It was supposed to be a night of Malachy Donovan finally exploring his queer identity. But rather than falling into the arms and bed of an attractive man named Marcellus, Malachy winds up brained on the floor of what looks like a dungeon cell. With his head first aching from what should have been a fatal blow, then overflowing with questions as to why he isn’t dead, Malachy is eager for answers. Marcellus, however, cannot provide any answers before Lord Commander Acheron of Clan Tanniyn of the High Court crusades into the cell with an elite team of fighters with incredible capabilities. If surviving his own death weren’t proof enough, the unbelievable abilities Marcellus, Acheron, and others have make it clear to Malachy that humans are not the only beings on Earth.
In fact, Malachy learns that he is a dhampir, a being born from the union of a vampiric father and a non-vampiric mother. Being a dhampir makes him of special interest to the High Court. They see Malachy as having no natural loyalty to any vampire clan because he is not a full vampire. Not to mention that Marcellus is the acknowledged leader of the Clanless, a growing group of vampires who rebel against the clan system. At the same time, dhampirs are somewhat coveted and Acheron deigns to take Malachy under his wing. Malachy has an extremely short time to wrap his head around his new existence, the fact that he can inexplicably do things no dhampir should be able to do, his love/hate connection to Acheron, and the multiple layers of vampire politics. He’ll need to unravel all these intricacies if he wants to live. As Malachy endures one trial by fire after another, he finds himself increasingly drawn to Acheron, the one vampire who can protect him. But there are limits to what Acheron can—or perhaps wants to—do to keep Malachy safe.
Crossing Acheron is a contemporary urban fantasy from author H.G. Birde; it is the first installment of the Kin and Kine series. The framing for the story worked so well with the characters and the events that unfolded on page. The story opens with Malachy waking up in a dungeon-like cell in a pool of his own blood, but the last thing he remembers is trying to pick up a hot guy in a bar. Marcellus, said hot guy, shows up and does weird (read: vampire) things before a cavalry with magical abilities comes to rescue Malachy. That cavalry is headed by another hot guy named Acheron, but rather than rescuing Malachy, they basically put him into another cage and offer scraps of information about who they are, what Malachy is, and what the deal is between the two factions Marcellus and Acheron represent. In other words, I felt like I learned about this paranormal world in real time along with Malachy. But Malachy’s varied human history (see critique at the end of the review) helped me read a little more between the lines that I probably would have otherwise.
Like Malachy, I was immediately suspicious of Marcellus for having taken it upon himself to draw out Malachy’s up-to-that-point entirely dormant dhampir side. I also immediately clocked Acheron as a strong potential love interest for so many reasons. First and most simple, his name is in the title. Second, he (seems to) save Malachy from whatever Marcellus has done to “turn-on” Malachy’s dhampir side. Third, there’s just this undeniable sexual tension between Acheron and Malachy. It starts the moment Malachy lays eyes on Acheron and grows when Acheron gives Malachy a bonding mark to ensure Acheron can always keep tabs on him. The mark functions primarily as a vampiric form of an RFID device so Acheron can always know where Malachy is to keep him safe; the smexy side effects are sort of unintentional, but equally undeniable, and it causes no small amount of emotional strife when the mark gets physically altered.
Readers, there is a lot of sexual tension between Malachy and Acheron. Some of it is from the bond; it possibly acts on Malachy externally and makes him wonder whether he really does want Acheron or not. Some of it stems from what Malachy thinks of as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. He wonders if he’s simply drawn to the one person who takes something of a mercurial interest in keeping Malachy safe and getting Malachy to learn about and use his dhampiric powers. From my perspective as a reader, I ate up the scraps of plausibility here. There was such delicious tension in the way Acheron could act so coldly towards Malachy and so often in exactly the situations where such coldness keeps Malachy safer, yet there are times where Acheron seems unable to help himself when it comes to physical intimacy. Suffice to say, the overall effect just left me desperate to know how Acheron really felt and no amount of other details about Acheron’s lovers (past or otherwise), or feeding habits (maddeningly tied to sex), or other details kept me from wondering if Acheron and Malachy would become a One True Pairing kind of thing.
All of that said, the extremely brief moments Marcellus is on page in the beginning immediately had me wondering about his intentions towards Malachy. Especially because, as Malachy himself eventually points out, Marcellus may have “killed” him, but there is an entire book’s worth of Malachy struggling to find his footing while under Acheron’s “protection.” By the time I got to the end of the story, the overall impression I got was that this book feels like a delicious warm up to a more immersive world. The messy political and personal ties amongst Malachy, Marcellus, and Acheron—along with a great number of others—just get introduced in this story. A lot of information is revealed about vampires, dhampirs, other paranormal creatures, and the big political war brewing between High Court vampires like Acheron and Clanless vampires like Marcellus. In other words, it feels like a whole book just to set the stage for the rest of the series, yet it was engrossing for the complicated, multifaceted relationships and characters it contained. Needless to say, I am excited about reading more.
My only, very small, critique also became a sort of running gag to me as I read. In the beginning of the book, Malachy talks about how he is a pre-law/philosophy person and seems to have had a job in a legal office. In the middle of the book, where he’s memorizing the history of vampire clans and their different abilities, he’s suddenly a historian. And at the end of the book, when Malachy is realizing he can no longer stay in the only “home” he’d known as a new dhampir, he talks about how he can’t return there or to his job as a musician. Malachy’s 29 years old; maybe he did have all those experiences, but by the same token, it was sort of “convenient character history is convenient.”
For anyone who loves vampire stories, queer main characters, messy interpersonal and sexual relationships, and super huge twists at the end, I cannot recommend Crossing Acheron highly enough. This was an excellent introduction to the Kin and Kine series and I cannot wait to see what happens next.