Over a thousand years ago, in the battle of Camlaan, Arthur and his knights, with Merlin at his side, fought the monstrous and demonic forces unleashed by Mordred and Morgan le Fay. In the end, as their king fell and Merlin lay dying, the Knights were given a choice: sacrifice their souls and save humanity, or die whole while the world burned and hell reigned. Not a man among them refused the challenge, and so they were granted a form of immortality. The knights would live, continuing to fight the unholy monsters called Ursus, until — at last — the knights are given back the missing half of their souls and the last battle can begin.
Lancelot, now merely Lance, is tracking an Ursus showing an unusual hunting pattern. It’s not drawn to him as they normally are, bound to hunt the Knights even as the Knights are sworn to kill them in turn, turning its hunger instead on a young man. There is something about Mel, something almost familiar. Guessing that he has found a Tresor — a mortal whose soul is the missing half of a Knight’s — Lance knows he must protect him. Mel belongs to someone, perhaps to one of the missing Knights who has not yet found him?
The more Lance learns about Mel, whose father named him Merlin, the more he wants both nothing to do with him, and everything. Is the young street hustler Lance’s Tresor, or is he the reincarnation of Merlin himself?
Mel hasn’t had an easy life. In his own words, life started going down hill when he was 10, and it’s just gotten worse since then. He’s been in the system and out of it, homeless, hustling, but always his own person — even when he didn’t want to be. Mel feels as though he’s always been not quite enough. He wasn’t a good enough son for his mother, wasn’t ever anyone’s first choice, and when Lance is reluctant to accept him, Mel takes that as proof that it’s his fault. Something wrong with him. Even as he holds out hope that it might simply be that another Knight is coming for him, there’s a part of him that knows no one, Knight or not, will catch his heart the way Lance does.
Lance is tired. It’s been such a long time of living and killing, of failure after failure. Knights have died, friends have died, and his life has had precious little happiness in it. Fifteen hundred years is a long time to live when every night is a battle. His hope died when his king did, and every passing year is another weight bearing down on his shoulders, and he must do so with only half his soul. He’s given honest thought to just putting down the sword and letting one of the others lead; not that they’d let him. But it’s a thought he’s been having more and more often.
When Lance and Mel meet, it isn’t trumpets and flower petals. It’s misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and anger, and I loved it. Neither Mel nor Lance is what the other one expected or wanted, and Mel can’t help but feel the sharp sting of Lance’s rejection, even though he’s known him for less than a day. To know you have a soul mate, and to know that the man you guess, or want, to be the other half of your soul is in love with a woman nearly two thousand years dead? It hurts. Lance can never seem to say the right things when he’s around Mel; in fact, he seems to have a remarkable talent for saying the wrong thing at just the wrong time.
I love it. Yes, they are soul bound, but they’re still two strangers who have just met each other. Ancient magic and an arcane geas don’t equal a happily ever after, it’s just the ground in which their love can grow. The two of them have to work for their relationship, and work hard. The soul bonds in this book aren’t just sex, and it isn’t just a kiss. It’s magical soul bond that gives Lance and Mel someone who will make them able to be the person they want to be, the one who brings out the light in their soul, who makes them a happier, healthier, better person. Love takes work, and watching these two work, the slow building of trust and friendship — as well as lust and angst — was the best part of this book.
The first half of the story is exposition, both to set up the world of the Knights and their Tresors, as well as to introduce us to all the others — Kay, Gawain, Ali, Lucas, and Tom — and to prepare us for future books in the series. However, I never felt bored or uninterested as the characters are presented well and I was engaged almost the whole time through. When the plot does pick up and the action starts, it’s with easy, enjoyable writing and a dash of mid-90s fun. Black trench coats, swords, demons stalking alleys and college campuses … all in all, this was a fun book. There are some hints at darker stories in the pasts of several characters, but it’s never the focus of the story. Mel and Lance are falling in love in the here and now. The past shaped them, but it does not define them.