Series: Dark Dynasties, Book 2
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 374 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Forever publisher Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
A Dark and Decadent Delight
To say that vampires and werewolves aren't exactly bosum buddies would be the sort of understatement that wins lifetime achievement awards, and the Cait Sith, a vampire bloodline enslaved by the highbloods until recently, well, they're vampires who can become large, predatory cats. You do the math.
In fact, Cait Sith Jaden Harrison tends to think of werewolves as nothing more than smelly, brutish thugs, though that's a pretty elitist opinion for a recently-not-so-former slave. Technically, it's not even entirely true. There is one werewolf in particular, Lyra Black, who Jaden definitely isn't lumping in with the others. Though he would really, really like to.
Lyra is entirely too...everything for Jaden's piece of mind. She stirs things in him he doesn't want stirred by a wolf. And it's definitely a pity when he practically trips over her as she's about to get mauled by an overeager male werewolf with non-consensual sex on his mind. In Cait Sith territory no less.
It's not like he can stand around not rescuing the lovely Lyra. At least he'll get some gratitude from her.
Lyra Black doesn't want a mate. She surely doesn't want some werewolf with an eye on his own upward mobility to even think about getting anywhere near her. As the only child of the pack Alpha, there's only one thing Lyra does want. To follow in his footsteps, be accepted as his second, and become Alpha when he steps down. Is that too much to ask?
Now she's got a werewolf wannabe trying to stake a claim and a vampire, of all loathsome species, stepping in to help her as if she's some dainty, fainting flower. Oh, no he didn't. She can take care of herself. She can save herself. And she damn sure doesn't want a leech like Jaden, no matter how hot and finely chiseled he is, to take that away from her, then have the audacity...the unmitigated gall...to act like she owed him thanks for his interference.
Not even if snowballs were piling up in hell, and no matter how delicious he smells to her sensitive nose. She hates the vampire and everything he stands for. Everything he is. And she's got too much going on to give him even a passing thought. She just wished that mattered to her libido, because she still hasn't been able to fully tuck him away into memory after their first encounter.
There's something special about this series. I noticed it in the previous book, the series debut. It's got a few elements similar in theme to other paranormal romance series, but fewer than most, and it's got enough of its own original mythos, unique world building, and surprising character backstory to make it stand out amidst a very large crowd. That's rare enough lately to take notice when I find it.
In the Dark Dynasties series, it's all about the Cait Sith. As former slaves to their highblood brethren, subjugated through the ages, the entire bloodline is burdened and defined by the psychological ramifications both from centuries of slavery and from newly found freedom and increased status after many lifetimes without. Those elements are being nicely woven into the main characters' personality and personal history in such a way as to provide depth and add dimension, as well as setting them apart as unique.
Jaden is a hard case. We met him in the first book and saw him as a dark, taciturn vampire with more internal scars than those on his back. In this one, though he's now free, he's still feeling restless and a little empty, and very unsure of his future. Within the parameters of his comfort zone as a fighter or a hunter, he's confident, controlled, and deadly. All business all the time. Push him out of that comfort zone, however, and dump an inconvenient, Lyra-sized attraction in his lap and he becomes cluelessly adorable as he sinks deeper and deeper in over his head. I loved him so much in this book.
He's got a full lust-on for Lyra, and the sparks between them are intense, but he falls flat on his face (metaphorically speaking) when his emotions get stirred into the mix. Those moments of emotional vulnerability and insecurity are all entirely endearing and cutely humorous.
Lyra is a bit more standard a heroine for the genre, but she's strong, fiercely independent, and wildly loyal to her pack, her father, and her loved ones. She's exactly my kind of leading lady and I both liked and respected her for her struggles and her clearly conceived plans for the future. She's also none too happy about her attraction to a vampire, but once that initial hurdle is leapt, she's far more philosophical about it and isn't afraid to grab for what she wants. Even startled vampires.
The two of them made a very strong team, with complimenting strengths and weaknesses, and I loved that Castle kept them more an evenly matched team instead of slotting Jaden into a position of protection and defense for Lyra. While that may have worked with the characters in the first book, the formerly human Lily and her vampire husband Tynan, it would have been disastrous for Jaden and Lyra's relationship. Those two need a partner, not a protector. I was thrilled to see Castle develop that and allow her characters to embody it.
The plot in this book was very different from that of the last. The Ptolemy are still around stirring up trouble, for sure, but most of this book focused on the relationship betwen Jaden and Lyra, as well as the pack issues and upcoming Proving that Jaden trains Lyra for. Much of the day-to-day training passed without expansive detail, but it helped the pacing of the book and kept the reader apprised that their relationship was evolving as time passed. In that regard, this book leans more heavily towards the romance than the plot-driven external conflicts that drove the first book.
There were some nice twists and turns in the plot, too. Some suspense elements that worked better than I expected and provided more entertainment than I would have guessed. Not all is hunky dory in the pack and though I did figure out a few key points of friction beforehand, others left me surprised. It's hard to surprise me.
All in all, I've become a huge fan both of this series and of Kendra Leigh Castle's writing. I can't wait to see who she turns up the heat on next. Her character's are memorable and endearing, flawed, even broken a bit, and their flustered insecurities make them ultimately sympathetic. They are also, of course, oh-so-very sexy! Pair that up with a richly defined, imaginative world and a solidly layered plot and you've got the sort of paranormal romance gold that tickles all my Happy Reader buttons...and then some.
He wished he could have spoken to someone with a similar experience, but one didn't just wander around asking random vampires whether they'd ever been possessed by the desire to get naked with a werewolf.
"You're not worried because I'm pale, are you? We've been over this. The pale skin is not a bug, it's a feature."
"It was her idea to bind herself to you for the rest of her life, and you're worried she doesn't love you," Ty said blandly.
"Well, I...yeah," Jaden replied, beginning to feel more than a little foolish.
"I'd like you to think about that for a minute, dumbass, and then get back to me on how well it makes sense."
Dark Dynasties Series: