Elias and his sire, Valeri, are about to undertake a journey they hope will bring a cure to a sickness that affects the oldest of the vampires at Bran Vigny. Valeri has been searching for years for a group of ancient vampires believed to know the cure and he has now convinced the Bran Vigny elders to send him after it. Joining Elias and Valeri will be a powerful witch, a vampire ambassador, and another vampire couple, Lawrence and Remy. Elias knows that Valeri isn’t happy about Lawrence coming along, as the two have a long-standing conflict, but they have no choice but to include them.
The journey would not be particularly difficult if not for the constant tension between Valeri and Lawrence, along with the tension between Valeri and Elias themselves. The two have been together for four years, ever since Valeri rescued Elias from a life of servitude and turned him into a vampire. While Elias loves Valeri, their relationship is also difficult. Valeri is controlling and frequently angry and he makes Elias miserable almost as much as he makes him happy. While Elias does occasionally think he would be better off without the man, he can’t stop the feelings he has for Valeri and so their relationship continues.
When the group finally makes their way to the home of the ancient vampires, things go much more poorly than they had hoped. Valeri’s secrets, as well as the vampires’ desire to remain hidden, mean that they don’t get a particularly warm reception. Now they must find a way to get the cure they need to save their older vampires, even as the threats escalate. And when it is all over, Elias must decide if his relationship with Valeri is one that can be saved, or if he is better off walking away.
Across the Sapphire Sea is the second book in Lee Colgin’s Immortal Jewels series. I really enjoyed the first story, Beneath the Opal Arc, and so I was quite excited to learn that the series would be continuing on after Remy and Lawrence’s story. The books are kind of a mix of paranormal combined with a medieval fantasy feel and Colgin does a nice job with the world building here. While this story focuses more heavily on the vampires than the first one, the greater world includes magic and other supernatural beings. Elias is a likable character and provides most of our narration. The story shifts timelines between when Elias and Valeri first meet and the present timeline as they journey to the ancient vampire enclave. It gives a nice way to really understand not only Elias and Valeri’s relationship and how it developed, but also to get more insight into Valeri and his quest to be the one to find this cure. I also like the way the traveling group works together, and particularly the chance to see Remy and Lawrence again, as I really enjoyed their story.
The area where I struggled here is with Valeri. He is a very problematic character and one I don’t feel shows proper growth or remorse for his bad behavior. Valeri is a hard man, controlling and difficult and unpleasant to others. We learned in the first book about the horrible way Valeri mistreated Lawrence (who is also one of his fledglings), including murdering Lawrence’s wife so that he would be free for Valeri instead. The situation was so dire that the vampire leaders had to intervene to protect Lawrence and banish Valeri out of the region. So Valeri starts out this book as a clear villain and, for me, that never really changes throughout the story. He has returned to Bran Vigny having sought out a cure for the illness affecting the older vampires, but it is less about trying to help them than helping himself. Valeri figures if he can find the cure, he will be given back his position and status with the other vampires. He lies and withholds information from his traveling group that puts them at grave risk. He is callous with other people’s lives, mentioning multiple times that he enjoys killing, and he doesn’t care about the harm that comes to those who get in the way of his goals. So Valeri is a man who hurts others without remorse and never shows any real effort to make amends or grow as a character. Even when confronted with his bad behavior, Valeri sort of shrugs, as if it’s not something he can be expected to control, or sees himself as a victim instead.
This also extends to his relationship with Elias. Valeri is controlling over Elias, as if he owns him. Valeri won’t let Elias have friends or even interact casually with others. When Elias even talks to Remy on their journey, Valeri gets furious. Elias is fearful to do anything that will make Valeri angry and has to adjust his behavior to conform with Valeri’s demands. Valeri may protect and even cherish Elias in his own mind, but he makes Elias miserable. On the rare occasions where Elias lets himself get angry at Valeri, he quickly finds himself forgiving him or making excuses for Valeri’s behavior. It feels like such a classic case of emotional abuse. While Valeri may believe he loves and cares for Elias, their relationship never feels like any kind of true romantic partnership to me. The problem is that while I kept waiting for this to improve over the course of the book, it never does. I expected this to be a redemption story for Valeri, and while I think Colgin aims for that, it just didn’t work for me. We are more than halfway through the book before Valeri even stops to consider that his actions make Elias unhappy. But even when he does, Valeri also doesn’t do anything to change it for the vast majority of the story. While we do get a nod to the fact that Valeri is making an effort to be better, it literally comes at the last moments of the story and we never see the changes play out. So this was just way too little, too late.
I can deal with a flawed hero. I LIKE a flawed hero. But I need to see a journey for the character, to see them recognize their flaws and make an effort to change. Or to at least see that while they may be problematic in the outside world, they love and care for their partner in a way where I can believe in the romance. But here, not only is Valeri awful to everyone else, he is also emotionally abusive to Elias. And so I could never root for them or feel like this story is a true romance. Honestly, I wanted Elias to get away from Valeri and find someone worthy of him.
So I struggled here. I actually quite enjoyed the story and found myself caught up in their journey and uncovering the mysteries of the ancient vampires. But this book is putting Valeri up as a romantic lead and I couldn’t get past his behavior. Other readers may feel differently if they don’t view Valeri the same way I did, but I needed to see growth and redemption for his character and it only came in the barest glimmers at the end of the story. All that said, I am really engaged in this series and super excited for the next book. We get glimpses of the journey for the next MC and it looks to be a fascinating story. So while this one didn’t totally work for me, I am definitely looking forward to more.