building coal works to bring much needed energy to the city, and expending his energy in other ways to better the lives of those who are dependent upon him.
He is instantly attracted to Grace and his attraction causes his baser nature to take control whenever they are together which only serves to make Grace warier. The romance between Leif and Grace felt forced for most of the book. Leif is presented as this complex mix of alpha and beta. He’s a scientist who is a gentleman we are told at one point. Yet, he’s nearly always forcing himself on her from the first moment that they have physical contact in the hallway of a courtroom. He chastises himself for not having a tighter rein on his lust but, I guess, in an effort to show us how attractive he finds Grace, acts in a multitude of overbearing alpha ways.
Grace’s confused attraction toward dragon shifters in general also contributed to the contrived feeling of the romance. In some ways, I felt that this was over complicated. Grace could have easily been attracted to dragon shifters because of their beauty and still hated Sven for forcing himself on her regularly. Her mixed up emotions toward Sven (did she love or hate him) seemed to be stronger than her emotions toward Leif. And sometimes I even wondered if Leif was merely a pale stand in for Sven.
Despite the difficulty I had in the romance, I did appreciate the rich and thoughtful world presented and I am looking forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy which features the romance between Luce, the Kivati princess, and the leader of the Kivati, a story that has been brewing since the very first entry. C+