I’m all about heroes and heroines who begin as emotionless killing machines at the start of the story then grow into people fully capable of love and affection due to the love of a good man/woman. I’m a big fan of love conquering everything, dude. I was a little disappointed in Peter “Iceman” Jensen of Anne Stuart’s Cold as Ice, but I’m happy to say that the heroine of this book, Kaderin the Cold-Hearted perked me right up. She’s ruthless, brave, and though she’s annoyingly stubborn at times (I thought she did the “do I love him, does he love me” dance a little too long), I found myself really liking her as a character. In this book, the heroine is really the main character with the hero tagging along as her sidekick, which I didn’t mind because he had a lot less issues than she did. The setting of this book is a mystical competition, a scavenger hunt of sorts, where we are introduced to even more characters of the Lore, which is the supernatural world where these crazy kids exist (this means an immense opportunity for sequel baiting). The contest takes our two leads to the harshest, most challenging places of the planet in search of the requested items, and the two of them are forced to work together, in order to win. Naturally, they argue and bicker every step of the way, which got on my nerves a little bit, and the cheesy, clunky dialogue didn’t help, either. I was also a little dismayed by the deus ex machina ending, but at that point, I thought the book was running a little too long, so I was also glad to see it. Otherwise, we’ve got plenty of action, some hot sex scenes, and good character development, all of which make this book a pretty enjoyable read.
Our heroine, Kaderin the Cold-Hearted is a two thousand year old Valkyrie [Ed note: oddly enough, MS Word doesn’t recognize this word. I thought it was a real word] who is famous for her ruthless execution of vampires. She does so without feeling because she is unable to have actual emotions. A long time ago, two of her sisters were slaughtered by vampires and Kaderin couldn’t handle the loss (the three of them were triplets). A goddess took pity on her and attempted to remove her grief, but in doing so, also eradicated her ability to feel joy, compassion, anger, and all the rest of that good stuff. Over the years, Kaderin has developed a reputation for being coldly efficient in her killings and become a “spook story” that monsters tell their kids at night. She has no problem killing anything if it stood in her way. That is, until the night she went to Sebastian Wroth’s castle to kill him. And couldn’t. There is just something about Sebastian that immediately sparks emotions within Kaderin. Suddenly, she’s feeling things she hasn’t felt in years. The only problem is Sebastian is a vampire and she hates vampires. Not that she can resist him, anyway. As it turns out, Kaderin is Sebastian’s Bride, the one woman who can make his heart beat again. But Kaderin won’t succumb that easily. Besides, Sebastian will just get in the way of her winning the Contest and the prize is just too great for her to lose. After all, the prize would enable her to go back in time to save her sisters. When Sebastian realizes how important the prize is to Kaderin, he signs up for the contest himself and resolves to win it for her. Some of the obstacles in the contest require them to work together, but that doesn’t stop these two from fighting every step of the way.
The character of Kaderin is a fascinating one. She is strong, independent, and for once that doesn’t mean she’s stubborn to the point of stupidity. She is also ruthless and won’t hesitate to exploit another person’s weakness to her advantage. As soon as she finds herself attracted to Sebastian, she is immediately at a loss because she has never experienced anything like it before. Her first instinct is to resist him because she doesn’t quite know how to deal with her feelings. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him because he is a vampire and as a Valkyrie, it is her duty to kill him. She pushes him away, dodges him, tricks him, but can’t help love him. For years, she has existed only for the single-minded quest of finding a way to go back in time to save her sisters, but now she finds herself unable to concentrate on anything else but him. I found it a little hard to believe that Kaderin had supposedly won the past five contests because Sebastian seemed to be saving her at every turn. Perhaps the author thought this was necessary because otherwise Kaderin wouldn’t have any use for Sebastian. In order for Sebastian to look like a hero here, Kaderin had to scale back a bit on her competence, so Sebastian could save her a couple of times. Um… hello! Why can’t the girl rescue the guy for once? For realz!
As for Sebastian, he’s your usual brooding paranormal hero who is single-minded in his quest to tag some heroine poon. He’s good-looking, physically strong, determined, and has some pretty standard-issue problems. Once upon a time, he didn’t want to be a vampire, but his vampire brother forced it on him because he didn’t want the family to die. As a result, Sebastian moans and whines in a tower for about 300 hundred years until Kaderin comes over to kill him. All of a sudden, he’s a Walking Boner. Good for you, Sebastian, way to find a reason for living! Sebastian stalks, broods, hisses, and gets appropriately obsessive about tagging the poon. Like I said, standard stuff. He’s eye-candy. He’s the guy on TV who makes you go “ooh,” but it’s more of an obligatory “ooh”. The star of this show is Kaderin.
The courtship between our two romantic leads is a little repetitive, if not contrived. Kaderin is an independent creature who has never loved anyone and Sebastian believes Kaderin is his reason for living. Kaderin is understandably wary of Sebastian’s motives, but Sebastian is appropriately understanding and patient. It’s a long, slow, almost tedious dance. Kaderin’s reluctance to get together with Sebastian is reasonable at first, but after a few chapters of the “two steps forward, two steps back” game, I started getting impatient. Since this story is set in an “Amazing Race” type competition with major time constraints, it seemed that these two just couldn’t sit down and get to know each other. They’re always off to some totally harsh, totally dangerous hotspot that leaves them no time to have a “tender” moment or two. If it weren’t for the whole “Bride” thing, I’m not sure these two would have gotten together. The whole “you’re a vampire, I don’t want you!” and “you’re my Bride, I must have you!” routine gets pretty tiring and I, for one, found myself yelling, “For God’s sake, just get it over with!” after a while.
What kept me reading this book is the world-building. There are so many cool characters that I really liked. I was especially interested in the angry werewolf who entered the race because he wants to use to prize to get back in time to save his wife and child. It’s a good thing that his book is up next. There was a siren, some trolls, some goddesses, and some more Valkyries (I’m looking forward to Nix’s story) just aching for their own stories. There is just a veritable trove of characters here that Cole could write about and if she were careful, it wouldn’t ever be redundant. What I liked about the introduction of these characters is that even though they’re obviously sequel bait, it’s not THAT obvious, you know? These characters aren’t all “Look at me! Look at me! I’m a sequel bait!” Cole weaves them all into the story quite expertly in a way that they don’t needlessly stand out.
I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would, but I still enjoyed it. Kaderin is an entertaining heroine who develops from a one-note character who’s “dead” inside to one who experiences a wealth of emotions and it’s a testament to the author’s talent that the transformation is not jarring. This story could have used a stronger hero, but I think it would have only taken away from the narrative, because this is really about Kaderin’s quest to find herself and Sebastian was more of a prop than anything else. Though the relationship between the two romantic leads isn’t necessarily great stuff, there are some awesome action sequences, a believable development of mythology, and some entertaining secondary characters that will keep you reading. I think this is a series that will age well and sustain itself for quite some time. I, for one, can’t wait for the next book in the series!
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