When we last saw Leif Asgard, in Hearts of Darkness
he was in dragon form, battling his deranged, meglomaniacal, brother Sven Norgard who had planned to use an ancient relic to unleash a vengeful demi-god on the world. Sven's schemes didn't work out so well, with him ending up dead, but a rogue Kivati, however, managed to rip open the metaphysical wall between the land of the dead and unleash a ghost-pocalypse and Kingu (said demi-god) on the world.
Now, in the aftermath, Leif is Regent of the dragon-shifter Drakar and not terribly happy about it. Leif, who sees himself as a man of science, would rather be hiding in his laboratory making mad science, instead of dealing with politics. Especially when everyone, human and Kivati, would do the dance of happy if his kind went extinct. Nevertheless, he is trying to help in the only way he knows, by getting gas power to the city, providing light to chase away the hungry ghosts.
Part of Leif's inheritance from his brother is a contingent of blood slaves. One of those slaves, Grace Mercer, The Reaper, catches his notice when she challenges him at a Council meeting. Leif is intrigued by the small and fierce slayer of aptrgangr (basically zombies), but Grace, whose experience with Sven Norgard was been anything by fun, thinks the only good Drakar is one with a knife in its groin. Her goal, besides keeping Seattle wraith-free, is to earn her freedom and be free of Leif and the Drakar once and for all.
So haters to eventual lovers trope. Works for me.
Meanwhile, Kingu, who has been imprisoned for centuries and, not surprisingly, is just a smidge put-out about the matter, is running (well, more like floating, since he's a wraith) around Seattle, building an army. Because, if you're a pissed off demi-god, building armies is something you must have on your resume. So too is searching for McGuffins. This time the mythical object of power is the Heart of Tiamat. Tiamat being the Babylonian goddess of chaos and mother of dragons. Of course, with the Heart, Kingu will have ultimate power over the universe, bwah-ha-ha.
(Um, for the record, I figured out the Heart's location about ten seconds after its first mention, and I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.)
So...Leif and Grace will have to team up and stop Kingu, and along the way, fall in love. Aw.
Grace is a way-more better heroine than Whatshername from the previous novel. She's actively engaged in the storyline, a real kick-butt girl, who, though attracted to the hero, Leif, doesn't instantly follow her ovaries into lust-soak Stupidville.
Consequently, even though Leif sometimes, like Hart (previous book), spends a tad too much time in gushing, "She's Teh Awesome," internal dialogues regarding Grace, he at least has good reason. I mean, he thinks Grace is tough, because he sees her
being tough, taking down zombies, etc.
Plus, I just happen to find the street-smart, waif type much more relatable than the innocent, virginal healer type (who changes the hero with her magical hoo-ha, UGH).
Though not my dream beta hero, Leif is likable and a good fusion of brains and brawn. I would have loved it if the story was bold enough to make him a little more peculiar, more mad scientist type, but I imagine, constrained the requirements of Romance, he isn't allowed to stray too far from the typical, manly-man romance hero mold. So, he could have been better, but at least he wasn't the painfully cliche alpha with anger-management issues.
Also, he's a dragon, ergo, awesome.
Not a five-star book because... In general, Hearts of Shadow
felt rushed, as though both author and editors were trying to get this sucker to the presses before the audience forgets the previous book and wandered off to the next big thing.
This is evident right from the first page, where the story is so desperate to get the hero and heroine together that they are introduced in the first sentence. Obliquely, yes, since Leif just knows the mystery woman creeping around the council chamber is one of the blood slaves he's inherited from his brother, but -- KAPOW!-- there are they are, as per Romance Law, together on the same page. The point is to show their adversarial relationship, straight away, but really, the story would have been better served introducing these two interesting people first as separate entities.
The above, however, could be argued as valid means of structuring the plot. (And my complaint is a function of my dislike for the genre's requirement that hero and heroine meet as soon as possible, possibly in utero.)
A bigger issue is the way the writing gets almost sloppy, particularly during action sequences, giving the feeling of a poorly edited film, with choppy transitions and an overall feeling like the author just wanted to get on with this stuff and back to the sexing. This sense of disjoint, rushed narrative is subtle; not enough to make the story unreadable, but enough to keep me from really sinking deeply into Leif and Grace's world.
I'm getting the impression, based on extra POV scenes in Hearts of Shadow
, that the next story will focus on the emotionally constipated, Corbette, the leader of the Kivati and Lucia, his fiancee. Reader consensus seems to be that this is a good thing. As usual, I'm in the minority, and if those two are up next, I'm bailing on the series.
*Edited to include a story summary, so I won't look back at this review, erm, tomorrow (my memory is moosh) and wonder, "What the hell was this about?"