Dear Ms. Jay:
Your Guardians of the Realms series came to my attention recently from three sources – a discussion on twitter, a sponsored facebook ad (yes, it appears they do work!), and listings on NetGalley (due to the release of the first few books of the series in paperback, though they are still available in digital format). I’ve recently discovered a taste for paranormal romances, and the description of the series definitely intrigued me so I thought I’d give it a try. I’m very glad that I did.
To summarize for those new to your work: Ecstasy Unbound is the first in an erotic paranormal romance series, The Guardians of the Realms. They are all standalone stories (with a main couple featured in each book) though there is a continuing story arc through them. The world building is quite complex, so I’m going to try to paraphrase several pages of the book (which comes with a very helpful glossary) down to an admittedly simplified version of the setting. Basically the world has four realms – Earth, Tetartos (where the Immortals were exiled by the Creators though some are able to travel and live on earth), Heaven (a place for good and neutral souls) and Hell (for evil souls, and where the Tria, a set of evil triplets, live).
In this story all the action takes place on Earth and Tetartos. The Creators, two almighty beings, birthed several Gods and created Immortals, supernatural beings with different abilities (like teleportation and telepathy). Some of the Immortals have animal halves through lab experimentation. Like humans, there are good and bad Gods and Goddesses. The bad ones decided it would be fun to create an army of Immortals by breeding them to suit their own purposes. In an effort to stop them, an Immortal named Charybdis sacrificed herself to create a mating curse (or blessing, depending on your position).
The curse has two effects – firstly, when an Immortal finds his or her mate they are imbued with lust and go into a mating frenzy, trying to have sex with each other at every opportunity until their mating is officially consummated with vows. Secondly once mated, their powers are strengthened and often shared. (note: they still have sex with each other at every opportunity). Only a mated pair can produce children, so some of the bad guys are actively working to destroy the curse so that they can breed their army of Immortals again. A selection of Immortals are Guardians of the Realms whose job is to keep the peace. The stories in this series each feature one of the Guardians and his or her mate.
This particular story is that of Uri and Alex. Uri is one of the Aletheia, an Immortal with enhanced mental abilities (and the race which led to the human’s vampire myth due to their ability to take blood memories). He is one of twelve Guardians, and is assigned with keeping the Earth realm under control. For centuries he’s succeeded, but also played a bit of a game with Alex, a Demi-Goddess (daughter of a Goddess and an Immortal). Technically she’s not supposed to be on Earth but she feels that she is needed there and she and her two brothers Erik and Vane have been in hiding. However this hasn’t stopped her from being a voyeur to Uri and the sexual games he plays (with his friend Gregoire), in clubs, and the like. (They are quite lusty fellows). Uri knows she watches him, but whenever he tries to connect with her she disappears.
One of Alex’s powers is to enter the mind of beings in need, seeing what they see and sometimes being able to communicate with them. When that happens her body is unprotected, and in the past this caused a tragedy to befall her and her brothers – luckily one they were able to survive. It’s definitely made her more careful, and it came with consequences that have made her stay away from males (which is why she watches Uri from afar, though she’d love to participate). But now she’s in trouble. She found herself in the mind of an Earth woman on Tetartos who had been kidnapped, and discovered a nefarious experiment, a secret she can’t manage on her own. Upon investigating the woman’s home with her brothers to find clues to her disappearance, Erik suffered a mental attack and was rendered unconscious.
She needs a Guardian’s help – and she knows that it’s time to reveal herself fully to Uri no matter the consequences. What she doesn’t expect is that she will be overcome with the mating frenzy once they are together. It turns out she and Uri are each other’s fated mates. Time is running out for her brother, and for the victims of the lab that is working on breaking the mating curse. It’s up to Uri and Alex to find the answers with the help of the other Guardians, before the world as they know it is shattered once again.
Did I mention this world is complex? It took me the first third of the book or so to feel that I had a handle on the main and secondary characters and the realms they inhabit. I don’t think this is a bad thing; it’s just a consequence of the level of detail. It’s an entirely different type of a story, than say, a small town romance with two main characters and some siblings and friends. It’s that, but with family and friends that all have special powers, that have lived for centuries, that inhabit four different realms etc. etc. I hope that my boiling down of the world into a paragraph doesn’t diminish the intricacies of the story you’ve created. I found all of the beings quite fascinating – both the evil and the good characters, and essentially that’s what the story boils down to – the fight between good and evil with a sexy romance thrown into the mix.
Uri and Alex are very well developed and intriguing characters. Uri is an alpha male – no doubt about that. He’s big, he’s brawny, he’s a handsome devil (err… Immortal), he likes sex (any way he can get it), and he’s not shy. Once he and Alex get in the same room together, he can’t keep his hands, or his mouth, or other body parts off of her. Let’s be clear though, Alex fully welcomes his attentions, being struck with the same mating frenzy as he.
But Alex, well, she’s a bit more cautious. Her mental ability to enter the minds of others is something she is unable to change and a distinct part of her character. When she gets the feeling that she is supposed to do something, past experience has taught her that disaster strikes if she ignores it. She’s stayed away from Uri because of her attraction to him, worried that the side effect she has of putting up a strong mental shield when she climaxes could kill him. Luckily as an Immortal, Uri can take it, and they proceed to have several very steamy, sexy scenes in as many locations as possible. There is no doubt this is an erotic romance, to be sure. There are ménage scenes, voyeurism and light bondage along with the usual sexy stuff.
The plot of the story moves along quite swiftly, and the secondary characters play important roles in the story. There are 11 other Guardians of the Realm who are introduced and their roles are quickly established. Alex’s brother Erik gets a secondary subplot (he does eventually wake from his coma, with some interesting results). The bad guys are vanquished for now, but not gone completely, leaving plenty of storytelling left for the next chapter. The fact that many of the Guardians are hybrids, with distinct animal characteristics (Gregoire, for one, is half warhorse and half man – is it bad form to assume he’s well hung? Admit it, you were thinking that too when you created him!) makes for what is sure to be some interesting shifter aspects to future stories.
I’m trying to think of some honest criticism just to make this a more balanced review, as I obviously enjoyed the story quite a bit. Perhaps if anything, there are too many characters introduced in this first story, though I understand it’s to give a good background to the rest of the series.
Readers not familiar with complex fantasy worlds might find themselves referring to the glossary repeatedly, trying to keep all the beings straight. I read a lot of epic fantasy, so this didn’t bother me. But for a straight romance reader, they might find this pretty intense and not have the patience for it. Also, the sex scenes are long and involved and detailed, which, while I personally enjoy that, might put some people off (and then you’ll get those ‘too much sex!’ reviews).
There isn’t a lot of romance really, though Uri tries to make up for the mating urge with some sweetness to his interactions with Alex later in the story. It’s hard to make time for romance when you know you are destined to be mates (and that, in itself, doesn’t imply love and affection, especially when it’s beyond your control). Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable and entertaining story and I look forward to continuing the series. I’d rate it a B+ and a recommended read.