A bound man with a voracious appetite…A werewolf with human desires…A shape-shifter with one basic need…An immortal lover with a passion for mortal women. These are the stories of Hot Blooded.
HelenKay: In Christine Feehan’s Dark Hunger Juliette is in the business of rescuing animals, which is convenient since she is able to shapeshift into one. In her case, a jaguar. This time her rescue efforts save a human male, or so she thinks. Riordan is actually a Carpathian, part of a greater world created by Feehan through previous novels. A world she knows well but one she does not always clue her readers in on.
Feehan’s writing is sensual and bold. Each character’s ability to speak in the other’s mind adds to the sexual tension of the story and the mystery behind Riordan’s family members, some of whom appear here likely as a means of establishing characters for future books. The problem with the novella is that the conflict set up and described, of a master vampire and a possible taint to the male shapeshifting jaguar line, is never resolved so that the reader gets a glimpse of this world but not a rounded and complete story.
Maggie Shayne sends zoologist Jenny in the Bayou in Awaiting Moonrise to find a new breed of animal. She finds a doctor, Samuel, who also happens to be a werewolf. The first meeting between the characters with Samuel in human form is in his professional office but is anything but professional. The scene quickly escalates from doctor visit to playing doctor. Unfortunately, the twinges of inappropriate and overblown sexual conduct are hard to shake as the story progresses.
In addition to the woman-loves-beast issue, there is a companion conflict that arises out of the plans of Jenny’s boss for the werewolf research. His storyline feels like as add-on and the other secondary characters offer little to the overall flow of the otherwise well-paced novella.
In Emma Holly’s The Night Owl shapeshifting vampire (here, an upyr) Bastien is sexy and determined to bed and conquer pastry chef Mariann. In a twist, Bastien acts beta around Mariann. He is shy and awkward, even though he is destined to be a leader of his kind. The interesting aspect of this novella is the unexpected Bastien and his place in Holly’s usual well-paced and sexy style.
Angela Knight finishes off the anthology with Seduction’s Gift. Grace is a police officer and Maja (think witch) being pursued by Lance (think vampire). Lance has been sent to bed Grace (3 times is a must) in order to convert her and set her inner witch free. While the cat-and-mouse part of this story is interesting, the real spin is in the re-telling of King Aurthur and the Knights of the Round Table as vampires and Morgana as a sultry witch grandmother of Grace who not only demands Lance bed her kin but also makes a play for him herself. The twist is clever and just odd enough to make the suspension of belief needed for a paranormal difficult.
Wendy: In Christine Feehan’s “Dark Hunger”, Juliette Sangria is a shape-shifting Jaguar out to save endangered animals and the females of her species. While releasing animals from a lab, Juliette stumbles upon Riordan, a captured Carpathian, who recognizes Juliette as his lifemate. The story hits the ground running as Juliette releases Riordan from his prison and he claims her as his.
Ms. Feehan liberally shifts POV between her hero and heroine, often multiple times on a single page yet manages to be clear and unobtrusive between the swings. The writing is lush and compelling as it pulls the reader into a freefall of suspended disbelief. As in this passage where Juliette admires the view below as she and Riordan race through the sky: She could see the canopy far below her. The leaves of the trees were silver-black in the moonlight. The raindrops dazzled her eyes, glittering like diamonds as they fell from the clouds.
Juliette and Riordan are consistent throughout the story. Their interaction is passion-heavy and emotionally light. Multiple conflicts weave in and out of the story, but none are fleshed out or followed to their natural finale. The fact that the hero and heroine are lifemates, seemingly bound to one another without choice, perhaps since before time, makes their capitulation to one another a foregone conclusion and a HEA neither needs to work for.
If there is a complaint about this novella it’s that Ms. Feehan is clearly writing to her audience under the assumption that all who read the work are familiar with the Carpathian legend she’s woven through a dozen plus novels. For the uninitiated, it’s easy to miss the importance of what isn’t explained and feel uninvited to the party.
In Maggie Shayne’s “Awaiting Moonrise”, Jenny Rose is a zoologist in search of a werewolf. With all the intelligence of a horror movie teenager, Jenny prowls the Louisiana bayou—during a full moon—until she comes face to snout and flesh to claws with a half-man-half-wolf creature. Fortunately, Dr. Samuel La Roque, the parish physician with the bedside manner of a rapist, is more than happy to patch Jenny up. It’s the least he can do considering he’s the werewolf Jenny encountered.
As HelenKay points out, the first encounter between Jenny and Samuel is skin crawlingly uncomfortable. Samuel’s fondling is nothing short of actionable. From there the hero and heroine’s attraction to one another remains powerful, but unexplained or developed upon.
Ms. Shayne keeps the novella focused on conflicts that carry through the short piece even though the story’s pacing would be more appropriate for a longer work. The werewolf’s human identity is withheld from the reader until half way through the story, but there is little doubt from the beginning as to who and what Samuel is, as Ms. Shayne tips her hand by staying in the heroine’s POV throughout the story.
Unfortunately, the secondary players, who are given great responsibility in the story, are never more than transparent one-note characters: there is the snowy-white turban clad, black housekeeper who is conveniently familiar with Voodoo, and the affectively bored and disapproving senior Professor who isn’t quite what he’d like everyone to think. The climax of the story reads like an episode of Scooby Doo: And I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!
In Emma Holly’s “The Night Owl”, Marianne O’Faolain is a pastry chef whose landlord, Bastien Luce is an upyr (vampire). Bastien adores Marianne; he wants to spend eternity with her, wants to make her his queen, but first it would be nice if she noticed him. Once Marianne does notice Bastien the passion that flares between them is white hot, intense, and all to brief before Marianne falls victim to her ex-partner and business rival. Bastien must make the unknowing Marianne an upyr to save her life or lose her forever.
“The Night Owl” explodes with sexual heat but stumbles looking for a conflict to sustain the story. Holly’s pacing is clearly better suited and more appropriate for longer work. True to form, Holly’s gem in this story is the hero: Bastien is part alpha, part beta, all Holly hero, with a back story more interesting than the novella, and, sadly unexplored in this short space.
Holly’s strong and compelling writing more than overcomes the missteps along the way, but falters badly in the final scene when the story’s conflicts—such as they are—are solved without the hero or the heroine, making the conclusion somewhat unsatisfying.
In Angela Knight’s “Seduction’s Gift” Lancelot du Lac reenters Grace Morgan’s life to seduce her into receiving the Gift so that she can make the transition from mortal to Maja. For her part, Grace, a small town cop, wants no part of her genetic legacy, but does want all of Lancelot she can get.
“Seduction’s Gift” is built around a conceit impossible to suspend disbelief on: King Arthur and his most famous knight, Lancelot, are vampires or Magi. This gift was bestowed up upon them by none other that Merlin, who, for this telling, isn’t an earth bound wizard but an alien from…somewhere else. Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere (a Maga or witch as there are no female vampires) and a host of others have been chosen to guide humankind through pestilence and war and who knows what else. A natural choice to anyone familiar with King Arthur’s legend, seeing as how the players therein did such a nice job of getting along and sailing smoothly through life.
The story is an aimless mess hitting on and abandoning plot points with each turn of the page: moving from sired and forgotten children, to Iraqi war heroes, to a serial killer—or rather the psychically relayed mental images from a serial killer—who shows up half way through the story, for no other reason than to provide the heroine with a compelling reason to accept the Gift.
As heroes go, Lancelot is on the Machiavellian end of the spectrum: a killer and seducer in turns, who does so at the bidding of the High Court. While he isn’t unlikable for his actions, for a large portion of the story, his feelings for Grace are limited to lust and a desire that she not be gang raped. Grace is quick witted and affable enough to forgive her lapses in logic and dogged puppy love for Lance.
However, the amiable and somewhat compelling characters aren’t enough to save the uneven storytelling and unbelievable mythology.
Wendy’s response to HelenKay: As a paranormal laymen, does the shifting mythology from author to author bother you? Would it be easier for you to suspend your disbelief and fall into these stories if they were consistent and didn’t contradict one another? Or does this not play into your hesitation at all?
HelenKay’s response to Wendy: Paranormal is not my usual fare and I admit to having had some trouble keeping the backstory and world building elements of the stories separate as I jumped from one to another. A piece of lore would settle in my brain and then I’d move onto a new story with new lore. That adjustment became part of the reading experience. And, the idea of shapeshifting is one that eluded me throughout the anthology. All of the authors handled the idea well but, regardless of story, every time a character turned into a wolf or smoke or some other thing, the change pulled me out of the story. This reaction likely is related more to my personal preferences than from any deficit by any of the authors.
Wendy’s grade: The anthology is a mixed bag. Feehan and Holly far outshine Shayne and Knight. Feehan B+, Shayne C-, Holly B, Knight D.
HelenKay’s grade: As with many novellas, the characterization and conflicts here are thin. However, this collection will appeal to diehard paranormal fans and those looking to try a little something new. Some of the stories are stronger than others. Feehan’s is the hardest to grade in that the writing is strong but the delivery of a partial story only is frustrating. In general, the novella earns a solid B. The individual stories breakdown like this: Feehan B+, Shayne C, Holly B and Knight B-.