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WesternSFA
Shadowflame
by Diane Sylvan
Ace Books, 2011, $7.99, 360 pp
Release Date: July 26, 2011

Here's one book you can judge by the cover - Gene Mollica captures the sexy-dangerous tone of the story perfectly. The smoking sword, the black leather, the red hair, the full moon and the shadow-lights make a promise the writing delivers.

Miranda Grey and David Solomon are married, life-bonded - and vampire royalty. They are the final and ultimate guardians of their People, and when vampires go rogue, they lead the Elite to set things right and clean up the mess.

But Miranda didn't start out that way. She still has a musician's life and a dear friend, Kat, mortal, who is brave enough to confront a vampire court for her friend's sake. Miranda and David need the humanizing influence Kat brings, even though, as David tells Kat in one of the best scenes, Miranda is no longer human, and never will be. Miranda's inhuman abilities - her new fighting skills, her speed, her authority as queen - contrast Kat's human experiences. And somehow the friendship not only endures, but strengthens.

Miranda's experiences, exhilarating and painful, also fuel her music, even though performing now puts her in a vulnerable position, an easy target for vampire hunters or rival Primes. But you don't give up being yourself just because you've Changed.

The other major storyline at the heart of this novel involves a young vampire named Cora who escapes her abusive Prime and finds refuge in Haven.

One interesting trend in urban fiction is to take relationships beyond courtship and consummation - what happens down the road gets much more attention now. With compassion and lots of humor, Sylvan depicts their intimacy, but also the surprises and rough times that present themselves. One of these challenges is a former lover, who comes back into David's life.  Miranda does not take this well.  This is actually the most disturbing part of the book, I thought; the ugly, murky area where anger, S &M, and abuse swirl around and confuse the heart is depicted.

Another welcome trend of the UF genre is to take intuition and hunches very, very seriously, and it's about time.  It's more unusual to find a writer who also brings arcane knowledge to the mix, and in this respect, Sylvan distinguishes herself from the pack. ~~ Chris Paige

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