This is the 5th book of the Darkyn series.
Aeden mac Byrne is the suzerain of the Orlando Jardin and owner and operator of The Realm. To humans, The Realm is a very cool Medieval theme restaurant where they can eat big turkey legs, watch and participate in battles, jousts and archery contests. For the Darkyn, The Realm is a way to cling to a familiar time and place and enjoy the contests and games as much as the humans. Only they know that the swords and lances are made of sharp steel and deadly copper.
Every year The Realm shuts down for a month to humans so that Darkyn far and wide can travel to Orlando and participate in a real Medieval tourney (not watered down for the humans). This year, The Mac Byrne wants to use the tourney as a real contest to seek his replacement as suzerain and lord of The Realm. He's tired of it and secretly worried that the years of control he's had to maintain over himself (in his human life he was a berserker warrior) will one day snap. He's also secretly in love with his Seneschal Jayr, the young woman he turned into a Darkyn hundreds of years ago. He's sure that his feelings would just worry and embarrass her.
However, Jayr, is also secretly in love with Byrne. But, like him, is sure that her attentions would be embarrassing and inappropriate. Instead she subsumes herself in her job and is dedicated to making The Realm run smoothly and (being the only female seneschal in all of the Darkyn) making sure she brings no shame to her Master. This tournament is especially important because the Seignuer, Michael Cyprien, will be attending.
Meanwhile, Alex and Michael are dealing with the aftermath of her captivity in Ireland. And a formerly outcast Darkyn from Italy arrives bringing back memories of a past that many Darkyn would prefer to stay in the past.
This is hands down my favorite of the Darkyn series. I LOVE Jayr. She is my second favorite female character of the whole series. The introduction of Jayr is fantastic and of all the Darkyn talents I think hers sounds the coolest (she can move so fast that she manifests herself as smoke). I am not one of those people who normally want to see books made into film, but I couldn't help but think that this book would translate very well to the visual media and I'd love to see the special effects of Jayr's movements made into smoke. Awesome!
The love story is both sweet and sexy. I like the idea of both Jayr and Aeden pining silently for each other, each too afraid to admit what they feel. but when they finally do it feels really right. And Viehl has completely upped the sexiness quotient. Her sex scenes have gone from the almost non-existent (in the first book) to seriously hot in this one.
The story of The Realm and its denizens is wonderful. Jayr runs a tight ship (I love the fact that there is a seneschal manual that she has studied cover to cover). This book is a real departure from the previous books in the series because there are no Brethren scenes and no John Keller. This book is all Darkyn taking care of internal family business.
And what Internal family business it is! I've mentioned in my reviews before that Viehl does a great job of laying foundation work in previous books to for plot points brought up in later books. Well that continues to hold true here. In the second book, the medical cocktail used to keep Jema Shaw from completely turning into Darkyn is used as a basis here for a medical treatment that Alex makes up for Jayr. And who knew that the 'Locksley' person mentioned off-handedly in the first couple of books would actually be Robin of Locksley. Yes that
Viehl uses this book to play with the Robin Hood legend a bit. Robin is a Darkyn and Will Scarlett is his seneschal (Robin, or course fought in the crusades as well, the one commonality amongst most of the male Darkyn). They all have long memories of what went on at that time. It isn't like the legends that we've come to know as we learn in the course of the story.
At first I thought shoe-horning in the Robin Hood characters would be cheesy, but it wasn't. It was seemless and Viehl worked them well into the storyline and integrated them wonderfully with the existing characters giving them a history and a real sense of camaraderie. And Robin is written so charmingly that I am really eager to read his story (Stay The Night
upcoming in Jan '09, with some really delicious cover art).
Finally, I must mention Alex and Michael's continuing storyline. Alex is dealing not only with the aftermath of being held captive but also the physical/emotional problem with the weakening of the blood bond that was a result of her long separation from Michael. Viehl introduces a threat to their relationship that had me nervous for awhile, but *whew* it gets resolved. And I like that Alex, who has all along quietly questioned if what she and Michael were feeling was real or just a result of the physiological changes she's gone through, is finally able to resolve that to her satisfaction as well.
I love this series and just think that it is getting better with each book.