Berkley, Oct. 4, 2011, $7.99
Recently, Vampyre Queen Carling’s power has become erratic, forcing her followers to flee. Wyr sentinel Rune is drawn to the ailing Queen and decides to help find a cure for the serpent’s kiss—the vampyric disease that’s killing her. With their desire for each other escalating they will have to rely on each other if they have any hope of surviving the serpent’s kiss...
With an opening paragraph such as this, I knew I was in for an awesome ride:
“I am a bad woman, of course,” said Carling Severan, the Vampyre sorceress, in an absent tone of voice. “It is a fact that I made peace with many centuries ago. I calibrate everything I do, even the most generous-seeming gesture, in terms of how it may serve me.”
When we met Carling in the last book, Storm’s Heart, she seems an absolutely insane character with definite questionable motives, and I knew she had a story to tell. I was thrilled she’d be the next heroine in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series. In Serpent’s Kiss, we discover Carling abandoned by everyone who once served her, save one. When her unpredictable trance-like “episodes” started occurring with more frequency, everyone goes running for the hills. If that isn’t creepy enough, she resides in a castle on an Other island termed “Blood Alley”. The castle fades in and out from visibility in the Bay next to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Enter Rune Ainissesthai, Wyr sentinel extraordinaire and fine hunk of gryphon-man to boot. He entered a contract with Carling previously to save his friend’s life, and has arrived to her home to deliver the favor he owes her. Once Rune arrives, the sexual tension jumps off the page. It’s a meeting of the old powerful dominants and it becomes a game as to who is going to submit first.
“Rune Ainissesthai,” she whispered. “What is the riddle?”
His expression flared with electric light. Oh, I’ve got your attention now, don’t I, Wyr? She smiled. “Did you think everyone had forgotten your name?”
“You know better than to ask a question like that,” he said. His voice dropped to a low gravelly murmur that prowled across her skin.
“Rune Ainissesthai,” she whispered a second time, and the Power she wielded made the sound of his name reverberate between them like the singing of a Chinese Buddhist bowl. “Why do you come to me?”
“I come to pay my debt,” said Rune, and the cry of the eagle echoed in his reply.
“Rune Ainissesthai,” she whispered for the third time. “Will you do my bidding for the measure of one favor to pay that debt?”
“You know I will,” the gryphon replied, the growl of the lion in his voice.
Right about here is where I was fanning myself. The bargain they strike involves a kiss… A single hot kiss that leaves them both extremely aroused, confused, and a whole mess of other emotions that neither of them are ready to feel. It also ends in Carling slapping Rune and retreating. Rune realizes at this moment that he cannot simply leave her and return to his duties as Dragos’s First (Dragos’s story is told in Dragon Bound). He is compelled to help her find a way to stop this rapid spiral in to the madness caused by the “serpent’s kiss”. He immediately must make her face the fact that she can’t just curl up and let the insanity take her, and she is not going to get rid of him the way she has everyone else.
“I haven’t been able to look away,” he whispered back, “because you are stunning. In fact, you can go ahead and slap me again if you want. Let’s get this over with, because I think I’m going to have to kiss you again, and it is so fucking worth it.”
What I adore about Carling is she is like that crazy crabby old lady who lives down the street and yells at all the kids to get off her lawn, only she is trapped in her beautiful immortal body, of course. I guess maybe she’s not THAT bad, but she’s pretty crabby and it cracked me up! You really are uncertain how on earth Rune can crack her defenses, even with his radiating smile and charming wit. What I adore about Rune is that no matter how ancient and stuffy Carling appears in language and composure (she was turned during Ancient Egyptian times), Rune is much older than she is, and it puts them on a more even playing field. I also love how he totally teases her about how crazy she is, and about her “episodes.”
Nobody else would ever dare to do such a thing, she would put them through a wall. Rune is relentless, and through his gentle teasing, even begins to make her *gasp* smile. This is definitely a case where the hero and heroine are a perfect match for one another in both legacy and in strength, and I enjoyed watching their love story unfold.
“First, I want you to tell me what you experience when you have an episode.”
“Episode, episode, episode,” she said with sudden venom. “Gods how I’ve grown to hate that word.”
“Oh-kay,” Rune said. He switched gears with apparent ease. “We’ll have to start calling it something else. You suffer from an extreme case of attention deficit disorder.”
She glared at him and grumbled, “Whatever.”
He suggested, “You kept the light on when you left the house.”
No. He wasn’t funny. She would not dignify that either. Somewhere in the middle of her glare, she started to smile. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You fed the bats in the belfry? You went crazier than a shit-house rat?”
“What?” Laughter burbled out of her. It felt strange, ebullient and light. She could not remember the last time she had laughed out loud, or why.
“I know, they’re too long to say in the middle of a sentence,” he said with a grin. "I’m brainstorming here. You were just showing your Vegas, baby.”
“You know, the word ‘episode’ doesn’t seem so bad anymore,” she said, still laughing. “I think we should stick to simple English.”
Serpent’s Kiss has less drama and action in it than the two previous books in the series, with more character development and storytelling, but you won’t hear any complaints from me over that. With beautiful narration, multi-dimensional characters, and gorgeous world building, Harrison continues to write some of the finest Paranormal Romance stories out there and is definitely making herself a staple in every PNR fan’s bookshelf, including mine.