It almost sounded like the start of a bad joke: Three vampires walk into a werewolf bar. There was nothing funny about the attack, though, which left five werewolves drained of blood and a fifth in the hospital, hanging on to his life by a thread. For Aran, the District Leader and most powerful vampire in the midwest, this attack is not only an insult to him, it could also ruin his tenuous alliance with the local werewolf pack. Aran has to find the vampires who did this and see to it that their deaths are quick and public if he has any hopes of smoothing ruffled fur.
For the past thousand years, Oskar has roamed the land, mostly on foot, walking from town to town, city to city in his endless, vampiric life. When he lived, Oskar was a Viking and his family lived near a local Algonquin tribe. While hunting with his best friend, Aranack — an Algonquin man who inspired more than just feelings of friendship in Oskar — a group of monsters attacked the village, slaughtering men, women, and children and feasting upon their bodies. Aranack and Oskar arrived too late to do anything other than die with their people, but Oskar didn’t stay dead. Instead, he came back as a monster, himself.
It’s only through chance and good fortune that Oskar finds himself reunited with Aranack. For a thousand years they thought each other dead, and now they have the chance to rediscover their friendship … and perhaps to start something new. The local wolf pack, though, is insistent that Aran find their attackers. One werewolf, in particular, seems to have it out for Aran and Oskar, and if he had his way he’d simply kill every vampire until he found the guilty party. Not that there aren’t some vampires who would like to rid the world of werewolves, either. Three in particular. Aran and Oskar just have to find them and put them down before any hope of a peaceful resolution vanishes.
This book owes much to other series with the organization of the vampiric hierarchy. However, while it doesn’t offer any new ideas, it does present them with a new mood. It has its own atmosphere, it’s own feeling to the world, which I did enjoy. It also has one of the slowest romances I’ve read in a long time. It’s such a slow burn that, several times, I thought the fire had gone out. Not only has it been a thousand years since these two men have last seen each other, but once they’re back in each other’s company, there are so many things that get in the way — not the least of which is their friendship. Oskar and Aran pick up their friendship so easily that it actually gets in the way of the romance, which doesn’t start until the last quarter of the book.
Aran is ancient, over a thousand years old, but he was given a small District to oversee in the midwest. Other vampires, less powerful and less ancient, have been given better positions, but, for now, Aran is fine where he is. He’s kept his sense of humor, though it can be hard, and has managed to not kill the more irritating vampires of his service — which is almost enough to make him a saint. He does his job well and with zeal, but owing to the small territory, he ends up doing much of the work himself, not having enough vampires to delegate some of the more menial tasks.
Oskar is different than other vampires. During his early years, he was not raised by vampires, but by werewolves, and never had a sire. Or, rather, by killing the monster that bit him, he killed his sire. Unfortunately, he did so before learning anything about vampires, and his natural reserve has kept him away from much of vampire society. He’s content to wander, and to mourn, and to simply watch the world go by. When he finds Aranack again, though, everything changes. The lost love he’s been pining after for a thousand years is right in front of him, close enough to touch.
Neither of the two men quite know how to make the first move. Their friendship rekindles almost instantly, but there are silences in Oskar and a glittering facade on Aran that keep the two of them from truly being able to connect again. As they spend more time together, though, it becomes clear they both want something more than what they’d had, but every time there’s a moment, every time there’s an opportunity for one of them to take that final step closer … something gets in the way. Like the hunt for the killer vampires.
There is a small twist in the plot that actually caught me by surprise. It was a real, genuine, and earned twist that suited the story and made absolute, perfect sense. Unfortunately, there are other issues that took away from my enjoyment. The first is the age of the vampires. Having characters that are a few hundred years old — let alone a thousand or more — is a tricky thing. How to portray a character who lived while the Egyptian pharos were still in power? Who were alive before the collapse of the Bronze Age? Who were hundreds of years old during the Hundred Years’ War, let alone the Revolutionary War? Unfortunately, this book doesn’t quite manage it, though it does try.
And, despite being an ancient and powerful vampire, no one treats Aran like he’s dangerous. A sixty-year-old vampire who knows Aran doesn’t like him keeps chumming him up, insulting him, sneering at him, poking him because he isn’t afraid. It makes Aran look less like a powerful vampire and more like a lazy or non-threatening one. The werewolves snarl at him, make demands of him even though they are mortals facing a thousand-year-old vampire. I didn’t buy the Aran’s age, I didn’t buy that he was powerful and I certainly didn’t buy that anyone would obey him since almost no one did.
The other, and more egregious issues are the writing and the writing style. This book had a cold, distant approach that might have been a choice — after all, the characters are vampires who were alive hundreds of years before Joan of Arc was born — but it made it hard to connect to any scene or to buy any emotion between characters, or any urgency of a given situation. Then there are issues with the writing itself, including some awkward and jarring word choices and sometimes words that were simply incorrect. Moments like this in a book take me out of a story completely and lower my opinion of the book as a whole.
Alongside confusing and overly styled word choices, the writing in much of the book feels stilted and bland, and the dialogue, in particular, feels robotic. People don’t express emotions in their words. Emotions are reserved for their internal thoughts or in fourth-wall breaking actions to let the reader know how someone feels without that feeling being expressed by a character. Very little is explained in this book that doesn’t share that same effect. The exposition is stated as a fact and lacks smoothness and surety. The writing, when it isn’t forced and is given room to breathe, is pleasant and easy to read. I wish the author had relaxed and let their natural writing talent and warmth come through — as it did in their other book, which I was lucky enough to review, Valhalla — rather than trying so hard to make a gothic and atmospheric romance. The book doesn’t feel genuine, the characters have no personality, and the vampires do not feel as though they’re a thousand years old. I regret it, but I didn’t care for this book. Between the writing, the reliance on the thesaurus, and the utter lack of urgency or interest in the plot from any of the characters, I am left completely uninterested.