Morgan Duma has just returned to her beloved home country of Hungary after spending four years abroad. Her parents had sent her to England to keep her safe during WWI, but she is happy to be back and anticipating getting a job as a nurse at the hospital. She is surprised to run into her old childhood friend Adam Varga at the train station. Morgan has always sensed a special connection to Adam. He shares the same unusual eyes that she and their fathers have. Almost from the first moment she sees Adam again, Morgan feels more than mere friendship for him.
Adam Varga is an architect who is eagerly looking forward to helping rebuild his country now that the war is over. He is thrilled to reconnect with Morgan and finds his long-standing attraction to her immediately renewed. Following a mysterious fire in her parent's bookstore, Morgan and Adam discover their fathers' true natures, that of the wolf. Adam is accepting of his new heritage, but Morgan is more reticent. Their differing thoughts on the matter cause a rift in their newly budding romance which allows the handsome Zoltan Kristos an entrance into Morgan's life. Zoltan thought never to find a woman who shares his wolf eyes, and thinks Morgan would make the perfect mate for him. But to what lengths would he go to make Morgan his?
I typically never read series books out of order, but in the interest of providing a timely review for the author's latest release, I made an exception and skipped straight to Danube in Candlelight without any prior knowledge of the Budapest Moon series. Ms. Burkhart had assured me that the books could be read as stand-alones, and true to her word, I never felt lost at any point in the story. However, I do believe that reading in order would enhance the overall experience, as Morgan and Adam's parents who play prominent secondary roles in Danube in Candlelight were the heroes and heroines of the first two books. Although not necessary to understanding the present story, it might have been nice to know a little more about their backgrounds and the fathers' apparent past feud over a woman. They are friends now, but that doesn't appear to have always been the case. In fact, I felt this book was almost as much a family drama as it was a romance, because the parents' stories continued to progress while the next generation steps in to move the overall story arc forward. I did wonder if Adam and Morgan were possibly introduced in the previous books as they already have an established relationship when the book begins, but since it takes place about twenty years into the future, I would guess it's rather unlikely.
I certainly appreciated the uniqueness of the setting. Historical romances that take place in eastern Europe and/or during the early twentieth century are few and far between. Danube in Candlelight is set in post-WWI Hungary primarily in the city of Budapest as the country recovers and rebuilds following the war. As an architect, Adam gets to play a strong role in those efforts. Budapest is a city rich in culture, and I could tell right away that Ms. Burkhart must have been drawing on her first-hand knowledge of the area. She includes many references to people, places and other cultural icons particular to the place and time. At least a couple of real life personages pop up as secondary characters as well: Miklos Horthy who was the prince regent, and silent film actress, Vilma Banky, who is famous for starring opposite Rudolph Valentino in a couple of movies. Although, I might have liked to see a bit more descriptive prose detailing the setting, all the little realistic tidbits helped to give the story a more authentic feel.
Adam and Morgan have been friends since childhood, but begin the story reuniting after a four-year separation due to the war. Normally I love the friends to lovers trope, but they and their relationship didn't quite come to life for me in the way I would have liked. To me, it felt like they went from being friends separated by time and distance to being attracted to one another romantically a little too quickly. This is where I began to wonder if there might have been some previous set-up for their story. I just didn't feel like I had enough basis for their attraction, and thought that a little more background on their past interactions, or a stronger reestablishment of their relationship, would have been helpful. Then they spent a large part of the story separated by personal conflicts that seemed a little weak to me. It's not that the reasons didn't make sense on some level (when Morgan first learns that she is part wolf, she has trouble coming to terms with that, and then later, Adam kept a crucial piece of information from her that led to a major change for her), but there just wasn't as much depth to the conflict as I would have liked. The fact that they were apart so much, in my opinion, kept their romance from really blossoming. I did, however, enjoy their love scenes. They aren't particularly long or descriptive, but I thought they were sweet and heartfelt with just a little spice. Adam and Morgan were nice characters whose love for their country and families showed through. I did find them to be quite likable, but overall, they were a little too bland to be stand outs. The story seemed a bit dialog heavy, so perhaps a little more narrative prose and introspection would have helped me feel more connected to the characters.
There were a number of supporting players as well. As I already mentioned, Morgan's parents, Matthias and Katherine (The Hungarian), and Adam's parents, Anton and Amelia (The Count's Lair) have significant roles as do their siblings. Morgan's sister, Emily, who I suspect was seen as a young girl in The Hungarian, and Adam's best friend, Max, have their own romance brewing in the background, but we don't really get to see the building of their relationship as it mostly takes place off canvas. There aren't truly any bad guys in the story. The supposed "villain," Zoltan Kristos, deep down, is just a misunderstood werewolf who hasn't had the support system to help him deal with his condition like Matthias and Anton had when they were turned. He develops an attraction for Adam's younger sister, Sophia, an aspiring actress, and I suspect these two may become the hero and heroine of the next book, The Secret Door, due for release in late 2012. At the very least, they've been neatly set up for their own story.
Overall, Danube in Candlelight was a pleasant, easy read. Ms. Burkhart has created an interesting world with a mythology that is a little different than any other werewolf stories I've read to date, and the historical settings make them more intriguing to me than many contemporary paranormal stories. This book didn't take me through the relationship highs and lows like I usually prefer in my romance novels, but nonetheless, it was a reasonably satisfying read with relatable characters that has left me agreeable to backtracking to learn more about Matthias, Katherine, Anton, and Amelia, and in all probability moving forward when the new book comes out next year.
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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