I wasn’t expecting it, but I really liked Dark Embers. Although it is categorized as an erotic romance, I think it is far removed from the typical sketchy story about a sex-crazed couple. The plot, thank God, is actually existent, and even more impressive is the fact that it is actually fascinating. Unfortunately, the romance between the leads is extremely average, and thus the corresponding grade.
Dylan MacLeod is the king of the Dragonstar clan. He can only produce an heir with his destined mate, which presents a problem because he’s been searching for her for hundreds of years to no avail. His search is cut short when a lethal disease begins killing his clan members one by one, including his sister and her daughter. Onset of the mysterious disease is fast, the patient suffers excruciatingly, and so far there have been no survivors. Left with no other choice, Dylan is forced to go to the human world for help.
Phoebe Quillum is a renowned Harvard biochemist whose research grant has just been cut. When Dylan suddenly arrives in her lab, demanding that she go back to New Mexico with him immediately, she is not amused at his theatrics – but then he offers her 3 million dollars and she realizes she can’t say no. Once she begins studying the disease that is killing Dylan’s clan, she is not only fascinated by its nature, but by the clan leader himself. Something about Dylan calls to her, although she’s sworn never to trust men again. Dylan doesn’t quite get around to telling her what he really is, but she becomes more and more suspicious as time passes and she learns more about his people.
I enjoyed the plot immensely, mainly because it reminded me of The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, a true account of the Ebola virus that kept me awake for weeks afterwards. Of course, this story isn’t nearly as gruesome, but it has the same urgency and sense of fear fueling the characters. Romance-wise, I have to admit that I wasn’t really feeling it. I found most of the sex scenes a little boring and not very emotionally-connected, and enjoyed the scenes where they researched the disease much more.
Perhaps the bigger problem with the book is that it is way too short. Phoebe and Dylan’s relationship is on extreme fast forward. The end of the story only provides Phoebe and Dylan’s HEA, and not much about the disease – it is implied that soon the disease will finally be understood. A heck of a lot happens in the last twenty pages, which could have easily been stretched out into another chapter or four, and a villain also suddenly appears at the end, which felt really random.
Sensuality-wise, the story is technically Burning. Because the relationship develops so quickly and is heavily based on the instinctual “mate” thing, a lot of the sex scenes lacked the emotion I look for in a romance. Still, Dark Embers is a million times better than I thought it might be. It is fun, the plot is refreshingly solid (albeit rushed), and the dragon element gives the story a light paranormal touch.