One With The Shadows by Susan Squires officially ends my self-imposed exile of homework reading. Now I know why I gave up Heavy Lifting Review Obligations. This past month just about damn near killed me and only served to ramp up my TBR Anxiety to a near epic high. That said, at least I'm ending this "obligation" on a high note. When the last Squires I tried to read was a DNF, I vowed to go back to what works for me - her vampire novels.
A couple of reasons why Squires' vampire world appeals to me is that she has an interesting take on the mythology (vampires are infected with a parasite they call "The Companion") and her vampires tend to be "broody." I happen to like "broody," and I much prefer dark paranormals to their lighter, fluffy counterparts.
Kate Malone is charlatan. Born in a gutter, she survived the streets of London thanks to her wits. She eventually hooks up with a man named Matthew who teaches her a very lucrative con. Pretend to be psychic, reading the future of the elite by using tarot cards, and naturally bilking them for money along the way. A drunk, and afraid she'd eventually leave him for a "protector", Matthew sees to it that Kate is facially scarred, essentially enslaving her. Fortunately the bastard is a drunk and eventually has the good sense to die. Not so fortunately, he drank all their money away and Kate is now left to fend for herself.
She lands in Italy, and has just weaseled an invitation into a very fine home as after-dinner entertainment when Gian Urbano walks in the door. Kate immediately realizes this guy is trouble. He won't be so easily duped by her act, plus he's so gorgeous that women fall at his feet. No matter, she ends up taking him down a notch or two with a very convincing tarot reading.
Gian is a vampire, one bound by duty and honor. His latest mission is to track down an emerald, one that is rumored to drive humans insane and can drain a vampire's powers. He is to find the emerald before the power-hungry and villainous Elyta does and bring the stone to The Elders. Imagine his shock when the vampire carrying the emerald to Elyta gets his pocket-picked, by none other than Miss Kate Malone.
Kate sees the emerald as her ticket out. All she has to do is get it cut down and she'll have enough money to retire from the confidence game to a quiet cottage in the English country-side. Of course she wasn't planning on weirdos coming after her, demanding the stone. And when it appears her very life might be in danger, she finds herself relying on none other than the arrogant, devilish, and did I mention handsome, Gian Urbano.
Two big selling points on Squires' series and this book in particular, she makes it easy for readers to skip around and get caught up. I've now officially read books one, three and five and have never felt lost, confused or like I'm missing some vital tidbit of series information. Also, she writes fantastic locales. Sure, it takes place in the late Regency period, but we don't even see the shores of England in this book. Instead the author treats readers to Italy and Algeria, and it ain't wallpaper! There's a great sense of place in this story.
Any criticism(s) I've seen for Squires' vampires usually involve two things, 1) her heroes brood too much and 2) there's too much unpleasant, violent torture going on. There's less of both in One With The Shadows. Certainly Elyta is a naughty girl, but the author doesn't spend a ton of time detailing every naughty, nasty thing the villain has done or even thought up. And Gian, while he does brood, doesn't seem to wallow quite as much. That said, Gian isn't really the star of the show here, and I suspect that won't work for many romance readers.
That's right kiddies, what we have here is an honest-to-goodness heroine driven romance. Just the kind I happen to love and most of you all don't. I adored Kate because she's cynical, resilient, and knows exactly who she is. Yes, she makes her living by dishonest means - but it's either charlatan or whore - and with her facial scar she would certainly be the lowliest of whores. Which is why she has a plan, albeit a sketchy one, for getting out of "the life." On the flip side, the reader doesn't really get a good, long glimpse into Gian's mind until around page 85 (yes, page 85!), although the author reveals bits of his character through Kate's eyes. I suspect waiting this long to get inside the hero's head will bother some readers, but it works well in this story, as Kate really is the more remarkable of the two (Hey, just saying. A vampire I can get any day of the week in RomanceLandia, but a gutter-born heroine who lives by her considerable wits? I think I've made my point).
But ultimately what makes this tale is the journey. The transformation that both characters go through as they fight Elyta and return the emerald to it's rightful home. Kate is not the same Kate in the beginning as she is in the end, and the same holds true for Gian. It's really a very good story, and a rather remarkable book, if not for the ending - which is so darn conventional it takes some of the wind out of the sails. Still, it's easy to see why Publisher's Weekly named this book one of the best of 2007. Me? It probably would have cracked my Honorable Mentions for 2007 - which might not make it great, but does make it pretty darn good.
Final Grade = B+