Dakarai is a half incubus, born of a human father and demon mother. He is loved, but somewhat smothered by his mother and siblings and longs for some independence. So Daka sets off for a nearby town, where he almost immediately is struck by a gorgeous man walking by. Daka can’t help but follow the man and strike up a conversation. Although Daka should want nothing more than to feed from the man through shared passion, he finds he wants to get to know him instead.
Mahu lives a quiet life in ancient Egypt. After losing his wife and child to illness, Mahu fills his days making papyrus and enjoying swimming in the Nile. When Daka strikes up a conversation, the two men connect and form an immediate friendship. An attraction also simmers between them, and soon they are acting upon it. Daka is careful never to use his sway to compel Mahu’s interest, but instead the pair build a relation of sex, love, and companionship. They even manage to overcome Daka’s revelation that he is not all human, but in fact part demon. It is not easy for Mahu, being a religious man who has always been taught demons are pure evil. But the bond between the men is strong enough that they are able to work through it together.
Their happiness is only marred by Mahu’s illness, one he tries to hide but that has both men worried. After Mahu lost his family to a similar cough, he knows that he likely faces the same fate. As a demon with a near endless life, Daka cannot bear the thought of losing Mahu, especially this soon. He wants nothing more than to save Mahu’s life, and Daka has an idea of how it can be done. But Mahu has always planned to see his family in the afterlife, and rejects Daka’s plan. But Daka knows he can save Mahu, and is determined to do all he can. Now with betrayal shattering the bond between the men, Daka and Mahu must figure out if they can find their way back to each other and to their love.
Beyond the Ruby River is the third book in Lee Colgin’s Immortal Jewels series. We have met Mahu in past books and he has been a small, but key side character in the first two stories. In those books, Mahu is suffering from an illness that affects older vampires and the other vampires are desperate to save him. Mahu’s plight drives the action in the second book, in particular, so I was very interested to get his story here.
My favorite part of this book is the way Colgin develops life for Daka and Mahu in ancient Egypt. I have no idea how authentic the depiction is, but I found it really interesting to see the life at that time. We get some nice detail, such as how Mahu turns papyrus into scrolls, or bits about village life. I enjoyed Mahu and Daka’s early courtship and watching the men fall for one another. They hit a stumbling block with regard to Daka being a demon, as Mahu’s initial reaction is horror. But the bond they have allows them to work through this and I really enjoyed their connection. We also get some interesting world building with regard to demons and incubi, an aspect of the paranormal world that hasn’t come up much yet in the series. I appreciated that Colgin is careful to note that Daka does not use his limited abilities at influence to coerce Mahu into sex, but instead it is clear they have a mutual love and desire for one another. So I really enjoyed the development of the romance between Mahu and Daka and liked this aspect of the story.
Where I struggled here is with the way the story connects to the larger series, as well as the pacing between the past and “present” time periods (their present is actually hundreds of years ago). As I noted, Mahu has been a key figure throughout the first two books, which take place about 2000 years after the bulk of this story. Mahu is critically ill in the series “present” and the vampires’ attempt to find a cure for him is a key driver of the action in Across the Sapphire Sea. As series readers, we are aware that Mahu is a vampire in present day, so there is no real mystery here as to how the conflict will play out with him and Daka in the past with regard to his turning. The question is really how it will happen and how the men will come back together after the betrayal (which is mentioned in the blurb), but not if it will happen. Given that, I was expecting more balance between their past in Egypt and the present day, so we could see the aftermath of Daka’s actions, as well as how the men come back together. However, virtually the entire book takes place in the earlier timeline, developing the relationship and building to the conflict of Daka wanting to turn Mahu and Mahu refusing. Then, the ultimate resolution happens in a comparative blink of an eye, with no time to really see what the men have been doing during their time apart, how each has worked through the issues that drove them from one another, or to see them find their way back to each other. We do get a little bit of that at the literal end of the story, but the balance here felt so far off. This is particularly true given that this book is part of a series where present-day Mahu plays a big role. This book may have worked better as a total standalone, but after two books where Mahu’s vampire illness is part of the story, this book felt strangely disconnected to the others as we get almost no time in the present period or seeing those series characters.
The related issue here is that I had trouble getting past Daka’s behavior. I understand he loves Mahu and wants to be with him forever. But Mahu is very clear, on multiple occasions, that he does not want to be turned into a vampire. Mahu is a religious man who believes he will be reunited with his family in the afterlife. He has gained solace from anticipating seeing them again and he has no desire to live an eternal and soulless life as a vampire. Yet DakaAnd the problem for me is that Daka never seems to accept responsibility for his choices or give real acknowledgement of his wrongdoing. In fact, he mentions multiple times he is not sorry, with sort of an ends justify the means attitude. Perhaps if the book had given more time and attention to the period the men are separated and then ultimately reunite, this could have been explored more. But instead, Daka’s actions seem glossed over in order to quickly bring the story to a close after Mahu becomes a vampire.
Overall, I enjoyed the bulk of this story a lot and really liked watching the relationship grow between Daka and Mahu. I found the ancient Egyptian setting to be particularly interesting. I just felt the balance of the story leaned way too heavily on the past without enough time to really develop the story resolution, nor connect the book to the larger series.