the beast withoutRating: 4.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Reylan, a Blood Shade, the correct term for vampires, likes being on his own. He is wealthy, gorgeous, sexy, and particular about who he eats. He picks out his prey from the popular gay clubs of Sydney, on Oxford Street. Reylan is always careful not to take too much, just enough to last a few days before he has to feed again. So when a crazed werewolf kills his latest companion, Reylan is not happy. He is even less so when the werewolf, young Jorgas, seems to have developed an obsession with him. An obsession that puts Reylan and those he cares about at risk.

In order for Reylan to take care of the situation, he finds he must work with a mysterious supernatural organization called The Arcadia Trust and its leader, Patricia Bakker. The Arcadia Trust has its own agenda and wants Reylan to deliver the werewolf to them alive. But things change when Reylan hunts down the young werewolf in question. In a moment of intense need and hunger, a tenuous relationship is formed between vampire and werewolf, a relationship neither wants.

As more people are murdered around them, Reylan, Jorgas, and The Arcadian Trust must look further than Jorgas for the cause while trying to protect the ones inside their circle. Reylan soon realizes that the civility he has cloaked his life in is no longer enough. It’s time for his true predator nature to come out and stay out if he is to stay alive and locate the true murderer among them.

What an excellent take on vampires and werewolves. The Beast Without is such a far cry from the Twilight movies and other more current representations of these two supernatural beings. The werewolves and vampires of this story are not the benign creatures of the night that we see in popular movies and books these days. No, the supernaturals of this novel, the Blood Shades and the Flesh Masters (werewolves), are apex predators, vicious and superior to humans who are regarded as food. It’s actually kind of refreshing.

The vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural beings like Cloak Masters (invisible beings) are genetic by nature. All come from families where the various genes for each type of creature runs in the family. It can skip generations and then, right around puberty, those that carry the gene mutate into the creature whose genes they carry, whether it be vampire, werewolf, or something quite different. Christian Baines is developing a great back history for these supernaturals, a history that is revealed slowly throughout the book.

Along with his impressive world building, Baines takes particular pains to make his characters complex, otherworldly, and sometimes cruel in their outlook. Take Reylan. He is not human and revels in being a Blood Shade, finding the term vampire to be distasteful and tawdry. An asexual being, at least in the beginning, he dines on men, preferring the power and vigor in their blood to the caution and other traits that occurs in female hemoglobin. As created by Baines, Reylan is a loner, a predator, and absolutely absorbing.

I can’t say enough about the characters I found here. Whether it is Jorgas, a confused, raged filled werewolf; Father Isaac O’Baer of Saint Barnabas Church, a Father handy with advice or a knife; or Patricia Bakker, the enigmatic leader of The Arcadia Trust, these beings are intricately layered, wildly unpredictable in nature, and totally absorbing to read about. I can’t get enough of them or anyone else that pops up in this story. It’s really just a roll call of strange and wonderful creatures, each more exciting, dangerous and complex than the one before. They may not be real, but they certainly feel that way. Here is Reylan’s thoughts on Cloak Walkers:

It’s said, perhaps cruelly, that you can smell a Cloak Walker long before you hear him – such is the inevitable toll of invisibility on personal hygiene. It’s even been claimed that the condition brings on leprosy, and that a Cloak Walker may be tracked by the body parts he leaves behind. I find what this theory lacks in credence, it makes up for in originality.

I love that wry, amused tone. A little mean and deceptively mild. Perfect.

The plot is just as twisted and deceptive as the characters. Baines has really done justice to each element here. Both the story line and supernatural beings are totally worthy of each other, working their magic on the reader from page one. Baines’ style of writing is smooth, his descriptions vivid and sometimes almost graphically realistic. Here is our introduction to Reylan as he heads out to hunt at night:

I’m not human, but even so, this is a reality I can’t ignore. If I’m not careful when I feed, when I take my fill of blood, I can quickly become the wrong one-nighter.

I’ll thank you not to use the ‘v’ word.

Given my proximity to Oxford Street, the sleazy, pulsing artery of Sydney’s nightclub district where I’ve lived for the better part of thirty years, I try not to visit any club twice in the same week. It’s safer that way, particularly for a man whose lifestyle depends on discretion. Barely two nights ago, I’d graced Fantasy, a club full of pretty, if flighty young things – some gay, some straight, most happily open minded on the subject. So the following night’s destination was Blaze, a club currently serving as de facto cathedral to the Church of Saint Muscle Mary, where the buff and beautiful took time out of their forty hour a week gym schedules to model, preen and occasionally dance the night away for the slack-jawed ogling pleasure of curious onlookers.

For hunting clothes, I chose a pair of tight leather trousers, an equally tight lycra vest and a silver-studded belt. A little attractive, a little sexual, and a little ridiculous. The perfect human mix I’d developed over the years. Not the epitome of modern style, but on a healthy twenty-four-year-old man, which is what I appear to be, it did say ‘come hither and bed me,’ which was the whole point.

Then, there was the pill. I rarely use them, but if options are lacking and I get too impatient, a little chemistry in a capsule can seal the sumptuous fate of any prospective companion. You needn’t judge me. You do a lot worse to your food. Besides, it’s not as if I’ve had to use it – recently.

There he is, all deliciousness in tone and outlook. But soon Reylan will demonstrate just exactly how good a predator he is. How I came to love him.

I should make one thing clear. This is not a romance. There are m/m relationships, there is sexual need, blood lust, and heat a plenty. But if you are looking for roses and candlelight dinners, this is not the story for you. A convoluted relationship does develop between Reylan and Jorgas, but it is just at the beginning stages and it is certainly not based on love or even affection. A bond certainly, but of need and blood and baser emotions. It is realistic and involving as any I have read, and I love it.

Incredibly, The Beast Without is Christian Baines first novel. I came so close to giving this remarkable story a 5-star rating but there are just too many loose ends that remain unresolved at the end of the story to go that final inch. Baines lays out a mystery for us, several in fact, but nothing more. Just speculation and insidiously addicting clues to a larger mystery looming behind the smaller ones. Everything about The Beast Without cries out for a sequel and I can only hope that one is in the works. At any rate, I highly recommend this rich and rewarding take on vampires and werewolves, especially for those of you tired of sparkle.

Cover art and design is terrific. Cover Images: Ivan Bliznetsov (front); DSNR (back) Jacket Design: David P Reiter


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