by Shiloh Walker, fantasy (2008)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22247-8
Through The Veil is not connected to the author's series The Hunters. It is a story set in a brand new fantasy setting, and I have to say, it is a most impressive setting. I had my doubts when I first read about all that kidnapping of women to breed children on them, because I was not keen on reading some oversexed bodice-ripper story passed off as urban fantasy. Fortunately, Through The Veil is far from a cheesy "breed me with a magic baby, you hunky barbarian you!" romp.
The Veil is some kind of barrier between dimensions. The heroine Lee Ross doesn't know it yet, but she managed to break through the Veil when she arrived into our world in our dimension as a child. Somehow, she manages to break the Veil at night when she has these troubling dreams that often feel too real. She doesn't know what is going on with her, though. Our hero, Kalen, does not know who Lee actually is but he is in love with her. You see, in her dreams, Lee always shows up to aid Kalen and his people in their desperate battles with the forces of the evil Warlords of Anqar.
Okay, let's backtrack a little. Kalen lives in a place called Ishtan in another dimension. The Warlords of Anqar exist in yet a different dimension, and somehow the people of Anqar are experiencing a shortage of females. After discovering the use of magical portals to raid other places in other dimensions for these females, the Warlords meet with some tough resistance from the people of Ishtan. Ishtan is not strong enough to withstand the demon hoardes of Anqar, however. Ishtan is a dying world. Kalen and his ragtag band of resistance are one of the few groups of people still holding strong. For a long time, Lee has been showing up at their time of need to turn the battle against the attacking hoardes of Anqar. Kalen's biggest wish is for Lee to leave Earth and join them for real and for good instead of disappearing back into her world once each fight is over.
Well, they did say one has to be careful what one wishes for, because Lee soon enough finds herself in Ishtan without fully understanding how she gets there. She meets Kalen, all is well, all seems good... until it becomes clear that Lee forgets everything that she dreams about and therefore she is as good as an untrained novice among Kalen's men. However, Lee is a Very Special Heroine. What, you expect a heroine to be an ordinary Jane in an urban fantasy story? Read the rulebook - everyone's special, no common people allowed! To be fair to Ms Walker, there is a very good reason here why Lee is Very Special and it has nothing to do with fate, magic fairy dust, or destiny. But I'll let readers discover that reason for themselves, heh.
The story focuses greatly on Ishtan's war of attrition with Anqar so the romance isn't the most vital aspect of the story. Therefore, if you are expecting a typical romance novel with paranormal elements here, you may want to adjust your expectations as this is more of an urban fantasy action adventure with romantic elements instead of the other way around. Personally, I'd prefer that Lee is a little tougher here - I wish she is just like the woman on the cover art, come of think of it - since by making Lee a rather typical wisecracking type who at the same time needs to get some training from the story's Obi-Wan character, she comes off as much less interesting than Kalen. The poor dear is often overshadowed by the hero and the setting of the story.
Ah, Kalen. Now that is a beautifully-done larger-than-life tortured noble hero. All he wants is to win the war for his people, so it is heartbreaking how the poor man dies inside every time he realizes that he may be indeed fighting a losing battle. Kalen is a damaged character in and out as he is a survivor who has lost everything he holds dear in the war, but at the same time he is the noble hero, the type who fights for the cause that he believes in without hungering for acknowledgment or reward for his efforts.
But what really makes this story work is the way Ms Walker sweeps me up into the story from the get go and doesn't stop until I hit the last page. I don't understand completely how she does this, since I do notice that there are times when the pacing can hit a snag due to some long-drawn scenes of information dumping that can get repetitive in nature (such as the scene where a bad guy repeats constantly how he wants his ruler to die while providing some exposition via his scheming). But somehow the story is compelling enough to get me turning the pages despite such instances. I have always suspected when I was reading this author's Ellora's Cave offerings that she is an urban fantasy author dressed in an erotic romance author mantle and this story has me thinking that I am right. Oh, the love scenes here can be hot, but I find that the non-sexual aspects of the story are so much more engaging.
I have a great time with Through The Veil mostly because it's such an entertaining can't-put-it-down read. I really wouldn't mind paying another visit to Ishtan.
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