Kate Malone can recall little of her childhood before waking up on a trash heap at the tender age of six. She grew up as a street urchin, and as a teen, she was taken in by a man who claimed to be her father, but most likely was not. He taught her to be a con artist, and now that he is gone, she makes her living fleecing the rich aristocracy by reading their fortunes. All she wants is to retire to a quiet village in the English countryside, where people won't stare at her disfiguring scars every day, but to do so, she will need a lot of money. Kate picks the pocket of a man who emanates strange, ethereal vibrations, and discovers the treasure she captured is a huge emerald. She thinks it might finally be the key to getting what she's longed for, but when another gorgeous man with vibrations similar to the first shows up in her rooms just before they're set ablaze, she fears her dream may be lost.
Gian Urbano is a vampire who has vowed to find the mystical emerald that can drain a vampire of his power and return it to the Elders, but he didn't expect to discover it in the possession of a woman like Kate. Every other human who has gazed into its beauty has gone mad, but for reasons unknown, it doesn't seem to affect her in the same way. After living for centuries, Gian feels as though he has seen and done it all and, as a result, he is so weary of life that he has become impotent. Gian is a lover of legend, who never leaves a lady unsatisfied, but he has never found a woman who inspires the kind of love and devotion in him that his parents shared. When Kate comes into his life, she stirs emotions within him that he's never truly felt for any woman before, but there are dark forces at work who will stop at nothing to get the emerald away from them. Soon Gian and Kate find themselves embroiled in an adventure they didn't choose and traveling vast distances to the windswept deserts of North Africa to return the gem to its true home before it can destroy the world, while falling madly in love with one another in the process.
One with the Shadows was a pretty good story, but it didn't resonate with me quite as deeply as the other books in the Companion series so far. For readers who found the earlier books in the series to be too heavy with rape and abuse themes, this one is an easier read. There is only one scene of this nature in the entire book as opposed to it being almost continual in the previous books. However, I didn't feel like the characters were developed quite as well as they were in the other stories. Susan Squires has always had a somewhat languid pace to her books, but I found the first several chapters of One with the Shadows to be slower than usual. A lot of this was owing to me wanting to know more about the hero who seemed quite intriguing, but we don't get his POV until chapter 7. Even then, it started out with pretty minimal information that didn't really draw me in at first. Once the POVs evened out, the pacing was more what I expect from this author, but I still saw a few missed opportunities for better reader engagement.
Kate is a fortune-teller, who basically bilks the wealthy out of their money by giving them the psychic readings she thinks they want to hear. Despite her profession, Kate is a very sympathetic character. There are a couple of flashbacks to her childhood which were very sad. She was abandoned at the age of six and has no memory of the time before she awoke on a trash heap. From there, she lived on the streets of London, Oliver Twist-style, and learned very quickly how to pick pockets and break into houses. Eventually, Kate ended up in an orphanage, but as a teen, she was taken in by Matthew, a man who claimed to be her father, but who merely used her to make money by telling fortunes and occasionally servicing their male clients in other ways as well. When one of those clients was about to make Kate his permanent mistress, Matthew had her deliberately attacked and her face permanently scarred, so he wouldn't lose his only source of income. Kate is very self-conscious of her scars, but I thought perhaps the author could have done a little better job of conveying how profoundly her disfigurement affected her life. It never really went much beyond her simply thinking that no one could love her and doubting Gian's motives because of the scars. A few people along the way thought she was cursed or marked by the devil, something that she's learned to live with, but overall, I didn't get a strong sense of how it affected her emotionally. Kate's background does come in quite handy on multiple occasions as she saves Gian's life, and the pair embark on a mission to return some very unusual gems to their home in the desert of North Africa. During these times, she is very brave and courageous, doing what she must to help the man she loves. She was also surprisingly unfazed by the revelation that he's a vampire. In fact, she was smart enough to figure out a lot on her own before he even admitted it. Despite having many positive qualities, I thought Kate's characterization still could have been a bit better. There are some things about Kate's past that aren't revealed until near the end of the book, which I think would have helped build her character more if they'd been woven in a little sooner. Much like with the scarring, I detected a couple of other instances where the author does more telling about Kate's issues rather than showing the impact they had on her life. Otherwise, Kate was a pretty admirable and likable character.
From the beginning, Gian is a darkly seductive hero. He's loved and admired for his handsome features by every woman with whom he comes in contact, and is basically the vampire version of Casanova. He's taken numerous lovers over his incredibly long life-span, but after watching his parents marriage end in tragedy, he's never allowed himself to truly fall in love. Gian is an honorable man who is very committed to anything he sets his mind to do. His current mission involves finding a mystical emerald and returning it to the vampire enclave of Mirso Monastery. Gian experiences the ennui that seems common to many of the vampires in this series (in fact, his has gotten so bad, he's become impotent), so once his mission is over, he isn't certain what he wants to do with his life. He's considering the possibility of taking the vow and staying at Mirso permanently until Kate comes into his life, giving him renewed purpose. I love that Gian never really sees Kate's scars, but instead, looks past them to the woman she is inside. Even though he's the perfect specimen of masculinity, he never thinks of her as damaged or ugly, only beautiful despite her disfigurement. Gian definitely lived up to his Casanova-like persona by being a tender and thoughtful lover who thinks only of her pleasure. However, much like Kate, I saw a couple of missed opportunities to deepen his characterization. First, he seems rather tortured by his time fighting the vampire war to conquer Asharti's army in Algiers, but we don't get much background information about this. Unlike with the other heroes in the series who had frequent flashbacks to their tortured pasts, Gian's is more of a distant memory that haunts him occasionally, rather than something that consumes him from an emotional standpoint. The other intriguing thing about him is that he has the unusual ability to produce spontaneous combustion when someone makes him angry. He is said to be a firebrand, the first time I believe that term has been used in this series, but little explanation is given for why he's able to do this. I really wanted to know more about this oddity.
Gian and Kate's relationship development had some weaknesses as well. Shortly after meeting, they take a lengthy carriage ride together, during which they share some conversation, but for some reason, it didn't spark as much of a connection as I would have hoped. Not long after arriving at their destination, they share their first love scene. I couldn't help wishing there had been a little more build-up leading up to it. In general, Gian and Kate seem to essentially hold each other at arms length. Kate believes no man could love her because of her scars; Gian believes no woman can love him because they would think him a monster if he revealed the truth about himself. Kate also believes that Gian is a love-them-and-leave-them kind of guy and that he will soon abandon her just like her parents did. While I understood their vulnerabilities, there were times when both seemed a little belabored and I just wanted them to have a good conversation about it and move forward. They don't end up declaring their love until the last ten pages or so, and even then, it's a rather tentative sharing of feelings. It just wasn't quite enough to fully convince me that they were ready to make a commitment to spend eternity together. Therefore, I found the romance in this book to be somewhat weaker than in the other books of the series, but I will say that, as always, the author has created some delectably sensual love scenes which are in themselves a way for Gian and Kate to express their feelings for one another. This is one area in which Susan Squires really excels in her writing.
Being the fifth book in the Companion series, One with the Shadows does contain a few common characters with other books in the series. The villainess is the vampire, Elyta, who was first introduced in the previous book, One with the Night. She is basically taking over the role from Asharti, whom she apparently mentored, so it isn't too surprising that she spends most of her time sexually dominating and torturing men, while plotting to take over the world. However, she doesn't show her teeth quite as prominently in this book as in the last one. Gian and Kate visit briefly with Ian and Elizabeth (The Companion), who help them prepare for their journey into the desert. Finally, Gian's mother, Donnatella, a beautiful contessa, adores her son and would do anything for him, but she herself has been nursing a broken heart for centuries. She believed in the rules of the Elders and made the grave mistake of not turning the one true love of her life into a vampire when she had the chance. Now it looks like she'll have the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past by traveling back in time in her own book, One with the Darkness, the next in the series.
Despite having a few flaws, One with the Shadows was still a good read overall. Another area in which Susan Squires excels is her research. As a reader and fellow writer, I can tell that she has either personally visited many of the places she writes about or has done very extensive research. Her attention to detail in both her historical and environmental descriptions is superb. She always chooses unusual settings for her stories, and I appreciate the variety. I felt like I was being transported to another time and place. I also liked the way that she wove the vampires into real historical events, making their appearance there plausible. All in all, I enjoyed reading One with the Shadows even if it wasn't quite as strong as some of the other stories in the series. I'm definitely intrigued with the possibility of Donnatella time traveling to Ancient Rome, so I'll be looking forward to reading her book soon.
Note: Sensitive readers should know that this book contains one fairly graphic scene of the hero being raped and tortured by a powerful female vampire.
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