Rejected by his entire family, Julian of Macedon basically grew up on the Spartan battlefields, training to become a soldier. In spite of earning status as Athena's greatest general, he led a tragic and unfulfilled life. Then one day, when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, Julian's own half-brother cursed him to live in a book and be a love-slave for all eternity. Julian can only escape his bleak, dark prison when he is summoned by a woman during the full moon. Then, he must spend the next month satisfying her every sexual fantasy, only to disappear back into the book at the next full moon. Since he can derive no pleasure from these encounters himself, other than the relief of being free from the book for a time, Julian lives a lonely and tortured existence. Over the two thousand years that he has been trapped by this curse, he has learned to suppress his emotions and stopped dreaming of escaping long ago. Until one day, he is summoned by a woman who is unlike any other he has ever met.
Grace Alexander is a kind-hearted sex therapist who lives a rather dull and ordinary life. She is also very lonely, still mourning the deaths of her parents in a tragic accident years before. Grace's best friend, Selena, decides to spice up Grace's life by giving her an unusual birthday gift, an antique book that is reputed to have magical powers. Grace doesn't really believe in such things, but at the stroke of midnight by the light of the full moon, she chants Selena's spell anyway, simply to indulge her friend. When nothing happens, the two friends have a good laugh, and Selena heads home. No sooner has she left though, than a bright flash of light fills Grace's house, and afterward a gorgeous naked man is left in it's place. Grace's first inclination is to scream. Then after the initial shock wears off, she seems more interested in feeding and clothing him than anything else. This turn of events is very confusing to Julian who has never really been treated like a human being since his incarceration in the book.
Grace immediately recognizes the man inside the handsome love-slave, and wants nothing more than to help him in any way she can. She herself was once cruelly used for sex, and can relate to Julian's situation. Even though he is very hard to resist, Grace knows it would be wrong of her to use him for her own pleasure. Instead all she wishes for is that Julian could be set free, and when they discover that it may be possible and she may be the key, Grace will do anything for this man even if it means reliving the past and possibly never seeing him again. As Grace and Julian spend more time together, they begin to experience a love deeper and fuller than either had ever dreamed could exist, but they will have to battle the demons of both their pasts, a psycho stalker and half the gods on Mount Olympus to find the happy ending they so richly deserve.
Fantasy Lover is the first full-length novel by Sherrilyn Kenyon that I have read (I had previously only read the first novella in her B.A.D. series), and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. It was completely packed with the heart-stopping romantic scenes I have come to love and expect from romance novels, but so rarely seem to find. Even though the hero and heroine don't actually have sex until the very end of the book, it is loaded with sexual tension and beautifully sensuous scenes all throughout. It was as though Ms. Kenyon could read my mind about what types of scenes I find most romantic and sensuous. While some authors will usually hit the mark for me throughout most of the book, there are usually at least one or more scenes that just don't quite seem to fit or simply aren't my cup of tea. Fantasy Lover though, was near perfection for me. I consider myself to be a very girly girl, and Ms. Kenyon just seems to have a very feminine writing style that I find very appealing. In addition to the romance and sensuality, the author also gave her characters interesting backstories, hence great character development, as well as taking the time to build a strong relationship between them in the present with plenty of communication. What I loved most about Julian and Grace were their willingness to give to one another fully, unselfishly and in equal measure. It really made their falling in love with each other very easy to believe and created a very sweet and loving bond.
I absolutely loved both Julian and Grace. I really can't think of a single thing about either of them that bothered or annoyed me in any way. Julian is a classic tortured hero, the type who is drop dead gorgeous on the outside, yet because of the intense heartache of the past doesn't feel himself worthy of love. It doesn't stop him from slowly opening up to Grace's gentleness though, and eventually rediscovering all the dreams he thought were lost to him forever. I loved that the warrior in Julian was so protective of Grace, vanquishing her demons both physically and emotionally, while the lover in him was so very tender with her. One of my favorite parts of the story is when Julian gives up his most precious possession so that he can give back to Grace her most precious possessions that were cruelly ripped away. Also, as a huge book lover, I really appreciated the great pleasure that Julian took in the simple act of Grace reading to him. Sometimes it is the little things that can really make a character special and memorable for me. Grace was such a sweet, tenderhearted heroine that I found to be very relatable. It was not at all surprising to me that a character like Grace would be in the field of psychology, though I suppose her choice to specialize in the area of sex therapy was perhaps a bit unusual given her own horrible first experience, but not glaringly strange to me. I did like that because of that experience, she was holding out for true love before having sex again. I enjoyed how she used her therapy skills to help Julian overcome the emotional hurts of his past. What I liked most about Grace though was her ability to look deeper than the surface to recognize that Julian was a flesh-and-blood man with feelings and desires of his own, her willingness to help him fulfill his dreams, and her resolve to make that happen. Because of this, Julian thought Grace was the most beautiful woman he had ever known, even though she was rather physically ordinary. Overall these were just two wonderful characters that I won't soon forget.
Ms. Kenyon has a talent for taking subject matter that can be dark and interspersing it with amusing situations or dialog, so that it never feels too heavy. That is not to say that she makes light of serious subjects, but simply that she manages to find humor even in the darkest of circumstances. Whether I was feeling sad about cruelties that had been perpetrated or laughing at a certain character's drollness, I felt an emotional bond with both the characters and the story. When an author can fully engage all of my emotions, I feel that they have done their job well. With a large part of the narrative being steeped in Greek mythology, it also stimulated my intellect a bit, but mostly I found it to be very unique. Many of the secondary characters were drawn straight from the Greek pantheon. This is certainly an element I have never found in a romance novel before. In fact, it has inspired me to try to find time to brush up on my knowledge of Greek mythology. The ending was full of twists and turns that really kept me on my toes. In fact, as I read those last few chapters, I completely lost track of time. I really can't say enough good things about Fantasy Lover. It was just such a wonderful read, I had a hard time putting it down and I really hated to see it come to an end. This is definitely one for my keeper shelf. In fact, it was so good, I have a hard time imagining why it took so long for Ms. Kenyon to find a publisher who was willing to print it.
Fantasy Lover is related to the Dark-Hunter series, a prequel of sorts to the main series. It stands well on it's own, but Julian and Grace make several more appearances throughout the rest of the series. Also, Julian's friend Kyrian, a fellow general in his former life in ancient Macedonia, is mentioned in Fantasy Lover and becomes the hero of Night Pleasures, the first book in the Dark-Hunter series. There are currently a total of 17 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. For a complete listing of all the books and the order in which they should be read, check out Sherrilyn Kenyon's website. Ms Kenyon has a very vivid and fertile imagination and from what I can tell so far, she knows how to create very fun, engaging and extremely enjoyable stories. While it is very unusual for me to give favorite status to an author when I have read so few of their works, I have a feeling that with Sherrilyn Kenyon I simply can't go wrong. I am very anxious to continue both the Dark-Hunter and B.A.D. series, as well as checking out other books she has written. Sherrilyn Kenyon also writes historical romance under the name Kinley MacGregor.
Note: Ms. Kenyon has changed the ordering and organization of her Dark-Hunter series twice this year (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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