"When did you find the fucking time to bond yourself to an immortal?"
Well, by God, Gwen Mitchell has outdone herself. That was just fantastic. Still a bit flustery under the collar...
But don’t misunderstand me. This isn't a soggy romance book with paranormal bits tacked on as an afterthought; it is high calibre urban fantasy that has a romance theme intertwined with everything else that's going on.
It's been a bit of time since I read Rain of Ash (review reposted), the first book in the Skydancer series, but I recall I loved it, and there was a lot of conflict and angst and paranormal fun going on. There’s been a lot of hard work going on in the interim.
In Veil of Thorns Bri is hardier, and a bit more willing to take control of her conundrum. Her lover and coven-mate, Kean, is now a lumere; his soul trapped on another plane while his body sits as stone in the Arcanum. Bri is desperate to find a way to release him, yet has also kept secret from their third coven member, Astrid, the fact he's still around, in some form at least, and that she can contact him. As an aside, the way Bri uses music as a way of resonating with the planes of existence was beautifully done.
So what could possibly be worse than Bri's desperate situation and hopelessness in the face of her unravelling powers, broken coven and trapped lover?
Well, Lucas Moncrieffe of course, who happens to be obsessed with her because she's his ancient soulmate incarnate and he's both her wolf-morphing Familiar and a big ol' demon warrior guy. Oh, and he also happens to be smoking hot and immortal. And he's seeking to complete the ritual to bind them together for eternity, as you do. Just to make things easier.
Briana's journey through this book was just wonderful. Her desperation to rescue Kean drives her into a quest with both Lucas and Ryder (who loves his violin and spends most of his time floating about as kinky, sardonic smoke) to seek out Hedvika, another Skydancer, and retrieve a spell to return Kean to his body. Having Ryder's silver-tongued words to attempt to count on, and Lucas's persistent innuendo and determination to never leave her side, Bri had her work cut out.
There was a lot of fire and a lot of fun in the journey to the White Wood, that allowed good development of Bri and Lucas's relationship in the face of her still being in love with Kean, but being in close proximity to a man she doesn’t really understand her history with but can feel its presence. It also pushed her into questioning who she really was, who she'd really been, and who she could be. The tenderness and passion and conflict and pain and mutual humour between them was just perfectly written, paced and like a bloody rollercoaster, yet never overshadowed the overall story either. It was built as tightly as the world around it.
Bri came into her own during the time with Hedvika, whose realm was wonderfully realised, and who gave Bri a taste of what a Skydancer could achieve. A stark contrast with the drab and forced magic of the Arcanum, Hedvika's world was at least one with the magic they had been blessed with, and allowed surreal beauty and artistry to thrive. Hedvika also gave cause and chance for Bri and Lucas to really work each other out. She played with them - especially him - constantly, until Bri discovered the devastating secrets the other witch was keeping. Pushing them apart gave Briana a chance to become pro-active in her pursuits, and seek out a strength she may not have otherwise.
I recall from my previous review I did not like Lucas much. I remember Briana was vulnerable and inexperienced, and his possession grated me last time. Kean was sweeter and thoughtful, and preferable for who Bri was then. It wasn't a problem, it's good to have dislikes of characters, because they get to be flipped about when the stories evolve and keep you on your toes. I love him now. His character was balanced well with his cockiness, humour, loyalty and integrity. His determination never changed, and he was absolutely sure of who he was and what he needed to do. It was his behaviour that evolved, and allowed himself to fully realise to embrace Briana as Briana and not Vivianne, which was essential in their relationship. That and he loves scotch and steak - immediately 25% more attractive. I want one.
"You will understand some day. Mercy is not always a kindness, and sometimes death is a gift."
Ryder and Hedvika were great assets to the story, and Ryder was especially hilarious. He added a nice balance to the more passionate and sensuous story of Bri and Lucas going on (though, as before, he did have his kinky bits). I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, if I could even get hold of him, but he was great fun. Hedvika, though cruel and teasing, could also be unravelled, at least a little, to be one whose humanity had waned through her love of power. That and likely being alone for so long. Even in a great magical realm of your own making it would probably send you mental.
I will avoid any further additions to deter spoilers, but the story's conclusion was as hopeful as it was heart-breaking. I was left totally satisfied, except for the fact it was over. It is the kind of book that it so escapist it excites me about writing fiction. I get delayed when reading a lot of books when they inspire me so much I have to put them down to go write… The highest accolade I assure you.
This is a big story about destiny and fate, star-crossed lovers over millennia, myth and complex webs of magic. It has tender parts, and spicy parts, very spicy parts, funny parts and alluring magic, and a great mass of ideas and lore that Gwen Mitchell wound into a grand, overarching story with beautiful detail and excellent writing. Bloody great applause for this one.