Hari has been used and abused for millennia. But he sees, upon his release from the riddle box, that this new mistress is different. There is a hidden power in Dela's eyes- and with her, he may regain all that was lost to him. Where once he savaged, now he must protect; where once he only knew hatred, now he must embrace love. Dela is the key. For Dela, he will risk all.
Comment: I've said before in blog posts, there was a time I was quite fond of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal romance and I
hoarded collected many first books in series, hoping I'd have practically eternal series to rely on, when the time without anything to read would come.
(this is the part where you laugh)
Anyway, this is another one of those, published in 2005, but while there were elements I liked, the end result wasn't as appealing as I would have wanted.
In this story, we meet Dela, a young woman who is doing some business in China but when we meet her she is playing tourist in a market and a strange seller convinces her to cheaply buy a box. At her hotel, Dela is studying it and after some attempts, she unlocks it and suddenly a man shows up from nowhere, claiming he was trapped in the box, that he is now her slave and after some confusing, Dela calms down and they start talking. Hari is the stranger's name and upon knowing his story, she vows to not force him into anything, allowing him to feel as free as possible. As they get to know each other, Hari shares he is a shape shifter but can't do it anymore and Dela says she has an affinity to metal, making her a sought after artist, mostly when it comes to weaponry. The problem is that they have enemies and those will do everything to capture or kill them...
This isn't a long book but I must say the most interesting part to read was precisely the beginning, when they are getting to know each other and sharing information. I think the vibe was sweet for the most part and I started imagining the story would go on to show them getting closer emotionally, probably falling in love, while trying to find a way to break the curse which forced Hari into being a slave in the box. This isn't exactly a novelty on the PNR world, but I was intrigued.
These things do happen, but not in the way I imagined. After a first attempt on their lives and a failed mission to look for the woman who sold her the box, they decide the best course of action is to return to the US, where Dela's family and contacts could help them stay away from issues, both in terms of protection, and of the legal kind. This is how we learn that Dela has a special gift when it comes to metal but as unique as her, are the members of the Dirk and Steele team/company, specialized on tricky missions, mostly to help or rescue people.
It was from this point on that I felt the story lost steam. I liked knowing about Dela's "powers" and those of the people she considered as friends, but there were many secondary characters - clearly setups for the following books in the series - and the focus was spread onto many issues. The villains looking for Hari and Dela are two, with different goals, and somehow this made up for some confusion among the characters, which didn't help me, as a reader, to follow the threads as easily either. I think this would have been avoided if the attention had been on Dela and Hari, perhaps those around them but without the villains. I think the story could have been strong enough, focused on the couple's need to break the curse, without the antagonists in the mix.
Hari and Dela are pleasing characters to read about but I feel their personalities weren't complex enough beyond the issues they faced. Everything was too... tidy, fitting any cliché we could have and the fact their connection goes from potentially great (unwilling servant, unwilling master) to basic, when the sexual attraction got the better hand and they started seeing one another as such. I also think the falling in love aspect was too quick for the type of plot they were in. Again, a different storty might have showed this in a more believable way. The relationship was cute, had sweet moments and a HEA but by then I wasn't as invested anymore.
The problems they faced were solved towards the end, although I think this could have happened in more interesting way. The magical content and the world building by then weren't as intriguing and I admit I kind of wanted the story to end. I liked they found happiness but the overall feel I got was that things weren't complex enough nor were they presented in the most provocative way. When I say this, I mean so alluring that even without romance, this would be gripping, but too many things were unsaid, and so many others were unnecessary.