Marguerite Goudeau was a friend and study partner to Dark-Hunter squire, Nick Gautier. Nick's free-spirited personality was one of the reasons she had always liked him so much. As the daughter of a U.S. Senator, Maggie's life has always been carefully orchestrated by her father, and she is tired of living by his rules. She longs to break out and be herself. Nick has been missing and presumed dead for a while, so Maggie and her other study partners decide to say goodbye to their friend by sharing a drink at one of his favorite hang-outs, Sanctuary. This rough biker bar is way out of their comfort zone for Maggie's snobbish companions, but she finds herself rather intrigued by the place, and especially by the quiet and dangerous-looking busboy who seems to keep staring at her from across the room.
Wren Tigarian is a leopard-tiger hybrid Were-Hunter who has been despised as an outcast all of his life. Even his parents rejected him. When they were murdered twenty years ago, a mysterious stranger brought Wren to Sanctuary where he has lived for the better part of his life, earning his keep by busing tables. None of the other Weres at Sanctuary really trust him, and his only companion is a spider-monkey named Marvin. Wren virtually never talks to anyone, but when he spots Maggie, he cannot seem to resist the urge to speak to her. In response to his efforts, her friends begin to harass him, causing him to nearly catastrophically loose control of his animal side. Unlike her friends, Maggie is kind and gentle toward Wren, so when he senses she is in danger after she leaves, he once again can't resist the pull to help her. Slowly, they begin to build a bond based in friendship and love, but Wren is certain that Maggie would be scared away if she knew what he really was. Not to mention, a relationship between a Katagaria tigard and a human would be impossible anyway. There is also some foul play afoot in the Were-Hunter world when other Weres, believing Wren both a murderer and mad, put out a hit on him. Although it would likely place her life in mortal danger as well, Wren may have no choice but to trust Maggie with his secrets in order to survive.
In a series that has been rather hit and miss with me, Unleash the Night was definitely one of the better Dark-Hunter installments, but still didn't quite make it to the front of the pack. I fell for the hero, Wren, from the moment he first appeared (in fact, I'd already been intrigued by him from his brief appearances in past books), and Maggie was a really sweet wonderful heroine too. The first half of the book really sucked me in and kept me reading as Wren and Maggie's relationship developed and I learned more about Wren's backstory. Unfortunately, the story began to falter a bit for me around the halfway point right after Maggie finds out the truth about Wren. Then it felt like their romance kind of got put on the back burner as they try to prove Wren's innocence in the murder of his parents twenty years earlier, which involved some semi-confusing time travel and action sequences. Once they went back in time, Wren and Maggie and their romantic interactions started to loose some luster for me. After giving it some thought, I believe this was owing to them overcoming their problems a little too easily. There never was a great deal of conflict in their relationship to begin with. The only thing really keeping them apart was the fact that he was a Were-Hunter and she was a human. This issue was magically solved in an instant and in a way that I cannot reveal without giving away spoilers, but suffice it say that I had a hard time buying into the ease with which Maggie was able to accept and master these changes. Also, I felt like the character development suddenly came to a halt. The couple previously had been quite fascinating with their flaws, particularly Wren, and then almost instantaneously everything was all wine and roses as they discovered an immediate newfound confidence in themselves and Wren found out that some things he had previously believed weren't true. These rapid turnarounds just left the characters and the remainder of their story rather prosaic in comparison to the promise shown in the first half.
Wren was a hero who was very easy to love. It was apparent right from the beginning that he was a tortured and misunderstood soul who was desperately in need of some lovin'. Because of being an animal hybrid, Wren was rejected by his parents, particularly his mother, and then had to deal with their murders. He grew up almost completely alone except for Marvin, his monkey companion. Even at Sanctuary, where he was supposed to be protected, Wren was still an outcast, mistrusted for being different. He hid behind a temperamental nature which caused him to often lash out at others, but inside he was gentle and vulnerable. When Maggie comes along, she speaks to that part of him and tames him with her kindness. I love how he can be so sweet and thoughtful in spite of his innate animal nature, and how he can in turn kiss Maggie both tenderly and fiercely. Wren is also a virgin, one of my favorite kinds of romance heroes, but here his inexperience is treated somewhat differently. Most virgin heroes I've encountered are a little unsure of themselves, and while Wren was to some small degree, his animal instincts simply took over making him an almost unbelievably fabulous lover right from the start which left me with somewhat mixed feelings.
Maggie was a sweet heroine who was also very likable. She was struggling with having a U.S. Senator for a father and him basically running her life. She feels stuck in a rut with friends she barely even likes and no real romantic prospects, as most guys see her as more of a good friend than a girlfriend. Wren makes her feel so much more than that, and completely desirable as a woman. She was the one gracious person in the midst of her snobbish friends, and I loved how she defended Wren when they decided to taunt him. I also liked that she was very level-headed and intelligent, simply calming herself and putting the pieces of the puzzle together the first time she saw Wren shift. I also greatly respected her for being willing to trust and help Wren even when she knew that he was in terrible danger which would likely put her in danger as well. Maggie was just an all-around nice girl.
One thing that I greatly missed in Unleash the Night was Acheron. He is essentially replaced in this story by Savitar, who is Acheron's equivalent in the world of the Were-Hunters. He is another equally mysterious and omnipotent character who was newly introduced in the last book of the Dark-Hunter series, Sins of the Night. Ash is one of those larger than life characters who runs away with virtually every scene he's in, and never fails to spice up the narrative in some way. I also fell for him the very first time I ever read anything about him, and always look forward to seeing him again. By comparison, Savitar was just OK. He simply didn't capture my imagination in the same way that Ash does, and seemed a little too arrogant and dismissive for my taste. I will admit that there appears to be some potential for building an interesting character in Savitar, so I will try to reserve judgment until I've seen more of him. In the immediate though, he just couldn't fill Ash's shoes for me, and at the moment, I have a hard time seeing myself waiting patiently through many more Dark-Hunter books while waiting for his story like I've done (and am still doing) with Ash.
As far as other supporting players, I did appreciate Sherrilyn Kenyon's usage of a number of previous characters instead of resorting to her penchant for creating dozens of new ones. She even took the time to reveal some new and interesting facts about some of them. Bill Laurens put in what was probably his biggest appearance to date and we get to learn more about his involvement with the Dark-Hunters and Were-Hunters. We also really get to know Mama and Papa Peltier, Nicollette and Aubert, and especially get to see what Mama Bear is truly like, which I have to say surprised me a bit. I'm not quite sure that I like the direction her character took, because it seemed to contradict my previous impressions of her. Aimee and Fang (Bad Moon Rising) are in the beginning stages of their "impossible" love, and I'll be interested to see how that resolves. Both Wren and Maggie were friends with Nick which I thought was neat. He has one brief scene at the end of the book, but is still essentially in hiding after the events of Seize the Night. Other past and future characters with their own stories who also put in appearances in Unleash the Night include: Julian (Fantasy Lover), Kyrian (Night Pleasures), Vane (Night Play), Fury (Shadow of the Moon from Dead After Dark), Dante (Winter Born from Stroke of Midnight), Sebastian (Dragonswan), and Dev (No Mercy).
Even though I thought that the plot could have been a little better developed to hold onto some of the edginess of the characters and complexities of their relationship, at the same time I generally enjoyed both Wren and Maggie and their story. It would have simply been impossible not to love them in my opinion. I'm not sure if all editions of Unleash the Night have it, but my copy features the first Dark-Hunter glossary I've seen in the back. I actually found it to be helpful in refreshing my memory on various characters and their abilities as well as general terms, and will probably reference it often in the future. Unleash the Night is book #8 in the Dark-Hunter series. There are currently a total of 19 full-length novels in the series and quite a number of related novellas and graphic novels as well, with more still to come (#20 is due for release in Aug. 2011). A complete list of all the books and their recommended reading order can be found on Sherrilyn Kenyon's website.
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