Rating: 3.5 stars
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Crooked Shadows is the second book in M.A. Grant’s Whitethorn Agency series. The book picks up immediately after the end of the first story and this review has some spoilers for revelations we get in the first book.
After being betrayed by someone he considered family and barely surviving a strigoi attack, Cristian Slava has no choice but to flee. He heads to Romania with his bodyguard, Atlas Kinkaid. The men are not only trying to get out of danger, but also to get some answers about the attack, as well as to learn more about what happened to Atlas and his fellow soldiers years ago during their own strigoi attack.
Unfortunately, answers aren’t easy to come by as the political situation with the vampires in Romania has gotten complicated. A friend is being investigated, another is missing, and various rivals are vying for dominance. There are also reports of strange attacks that are being blamed on bears, but the fierce maulings are unlikely to truly be animal attacks. Instead, it seems clear that the strigoi are involved, yet no one knows who sired them or to whom they give their allegiance.
As Christian and Atlas continue to investigate the attacks and disappearances, they also get a chance to further grow things between them. There is still some tension to their relationship and both men are figuring out how to make things work. But neither can deny a fierce attraction and a desire to move forward together. As Atlas and Christian get closer to the truth, they must stay one step ahead of those who seek to stop their investigation, as well as watch their backs before their lives are threatened as well.
Crooked Shadows picks up where Rare Vigilance left off as Christian and Atlas fly to Romania after escaping the strigoi. This story not only brings us to a new setting in Romania, it also shifts to Christian’s POV, both things that I think work well for the story. In the first book, we really needed to be in Atlas’ head as he learns the truth about Christian and figures out how to respond. Here, we are more in Christian’s world as the men interact with the old vampire families and get involved in political entanglements that he must take the lead to navigate. The new setting works well, as the story has somewhat of a road trip feel as they travel around the country. It gives us a chance to learn more about the big picture vampire world, meet new characters, and bring the men back to the scene of the crime for Atlas’ past nightmares. So I think that all worked well and allowed the story to tie in well with the first book, but also expand the world and the characters.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the story made enough forward progress. For all that the men spend the book traveling from place to place, investigating the attacks and meeting with various vampires, nothing much seems to actually happen for a lot of the book. It just felt like a lot of traveling around and talking to people, but we learn almost nothing about what is actually going on for most of the story. So while we end the first book on a cliffhanger of sorts, with some high intensity action, this story feels sort of meandering for so much of the book. There is also a lot of politics here among the vampires that I found hard to follow; keeping track of the various positions, who worked for whom, which people were allies, etc, got complicated, which didn’t help the momentum. While the men are at risk from other vampires trying to track them down, as well as strigoi attacks, I never really felt any sense of urgency or as if they were in imminent danger, so there wasn’t that intensity that I think the story needed to keep things exciting as they travel around.
The relationship between Atlas and Christian felt somewhat stagnant as well. The men do acknowledge their attraction to one another and the relationship makes some strides forward. But for a lot of the time, the men still felt to me like bodyguard and client, or casual friends, versus romantic partners, even as they admit to having feelings for one another. They also still never have a conversation about the events of the past and Atlas’ betrayal, though Christian does catch a glimmer while feeding from Atlas. But I guess for a second book in the series, I wanted to see and feel more. I needed them to talk about what happened, to feel some heat or longing or something with more intensity than I did. As with the investigation, it just felt like things were meandering along without a lot of forward movement.
The ending of this story gives us some answers with regard to the strigoi, as well as another big cliffhanger revelation. It all has the opportunity to take the story in another interesting direction, so I am curious how it will all unfold. I continue to find myself interested in this world and I like Atlas and Christian together. I just felt that overall this story doesn’t quite have the pace it needed and I wanted to see things move forward faster and more to be uncovered during their journey.