Cronin’s Key IV is the fourth book in the Cronin’s Key series. I believe it is best enjoyed when read in order, but it can be similarly enjoyed if you read this brief series summary: The main characters in these books are all vampires. Alec is a “key” who has many powers. He’s life-bonded to Cronin, who turned him from human to vampire about two years ago. Cronin, Eiji, Jodis, Kennard, and Stas have been vamps for hundreds of years. They have hidden histories and special talents.
Kennard was the leader of the London coven of vampires, but he met Stas when he was helping Alec and Cronin on a previous adventure to stop the end of the world as we know it. Stas and Kennard recognized that they are life-bond mates and, when disaster was averted, they retreated to Stas’ humble cabin in the Northern Russia wilderness. This suits Stas because he has the gift of telepathy and was nearly mad from the thoughts of people around him bleeding into his consciousness. Plus, there’s not a lot of sunlight up that way for extended periods of the year. As vampires, they hunt a bit for human blood, but mostly they’ve been holed up sexing out for the past six months. Newly-bonded vamps have a physical need to mate nonstop (this was quite comical in the earlier books because Alec and Cronin found this need to be highly inconvenient when also trying to save the world).
Alec and Cronin pay a visit to the remote cabin with news about some odd happenings. It’s intriguing enough to get Stas and Kennard interested. It seems some nefarious folks might be planning to unleash a demon in the effort to gain the demon’s legendary gold horde. Along with Eiji and Jodis, another bonded pair, Stas and Kennard decide to assist in this lark with Alec and Cronin.
The story is mainly told from Kennard’s point of view, though there are a couple of choice chapters when we get to reconnect with Alec and Cronin directly. Alec’s powers enable him to carry people in physical contact with him through any portal—because he is a “key.” In the search for the ultimate source of malevolence, they traverse ancient temples from India, Cambodia, South America, China, and Japan, among others. In the end, they must face down characters of the Greek and Indian pantheons in a battle that is both Olympic and aquatic. It’s a whirlwind, in many ways, with fun details sprinkled in to ground the meandering path in real-world myth and legend. This is also true of Kennard’s history.
While Cronin and Kennard have a deep friendship, they never agreed on the role of monarchy, with Cronin being a highland Scot who’d been subjugated by English rule, and Kennard being quite basically English—but with hidden connections to the throne as we learn in the story. I always love how the author bleeds her vamps into “our” collective human history, and makes legendary human death (say The Black Plague) tied to some vampire issue or another. It’s also the case here.
While Alec was the star and savior of his three books, Kennard is necessary to end the big threat of this one. I liked how he had to face the truth of his human life and death in order to be the hero here. I also grew to like him quite a lot. Kennard has a sharp wit and a keen mind. He wasn’t “vampire royalty” by chance; he’s a leader by necessity.
I think anyone who picks up this book needs to be ready for a rapid pace and a dozen (alternate) history lessons. At times it felt too rushed, to me, and I needed to pause and re-read to ensure I was getting all the minute details. It’s not the start of a romance, as the characters are all paired up when we begin. It’s a detailed adventure story with some sexytimes, mainly at the beginning. I’m glad to have more time with these folks, and cross my fingers that we’ll see more stories down the road.