Throughout the series there has been a creeping foreboding about Dirk & Steele. In the beginning they seemed like 100% pure, upstanding good guys, but as each book adds to the series, we, along with some of the characters, start to question the people behind the organization. Another layer is added to that here.
After a unique gravesite is uncovered, Karr comes to the attention of the Dirk & Steele organization. He is taken and held by some of the employees while the boss, Roland, contacts Soria, a prior member, hoping that she’ll agree to help them again. Soria lost an arm and her faith in the organization she worked for, and retreated from the world. She’s still struggling to come to terms with the loss of her arm and finds herself occasionally frustrated and angry with the world. When Roland contacts her Soria doesn’t want to have anything to do with the assignment, but given that her ability to understand and speak any language is pretty unique, she reluctantly agrees. She never expected to find a man like Karr, a Chimera who speaks a language that she has never heard before, and one who everyone says is a killer. An attack leads Soria to take a leap of faith and release him, and together they go on the run, trying to work their way back to safety.
Karr and Soria are both broken souls. Karr wakes up, still alive, a thousand years after he sacrificed himself to atone for a wrongdoing. He is completely alone in the world and is further isolated by his inability to communicate with the world. It has been so long since his language was spoken that there aren’t even any derivatives of it so he could at least be partially understood. That kind of isolation is not something that most people consider in depth in a day to day setting, so seeing how much of a detriment that kind of isolation is was a bit of a revelation for me. Soria struggles to accept the way people now see her and to let go of the bitterness she feels toward Roland, her ex, for his unwillingness to face his fears and be there for her when she needed it. Neither of them are looking for love, but they can’t resist as they slowly come to respect, and then care for, each other.
I really liked that Liu took the leap into exploring what would happen if two shifters bred with each other. Unfortunately, things were not pleasant for their children, the Chimera. They had to deal with dueling instincts and some of them went mad or suffered from rages where they lost all control and became violent. They weren’t all like that, but the less controlled Chimera convinced the shifters that they were a danger. When Karr was first alive his people warred with the shifters. They wanted to wipe out their mistakes and were convinced that they were doing what was right when they hunted down and killed every Chimera they could get their hands on. It was nothing to them to kill the child before it could become old enough to be a threat. In addition to that, the shifters who dared to break the rules and mate were severely punished by their own people. Karr is shocked to find that most of the shifters Soria knows didn’t know about the past existence of the Chimera. As far as they’re concerned, it’s forbidden to mix their species because the child won’t survive. Who would want to risk that? But some people have long memories and Karr is hunted once again.
Although this romance didn’t have intensity to it, it did have a lovely sweetness that both Karr and Soria needed. Because they were on the run and not around other people very often, we got an excellent focus on them and their building connection. I liked watching Karr work through his past regrets and struggle to come to terms with the modern world. He is completely reliant on Soria and although I initially feared that it would make the relationship feel forced, it didn’t. They both learn to lean on each other and start to heal their past hurts. Although their future won’t be easy or perfect, we know that they’ll have each other.
I really liked that Liu brought Eddie back into play and gave us an update on how he’s doing. Not well, really, but he cared enough about Soria to make the effort. We also got to see more of Koni, Robert, and the quite frightening Ku Ku. I loved getting more information on Roland, although I was somehow shocked to learn that he had been in a relationship with someone. The truth about the treatment of the Chimera added a frightening grimness to the supernatural world that Liu has created. I guess all of the groups have a thread of darkness in them somewhere.
“Would you rather learn from me, or on your own?”
“If I chose the latter? Would you accept that?”
“Yes. I would call you stupid, but everyone has a right to be an idiot.”
“My dear lady. I am a professional.” He held up his cell phone. “I called ahead. We have an appointment. Though, if behaving in a law-abiding and civilized fashion is too much of an affront, I’m sure Ku-Ku would be more than happy to kick in the door and make Mr. Mulaney her bitch.”