Vane Kattalakis is a lone wolf, a Were-Hunter who has no place that he really belongs. Despised by both his mother and father, he never truly had a pack to call his own. Vane's beloved sister, Anya, died. His father tried to have him and his brother, Fang, killed, and Fang barely survived the attack and has been in a coma for eight months. Feeling utterly desolate, Vane goes wandering the streets of New Orleans, and finds himself in front of a boutique window. Inside, is the woman who had completely taken his breath away at just the sight of her months before, and she is crying. Vane had thought he would never see her again, and now that he's found her, the sight of her tears makes him want to kill anyone who would dare to hurt her.
Bride McTierney has always been full-figured, and although her boyfriend kept badgering her about dieting and never truly loved her for herself, she still believed herself in love with him and hoped they would one day marry. That is, until she found our what a jerk he was when he sent a break-up letter via her own Fed Ex account, saying that she just wasn't attractive enough to be seen on the arm of a local celebrity. Bride is feeling pretty low when the most gorgeous man she has ever seen in her life walks into her shop. When he seems attracted to her, and then gifts her with an expensive necklace from her own boutique, Bride thinks she must be dreaming and bursts into tears again at his kindness. Vane gathers her into his arms, thinking only to comfort her, but their powerful attraction leads to a passionate encounter unlike anything either has ever experienced before. Afterward, Vane and Bride reluctantly go their separate ways only to find a strange tattoo appear in the palms of their hands, the mating mark of the Katagaria wolves. Vane has only three weeks to convince this human woman that the supernatural really does exist and woo her into accepting him as her mate, or be doomed to live a life of celibacy. Mercilessly hunted by his enemies, Vane fears for Bride's safety if he gets close to her, but his love for her makes it impossible for him to live without her.
The Dark-Hunter series has had some ups and downs for me, but I have to say that I'm glad that I have continued with it or I would have missed out on some wonderful stories. When Sherrilyn Kenyon is "up", she can write a very good story, and Night Play was definitely an "up" book for me. It had the swoon-worthy romance that I've loved in some of Ms. Kenyon's other books, lots of fun and interesting characters, and a good plot. Night Play picks up the narrative of Were-Hunter Vane Kattalakis right where book #2 of the series, Night Embrace, had left him. Things got off to a steamy start right in chapter one with a hot love scene between Vane and Bride. Normally I'm not fond of the quick hook-up or stranger sex, but this time it worked for me. Ms. Kenyon managed to infuse both characters with a deep vulnerability that made their lovemaking very honest and real even though they had barely met. Vane had also seen and had been thoroughly enthralled by Bride months before in a scene in Night Embrace. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about her ever since, and when he found her again, it was obvious that he desired more than just a one night stand. Both Vane and Bride are completely accepting of one another, flaws and all, right from the start, making them one of the most romantic and perfect-for-each-other couples that I have ever read.
Vane was a hero I won't soon forget who has earned a spot near the top of my favorite heroes list. He is rather typical of Sherrilyn Keyon's heroes in the Dark-Hunter series with his long hair and beautiful physique, but his is the first full-length Were-Hunter story that I've read. Vane is a Katagaria wolf whose animal form is that of the Arctic wolf, one of my favorite breeds. In the scenes where he is in his wolf form, I thought he was rather cute. When he is a human though, which is for most of the story, Vane is a seriously sexy man. He doesn't think that he knows or understands anything about humans, but time and time again, proves that he is more humane than many full-blooded humans. Vane does a very respectable job of comforting and wooing Bride just on instinct alone, and makes a great impression on her by just being himself (albeit initially hiding his wolf side and magical powers). I absolutely love the way he protected and tenderly cared for Bride and made her feel so special, something no man had ever done for her before. Vane sees her not as a full-figured woman, but as one who is beautiful and sexy with lots of soft, luscious curves. He just can't imagine why any man wouldn't find her attractive. Vane is a tortured soul whose own parents not only disowned him but are actually out to kill him. In the past, he has been conditioned to rather violent animalistic matings that were meant to show dominance, and although the animal part of him still wants that, the man in him is completely undone by Bride's gentle touches and easy acceptance of him in both his human and wolf forms. No one except his siblings ever showed Vane any love, and he just basks in the warmth of Bride's affections and cherishes every moment with her. He even showed compassion for an abused and abandoned dog, earning its trust almost instantly, not just because he's part animal himself, but because of his kindness and loyalty. Vane may have been the alpha of his pack, but when it came to his interactions with Bride, Vane behaves more like a sweet beta which is pretty much my idea of perfection in a hero.
As a heroine, Bride was no slouch herself. She had a much healthier upbringing than Vane did, surrounded by a loving, supportive family, with the possible exception of her sister who said some hurtful things to her. However, Bride's plump figure has been the object of many an individual's derision over the years, and she has just had her heart broken by a jerk of an ex who used her to get a glamorous job and then dumped her for not looking good enough to be seen on his arm in public. He also badgered Bride to go on numerous diets over the years that they were dating. Although she doesn't have major self-esteem issues like many women in her position would, Bride understandably is skeptical when the gorgeous Vane comes along, saying how beautiful and perfect she is. Bride is a real sweetheart who is a very loving and giving person. When she found out what Vane really was, she had a very normal human reaction, but still came around pretty quickly, continuing to show him all the gentleness and unconditional love that he deserved. Bride may have been sweet, but she was no pushover. She's a successful business woman who owns her own boutique, and when push came to shove, Bride showed she had the heart of a warrior with plenty of spunk and spirit.
As with all her other Dark-Hunter books, Sherrilyn Kenyon brings in a huge cast of secondary characters. It's fun to be able to visit with characters from past and future books, even if it's just a cameo, and to meet the occasional new character. Vane and Bride both first appeared in Night Embrace, along with Vane's brother, Fang (Bad Moon Rising). Based on the prologue, it looked like there would be an interesting and humorous relationship between the brothers, but Fang sadly ended up spending the rest of the book unconscious. Fury ("Shadow of the Moon" from Dead After Dark), a new Were-Hunter, picked up the slack in that department by being endearingly awkward while still letting it be know that he was viciously lethal. He and Vane had some witty interplay, as did Tabitha (Seize the Night) and her brother-in-law, Kyrian (Night Pleasures). I loved Bride's family, and wish we could have seen more of them. The Thanksgiving dinner scenes at their house were a lot of fun, as were the ones at Sanctuary later. The other members of Vane's family, particularly his mother and father, are essentially the bad guys. I liked the creative punishment that the author came up with for them. Other Dark-Hunter characters who put in an appearance: The Peletier Bear Clan including Aimee (Bad Moon Rising) & Dev (No Mercy); Wren (Unleash the Night) with his first ever actual lines; Julian & Grace (Fantasy Lover); Amanda (Night Pleasures); Valerius (Seize the Night) with a bit more depth being added to his character; the squires Nick, Liz, and Otto, and Ash's little demon, Simi, all as wacky as ever; and last but not least Acheron himself (Acheron). As always, Ash nearly walks away with every scene that he's in while also being totally scrumptious and swoon-worthy. If he's this good as a mere supporting character, I can only imagine what he'll be like in his own book. I can't wait.;-)
There were a few of Ms. Keyon's writing traits that I usually find a bit annoying that did surface in Night Play such as her tendency to bring the flow of the story to a screeching halt in order to explain some new bit of mythology. She also can sometimes be a little repetitive. I realize that she reiterates certain details from book to book to assist readers who may have picked up a book in the middle of the series to get up to speed, but occasionally she unnecessarily repeats herself within the same book. There were also a few moments where she adapted the world to fit the plot rather than the other way around which I usually don't care for. Overall though, most of these things were relatively minor this time around. In fact, I have to give Ms. Kenyon kudos for building on existing mythology and utilizing lots of characters who were already on the canvas instead of creating new ones to confuse me. These things and her, for once, not giving the human characters unbelievable superpowers really helped to make the story much more enjoyable for me than some of the others in the series have been. Night Play is book #5 in the Dark-Hunter series. It was filled with sweet, tender romance, had a great hero and heroine that I found to be very relatable, and everything together kept me fully engaged, earning this book a spot on my keeper shelf. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series. 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.
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