Beatrix Lisse is a vampire who is over seven hundred years old. Centuries ago, she allowed herself to loose control when her bloodlust intermingled with sexual desire to create an insatiable hunger within her. She killed indiscriminately until one day, something inside her snapped, and her conscience would no longer allow her to continue living her life that way. For the last six hundred years, Beatrix has remained celibate, and takes only what blood she needs to survive, but her existence has become one of boredom and apathy. The repetitions of her immortal life have left her feeling like she is about to go mad. Beatrix is nearly ready to retire to the vampire monastery in the Carpathian mountains to live out her days in quiet contemplation until a man comes into her life who intrigues her like none has done in a very long time.
John Staunton, the Earl of Langley, is a spy for his country. After having his heart broken twice as a tender youth, he became hardened to the world around him. Feeling like he had nothing to loose, he now risks life and limb regularly to help England in the war against Napoleon. He casually accepts an invitation to Beatrix's drawing room, where she entertains many men of the ton. Believing her to be an infamous courtesan, John doesn't expect much, but the woman he meets surprises him with her intelligence, culture, and wit. Something about her speaks to him like no other woman ever has. Before he has time to get to know her, he must leave on a mission, but throughout his ordeal, memories of her sustain him. When John returns, they finally succumb to their passion, but the information he discovered leads him into another mission fraught with even more danger than he could have imagined. John learns of the existence of vampires and becomes the prisoner of Beatrix's evil "sister" who will stop at nothing to find out all the secrets he knows. Will Beatrix be able to find and rescue him in time, and if she does, can he ever accept her for what she is after his horrific ordeal at the hands of one of her own kind?
The Hunger was another wonderful read in the Companion series. Now that I've read and loved three stories from this series, I'm even more baffled as to why it doesn't get higher ratings and why I don't hear more about this talented author. Ms. Squires deftly combines an intense plot with well-drawn characters and an emotional romance. She is also good at setting a scene with her descriptive narration and even throws in real historical figures as background characters and weaves historical facts seamlessly into the plot. Everything just came together to create yet another story of hers that will be going on my keeper shelf.
Beatrix is a vampire who is over seven hundred years old. She is a rare vampire who was born rather than being made, which is something I'd like to know more about and hope the author explores further in future books of the series. She never knew her father and her mother was very distant while she was growing up, eventually abandoning her at the age of fourteen, about the time that born vampires transition. With no one to guide her through that formative period, Beatrix became animalistic, killing indiscriminately to survive, until Stephan Sincai came along and taught her another way to live. Stephan was an excellent mentor, and Beatrix fell in love with him for his kind and gentle ways. They eventually became lovers, but he ended up hurting Beatrix, causing her to run away with her "sister" Asharti. Following in the conscienceless Asharti's footsteps, Beatrix returned to her more bestial self, allowing her bloodlust and sexual desire to intermingle into an insatiable hunger. For a century, she repeatedly broke the vampire rules until something inside her snapped. She realized what she was doing was wrong and that she couldn't live that way any longer. For the past six hundred years, she has fashioned a well-honed persona as a much-sought-after courtesan. This supplies her with the blood she needs to survive, but she has remained celibate, believing that if she allows herself to experience sexual pleasure, she will lose control again. Beatrix takes only what she needs and leaves her "donors" alive with pleasant memories of ecstatic love-making, which only adds to her allure. Despite being adored by men, she feels very much alone in the world and has become apathetic about life. Lately, nightmares and memories of her past with Stephan and Asharti doggedly haunt her too until she can neither sleep nor eat and feels like she might go mad. Then the intriguing John Staunton comes into her life. She knows she shouldn't get too close and should treat him like all her other paramours, but something about John sparks her interest in a way she hasn't felt for a very long time. When John leaves on a spy mission, she thinks he's thrown her over for a mere prize fight, but she still misses him deeply. John is like a light to her darkened soul. When he returns, she cannot resist him, but their happiness is short-lived, as John must immediately go on another mission even more dangerous than the first. Beatrix was incredibly intelligent to figure out that John was a spy and then investigate, following the trail of breadcrumbs to figure out where he was, as well as very brave to go after him. I greatly enjoyed having a role reversal in which the heroine saves her hero from the clutches of the evil villain, but he does get the opportunity to pay her back.
John had his tender heart broken years ago, when he was just a callow youth, by two women, one of whom merely used him for sex. This relationship ended up being humiliatingly scandalous. As a result, he became promiscuous for a time but now has no enthusiasm for sexual encounters even though he has carefully cultivated a rakish reputation as a cover for his spy activities. In part because of his past, John felt he had nothing to lose and so became a volunteer spy for his country, risking life and limb. With all the appalling things he's experienced as both a spy and in his personal life, John has become cynical and jaded and disdains women, but when he meets Beatrix, something about her makes him believe that she might be different from the other women he's known. Throughout the ordeal of his first mission on the prison hulk, thoughts of Beatrix are what kept him going, even though he didn't think anything would ever come of their relationship. And yet, when he finally escaped, he was compelled by his heart to risk her rejection and finally complete his previous engagement with her. It doesn't entirely go as planned though, so he leaves on the second leg of his mission with another wounded heart. John goes after Asharti, not knowing that she is a powerful vampire, and ends up as her prisoner, suffering unspeakable horrors at her hand, which are not for the faint of heart. Even though he believes that Beatrix no longer cares about him, his memories and fantasies of her, again, are what keep him sane throughout his ordeal, but unfortunately, even after being rescued, there are more challenges for him to face before he can find true happiness. John was yet another hero in this series who is a deeply tortured soul.
Together, Beatrix and John make the perfect couple. Over the years, both have become soul wearied to the point that nothing excites them anymore. Each of them recognizes that the other is keeping secrets and that intrigues them, stirring their interest into wanting to uncover those secrets and learn more about each other. In the beginning, these two engage in a stimulating battle of wits and wills, resulting in an exquisite dance of intellectual seduction. Both Beatrix and John are perceptive enough to read between the lines and understand things that were never said in so many words. It's like they intuitively know what the other is thinking or feeling. Their communication goes far beyond mere words to encompass looks, touches, shared interests, and even actions. Unfortunately, due to both of them carrying deep wounds from betrayal and abandonment by those they loved, they, at one point, unintentionally hurt each other with their words and deeds, when all they were really doing was engaging in subconscious self-preservation. Yet, their actions in risking their lives to save each other spoke volumes as to their love. Beatrix and John were quite simply made for each other and share a rare and beautiful connection of body, mind and soul.
Every good villain has a good backstory, and it is in this book that we learn Asharti's. All the new information that was added to her character here is very intriguing. She's not merely the villainous vampire queen we first met in The Companion. Prior to being made vampire, she lived in the Middle East during the Middle Ages. She was very much a product of the time in which she was born and the fact that she was a woman on the wrong side in the Crusades. She witnessed many atrocities perpetrated against her people and was herself abused. As a result, when she became vampire, she vowed she would always be in control and never let anyone do things like that to her again. In many ways, her beginnings shaped the person she has become, although there may have been some natural underlying tendencies toward evil that were there all along and were awakened by her experiences. Instead of trying to heal and move on from all she suffered, Asharti became embittered and vengeful. She no longer feels empathy for anyone, and is a classic case of an abused person becoming the abuser.
Stephan is a fascinating character too. He is a very powerful and very old vampire, possibly thousands of years. In an effort to prove to the vampire council that born and made vampires are equal and that made vampires shouldn't be killed, especially if they were turned against their will, he mentored both Beatrix and Asharti. He tried to teach them how live by the vampire rules and that they didn't have to kill in order to survive. However, some of the things he did in his efforts to prove his point ended up breaking Bea's heart badly. Stephan is definitely one of the good guys, but his good intentions with Beatrix and Asharti went horribly awry. As a result, it appears he has been torturing himself for his responsibility in what they became, and I don't think he has ever quite stopped loving Beatrix either. I'll be quite interested to see him get his HEA ending in the next book, The Burning.
Even though The Hunger was written and published after The Companion, the events in the story predate it chronologically. Some readers may not find the ending of the book entirely satisfactory, but knowing that the story occurred before The Companion, I wasn't overly bothered by it. I already knew that Asharti would live to terrorize another day, and it does explain how she came to be in the Sahara Desert in that book. Overall, I thought this was a great read. I love how Susan Squires challenges me as a reader. Her prose is very rich, dense and intelligently written, more so than I typically see in romance, which is perhaps the reason her books don't get higher ratings. I sometimes find myself reading her books a bit slower than I usually do just to pick up on all the nuances of her writing style. She has obviously researched her time period and settings quite well too, occasionally even throwing in a little period vernacular, all elements that I can appreciate. I've really fallen in love with Ms. Squires writing style and can't wait to continue the series.
Note: The sensual scenes between the hero and heroine are only moderately steamy, but I've given the book a higher overall sensuality rating due to Beatrix's flashbacks of her time with Asharti. During those years, she engaged in some pretty racy Bacchanalian pleasures that are somewhat explicitly described but tastefully so, in my opinion. There is also a brief discussion of a character having engaged in an incestuous relationship. Sensitive readers should be forewarned that there are some explicit scenes of physical and sexual violence as well.
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