In her Warder series, Mary Calmes has created a group of memorable characters and a special universe for them to live and play in. In the Warder universe, demons and other hell creatures have the ability to visit our world via portals. Once here, they bring death and destruction on the unwary human race ignorant of their presence. The only thing standing between hell and humans? Warders, a group of people called to duty by their special talents and gifts. Each city has such a group defending it against the abyss. Its leader is called a Sentinel, the oldest of Warders. They (male or female) lead a team of five Warders, like the five points of a pentagram. Each Warder, usually a orphan when called, has a special gift to go along with the powers all Warders hold. And while the Warders are incredibly powerful, they also have a need for a Hearth, a person who provides the Warder with a home, a safe place to channel their energy, someone to love them and for them to love.

As the Sentinel explains it, “We have found over the centuries that all power and no heart will kill a warder… My men protect me and each other, and to do that, they need a balance in their lives. For a warder, their hearth—home—is vital and necessary.” And without a Hearth, the Warder eventually dies. And not just anyone can become a Hearth to a Warder. If a Warder sleeps with someone and that person is not their Hearth, then the Warder drains away the life force of the person they are sleeping with, leaving them aged and withered. If the Warder leaves quickly enough and never returns, the person rebounds back to the age they had been. But when the Warder finds their Hearth, a bond is formed and the Hearth acquires special powers of their own, including keeping his Warder safely energized while not being drained himself. For Warders, their Hearths are their connection to the real world they are protecting.

The Warder series is the story of the five Warders of San Francisco and their Hearths. In the first four books, we find two featuring Warders in desperate need of a Hearth, one with a Warder whose Hearth disappears into another dimension due to a demon’s plan, and one with an already established couple showing their backstory and the dangers that await a Warder and Hearth the longer they stay together. The final book is the story  of a Warder who visits his Hearth’s home and finds all is not what it should be. Each book is a tale that will tug at your heart and bring you a new couple to love. Calmes gift of characterization flows from book to book, with each member of a couple the yin to their partner’s yang. Sometimes the story is told from the Hearth’s POV, like Julien Nash in His Hearth. We learn along with Julien what Ryan Dean really is and what is means to be a Warder and his Hearth. It’s a great introduction to the group of men and the series. In other books, it is the Warder telling the story and that is equally necessary to fully understand the pressures and turmoil of a Warder’s inner life as well as the toll all the killings and death of innocents take on their souls. And facing off with the Warders and their Hearths are a series of demons and hell dimensions as well crafted as the Warders themselves. Calmes skillfully builds the anticipation and anxiety as each couple struggles to find and then keep their relationship safe, irregardless of its longevity.

I have been asked several times to name my favorite Warder couple and found it impossible to do. I meet one couple and fall in love with them, read another book in the series and love that couple and so on. Each couple is so different as each Warder brings his own set of needs, insecurities and power to the relationship and that is balanced by the strengths and qualities of their Hearth, giving each story its own flavor and depth. I love this series and have heard that Calmes might be writing one last story in the series. I hope its true.

Here is the books in the order they should be read to fully grasp the role each Warder plays in the group and who all the characters are that are mentioned, complete with outstanding covers by artist Reese Dante:

His Hearth (Warder #1): This is the story of Warder Ryan Dean and his Hearth, Julien Nash. It is told from Julien’s POV and gives the reader the backstory on Sentinels and Warders. Julien is searching for his date at the company Christmas party and finds him with another man in the copy room. Stunned and more than a little irritated when his date comes to find him, their argument is interrupted by Ryan, a former model turned broadcaster who takes his date’s place. Their connection to each other is immediate and Julien finds himself taking Ryan home after the dinner is over. One night turns into the weekend of love and lust that comes to an abrupt end when Julien comes out of the bedroom to find Ryan in deadly combat with four demons. When Ryan’s true nature and calling is revealed, Julien must make a choice that will affect the rest of their lives.

Tooth and Nail (Warder#2): Warder Malic watched as his best friend and fellow Warder Ryan find his Hearth and vowed never to let another get that close, no matter the cost. Just the thought of loving someone, being that vulnerable, scared the hell out of him.  Malic preferred being the snarly, sarcastic person that his reputation purported him to be. Until he came across an angel being attacked by drunken thugs in a bathroom and everything changed. Dylan is only 19. On his way home from his temporary job as a Christmas angel in a seasonal boutique, he stops at a bar and gets into trouble immediately. He is rescued when a tall, scary, blond man pulls off his attackers and makes sure Dylan is safe. Dylan knows he has found the man he was meant to love. Now if he can only convince him. Malic is drawn to the gorgeous young man in his arms. The strength of that attraction sends him running off into the night. But fate has other plans and Malic soon meet up with Dylan again, and again. How much will it take before Malic accepts what Dylan already knows to be true, Dylan is his Hearth and they belong together.

Heart In Hand (Warder#3): Hearth Simon Kim loves his Warder Leith Haas, but a Warder’s life is a dangerous one and Simon has always held a part of himself back from Leith, afraid to let that last part open to the perils of a Warder/Hearth relationship. Then Leith disappears into a demon dimension while trying to rescue Simon and others from a demon trap. Now Simon must risk everything, including sacrificing his heart, if he is going to get his Warder and love back safely.

Sinnerman (Warder#4):  Warder Jackson Tybalt is secure in his relationship with his Hearth until he catches him cheating on him. The loss of his Hearth/love causes Jackson in his grief and rage to become a loose cannon, reckless in pursuit of demons, heedless of his own safety, drunken and irresponsible.  Jackson now threatens the security of his group and the welfare of the humans he is supposed to protect. Then kyrie Raphael offers him a relationship that Jackson thinks is built on darkness, lust, and pain. This is what Jackson has been seeking and Jackson accepts. Raphael is a demon who just happens to hunt his own. He has wanted Jackson as his own for some time and jumps at the opportunity the depressed Jackson gives him. What follows is an exploration of ” what a body needs to bandage the wounds of the heart, and Raphael will hide the tenderness he feels for Jackson for as long as the warder wears the guise of the Sinnerman.” I do think this is my favorite of the series. Far darker than the books before it, it has a depth combined with a vivid description of a man lost in emotional turmoil. And Raphael is just an outstanding character.

Nexus (Warder#5): Nexus is the story of Marcus Roth, Warder and top criminal lawyer and his Hearth, Joseph Locke. They are an interracial couple, with the added twist that Joseph is also blind. They are an established couple which makes the story even more interesting. Nexus begins with Marcus and Joseph traveling to Lexington, Kentucky to celebrate Joe’s grandfather’s birthday. Joe’s family is unaware, even after all the years they have been together, of the special nature of their bond of Warder/Hearth. When a demon threatens the family, the local Warder group demonstrates just how ineffectual they have become and Marcus must step in and take charge of the situation. As the situation gets more dangerous, Marcus’ identity is revealed to Joe’s family and Marcus must face a tremendous sacrifice to save them all.

Again, a totally different take from the other couples. Marcus and Joe are still deeply in love after many years together but Marcus doesn’t realize how important he is not only to Joe, but to all the other Warders. It is a study of a traumatized man trying unsuccessfully to recover from an ordeal. Marcus and Joe grab the reader from the start, their story is multilayered and easy to empathize with. Loved them.

Cherish Your Name (Warder#6): Malic is accompanying Dylan, home for the holidays. Dylan has assured him that his parents and sibling will love Malic, but that’s not the case. Dylan’s parents make it obvious that they think Malic is a cradle robber and that Dylan could do much better. Dylan is occupied with his old friends, and doesn’t see what his family’s disapproval is doing, making Malic rethink their relationship. On top of that, the Shaw’s neighbor is coming on to Malic and a demon with his own agenda wipes Malic’s memory clean and kidnaps him to another dimension. An amnesiac Malic must fight his way back to a home he no longer remembers with just a name to use as a beacon. As a Warder Christmas story, it has all the right elements: a house decorated for Christmas that would be worthy of the Kranks, a disgruntled family, too much celebrating, and a demon to threaten to detroy Malic and Dylan’s bond, that is if Dylan’s family doesn’t accomplish that first. I love Dylan and Malic and loved that we got another story featuring their relationship. We left it at the very beginning of the bond in Tooth and Nail and this gives us a glimpse into the relationship months later. As with the previous books, some of the other Warders make appearances as well. Loved it.

And now all the books have been published in print editions in two books. Collection #1 contains books 1-3, and Collection #2 has books 4-6. All available from Dreamspinner Press and Amazon. Here are the covers for the printed collections, I love those covers, just gorgeous: