Well, really I am at a loss as to where to begin. I have once again fallen in love with a character created by that diabolical writing genius, the delightful Rhys Ford. She makes it look so easy—her stories full of endless action, peopled with fascinating creatures, both human and non and, of course, a world so exactingly described you are certain you have lived there in a past life. Kai Gracen is back and he is the same spitfire he was in Black Dog Blues. In this latest installment, Mad Lizard Mambo (honestly, I love these book titles), we get to burrow just a bit further under Kai’s prickly exterior to once again see the scared, lonely young man who hides inside. I wanted to take him home with me in the last novel—this time I want to wrap him up and keep him safe for always—much like Lord Ryder does. And the gods know he needs to be kept safe—mainly from himself, for if Kai can get into what would be for any normal person a life threatening situation he would—and so often does.
When battling dragons for their unfertilized eggs, which he can sell for big money, gets boring, Ryder shows up to present Kai with a job that will be the most dangerous yet. Anyone in their right mind would find a way to refuse, but not Kai. Between his need to make money—and fast—and his inability to say no to the sidhe Lord due to the incredible emotional and physical pull he feels for him, Kai is ready to take on the quest—despite it being potentially fatal. If I have lost you already in this review that must mean you have not read the first novel in the Kai Gracen series, Black Dog Blues. If that is true, stop now for you will not only get further confused, you will also run into details from the first that may be potential spoilers should you decide to read this one out of order. There, you have been warned—now, onward intrepid reader for this way dragons and nightmares lie and author Rhys Ford offers up a healthy serving of both in the most incredible way.
Now to the synopsis. Oh dear, how to encapsulate in a few sentences the depth of this story—the endless adventures and run-ins with deadly creatures Kai and company face down, and, of course, even more startling revelations about Kai’s past and family—if you can call blood thirsty evil unsidhe family, that is. Let’s start with why Kai needs money. Those familiar with Kai’s upbringing will remember a man named Dempsey who won Kai in a poker game and essentially gave him the first real home he would ever know as well as a father figure to rely on—of a sort. Dempsey would also be the means to Kai becoming a stalker—a gun for hire that is sanctioned by the government and used for a variety of jobs. Well, Dempsey has gotten himself ill—very ill and the cost of treatment far exceeds anything he is capable of paying hence, he comes to Kai for help.
It is in this relationship that we once again see the level of humanity inside Kai despite his constant rebuttal of the same. He loves Dempsey and despite their unusual owner/father-son dynamic, Dempsey feels for Kai as well otherwise he would have never shown any weakness, or in this case, illness to the young man. So it is nearly devastating for Kai to realize he could lose the one person who put all the pieces of younger Kai back together after he was so brutally mistreated by the evil garbage who can lay claim to being his father/creator. Consequently, when Ryder dangles an offer to earn the funds necessary to save Dempsey before Kai, he snaps at the chance, despite his numerous misgivings as to both the chances of a successful mission and returning from it in one piece.
When one of the key figures in the group is murdered before the quest begins and then Kai and fellow stalker Jonas are ambushed with near deadly results, Kai barely pauses to rethink his decision. Off this ragtag group goes to find the secret to a fertility rite that may help ensure the continuation of the elfin race. Along the way, they will meet more black dogs (feel free to shudder here), a rather pissed off mama dragon, and something so evil it nearly destroys Kai’s grasp on what is good and true inside him. Remember, Kai is a mix of breeds—concocted by his evil father and birthed only to be experimented upon by that same bastard. So there is within Kai a near constant struggle to keep his darker side held in check—this mission would test every limit he has and nearly destroy him in the end. There will also be a slight move toward a deeper understanding between Kai and Ryder and just how they could possibly fit together in the future.
Moments into the reading of this story, I was transported to an earth that had not only unleashed the Underhill where the sidhe and unsidhe once dwelled, but also gave vent to the darkest of creatures and most magical of beings. This is the real beauty of a Rhys Ford novel—her incredible ability to create a new world and fashion a cast of characters so three dimensional that you forget you are reading what is essentially a fairy tale—well, sometimes a grim fairy tale that is akin to a nightmare, but you get my drift. Kai draws you to himself, making you care for him in a way that is beyond rational. Because this clever author exposes bits and pieces of his heart in each chapter, you are constantly reminded that beneath his feisty and curmudgeonly exterior lay a gentle, kind, and loyal spirit that you cannot help but fall in love with over and over again. What better way to reward him then to give him a prince to love? Ryder is that idealistic good guy who you may want to knock some sense in to, but whom you would never turn away. He inspires loyalty and love in those he meets and Kai, while fighting it tooth and nail, is no exception. The two are nearly perfect for each other, if only Kai would relent and allow himself to be loved and love in return.
Mad Lizard Mambo is an outstanding sequel. Once again we are drawn into this crazy world author Rhys Ford has so lovingly created and carried away on an adventure beyond our imagination. If you have not guessed it already, let me state unequivocally that this novel comes highly recommended to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.