The Siracusa and Havilland packs live alongside one another in the secure werewolf community of Dark Harbor — though not always peacefully. The two packs passionately hate each other so when Rome Siracusa is asked to slip into the Havilland home to attend a costume party by his best friend, Merrick, he sees it as an opportunity to disparage the Havilland family and agrees. However, Rome is not interested in wooing the Havilland women because he is keeping a secret from his homophobic pack: he is gay. Disguised as Batman, Rome is struck by the beauty of Alpha Havilland’s son, Jules, who has recently returned to Dark Harbor to announce his engagement to millionaire businessman, Donald Anderson. Rome knows that this is an arranged marriage just to benefit the failing Havilland pack and he offers Jules his friendship. Yet, both men know how forbidden any relationship between them would be.
Whilst the Havillands are planning Jules’ wedding, Rome’s family want him to form an alliance of his own, by marrying Jules’ cousin, Yolanda Montgomery. Though Rome is uncomfortable with defying his own father, he knows that by marrying Yolanda he would be renouncing his own nature and his love for Jules, and establishing peace between the Siracusa and Havilland packs seems impossible.
Whether or not Romeo and Juliet is the greatest heterosexual love story ever told is widely debated and I feel that to express my opinion here would open my review to debate. Saying that, Romeo and Juliet is also a story that has been reenacted and retold many times over the hundreds of years since it was written and I was intrigued by how Tara Lain revised Shakespeare’s tale from a gay romance angle and with shifters!
Rome and Jules are the star-crossed lovers in Lain’s story, but rather than being teenagers, they are young men in their early twenties. This means that they do not show the naivety or immaturity of the original Romeo and Juliet and both men are also hiding the fact they are Alphas from their respective families. This also means that Rome and Jules have physical alpha advantages, but also that their family circumstances dictate that they reveal an emotional strength. In Jules’ case this is because he is the only son of Gerard Havilland and though Jules sexuality is accepted by the pack to some degree, it also means that he is expected to enter into the forced marriage to bring money and power to the pack. Though Jules is under his father’s and Anderson’s control, I enjoyed the fact that he stands up to the men in his life, even questioning Rome and his proclamations of love.
Sadly, Rome lives in a household where homosexuality is considered a deviance. At times, I found myself wincing at Benedetto Siracusa’s angry vocabulary and his use of the word “faggot.” Rome is also the third Siracusa son and much is expected of him. Rome wants his father’s approval and there are several occasions on which we see him happy to receive this, though I think this seems strange to us because of Benedetto’s attitudes. We also understand that Rome has considered running away, but he does not see himself as a lone wolf. I think Rome’s strength is revealed because he stays in Dark Harbor and hides his sexuality, and along with that he is willing to sacrifice his own happiness to marry Yolanda and save Jules.
The family drama between the Havilland and Siracusa packs is always in the forefront during Lain’s story, just as the war between the Montagues and Capulets was during Shakespeare’s original play. In my opinion, Rome and Jules works well because of that tension. Lain ensures we understand that no matter how strong the feelings seem between the two men, their journey is not going to be an easy one. The fact that so many readers will be aware of the fate of Romeo and Juliet makes reading Lain’s version even more compelling, but I am unable to say whether Lain draws upon the tragic element of the play — that would be a spoiler!
Despite the fact that the family drama is significant in Rome and Jules, Lain does not forget that the romance drives the story. I loved her poetic use of language when Rome first sees Jules:
But the face. Like someone translated poetry into a person. Large eyes, so blue Rome could see their color from where he stood, dominated his face above high cheekbones that would have been gaunt of they weren’t a soft glowing pink. His neck was long, his hands graceful. . . .
Rome’s whole body vibrated with electricity and shook as if the male were a magnet and Rome was iron filings trying to organize around him. A scent like orange blossoms laced with the orange itself drifted past his nose.
The immediate attraction that Rome feels when he sees Jules is reminiscent of Romeo’s declaration when he sees Juliet: “For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” Like Romeo, Lain shows Rome sneaking up to Jules’ room, often via the balcony. The fact that they continue their relationship in secret only adds to the romance and because both men are able to ignore the external drama and concentrate on one another creates a stronger sense of emotion between them.
As a story, Rome and Jules stands alone, but Lain is also clever in the way that the original play inspires parts of her story, from direct quotes by characters, to less obvious references, and even the names and personalities of the characters themselves. For example, Grandfather Lawrence clearly substitutes the reasoning role of Father Laurence, Merrick as the fun and mischievous Mercutio, and Ty Montgomery as the fiery Tybalt.
Rome and Jules had every component that I enjoy in a story: romance, suspense, wonderful writing, and a paranormal twist. The fact that Lain draws upon Shakespeare with such detailed knowledge only adds to the novels appeal, for me, and it is worthy of a 5 star recommendation!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.