By Kate E. Stephenson
Sorry, Bookclubbers. This one’s posting a little late today. But I promise it’s worth the wait.
In this first week of May 2013, I hereby call to order the 19th meeting of Kate’s Book Club. Every week, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate. If you missed our last meeting, feel free to get caught up.
Released yesterday, April 30th, Dark Wolf is the first installment in Douglas’ new series Spirit Wild. And oh, boy! Is it a great introduction! I am a huge fan of paranormal romance, and Kate Douglas takes it to an entirely new level of scrumptiousness. So to give you a bit of background:
Sebastian Xenakis is still coming into his power as a wizard. He can shapeshift by magical means and runs as a wolf using the power he draws from the elements. But young women are dying—raped by a human and then slaughtered by a wolf. Suspicion falls on the shapeshifting Chanku, but Sebastian wonders if he might somehow be guilty of the crimes. Then he meets Lily Cheval, the uncrowned princess of the powerful Chanku, and realizes he will do whatever it takes to clear his name and win her love. But evil walks where Sebastian goes, and there are mysteries neither Lily nor her father, the powerful wizard Anton Cheval can unravel. Is Sebastian the perfect mate for Lily, or is he instead, one she should fear?
Ok, so I stole that straight off the back of the book, but it sets the tone beautifully. There is something incredibly sexy about a tall, dark and handsome wizard with crazy teal eyes who can shapeshift into the dark predatory wolf—and Douglas knows it. I felt personally manipulated while reading this story, as if Ms. Douglas had a direct window into the secret recesses of my mind. And that is her talent. Kate is able to create a fiery landscape of fantasy, while engaging our most common fears and concerns. There is an eclecticism to Kate’s writing that creates a kaleidoscope of characters, emotional textures, and rich conflict that leaves you eager and anxious for the next installment.
Before I finished the last page, I was ready for the first page of the next book. I want to know more about Lily Cheval, her father Anton and her mother Keisha. I want to know who Sebastian really is and who he’s meant to become. I want to run with the Chanku pack and discover more of their rich history and how they came to be among us mere humans.
There are so many elements that make this a good read. The love story. The battle—both internal and external—between good and evil. The bonds, that either support or restrain us. And of course—the steamy scenes that are so expertly seductive. But there is also a great deal more if you look below the top layers. There is a concern about hatred and prejudice, a cautioning about the corruption of power, and a commentary about the universal struggle to claim identity in a chaotic and unpredictable world.
There are a few moments that I think were shortcutted, some background left out, and some scenes rushed through. But at 352 pages, I can understand the moments in which I could feel the editor’s pen. Conversely, the scenes of intimacy at times felt forced (but Douglas is known for her racy writing). Also the cover absolutely drives me crazy—did the artist not know the protagonist’s eyes are blue! A minor thing, but a lost opportunity to make that cover pop even more. Take these piddling cons and chalk them up to more reason to read this book, because you are the only critic that matters. Judge for yourself.
Here’s an excerpt from Dark Wolf, Chapter 1:
Crickets chirped. An owl hooted. A dusting of starlight shimmered faintly against granite peaks, but here at the forest’s edge, all was dark. Shivering slightly in the cool night air, Sebastian Xenakis stood beneath the gnarled oak, just one more shadow among many. With great humility and as much confidence as he could muster while standing naked in the darkness, he raised his arms, drew on the magic coursing through his veins, and once more called on the spirit within the tree, one he affectionately thought of as the lady, humbly asking for her strength.
“Damn it all.” He exhaled, accepting the rush of air for what it was—a huge blast of frustration at the serendipitous nature of his magic. He stared at the massive tree towering overhead and methodically emptied his mind of all thoughts, all distractions. He put aside anger and frustration, fears and hopes, leaving room for nothing but here and now. Focusing everything within, he opened his heart to possibilities, and waited.
A few long, frustrating minutes later, he felt her warmth envelop him. An unexpected frisson raced across his bare shoulders, along his arms. It caressed his naked buttocks and swirled over his belly, lifting the dark line of body hair that trailed from navel to groin. Then it slithered along his thighs, circled his calves and tickled across his bare feet. His cock, flush with hot blood, swelled high and hard against his belly, giving homage to the gift of power.
Then, sliding away as soft as a whisper, the intimate sense of touch, of sentient communion, bled off into the damp loam and returned to its source through thickly tangled roots. Sebastian sighed, a shuddering acceptance of sensual pleasure, the gift of contact with such a powerful force.
The lady of the oak.
His erection remained, strong evidence of her touch, the visceral connection he’d made with a spirit ancient beyond recorded memory. His body thrummed with her life force, with her power, until Sebastian felt each and every one of her thick and twisted branches spreading far and wide, until he bowed beneath the age and innate wisdom of the ancient tree. This mother oak must have stood here, a silent sentinel of the forest since long before the dawn of modern history. A few heavy branches had fallen over time, but he knew her roots were strong, her branches healthy. As if challenging time itself, the graceful beauty and symmetry of the tree remained.
He remembered the first time he saw the oak, recalled the sense of life, the sure knowledge of the tree’s spiritual power. It was on that day he’d learned his father wielded the kind of power Sebastian had quickly grown to crave.
Standing just beyond the reach of the great branches, unsure of his relationship with a man he barely knew, Sebastian had watched Aldo Xenakis call lightning out of a clear, star-filled sky—call it and control it with the deft hands of a master.
He’d been seduced so easily, so quickly by that flashy show of fire and magic. Of power. Immeasurable power. So thoroughly seduced he knew he might never break free of its siren call.
Might never break free of the man he’d consciously sought, despite his mother’s warning. Now it was much too late. His die had been cast, commitments made, and he was almost glad his mother was dead.
Glad she couldn’t see what he’d become.
Sebastian quickly shoved thoughts of his moral weakness, his failures—and his father—aside. There was no need to mar the beauty of this night. He took a deep breath and then, almost as an afterthought, cleared his mind of all obstructions and drew more power to him. Pulled it from the earth, from the sky, from the water of a nearby stream, from the mountain itself. The fire must come from within, but he called on that as well and felt the power build.
Then he buffered the swirling energy with the strength of the oak until it was entirely under his control. Until he was the one holding the power.
Unlike his father, unwilling to display or even acknowledge such arrogance, Sebastian turned and bowed his head toward the oak, giving the tree’s spirit his grateful thanks for her help. Then, spreading his fingers wide, he consciously breathed deeply and opened himself to the energy flowing into him from all directions. A brilliant glow surrounded him, but it wasn’t lightning that lit the dark night.
It was power. Raw power he’d pulled from the earth, from the air and water. From the spirit in the tree, and the fire burning in his soul.
Within seconds, the light blinked out. Gone as if it had never existed at all.
As was the man. In his place, a wolf darker than night raised its head and sniffed the air. Then it turned away and raced into the forest.
Ok, Book Clubbers, until next time…
Kate’s Book Club is a column on Kate-book.com featuring interviews with authors named Kate, as well as reviews of books starring Kate characters. It runs on Kate-book.com every other Wednesday at 10:30am, and is written by the self-admitted bibliophile Kate E. Stephenson, who you should follow on Twitter here. Oh, and write to Kate to suggest authors and books we should read for future columns.