A few years after the horrific events of Blood Winter, Alec is content to split his time between the garage where he restores high-end cars and his newly rehabilitated estate. And, of course, he longs to spend as much time with his lover, Terje, as possible. That proves difficult, however, because Terje himself feels obligated to help Ivor Nova, a blood-drinking haemophile like Terje who acts as a liaison between haemophiles and humans. Novak needs as much help as he can get as he tries to mitigate the effects of a hateful power couple who want to see all haemophiles in captivity. Terje goes away longer, more often than ever, and faces ever increasing danger.
Alone with his thoughts too often, Alec begins to contemplate his relationship with Terje. Alec wants to be together forever, but feels like Terje keeps him at arms length. What’s more, Terje is not shy about sharing the fact that a haemophile does not and cannot share in some aspects of what Alec feels are crucial to being happy together, like emotional intimacy. The icing on the cake is when Terje mentions Alec can seek outlets for those emotional needs with other humans. So when Alec runs into Jay Singh, a man he knew from college, he is both excited and frustrated by the spark of attraction and desire. Jay is an attractive man and, as Alec learns, familiar with the verisimilitudes of trying to make a relationship work between a human and a haemophile. But a night of passion does nothing to quell Alec’s misgivings about anything. In fact, it turns into a disaster when Jay dogs Alec and discovers the truth about Terje…and the fact that the haemophile that tried to kill both Terje and Alec is alive and well and plotting something nefarious.
Dark Summer is the sequel to S.J. Coles’ Blood Winter. It’s set a couple years after those events. For readers new to the series, you’ll definitely want to read the Blood Winter first. In the latter part of Dark Summer, it becomes clear that some of the characters from the first book are critical to the action taking place in the second. Plus, the first book really sets the stage for our romantic leads Alec and Terje—how they seemingly got off to the firmest footing you can imagine, but now that time has passed, the emotional chasm between human and haemophile comes to the fore.
The first part of Dark Summer really delves into Alec’s insecurities. The book is told in Alec’s perspective, so readers get to agonize over what Terje’s actions and his words mean. So when Terje is on the page, I definitely felt like I could understand how and why Alec feels like his lover is still distant, even despite being in the room. As a result, Alec seems to constantly question how much, if anything, he means to Terje. Things come to a brief, but intense, boil when Terje suggests Alec fulfill his human needs with another human. This, like many other little differences between Alec and Terje, illustrates that these two simply have different frames of reference for the world—and that includes intimate relationships.
Also, I thought it was good to get a solid, almost whiney vibe from Alec. Not because I liked seeing him in anguish, but because it really highlighted specifically what got under his skin. Alec insists all he and Terje want is to be alone together, but everyone else insists how unusual it is for a haemophile to want that with one little human. Alec takes many opportunities to try to press Terje about what he feels for him, to which Terje replies with variations of “something that humans don’t feel.” For me, the consistency in what Alec homed in on and his equally consistent reaction to the answers he gets went a long way in rebuilding who Alec is.
So when Jay Singh shows up and makes Alec hot under the collar, my curiosity piqued. They have pretty blatant physical chemistry, Alec doesn’t even try to deny that. But, Jay also has prior experience being in a relationship with a haemophile. I thought this made for a wonderful contrast, how easy and good it could be for Alec to be with a human. And the aftermath of Alec and Jay sleeping together unfolds in stages. Of course, there is Alec’s initial guilt, and later his disappointment when Terje does not get upset. Aside from the obvious sexual attraction Jay has for Alec, Jay also has a bit of an ick factor for me. Maybe it’s because of his work, writing articles and working on a book to explain why haemophiles seem so alien to humans, but I thought the guy came across as pushy when he wanted something. It colored his interactions with Alec a bit and they felt like transactions. And when Jay managed to snag a tremendous scoop thanks to making sure Alec gets home safe one night, it made me think Jay was going to use Alec as a poor substitute for what Jay really wanted: a relationship with a haemophile.
While the first part of the book goes long and hard about the difficulties in Alec and Terje’s relationship, I thought that fit Alec’s nature well, considering all he wants is to be left alone to enjoy actually being with Terje. But when Terje is called away time and again to help Novak track down threats to haemophiles, Alec finally gets pulled in. I really enjoyed how characters from the first book finally make their appearances here. We are reminded of Alec’s best friend Meg and her brother David, with whom Alec used to be romantically linked. The three are reunited in the most heartbreaking ways. Not everyone makes it out and it’s only after the damage is done that Alec finds out the truth.
Finally, the book ends on a happy note…but not before we get a little bit of insight into what Terje really feels for and about Alec. That, too, has some (okay, maybe a lot of) bittersweetness to it. I really enjoyed getting to see these two hash out their expectations and fears without a looming threat of attack or danger. They talk about what a future together might be. My one quibble with the ending is how stunningly late in the game Alec seems to realize that he’ll die well before Terje…that and whether or not Terje will remember Alec after Alec’s died. That felt like a pretty big point to eschew, but at least the story ends firmly in the happily for now vein. Overall, though, I was excited to see the sequel to this story and think fans of the first book will definitely enjoy this follow up.