In this 14th novel of the Love At Stake series, Kerrelyn Sparks centers the story on Dougal Kincaid. A 300-plus year old Scottish vampire, Dougal, has been a major supporting character in most of the previous novels, losing a hand some four years earlier in a battle with the Malcontents. He has spent these last years learning to wield a sword with his left hand and learning to use his new prosthetic right hand.
Over these same few years, a Chinese vamp, Master Han, and the demon Darafer have created an army of killing machines, all human-vampire hybrids. And Romatech has just hired a new doctor, Leah Chin, a former child prodigy specializing in genetics, to research and hopefully reverse the mutations that create these hybrids.
In their haste to solve the problem that is Master Han, the Romatech doctors introduce Leah into the world of vampires, shifters and demons a tad too quickly. She goes into total panic and they wipe her mind of the incident. Trying again a few days later, the situation does not go much better, particularly when she sees several vampires levitate.
The moment Dougal sees Leah Chin on the security camera his mind seems to recognize her physique and her mannerisms. As he continues to observe her in the lab, his dragon tattoo, a tattoo that snakes across his back, over his right shoulder and across his chest to breathe flames over his heart, begins to burn. And in that instant, Dougal realizes that Leah Chin may very well contain the soul of the woman he loved, and failed to save from death, some 300 years ago.
Upon seeing and hearing Leah panic in the lab, knowing that a mind wipe is imminent, Dougal intervenes. He may not have saved his Li Lei all those years ago, but he will redeem himself by protecting Leah Chin now. And thus begins a morality tale intensely focused on the concepts of free will, fate, reincarnation and evil.
When I started this book, I expected it to be in the same vein as the previous thirteen in the series – a paranormal, romantic, action adventure. I was wrong. While it is still in the paranormal genre with a romance as the main focus, the action aspect was under-utilized and a religious aspect was added.
This series originally started out with vampires and mortals only. Shifters were added several books later. Over the last few novels, the main villains changed from rogue vampires to hybrids controlled by a demon called from Hell. With the addition of the demon came an earth-bound angel and a Healing Angel. With this novel, Sparks adds in a Guardian Angel and Warrior Angels. But something else gets added in – a Heavenly Father, a god with a capital G. While the theology expressed by our characters, especially the angels, is not identified with any particular religion, it is clearly the theology of a God that is most definitely Christian.
This series has always been built around a world in which the vampire retains his or her personality and morality after conversion from mortal to undead. This world has always contended that a vampire has a soul and is not harmed by religious artifacts. But this world building has never concentrated on the concept of evil so strongly as it does in this book.
And in conjunction with its treatise on evil, this novel is heavy handed in its foray into the moral and theological concept of free will. A major aspect of Dougal’s story is about him being kidnapped and sold into slavery as a teen, a clear violation of free will – and his escape. Leah’s story speaks to the intellectual slavery, the loss of her free will, which was forced upon her as a child by her over-achieving parents – and her escape. The plot line continues with the concept of willingly selling one’s soul to a demon and then moves to the ramifications associated with a demon usurping a mortal’s free will and forcing that mortal to engage in evil deeds.
While I personally agree with the concepts regarding free will that Kerrelyn Sparks weaves into this story, I feel that she was too intense in her approach. I read for enjoyment and escapism. I do not want to come away from a book feeling that I have been preached at and pounded on, particularly in regards to spiritual beliefs. If I wanted that, I would be picking a book from the self-help aisle, not reaching for a vampire novel.
Cover Art from Goodreads