Zarek of Moesia was born a slave and spent his entire human life being brutally tortured by his masters. Since becoming an immortal Dark-Hunter, he has hardened himself to those around him to the point that everyone believes he has no heart. Nine hundred years ago, he was accused of murdering everyone in the human village which he was responsible for protecting, and the scattered bits of his memory of that day seems to bear out the truth of that accusation. For his misdeeds, he was exiled to the wilds of Alaska where he rarely saw any other human beings. Some unfortunate events occurred while Zarek was helping the Dark-Hunters in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and he now finds himself on the wrong side of more than one Greek deity with a death sentence on his head. The Dark-Hunter leader, Acheron, bargained with the goddess, Artemis, to at least have Zarek properly judged before being executed, but unbeknownst to him, Artemis has already unleashed Thanatos, the only being who can kill a Dark-Hunter besides Ash himself.
Astrid is the justice nymph who was specifically requested by Acheron to judge Zarek, but never in her entire life has she found a man innocent. When Zarek finds himself badly wounded and on the run from those who would destroy him, Astrid opens the door of her home to offer help and comfort to this tortured warrior while also testing him. In spite of her temporary blindness, she senses in Zarek a tenderhearted man who has been sorely mistreated all his life. She begins to suspect that there was more than meets the eye to both the events in New Orleans and the destruction of Zarek's village centuries ago and sets about to prove his innocence on both counts. As Astrid uncovers the real Zarek behind the armor-plated defenses he puts up, she can't help falling for him, but Zarek has lived such a tormented existence, he no longer cares whether he lives or dies, leaving Astrid with the challenge of her life to save him. As Astrid slowly chips away at the ice encasing Zarek's battered heart, he finds himself unable to deny his love for her, and when Thanatos make Astrid his next target, Zarek will stop at nothing to protect her. But if he finds out the real reason for her mission on earth, he may never be able to forgive her for the deception.
A Dark-Hunter Christmas - found in some editions of Dance with the Devil.
At last.....another Dark-Hunter book that I could really sink my teeth into (pun intended;-)). I had greatly enjoyed the first book of the series, Fantasy Lover, but the stories in between that book and Dance with the Devil had left me feeling underwhelmed and less than satisfied. As I suspected it might, Dance with the Devil gave me a meatier tale with two well-developed characters that I could totally root for and who were very relatable, as well as getting back to some stronger relationship building. Even though the story took place within a matter of days, much like the previous books, the connection between Zarek and Astrid was more palpable and consequently more believable to me, because they actually spent large swaths of time virtually alone together, during which they were able to communicate on a fairly deep level. Their communication wasn't always of a direct nature, since Zarek was bound by the Dark-Hunter code which forbade him from telling anyone about who or what he was. Still, I thought that the author used a very creative solution for getting around that by having Astrid join Zarek in his dreams, where she was able to see the things he dreamed about (nightmares really), and they could talk about some things that he wouldn't be able to discuss when he was awake. It also provided the opportunity for Astrid to give Zarek some much-needed love and kindness in a "safe" environment, as well as a couple more steamy love scenes than would have been possible otherwise. I also liked how, in the dreams, Astrid gifted Zarek with a few small childhood pleasures that he had been harshly denied in his human life. I just think that the hero and heroine being together and interacting in more than just a sexual way for a large part of the book really helped to solidify their burgeoning love for one another.
Zarek definitely earned a place at the top of my most tortured heroes list. I've seen other readers liken him to Zsadist from J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and after reading this book, I would have to agree that it is an apt comparison. Zarek's torment was somewhat different from Zsadist's, but no less inhumane and cruel. What was truly heartbreaking to me about it was when I discovered through a bit of research that some Roman slaves really were treated that badly. Sherrilyn Kenyon certainly did her homework on that one. Even in the last book, Night Embrace, I could tell that there was a lot of depth lurking beneath the surface of Zarek's gruff exterior and harsh words, and he certainly didn't disappoint me in this story. Inside, he has a sensitive, compassionate heart and especially around Astrid, he is extremely tender and gentle. He was strong enough to live through 2000 years of loneliness, torture and betrayal, but no matter how brutally he was treated, his tormentors were never quite able to kill that part of him that longed to love and be loved. He just buried it very deeply inside, where I'm not sure even he realized it still existed, making it a challenge for Astrid to find and unlock it. The only thing about Zarek which I would have liked to know that wasn't told, is exactly how he became a Dark-Hunter and what his act of vengeance was. Typically, it seems that the Dark-Hunters were warriors in their human life, but Zarek was a lowly slave. This left me wondering why Artemis decided to grant him immortality, but this part of his backstory was never explored. Otherwise, Zarek was a wonderful character who has become one of my favorite heroes.
I knew after reading about Zarek in Night Embrace that he would need a strong, patient heroine to help him overcome his past, and in my opinion, Ms. Kenyon wrote the perfect mate for him. Astrid is very intuitive and understanding of Zarek, instinctively knowing that he isn't the bad person everyone thinks him to be. I loved that she never took his barbs and sarcasm personally, but realized it was just part of the armor he used to protect that most fragile piece of himself, his heart. This was wonderful, because it meant that there were no silly misunderstandings between them. She also exhibited some bravery in staying by Zarek's side to keep him from being killed by the gods, even though by doing so, she was endangering her own life. Additionally, she showed determination by not giving up on finding out the truth about what happened to Zarek's village, which nearly everyone thought he was responsible for decimating 900 years ago. Overall, she was just a warm, kind, gentle and loving heroine who was exactly the kind of woman Zarek needed in his life.
Dance with the Devil had a fairly broad secondary character palette. Acheron and Artemis returned from previous books, and readers get to know Ash even better. Ash played a strong role in this book, and the depth that was added to his character made him all the more lovable, but still an enigma that leaves me wondering exactly who and what he is. Acheron's little demon companion, Simi, is introduced in this book, and she is mostly cute and endearing, although I will admit that she talks a little too much for my taste. She is a child-like creature who has stream of consciousness dialog, basically no filter between her brain and her mouth, but her heart is definitely in the right place. There are a number of other new characters who were introduced in Dance with the Devil as well including Jess aka Sundown who is Zarek's friend and the first cowboy Dark-Hunter (his book Redemption is forthcoming); Sasha, Astrid's Katagari (Were-Hunter) wolf companion; Syra, the first female Dark-Hunter to grace the series; Spawn, the first Apollite Dark-Hunter, and M'Adoc, a Dream-Hunter. There was also a brief mention of D'Alerian, another Dream-Hunter who appeared in Night Pleasures, and several assorted squires. Some of these characters were quite intriguing, but unfortunately, I'm not aware of any of them appearing in their own books as of yet.
While I did enjoy Dance with the Devil a lot, especially when compared with some of the previous books in the series, it wasn't absolutely perfect for me. The author seems to have a habit of throwing supernatural powers into the story for the sake of convenience, and Dance with the Devil unfortunately was no exception. It just wasn't as pronounced in this book as in past ones which made it more palatable. I was also able to take it a little bit better because there were no human characters who were being afforded these powers either. Ms. Kenyon also seems to enjoy creating lots of new characters, as is evidenced above, which usually means new mythology as well, but again unlike previous books, she managed to weave most of these elements in without bringing the story to a screeching halt to do it, which I greatly appreciated. The last thing that was a little bothersome to me was the ending. There was certainly some excitement in the climax, but things just seemed to peter out a little too quickly. Maybe it was because the bad guy wasn't quite as bad as he seemed, so I didn't get the satisfaction of his comeuppance. Also, the final romantic scenes between Zarek and Astrid, while quite happy, seemed to be a little lacking and I felt they needed a bit more zing to them. Overall though, my complaints are pretty minor and didn't detract much from my overall enjoyment of the novel. Dance with the Devil still managed to earn a place on my keeper shelf and has definitely reinvigorated my interest in the Dark-Hunter series which I now look forward to continuing in the future. There are currently a total of 19 full-length novels in the Dark-Hunter series and quite a number of related novellas and graphic novels as well, with more still to come. A complete list of all the books and their recommended reading order can be found on Sherrilyn Kenyon's website.
Note: Ms. Kenyon changed the ordering and organization of her Dark-Hunter series twice in 2009. We will endeavor to keep up with any future changes as well, but readers are advised to check her website for the most up-to-date information on the series.
A Dark-Hunter Christmas - A short 16-page bonus novella that can be found in the back of first editions of Dance with the Devil.
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