Travis Payne has it all: a promising career as a right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, a girlfriend, a loving family, and a chance to see his name on the Stanley Cup. While celebrating with his team, Travis hears a faint cry for help from the alley and does what any red-blooded young man would do. He goes to help. It was the right thing to do. It ended up saving a young woman her life. It also ended up costing Travis his.
His lawyer, his agent, the caring staff at MAP — the Mandatory Adjustment Program — all assure Travis that life can continue after death. He can even play hockey, if he likes, with one of the Vampire teams. But he’s lost everything else. His parents won’t look at him, his brother and wife fled from him, and his girlfriend moved on to someone else. Worse than any of that, though all of that is bad enough, his team went on to win the championship. Without him.
Had Travis been anything other than a vampire — the victim of a car crash, or a paralyzing accident, or even a slip on a banana and die face-first in a cream pie — he would have had his name added along with his team to the Stanley Cup. Instead, the NHL is trying to pretend he no longer exists. And that makes Travis mad. He earned the right to have his name there, he sacrificed for his team, made it possible for them to advance as far as they did, and damnit, he’s still here!
Travis pushes his lawyer and his agent to work on getting his name on that cup, and to finding out the identity of the vampire who turned him into an unwilling monster. In the meantime, there are pills to take, counseling to attend, and literature to read all to help him adjust to his new reality. It’s what MAP is for, and it’s… it’s not enough. Travis is slowly giving up with only anger to sustain him and no friends, family, or teammates left for support.
Enter Ms. Pressman, coach of the Chicago Cobras. Her team needs… well, a great deal of work if they’re going to recover from their previous season’s defeat. She sees a great deal of potential in Travis. He’s a young man who knows how to work well with a team — hers barely shows up for practice — and how to win. Something her Cobras can’t seem to figure out.
She sends Marcus Antonius, team Captain and Roman gladiator, to woo Travis to their team. She wants him signed by the time he’s out of MAP, ready to take to the ice and fight for the Cobras. He is popular, handsome, a tragic martyr, and very good at hockey. She’s also offering him the chance at another cup, even if it isn’t the Stanley. Marc is willing enough to have another member added to the team, especially one as easy on the eyes as Travis is.
Marcus has been a vampire for well over a thousand years. Surely he can help Travis to learn the ropes. Of course, he has to be a good boy while he does so, or Ms. Pressman might have his teeth, and he needs those teeth if he wants to get a taste of Travis’s fabulous ass.
I’m going to be honest. I know nothing about hockey. Not a single thing, other than they wear skates and there are nets and sticks involved. I went into this book knowing nothing, and not being too interested, truth be told, and ended up enjoying the romance, the drama, and the hockey action.
I love that the author trusts the reader enough to not point-by-point, blow-by-blow belabor us with hockey terms, trying to give us a beginner’s guide to the game. I neither needed nor wanted that. I wanted a fun book and that’s exactly what I got. This book is… fun. But more than the hockey scenes, the parts of the story that really got to me were the day-to-day scenes of Travis learning to be a vampire, both in the government-run MAP and later, by Marcus, as he learned what it was to truly live like a vampire.
Knights put a great deal of thought into the reality of her story. How would the government handle vampires? Dangerous, blood-sucking creatures? They’d teach them to handle their cravings, give them pills to help curb the worse cravings, and grant them special licenses that proved they were well-behaved and trained monsters. It was fascinating, the world she built, and I really hope to see more books from this author.
Travis was also fun, despite his grumpy, semi-sulking adjustment period. He hadn’t asked for this to happen to him, and fought as hard as he could to retain his humanity. Travis wanted the vampire who turned him found and punished for taking away his life. He wanted his name on the cup because he’d earned it, because — if he’d died human — he would have had it. The cup becomes such a giant symbol to Travis that it eclipses so much else and gets between him and his ability to adjust to the new life and the new world around him.
Fortunately he has Marc. Marc has that rare gift of coming across like an old vampire. He’s not posturing, constantly trying to prove how strong he is. Why should he? He doesn’t need humans to swoon. He just needs his team to obey him. He’s in control of his emotions, calm and unflappable when Travis has his — admittedly understandable — moments of grief and rage about his fate, and yet… when Travis gets under his skin you get a glimpse of just how old and how powerful Marc truly is.
Their dynamic shifts from teacher and student to teammates, to friends. and finally to lovers and it feels so organic and natural and… so right. Travis is high strung, the fire to Marcus’s ice, and together they help get the Cobras into a semblance of a team.
And the Cobras, too, were wonderfully handled in this book. Sometimes when you’re introduced to a team of ‘characters’ each one has to show off their two-dimensional stereotype. The Russian drinks vodka, the Viking has a hammer, the twins speak in cryptic twin-speak. Knights gives us honest characters, not caricatures. Yes, Karasov drinks vodka, but he’s also a stubborn, old vampire who has an actual personality. You get the sense of them as a group rather than as a gathering of individuals, which works to the story’s advantage.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and how well the world building worked. The plot was a little meandering and the pacing was a touch glacial, but I appreciated that events that would take time — like committees meeting to determine whether a vampire deserves to have their name on the Stanley Cup — did take time.
I recommend this book if you’re a fan of vampires. The author takes their introduction into human society in a new direction and I honestly can’t wait to see more books set in this world.