Since I finished this book, I've been wracking my brain, trying to put my finger on what keeps this series from reaching its potential for me. And I think I've finally come up with the answer. It feels like a YA book. Yes, I know the heroine is 28, but I stand by this and I'll tell you why. She doesn't really act her age. Chalice has lived most of her life enslaved to an organization of dark magic. She only became free at the end of the last book and really, this series is her journey of self-discovery. She is learning about who and what she is. She is learning about her parents and how her family fits into her world. She is falling in love for the first time. And she is surrounded by a bunch of young women, also just coming into their powers and learning their place in the world.
As the story begins, Chalice is planning to meet her "sisters" in the Order of the Hatchet. But just as she is on her way, many of them are mysteriously slaughtered. She travels to her grandmother's home to meet the woman and some of her surviving sisters in training. Though she is looking for connections, she finds a lot of jealousy and immature cattiness from the other girls. (It was unnecessary and felt like high school, by the way.) Chalice quickly solves the mystery of who is behind the murders and spends the rest of the book trying to save the day.
In the meantime, she is also working to turn her love interest, Aydin, back into his human form. (He became a gargoyle at the end of the last book.) While she had affection for him before, that has now morphed into love. The growing relationship between Chalice and Aydin was very subtle in the last book and I was happy that it looked like it was going to take a bigger role here. Until I got to the first love scene, which was so vague, I had to read it three times to determine whether they actually had sex. I'm pretty sure they did. But you can be the judge. At this point in the story, Aydin is still a gargoyle and can only visit Chalice in dream form:
His body appeared hazy, like a blurred rendition of his former self, yet I could sense every part of him, smell his skin, taste his lips as he kissed me. I pressed against him and felt the hardness of his body as sensations thrilled my every cell. Dream or not, my body was consumed by passion that melted into me like hot lava.
Aydin filled my mind, which enabled me to get inside his. I found love there, and concern, and hesitation. His need overwhelmed me, yet knowing his feelings were as strong as mine put me at peace.
His arms held me close, his chin pressed against my neck as we lay spooned on the bed. I snuggled against his naked chest and his hold on me tightened as he gently nibbled my ear.
"I wish this was real," I told him. He kissed my hair.
"It is real."
I smiled. "I know, but I mean physically real."
"Felt pretty real to me." He rolled me over onto my back and ran a finger from the hollow of my throat down to my navel. "I still need to get some sleep."
"You are asleep."
I sighed. "You know what I mean. Dream sex is confusing."
"But you enjoyed it."
I reached up to pull his head down close so I could kiss him. "Yes I did. Very much."
Wha?? That was the whole scene. I can't begin to tell you how cheated I felt here. There is one other sex scene in the book, and while it's not very long, at least that one acknowledges the necessary body parts to complete the act. But again, a first love scene like the one above reinforces my whole YA theory. Not what I'm looking for when my hero and heroine finally get together. (I should also point out, there's a minor secondary love interest, as well, but there is no way to take him seriously.)
The world-building is interesting and it's different from a lot of what's out there, so I must give the book credit for that. I can also say it wasn't predictable and I enjoyed the direction that the author took the story. It just didn't strike a great chord with me overall. Maybe it would be a better fit for someone with different expectations. 3 stars.*ARC Provided by NetGalley