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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spirit Bound by Christine Feehan


Lethal undercover agent Stefan Prakenskii knew a thousand ways to kills a man—and twice as many ways to pleasure a woman. That’s what made him look forward to his new mission: arrive in the coastal town of Sea Haven and insinuate himself in the life of an elusive beauty who had mysterious ties to his past, and a link to a dangerously seductive, and equally elusive master criminal who wanted only one thing: to possess her.

Judith Henderson was an artist on the rise—an ethereal, and haunted woman whose own picture-perfect beauty stirred the souls of two men who have made her their obsession. For years she has been waiting for someone to come and unlock the passion and fire within her—waiting for the right man to surrender it to. But only one man can survive her secrets, and the shadow she has cast over both their lives.



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This one started out kind of slow for me, and for most of the first half of it I was growing increasingly disappointed with it. While it certainly had it's intriguing points, and was promising to wrap up a few ragged loose ends left over from the first book in the series, it also seemed to just be plugging along on the same espionage mega-plot story arc that was started back in the Drake Sisters series, and I personally have gotten a bit weary of it. It was starting to spawn so many interconnections between people, families, and places that the "coincidences" were starting to seriously stretch the bounds of credibility, because, c'mon, what're the odds really that all of these disparate individuals would have all been drawn together to the same little sleepy village on the California coast, and that they'd all end up caught up in the same web of international intrigue in one way or another? But just when I was really beginning to wonder why the author had to thread this plot through all of the books instead of just letting them be nice little romances involving people with psychic or mystical powers, she suddenly drew back a cover to reveal another layer of the Big Picture story in a way that so deftly starts to weave all the disparate threads together that I can't help but admire how she's doing it. And the Big Picture that's being revealed in more of its entirety is a far more interesting one than a simple and somewhat dull story of espionage and state secrets being endangered by wealthy and powerful criminals. It promises to be far more personal, and holds out the hope of some great wrongs eventually being made right, with people who have had their lives shattered in one way or another finally finding a more empowering happily ever after. And it definitely has me hooked on this series now.



Besides the bigger stories being revealed, this book is also, and more primarily, about Judith Henderson, "sister" to Rikki from Water Bound, and Stefan Prakenskii, brother to Ilya and Lev. We met Judith in Rikki's book, but didn't really get to know her much there, and she turns out to be a far more complex (and far less saintly) woman than the prior view of her led us to believe. I'll admit, the "coincidence" of how she happens to be tied into the Big Picture stories because of things in her past was one of the things that had me going "seriously?" during the first half of the book. It all seemed just a bit too neat and convenient that Lev and Ilya's brother Stefan would just happen to have professional (and related personal) reasons to come to Sea Haven to meet Judith and that they would subsequently fall instantly in lust with one another. But then the reveal comes that takes things to the next level storywise, and suddenly it all seems to truly fit somehow, and starts to seem more like just a piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle that you hadn't realized was being put together and not just like a hokey coincidence that was thrown in just to give the author a way for the two to meet. It's rather more difficult to understand how her element (Spirit) works than it was to understand how Rikki's water element works, and understanding is still rather vague by the end of the book, perhaps because Judith herself has only really just started to figure out what exactly it is that she does, and how to control what she's doing so it will work for her instead of just tossing her about on wild seas of emotion and power. She certainly seems to have a larger burden of responsibility laid upon her with the way her gifts affect all of the others' gifts, but she proves that she's more than up to the challenge of meeting that responsibility.

From the very beginning we can see that Stefan is a man that's on the verge of a major breakdown, with the cloak and dagger lifestyle he's been leading and its attendant deadly cat and mouse games having finally started to take their toll on him to the point that the darkness he's had to live in is threatening to totally consume him. He at least is alert to the warning signs, and starts to put long-laid plans to get out into motion when he sees them. He's refreshing as a lead male character in several ways, starting with the fact that he's /not/ mouth-wateringly gorgeous, even though he is rather buff, and he also isn't self-deprecating and morose the way so many heros with shady pasts often seem to be. Yes, he's led a violent life, and yes he's done plenty of things that he isn't proud of and that he feels, at least on some level, have most likely damned him beyond any hope of redemption, but he doesn't indulge in "woe is me, I've been a bad bad boy" self-pity parties the way so many do, and the way Lev too often did. Instead, he acknowledges his actions, and doesn't really make any apologies for them, even to himself, and instead of wallowing in the negative, he clings resolutely to the fragment of his true self that he has left, and to upholding his own personal code to do what he knows deep down is right to the extent he is able to so that he doesn't step over the line into territory that would bring true loss of self and giving into behaviors that would make him truly unredeemable. It's little wonder that he jumps at the chance for a better life that his growing love for Judith offers, but also is little wonder that he has such a hard time trusting her with the complete truth about him.

Judith and Stefan's love story, however rocky its beginnings, truly is heartwarming and plays out in a mostly believable fashion ultimately. Everything is not automatically sunshine and roses for them just because they're in love and admit it. They are still navigating over and around significant obstacles in their path right up to the end of the book, and likely will be for a long time to come. In addition to their gratifying (and steamy!) romance, various parts of the story, hints that are dropped along the way about the others and about the other pieces of the puzzle we haven't found yet, lay a promising groundwork for future books in the series. A full five stars to this book for several reasons, not the least of which being the way it managed to turn my sighs and disappointment with the series into genuine enthusiasm and eagerness to see what comes next.

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