Rating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel


Estienne thought he had the mild good fortune to escape the encroaching papal inquisition when he and a handful of his fellow townsfolk set out for a more secure town. However, a small party of inquisitors finds their rough camp and his so-called companions immediately sell him out just for being the son of a Jewish woman. Desperate to escape, Estienne runs down an unfamiliar mountain path towards a lone castle tucked away in the woods. He’s just not quite fast enough or strong enough to outrun his pursuers; they knock him down viciously just outside the castle wall. But rather than a quick death, a man who seems like nothing so much as a pale avenging angel comes to Estienne’s rescue.

Saving Estienne from being slaughtered could never be enough to calm the demons that haunt Helias’ mind, but it doesn’t hurt. The fact that Estienne is beautiful and in possession of a fine mind are mere happy coincidences. Helias is determined to sublimate his desires and allow Estienne to recover from the attack in the comfort of his castle. Or rather, the castle he has taken charge of upon orders from his maker, an ancient vampire named Ashur. Helias may be a lord in name, but he must still abide by the vampiric laws Ashur helped put in place centuries ago. Such as never allowing mortals to know vampires exist. Unfortunately, Helias lets himself get carried away one day and that slip leads to Estienne discovering the truth. Now, Helias must either see Estienne safely out and away from the castle forever or kill him. But the more time Helias spends with Estienne, the less he can deny the stirrings deep within him. Helias just has to be careful he never confuses his profound affection for his growing hunger for blood.

The Sweetest Shade of Red is a historical paranormal from author Myna Arrow. It’s set in Southern France in 1213 and uses an inquisition (I looked this up: apparently, there have been many inquisitions, not all of them Spanish) as a delightfully historically accurate and dramatic plot device. This was really wonderfully clever. Of course, there’s the surface level star-crossed lovers being kept apart by their opposable natures, one human and one vampiric. That feels like a well-worn glove in this genre. The wonder came from how clearly we understand Helias’ recent past as a human who was targeted by the papal inquisition and the trauma he now lives with as a result. That’s what drives him to deny Estienne’s growing desire to be turned vampire himself. This pits the ultimate fate of the Helias/Estienne relationship between a rock and a hard place: Helias refuses to “kill” Estienne by making him a vampire and Estienne refuses to give Helias up, even though a human cannot know that vampires exist. During the climactic ending chapters when Ashur appears on page, there is a pivotal scene that grants Estienne more perspective and finally allows a narrow path forward for the lovers.

In addition to the star-crossed lovers dilemma that is the plot, the whole cast of supporting characters added a surprising amount of charm to the story. I am so used to vampire stories being about one good vampire amidst a sea of evil malcontents. The way Ashur and supporting characters Innocent and Roland come across seem to bolster this idea; the former for offering to bed or bleed Estienne and the latter for just being a jerk in general. But the other vampires at Helias’ castle are decidedly more benevolent. Over time, Helias and all his companions settle into a varied found-family ensemble, each with their role to play. Maybe Ashur never quite shook the image of an intimidating master, but he proved to me more than merely cruel. I liked how the “slice of vampire life” aspect developed alongside Estienne’s and Helias’ growing attraction. In effect, it was like the backstabbing and intrigue I expect from many vampire stories was replaced with something more like sibling rivalry and tough love. Plus, the dialogue was utterly delightful.

Overall, I thought this was a marvelous read. Fans of the vampire genre will surely enjoy this on principle. The emphasis on how Helias, Estienne, and the other vampires get along is sure to be a refreshing change from darker, grittier vampire tales. There’s plenty of romantic growth between Helias and Estienne and the pivotal scene where Estienne can finally understand his situation through Helias’ eyes was a clincher for me. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys vampire stories, historical stories, or stories that feature found family.