To tap into his incredible magic, intelligence spy Blake Sabriel has to cut off all emotion. It has served both him and the realm well, until he has the misfortune of running into a vampire named Boone who likes the taste of Blake’s sweet blood. Boone keeps and uses Blake like a living blood bank, all but breaking Blake. When help finally comes in the form of one Commander Dakota Hart, there is naught but scraps of a man left. Blake immediately tenders his resignation to Goss, leader of the realm, and thinks he’s going to live a quiet life. What Blake does not count on is striking up a friendship with Dakota—yet that’s exactly what happens. Instead of going to his hideaway hole at headquarters, Dakota offers Blake a place to stay. Over the years, that friendship grows until Blake is virtually a member of Dakota’s growing family—a great help for Dakota when his marriage falls apart and he relies on Blake to act as surrogate parent.
For nearly twenty years, Blake and Dakota’s lives intertwine like the closest of family. It is time enough for Blake to realize he wants more, so much more, with Dakota. Yet the torturous scars left by Boone remind Blake every day of what he is and what he isn’t. Just when Dakota starts dropping hints that he’s willing to move his friendship with Blake to the next level after he finishes his current deployment, Blake has to start finally dealing with the trauma of the past.
Or does he? Blake and Dakota get news from above about trouble brewing. Although Dakota is anxious to take a moment for himself and his family, Blake seizes the opportunity to get back into action. What neither of them realize is that the trouble brewing has roots deeper than either Blake or Dakota could have ever imagined. Instead of fighting for their realm and commander, they find themselves on the run like fugitives. To make matters worse, Boone is thrown back into the picture and will stop at nothing to get his hands on Blake, for his blood, for his magic, and for how Blake can be used to advance Boone’s nefarious cause. Only time will tell if Blake and Dakota are strong enough to overcome seemingly unstoppable forces and still be able to look one another in the eye.
This story was a cringe worthy disappointment for me. It took me a good third of the book to get a decent grip on some super fundamental basics:
1) There is magic.
2) The characters live for centuries not decades.
3) There are vampires.
With the magic, the entire story is built up on this idea that Blake is super special because of his awesome magical powers. His power? Persuasion. And the only way he can actually use this super power is by cutting off all emotion. How convenient, then, that his love for Dakota’s family and Dakota himself prevent him from ever accessing this power—almost literally any time he actually needs it. Also, as far as world building goes, Blake’s magic is the only one with any consequence. Apparently, Dakota’s got the power of projecting his emotions and one of the kids learns she can heal wounds, but this has zero impact on anything beyond garnering a blasé comment about how golden Dakota’s love is or the kid, well, “coming into” her magic.
With the characters being long lived, this was just poorly built into the story. We know Blake’s an active soldier when he first gets captured by Boone and taken into captivity. I just assumed he was the standard age of MCs in romance novels: legal to mid-thirties. So I figured he was about 20 or so when Dakota saved him from Boone. And from the get-go, Blake, as narrator, tells us this captivity happened twenty years ago. So I spent the first half of the book imagining middle-aged farts (disclaimer: I am within spitting distance of middle-aged fart-hood) running around trying to reclaim the glory days of their youth and wondering why the hell they kept talking about Blake’s being 20 years out of the military like it was no big deal. Turns out, the few references to “I want to be with you for eternity” and all that were meant more literally than figuratively. Of course, we never really learn how long the characters actually live, or why…or if they’re even supposed to be “human.”
And the vampires…technically, I suppose I should say “the vampire” in the singular because as far as I know, Boone is the only one. Like with the age thing, it took me forever to get enough evidence from the prose to realize Boone is literally a blood-sucking vampire. I blame this on Blake as narrator because he’s suffering some serious PTSD and shoving all these memories into the darkest, smallest corner of his mind and refuses to talk to anyone about it (or admit it to himself). So all the reader gets are some flashbacks to when Blake was Boone’s captive, but from the brief descriptions, I was thinking Boone was “just” torturing and humiliating Blake…not being a literal vampire and drinking Blake’s blood. This confirmation comes much later in the book.
So the world building left basically everything to be desired. I had no concrete sense of time, place, or aesthetic. The mash-up of fantasy and technology was wholly unbalanced. There’s an entire character devoted to technology things and we get tours of all the kinds of tech he creates and the characters can use. But the magic—the thing that makes Blake so special—is left hanging in the breeze even while the principle antagonists are falling all over themselves to possess this supposed power.
Then there’s Blake the character. There are plenty of supporting characters, but from the bad guys, to the kids, to Dakota and all the extraneous extras, every plot point clearly revolved solely around Blake and what he does. Maybe this is just a function of him being the first-person narrator, but it makes the story hard to enjoy when we have to watch Blake make bad decision after bad decision. This guy is dumber than a box of rocks. He’s this weird juxtaposition of humble conceit. He’s selfish and self-centered. When he realizes Boone is after him again and has a way to track him, he doesn’t immediately leave, but sticks around with a “damn anyone who tries to stop me from saying goodbye to the kids” but…the only reason the kids are in danger is him. And the only reason Boone HAS a way to track Blake is because Blake made some super bad decisions even I could see from a chapter away. He’s overconfident in his power, and when it fails him the first time…fair enough. But he blindly trusts he’ll be able to cut off all his emotion and draw on his magic any time he wants despite on-page evidence that it literally never does.
I think the icing on the cake is the scene where Blake is pitted against Boone and there’s this epic battle of wills. Blake is actually THISCLOSE to taking out Boone, but of course stuff happens and they get interrupted by Dakota and his team. Except instead of taking an extra five seconds to just eliminate the threat Boone represents, they all just leave. Five seconds. That’s all it would have taken. Boone was compromised, had no way of fighting back. It’s what Blake needed, it would have been for the benefit of mankind (or whatever species they are). But nooooo! Five seconds is way too much time. Better to draw out the drama.
Against this disorganized “world” is the real story about Blake and Dakota and these kids. Except Blake’s thoughts and feelings (tortured, misguided ones that they are) overshadow both of the latter—again, part of that gets a pass because Blake is the first person narrator, but still. Dakota is more like an afterthought until the last third or so of the book—but that doesn’t mean he gets a bigger piece of the on-page pie. I was surprised we got a sex scene out of these two. When it comes to the kids, they felt really phoned in as well. It was like, if ONE kid gets mentioned, ALL THREE must get mentioned right there, in the same paragraph. There are three, as it turns out. The one boy is the only one who really gets any on-page time that isn’t part of this “now here’s how the kids react to situation X” habit of Smith’s. The two girls could be cut from the book entirely and it wouldn’t matter. I’m tempted to say that about Dakota, too, but there’s just enough of him that plays a role in how the climax gets resolved that makes him necessary. I just wish it didn’t read like Blake sees Dakota as a necessary evil. I definitely got the vibe that Dakota loved Blake, but Blake…well, he might be poster boy for “you can’t love someone unless you love yourself.” He’s that toxic, projecting his negativity on everyone and everything because he can’t cope with himself.
Overall, this book struggles to build a coherent world and instead favors cherry picking tropes. Our main character is insufferably bad to the point I cringed and rolled my eyes anytime he got any ideas. The supporting characters are the flat, throw away kind that are only there to provide the main character with whatever he needs to complete this lame journey.