One of the more welcome aspects of Linda Howard’s Raintree: Inferno was its originality, as it contained none of the usual series romance hooks or gimmicks. Of course, her collaborators in the Raintree trilogy write for Silhouette on a more regular basis these days, and they know what side their bread is buttered on. So Linda Winstead Jones made sure to use a cop hero, a pregnancy plot, and a little girl (albeit the spirit of one) in her book, while Beverly Barton breaks out the hoariest cliche of them all, the secret child (as well as playing up the “royal” element more than in the previous books). The miracle of Raintree: Sanctuary may be that it manages to overcome that trite standard, as Barton’s book easily surpasses the earlier entries and virtually renders them superfluous.
Judah Ansara is Dranir, or king, of the Ansara clan, a powerful family of wizards. After centuries of waging war against the rival Raintree clan, the Ansara were soundly defeated and nearly wiped out by their enemies two hundred years ago. Ever since, they’ve been gathering their strength and numbers, preparing for the day when they will once again take on the Raintree and kill them all. Judah knows that his people aren’t ready for that battle yet, but some of them, having grown impatient, want to act now. His half-brother Cael, eager to unseat Judah as dranir and prove himself stronger than his brother, has set in motion a plan to do just that. When Judah learns that Cael sent an assassin to kill Mercy Raintree, the princess of her clan, he sets off to prevent it from happening. Not only are the Ansara not ready for the war the assassination would spark, Judah long ago claimed Mercy as his own to kill.
Seven years ago, Mercy Raintree was seduced by a stranger. It was only after she conceived his child that she realized he was Ansara, and her daughter Eve is both half-Raintree and half-Ansara. Eve has long shown abilities far surpassing anyone her age, indicating she will one day be more powerful than anyone in either clan. For six years, Mercy kept the truth of her daughter’s parentage a secret from everyone except her trusted nanny, while running the Raintree family homestead, Sanctuary, in North Carolina. Judah’s sudden reappearance in her life exposes her deepest secret, while also revealing the great danger facing them all.
For the most part this is very much a stand-alone book that not only requires no knowledge of the previous ones but may leave some readers wonder why they bothered reading them. It’s like we sat through the orchestra tuning and the overture; now, here at last, is the show. Perhaps due to the nature of the plot, Barton is able to introduce the world of the Raintree and Ansara in a way that comes across clearer than before. She wastes no time setting the plot in motion and immersing the reader in the internal struggle among the Ansara from page one. This story even begins before either of the others. Readers who haven’t read the earlier books shouldn’t feel they missed out on anything at all (although they may be annoyed when Barton finally gets around to picking up the dangling threads from the previous books and all these other characters show up to receive their moment in the spotlight).
What I particularly enjoyed about the book is that while it certainly has a plot, it has the feel of a character-driven tale, as Barton largely keeps the focus on the primary characters. There is a bigger picture and a great deal at stake for more than just the hero and heroine and those closest to them, but by seeing it through their eyes, the author keeps the stakes on a much more intimate and personal level that the reader can experience more keenly. The story is involving precisely because the character drama is. Nothing about the secret child element is particularly novel, despite the circumstances specific to these characters, but Barton manages to make it interesting and emotional enough to work. It doesn’t hurt that her prose is vivid and engaging. At a time when I find fewer and fewer series romances that are capable of holding my attention, this one was a one-sitting read that kept me hanging on every word.
Judah should appeal to readers who favor dark alpha heroes. Mercy is strong and sympathetic, though it would have been nice if she’d had more to do for much of the book than to simply react to what’s happening around her. Heck, Eve has more of an active role in the proceedings than she does. Still, she does get to step forward as a leader of her people in the climax (nicely reflected in the cover image depicting a pivotal moment). Some readers may wish for more romantic development sooner, as well as for the love story to be less seemingly one-sided for so long, but that’s a relatively small quibble. The overall story is absorbing enough in its own right that it’s easy enough to overlook that minor weakness for the most part. The ending is also slightly rushed.
Even so, this is a strong conclusion to a series that got better as it went along. It’s simply a much richer experience than the other books, not to mention the best Nocturne I’ve read to date. Whether or not one has read the previous books in the Raintree saga, Raintree: Sanctuary is a well-drawn and compelling paranormal tale in its own right.