I’m a big – big – fan of Emma Holly who writes hot sex as well as great couples. I’m also a big – big – fan of stories in a series that stand on their own. They usually encompass a larger world of characters, but provide sufficient focus on two main ones. So when I read an Emma Holly series book that does stand on its own two feet but doesn’t have a great couple, I’m in a bit of a quandary.
Estelle Berenger has been in love with her best friend’s father since she was a teen. So what if he has a sun allergy? Even though he’s a geriatric professor to everyone else, to her he’s a golden god. Edmund Fitz Clare has also long loved Estelle, but never treated her as anything other than his adopted daughter’s older friend. After all, it wouldn’t do for a 500-year-old shape-shifting vampire to fall in love with a mortal. But when Estelle moves out of the Fitz Clare home, it catalyzes the culmination of their feelings for each other, and everything would be peachy if it weren’t for Edmund’s eldest son Graham acting strangely, not to even mention the oncoming vampire war.
I liked the setting. Depression-era England is not a period you often see represented in romance, and there were sufficient references to the political milieu as well as the sartorial and cultural trends of the time that I truly felt myself to be in 1933 London. I also liked the suspense plotline and various secondary characters – I never felt lost amidst all the characters, and the intrigue was a satisfactory complement to the primary love story.
However, I really wish the reverse were true as well. Unfortunately it felt as if a good thirty pages were missing between the introduction, when Estelle and Edmund first meet, and the next chapter eleven years later when Estelle is about to move out. At that point they secretly love each other, two chapters later they consummate their relationship, and at various points eventually declare their love, get engaged, and she finds out he’s a vamp. And that’s it. Not that every love story needs grief, strife, and a big misunderstanding to be heart-wrenching (since that can often be just manipulative), but there is no conflict and no tension. Things come damn easy for our “star-crossed lovers” and any problems are external. Which makes their naked wrestling a whole lot less meaningful for this reader than it might be otherwise.
Those thirty pages could also have been put to good use developing their characters, especially Estelle’s. We only have Edmund’s word that he saw innate kindness beneath her brusqueness, at age fifteen, but I’d have loved to have read about her brusqueness and later kindness myself. (I’m demanding that way; so sue me.) And there’s something juuuust ever so slightly creepy about their love dating back to Estelle’s teenage years. This is where extra page time could have decreepified their relationship, but as it is, well, it passes muster. But only just.
That being said, the sex was hot, the larger story was good, and the setting was interesting. And there is a doozy of a cliffhanger (unfair, unfair). So I’ll have to read the sequel, and pray that in the interval Estelle and Edmund have been so fleshed out they’ve put on about thirty pounds. Each.