Dark Highland Fire
by Kendra Leigh Castle, fantasy (2008)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-1159-1

Having not read the previous book in Kendra Leigh Castle's romantic urban fantasy series, I can only make do with what I know from Dark Highland Fire. We have a bunch of werewolves in Scotland, Clan MacInnes, that guard the magical Stone of Destiny. I don't know why the Stone of Destiny is called that, since its function is to open a doorway connecting our world with the world of the spooky-crawlies. Perhaps it is "destiny" that never the two worlds shall meet? Oh look at me, I'm rolling with the awful jokes today.

We also have vampires here, although Rowan an Morgaine would like to have you know that she and her brother are not like Count Dracula at all. She's a goddess of some sort in the other world - adequate details are not provided in this book for me to give a more detailed explanation on this - and she only drinks blood offered by willing sources. A dragon prince named Lucien Andrakkar believes himself to be in love with Rowan and as a result, her kind was wiped out in what could be called a courtship ritual gone awry. She and her brother are now on the run. Because every heroine in this kind of stories has her sex mojo ramped on high, Rowan is so sexy that she has to be the hottest stripper in town. Why bother trying to stay out of the spotlight when you are so sexy, right? Alas, it is shortly after the story opens that the folks of Lucien and his father Modred catch up with Rowan and her brother Bastian. Because Rowan is too tasteful to feed on people for blood, she has been starving herself because she's clearly too sexy for nourishment. Needless to say, she can't stand up to the bad guys too well. She's still sexy though, be rest assured.

Bastian manages to transport her out of harm's way and, by some chance activation of some woo-woo traveling method that I will not try to elaborate here, ends up depositing her to the MacInnes for safety. Gabriel, our beta werewolf, finds Rowan sexy enough despite her apparent state of malnourishment and it's mating time, woo-hoo. Alas, Lucien isn't going to let go of his honeymoon plans with Rowan anytime soon.

As you can tell by now, I am still not entirely sure of how the magical or paranormal stuff works in this story. I suspect that the actual details were made clear in the previous book, Call Of The Highland Moon. However, Ms Castle's story contains a few popular tropes of romantic urban fantasy, such as the Very Special Heroine with Even More Special Powers (and Reproductive Abilities), and I realize that I can plug in what I know about those tropes into the blanks in this story to get a coherent, if possibly factually wrong, idea of what is going on in the story.

There are a few popular tropes present here, but I should point out that this story is also delightfully inventive in other ways. Gabriel, for example, is as far from an alpha male as can be. He still manages to be macho and manly, of course, but he is so adorably easy-going and even humorous that he is a complete one-eighty from the dour and overly-obsessed horny heroes of this kind of stories. Even more interesting is the character of Lucien who is not your typical villain. Lucien is the dour and obsessed guy here. He's an unexpectedly well-drawn and interesting character that I personally feel is far more interesting than Gabriel. This is because, for some reason, Lucien is the character that experiences growth in this story. Gabriel and Rowan are pretty much who they are - what you see in them is what you will get, that kind of thing.

The story is interesting and entertainingly told. What I know of the world in this story has me thinking that I'd love to see more of it, especially given how Ms Castle isn't afraid to make things different with her stories. The pacing is fine after the rather clumsy first few chapters of the story and there is satisfying build-up and closure as well.

What I do not like is Rowan. Yes, it's the heroine. As usual, I know. My problem with Rowan is that she is not just often stupid for the sake of being stupid, she is also acerbic and unnecessarily petty. I suspect that Ms Castle is hoping that Rowan comes off as feisty and sassy, but I find that Rowan is just irritating instead. Mouthing off rudely to the people who have taken her in that she's some kind of sexy goddess and she wants to leave, like, right now even when she has no clue as to what she wants to do is not what I consider a good start on the road to being feisty and it's way downhill from there. Gabriel finds Rowan's brand of spoiled thirteen-year old Miss Thing antic sexy though, so I suppose at least someone is having fun with Rowan.

And then there is the epilogue. Yikes! All that constant gushing about how Rowan is now bloated with magic babies and special powers has me worrying about the sugar level in my blood. If you have really low tolerance for unbearably saccharine epilogues full of celebration of the heroine's fecundity, I would strongly advise that you stop reading by the last page of the last chapter. The epilogue isn't really necessary for the story unless you have a craving for a too-sweet dessert after your reading.

But really, the heroine is the biggest misstep in this story. No, she's not just a misstep, she's like... a nefarious-looking sore on the lip of a sexy hunk that is giving you the eye in that hot night club, if you will. She ruins considerably the mood of an otherwise refreshing and entertaining reading experience. The epilogue is pretty bad as well, but unlike Rowan, it can be easily ignored.

Rating: 75

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