I've been a little stingy with reviews lately. I use to review several books a week, but I've been trying to bring them out on Tuesdays and Thursdays this month. Truthfully, I've been suffering a bit of burn out. I do a lot of stuff -- writing, reading, web design, singing ... and I needed a breather.
But I have to totally ignore my schedule today, because I just finished The Scarlet Dagger and I simply cannot wait to tell you all how utterly, totally, jaw-droppingly fabulous it is. I really, really loved this book. And as much as I thought I was going to be able to wait until tomorrow to fill you all in, I'm just to excited to do that. This is a book I loved so much that I just want to go: "Okay. Quit reading this and download the book. Now. Trust me. It's awesome!"
But I'm sure that some of you might just need a little more convincing. ;) So here we go... My review for The Scarlet Dagger.
The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
The strength of Sloane’s heart is about to be put to the ultimate test.
After the Eclipse – the night vampires began openly slaughtering human victims – everything changed. Out of fear, the government salvaged what remained of the human population and enclosed them in massive, security-laden cities called White Sectors, while marking the vampire infested territory as Red Sectors.
When seventeen-year-old Sloane McAllister’s twin brother disappears, she seems to be the only one who thinks he isn’t dead, and vows to stop at nothing to find him. Gathering her courage, she braves the Red Sector to search for clues to his whereabouts. By chance, she encounters Aden, a handsome, charismatic vampire with a hidden agenda. He turns Sloane against her will, and whisks her away to his underground city. Enemies quickly become friends as Sloane struggles against her attraction to Aden, and resists her growing loyalties to the creatures that ruined her life. But the vampires themselves are the least of her problems. The city is harboring a devastating secret, one that could change the tide of the war and threaten to destroy everything Sloane has come to believe in.
Heart-stopping action and scorching romance collide in this dystopian, urban fantasy thriller.
It sounds awesome, right? Well, the story lives up to the summary in every way imaginable. This didn't just reach my expectations, it exceeded them in every possible way. There is so much that is great about this book and the plot is as good a place to start as any. From word go we are drawn into the world and into the action. This isn't done in a jarring "What the heck is going on?" way, but in a way that ratchets up the tension, excitement and anxiety in the reader as the story progresses. What I mean here is that it also does not make the mistake of giving the characters' life stories on page one, either.
The next thing I can say about the plot is that it is intricately paced. I love how the level of action and character building ebbed and flowed so that the progression of the story felt real and interesting. This allowed the story to never really lose momentum, yet at the same time ensured that I could really grow to care for the characters of the book. This, in turn, made every new situation they found themselves in all that more tense, nerve wracking and emotional. I really cared about what was happening to these people, so much that I actually had to pause from the book at one point because I was gripping my Kindle so tight I was scared I might break it. *laughs* If I like a story I get very invested in the characters and I don't want bad things to happen to them. (Even though, as a writer, I realize that's the point.)
I loved how the progression of the plot was stretched over time so that the changes in the way the characters behaved made sense. I also like the fact that Krystle was not afraid to simply point out that "three weeks had passed" if there was nothing going on there that I needed to know. Sometimes I think writers have trouble measuring time in a way that makes sense for what their characters are doing, and this can be one of the key factors in our minds that makes us scream "OMG insta-love". By the way, and I'll get into this more later, but there is no "insta-love" here. I can promise you that.
Lastly, I would like to say that this book ended in a way that I found both fully satisfying and maddeningly frustrating. Krystle did a fantastic job of making sure that we know what has happened and what has been achieved, while deftly setting up a legitimate and real situation that will warrent a sequel. As opposed to feeling frustrated or cheated as some endings tend to do to me, this one left me feeling that I wanted the next book "now!". Is it a cliffhanger? Yes. Is it annoying? No.
Sloane was a great heroine that I found immediately likable. She was a very "take action" character who possessed courage, compassion and a certain level of vulnerability that made her very easy to relate to. She has a distinct voice that made it fun to experience the story through her viewpoint. I'm always happy when a heroine actually does things inside of a book, rather then meekly waiting to be rescued, and I can tell you that Sloane is a long shot from being a damsel in distress.
Aden was awesome. He is a complex character and you will be left guessing as to what the heck is going on, torn between love and hate much as Sloane herself is. I liked the fact that he was capable of being strong, caring and extremely funny, all depending on what the situation needed. He was a character that I immediately liked but that I did not immediately trust. This really let me experience the feelings that I'm sure Sloane was experiencing and it was great.
The supporting characters were all interesting, too. I liked Angel and Rook. I was just as uncertain about Paris as Sloane was until the very end. Leo is a complicated mess and I can't wait to see how that situation will work itself out in the future. And Dezyre was an interesting complication as well. The various villains in the story each had interesting backstories that made what they were doing make sense, even if I disagreed with them. It really seemed, to me, that Krystle Jones took a lot of time to really think about how her characters felt about what they were doing, not just what they actually did. And this really succeeded in drawing me into their world.
The Scarlet Dagger had some very interesting romantic elements. First off, there is the growing love / hate between Sloane and Aden. They start out in one of the most awkward situations possible and the romance that blossoms between them takes time and effort to develop. Further, Sloane does not become a non-thinking simpering idiot, either. She continues to question everything going on around her and tries to think through what she should be doing. This made her situation feel very believable without making the reader feel overwhelmed with sadness or despair.
Aden is clearly very interested in Sloane and it was very sweet to see him trying to win her over. I liked the fact that he was so interested in her rather then her chasing him around as much. I also liked the fact that he was able to balance liking her with being himself. His feelings for Sloane did not weaken him as a character. He kept his edge and in doing so kept my interest.
One thing that kind of threw me for a loop was the situation with Leo. We only catch a brief scene with him at the beginning of the book. He does pop up in Sloane's thoughts somewhat, but when he became a more important part of the story I must admit I was not prepared for the role that he ultimately played. I look forward to seeing how his character will develop in the future, because the situation between him and Sloane was left on a very tense note.
I simply can't say enough good things about this book. The Scarlet Dagger had me from page one and didn't let go. It was a heck of a ride, ranging from sweet and touching to being so tense that I actually needed to step away from it for a few minutes at one point because I was so concerned over what would happen. I'm always saying whether or not a book 'drew me in'. This one definitely did that, to the point where characters became treasured friends and I felt like I was taking this journey with them.
The Scarlet Dagger is an absolute must read. I cannot recommend this book to you highly enough. Filled with action, romance, interesting world building and memorable characters this is the sort of book that is such a joy to read that you will forget you are holding it (well in this case, my Kindle) in your hands.
Fourth Recipient Of...
1. A heroine who was actually heroic: Sloane was both courageous and compassionate. She didn't wait for things to happen. From word go she was willing to take destiny into her own hands.
2. A fascinating new take on vampires with an underlying danger that will take the reader by surprise.
3. Characters and alliances that grow naturally within the story, both making you cheer for them and keeping you guessing until the book actually wants to share its secrets.
4. A 'friendly enemies' romance that actually took time to develop and that held my interest the entire way through. By the time these characters realize how they feel you will believe that they actually feel it. I really loved Sloane and Aden together!
5. A shocking conclusion that balances making sure the reader got a complete story with setting up the next book in a shocking way that will have you very worried indeed. ;)