Wow, this book was so intense! I read the first book in the Dirk & Steele series, Tiger Eye, last week and I couldn’t stop thinking about reading this one. I gave in, jumped into it, and was instantly hooked.
This book can be pretty dark. It loosely ties in with Tiger Eye–although it’s a loose tie, I think they’re best if read sequentially–but they are very different in tone. The villains in this book were very creepy and the situation Elena and Artur woke to find themselves had my stomach clenching in sympathetic horror and helplessness. Both Elena and Artur were kidnapped by a mysterious organization interested in using their special skills. The organization, the Consortium, had no interest in protestations. They were willing to do whatever it took, including torture, to get what they wanted.
A serial killer—a seriously frightening man—plays a very large role in the book. If that doesn’t warn you to be prepared for some violence and fear, I don’t know what will. The Quiet Man, as Elena calls him, is beautifully cast. The way he instantly hones in on one character in the book had my skin crawling. Especially when paired with the details we learned about him earlier in the book. His standoffs with Rictor, another prison guard, made each man shine in their respective roles. Liu did a fabulous job with this aspect of the story.
The romance between Elena and Artur takes place very quickly when you stop and think about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more convincing connection in such a short time, or a more convincing reason to have said connection. These were two people that seemed to fit perfectly together. Their connection together was quite beautiful, and it was lovely to see two such deserving people find each other.
And, if she were being honest with herself, the way she felt toward Artur went beyond friendship. Went far beyond anything she had ever imagined she could feel. Tenuous, thrilling–more magic than the magic she had already encountered–and the wonder of it was that she suspected he might feel the same. That was worth a little danger.
Don’t worry that this book is all doom and gloom. Yes, it is very dark at times, but Liu does a good job balancing that out with sarcastic characters and humor. Elena had a great dynamic with Rictor, but the lines that seemed to pop the most for me occurred between Artur and the creepy Ms. Graves.
“I do not think you want to kill me. I do not think you want to kill any of us. You are not that wasteful.”
Graves stared at him. “You’re wrong about one thing, Mr. Loginov. I do want to kill you. Either that or fuck you. I can’t decide.”
“I prefer the killing.”
“I’ll try not to be insulted.”
“No,” Artur said. “Feel free to be insulted.”
The characters and their interactions are what really drew me in the most. Artur intrigued me from the first book and it was great getting to know him more. I found his past heartbreaking and was by turns both horrified and intrigued by his power. His first scene after he was captured shows you the dark side of a power like his. Elena was also a great character—although slightly less compelling than Artur. I like that although she was cast as pure of heart, she never let her morals get in the way of survival. She felt real and imperfect and I was really pleased with the way things turned out in her struggle over what she could live with using her powers for. Little complexities like Artur’s past love and his past with the mob, and Elena’s past with her mom really helped make these characters feel well rounded and full.
This is also the book where we meet one of my favorite characters, Rictor. Looking back on this series, with only a hazy recollection of the details of this story, he is the one thing that I remembered perfectly. He just fascinates me. His character is hard to get a handle on. Is he good? Is he bad? Who is he? What is he? I think Liu did a great job portraying him and giving him a mysterious grayness to his character. If her aim was to intrigue, she succeeded in me.
Although I loved most of this book, it isn’t perfect. Just like in Tiger Eye there came a point where it felt like the action hit a lull and the story seemed to drag a little. I wish the pace had kept up throughout, but the rest of the book impressed me enough that I couldn’t give it less than a 5.
“Okay,” Dean finally said, hard, fast. “I should have told you this a long time ago, but it’s difficult. You understand, Artur? This isn’t easy for me to say. I’m not good with this kind of thing. You know…emotional stuff.”
“Dean, stop.” Artur tried not to smile. “You know we cannot be together. Ours is a forbidden love.”
“Fuck you,” Dean said. “This is serious.”