Ready for another vampire series? I think you just might be when said series is by the enormously gifted Susan Squires. However, while I decidedly enjoyed this first entry and certainly plan to keep reading, I wasn’t quite as enthralled here as I have been in the past by the author’s complex and challenging prose.
Following the death of her renowned archaeologist father, Beth Rochewell finds herself reluctantly leaving the North Africa she loves to return to a Regency-era England she hardly knows. This turn of events is especially frustrating to the intrepid young woman because she firmly believes that she and her father were close to discovering the location of the mysterious Lost City they had long been seeking. On board the ship that will carry her home, Beth meets the mysterious Ian Rufford, a darkly handsome Englishman who’s strangely sensitive to the sun and who also seems to possess extraordinary physical powers.
Ian is a man with a tortured past – literally. While originally traveling to North Africa attached to a diplomatic mission, Ian’s ship was captured by Barbary pirates and the aristocrat sold into slavery. While it would be hard to imagine a more horrible fate, Ian is actually even worse off than you might imagine since his buyer is a powerful female vampire pausing from her mysterious and never-ending desert quest just long enough to replenish her caravan’s supply of slaves.
As Ian watches slaves disappear one by one into the beautiful vampire’s lair and remerge either dead or close to it, he knows that eventually his own turn will come – and it does. But, for Ian, a quick and relatively easy death at the hands of a vampire isn’t to be once Asharti, the evil vampire in question, learns that she can take as much pleasure from Ian’s defiance of her will as she does in feeding from him. Ian becomes the “favorite”, forced to submit again and again to her insatiable demands.
Though the events of Ian’s captivity are told in flashbacks and the reader knows right from the start that he is both eventually freed and a vampire himself, revealing how and why these things happen would constitute decided spoilers. So, suffice it to say that Beth is drawn to Ian – as Ian is to her – and together the knowledge they possess could be central to defeating an evil scheme that could have drastic implications for humans everywhere.
Susan Squires never skimps on characterization and she certainly doesn’t here. Beth is a strong, sympathetic, and brilliant heroine, while Ian is as complex and tortured as anyone who favors a dark hero can ask. However, I have to admit that I never really felt the strength of the passion between them – yes, this was a romance, but it struck me as a particularly restrained one. Frankly, I think the author was more interested in setting up her own very intriguing vampire mythology and telling the story of the horrors endured by Ian during his captivity than she was in the central romance since both of the former are told with far more passion than the latter. Not, to quote a memorable Seinfeld-ian phrase, that there’s anything wrong with that beyond the fact that the pace of the book seems to slow down pretty dramatically whenever the romance takes center stage. It is that loss of momentum and not the lack of focus on the romance itself that settles my grade for this one at a B.
But with all that said, The Companion is a vibrant, riveting, and sometimes just plain scary novel that should satisfy anyone – including the man in your life – who enjoys paranormal tales. Ms. Squires’ saga is off to an intriguing start and I’ll look forward to seeing where she takes it in the books to come.