Desert Isle Keeper
The storyline in Winterblaze, the third book in Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series, actually begins in book two, Moonglow, when Inspector Winston Lane of Scotland Yard CID is brutally attacked by a werewolf, and would have been killed were it not for the timely intervention of a mysterious, winged figure who saved him in the nick of time. Between the events of books two and three, Winston has recovered, but has also made a number of alarming discoveries, not the least of which is that his wife of fourteen years – Poppy, the eldest of the three Ellis sisters – has been living a double life for the entirety of the time they have known each other. Thanks to his brothers-in-law, Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrop and Lord Benjamin Archer, Winston has learned about the existence of the SOS – the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals (an organisation dedicated to preventing humans from finding out about the existence of demons, werewolves, shape-shifters and the other supernatural beings in their midst), and also, thanks to them, has learned how to fight and otherwise defend himself from attack.
Dreadfully scarred and considerably bulked-up, Winston has left England – and Poppy – deeply wounded by her betrayal, and, having also left his job, is angry, bereft, and aimless.
Poppy is devastated by Winston’s abandonment, but her work at the SOS is important and she tries to focus on that exclusively to block out the hurt she is feeling. In fact, that’s more or less been the pattern of her life – secrets she was charged with keeping after her mother’s death have weighed heavily on her, but she has to carry them alone and her dedication to her work has led her to deceive not only her husband, but her sisters, too.
Winston has been away for three months when Poppy receives an anonymous note threatening his life. He might not want to be around her, but she is not prepared to see him come to harm, so she boards the ship on which he is due to travel from Calais, determined to keep him safe. Their reunion is filled with angry words and bitterness. Yet there is worse to come, a betrayal years in the making which threatens not just their happiness, but their very lives.
I’m not going to say much more about the plot other than that it’s gripping and superbly executed, with plenty of action and “OMGNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” moments along the way. But as with the other books in the series, what turns a well-plotted, exciting story into a fantastic all-round read is the strong characterisation and the depth Ms Callihan gives to the central relationship between Winston and Poppy. We get to see their life together unfold in a series of flashbacks – from their first meeting up until their marriage – and the strength of their attraction and love for each other just leaps off the page. In their present, when it seems their marriage is in tatters, that attraction and love is still there, burning even more brightly if that is possible, yet they are both going to have to come to terms with the lies and the betrayals if they are going to have a chance of a future at all, let alone a future together.
In the earlier books, Poppy and Winston are presented as the epitome of a happy – albeit rather staid – marriage, but as Winterblaze progresses, we are shown that both of them have fooled themselves to an extent, and that while their love for each other has never been in doubt, their marriage has perhaps not been all they had believed it to be. Over the course of this story, we see them rediscovering each other – sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, as these are two proud people who have an intense dislike of showing weakness or vulnerability – and coming to a new understanding and appreciation of each other. It’s not easy, and there are moments of recrimination and many harsh words, but when push comes to shove, these are two people who mean the world to each other and who will do what they must to ensure the happiness and well-being of the other, no matter the cost to themselves.
I love the way we see both characters start to adjust to the newly revealed realities they are discovering about each other. Winston has to admit that his wife is more than capable of kicking his arse without lifting a finger – not an especially pleasant thought for a man who has been brought up to believe women are to be protected at all costs. Wonderfully, however, while Winston’s protective instincts may be screaming at him to pull her out of danger, he is also completely turned-on by his warrior-queen of a wife (he’s always dubbed her ‘Boadicea’) and finds an unexpected delight in knowing what she’s capable of. And while Poppy has always known that her husband had a very keen mind, she now comes to truly value his methodical approach and his ability to see the bigger picture. (All the newly acquired muscle and his way with a swordstick don’t hurt either!) Together, they’re a force to be reckoned with, something which is showcased brilliantly in a fight scene which had me thinking of them as a Victorian ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’!
Which brings me to once again admire this author’s ability to create the most incredibly scorching sexual tension between her protagonists. Winston and Poppy might have been regarded as staid by others, yet they were clearly anything BUT staid in the bedroom, as it seems the methodical, upright Lane of the Yard was a bit of a devil between the sheets! Lucky for Poppy, he still is ;-)
Winterblaze is a superb read, and one I’m sure I’ll return to. The balance between the romance and the action is just about perfect, the storytelling is wonderful and the plot is exciting and well-paced; but the biggest draw for me is the way in which Ms Callihan so clearly shows the depth of the love between Winston and Poppy and how they have forged a new partnership from the ashes of the old one.