In fact, it was weirdly inverted - all the lesbianism, best parts of the plot (as opposed to running around reacting) and depth of world building came in the second half. But the actual story and various fantasy races are quite fun, the action is fast paced, and our female lead is kick ass. This novel comes with two prequel short stories, and I suspect it would have read much better had I read them first. Because not only does it dump you into the Irulan-Valeria friendship without much character building but I spent the first half of the book thinking the author didn't really want to write a real lesbian main character (both of which are addressed in the prequels) and this left me feeling cheated and annoyed. But it does eventually deliver on everything you expected when you first picked it up.
The first third of the book had a decent plot, plenty of action and pretty good characters (though Irulan was a bit washed out). Basically, it was a typical paranormal fantasy romance detective story. Unfortunately, the main character spends most of the time ogling/lusting after/flirting with/making out/ engaging in sexual tension-but-you-totally-know-she'll-make-out-with-the-jerk-eventually with the plethora of amazingly hot guys. In other words, bringing home really hard just why you might want to read look for lesbian fiction in the first place. This was the point where I (didn't) throw the Kindle across the room and put my head in my hands.
The setting is a fairly typical 'the magical races have revealed themselves and are now living side by side... more or less, with humans'.The Faery lands live off in a nearby dimension (Dark and Light Courts, borrowing from typical Sidhe mythology). There are werewolfs and other shapechangers, Djinn, magical voodoo people, and the complicated hierarchy of vampires. We don't see much of 'normal' people - something that was quite different to most books, as the magical races definitely keep to themselves and have their own subcultures and hangouts. Oh, and Vampires can absorb powers from their victims, to a greater or less degree. And this becomes an incredibly major plotpoint.
Valeria is part of an enforcement group for killing those vampires and other creatures that start eating humans, and an old boyfriend has been causing major trouble (and political problems) so she gets called up to go hunt him down. Only he ends up being scarily powerful and up to something Bad. Something he isn't even the original architect of.
The lesbian romance and sex (when it arrives) suddenly blooms up out of (apparently) nowhere, after being suppressed as an undercurrent for a while. It mainly consisted of one sided, repeated statements and hints that they are both 'meant to be' but Val was really not feeling it or interested in working it out. And then there's a sexy dance scene about a third of the way through, a lot of running and fighting and a near death experience leading to Val realising that actually, Irulan really is the one for her (don't all roll your eyes at once). And then it's all passionate devotion and complete about turns from the main character, and sexy times, and sex scenes with dramatic consequences. And then lifelong commitments, awfully fast.
For the second half of the book, Irulan and Val are a devoted, committed couple, who spend their time trying to be the first to throw themselves between the other one and danger. Oh, and Val needs to keep drinking Irulan's blood for a while, because she suddenly needs magic to stay alive (why? that's probably too much of a spoiler! But it was a fascinating twist that led to the interesting second half of the story).
Valeria (whose name I kept forgetting because the story was in first person!) is a scary super powerful special vampire. Luckily, she ends up not being unique on her own, exactly, as she gets most of her specialness from her family (who are still around). She's a 'living' high caste vampire, as opposed to the standard deadborn, which makes her a lot stronger and faster and able to tolerate daylight to a fairly large degree.
Personality-wise... well, I don't like her that much. She's stubborn and rude and not that intellectual - 'attack first, figure it out later'. Which can be really irritating when the character ends up being right, though luckily she wasn't always in this case. Much. But usually ended up in trouble. She kills an enormous number of people, most of whom nobody cares about a minute later, and a few who were just doing their jobs. Oh, and apparently Vampires Need Sex.
Actually, she's more typical-urban-fantasy-werewolf in personality (in typical GRRR SEX ATTACK KILL BLOOD MORE SEX fashion) than typical-seductive-vampire! She also shapeshifts a bit - though I assume 'going feral' means 'Buffy style bumpy face' (which is actually logical, despite how annoying it is to run across everywhere) - and even sprouts wings, which is really random.
Irulan is mature and ancient and quiet, basically tolerating Valeria's immaturity and having to be really self controlled due to various limits on her abilities and a very troubled family life. Oh, and she's incredibly powerful. She spends most of the first part of the book hanging around and making sure she's part of everything, She starts to emerge as a person in her own right in the second half of the book, dealing with, and being swept along by, Valeria, and having to face her family again. But she's relegated to the sidelines for the final showdown.
Interestingly, I have no idea what either of them actually looks like. If they were described, it was only briefly, and it's never mentioned again. This may just reflect our narrator's priorities or just be a choice of the author, I don't know. But it's interesting and places more focus on the characters (though it makes it harder to visualise them).
So, overall? Pick this up for fight scenes, vampires, magical races and powerful scary beings smashing up everything in sight. Oh, and One True Love, of course. And I'd pick up the short stories as well, as otherwise you're thrown a bit too far into an established storyline without a proper introduction.
You Should Also Read:
- Never Again: An Irulan Short - a prequel short story, as it is entirely about Irulan, her first lesbian love and the rather tragic consequences, long before Val comes onto scene. Her background history starts to play a fairly major part in the second half (taking away the 'Val just happens to have a super powerful fairy princess as a roommate' wallbanger).
- Read the other short story, UnSpoken: A Val and Irulan Short, for a bit of background/character building about Valeria and Irulan (which was definitely missing from Crimson Dawn). It's also about the GASP TENSION between the two and Irulan's one sided love, so maybe skip if you're already gritting your teeth from the review, but pick up if you want to see if you can stomach the first half of the book.
Buy the Stories on Amazon
- Never Again: An Irulan Short (Darklife Shorts) (prequel short story, lesbian coming out/first romance) (Kindle only)
- UnSpoken: A Val and Irulan Short(sequel short story, lesbian tension) (Kindle only)
- Crimson Dawn by Ronnie Massey (Kindle/paperback)
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