Plus, can we agree that this series has the best titles ever? Seriously, they fit the world and each of the books better than so many generic paranormal titles I’ve seen.
Note: I’m using the original covers for these reviews, but they have all since been re-released with new ones. Personally, I prefer the old ones in almost all cases. What say you, dear readers?
The obligatory disclaimer, same as the last time: there are issues with these books. Beyond the graphic sex and graphic language, and the abundant gore and violence, the consent is problematic and heteronormativity rules the world. Also, some readers may find the depiction of a character with mental health issues to be triggering/clichéd/inaccurate/wrong. Reader, beware.
Dark Needs at Night’s Edge, by Kresley Cole
While this is the fifth story in the Immortals After Dark series, it’s one of the rare ones that can be read alone without missing too much. There’s enough world building worked into the text–not quite info dumping, though if you read a few of them in a row it does feel repetitive, but then, this is a known effect of glomming–to set the story up, and both of the main characters are new to the series, though Conrad had been mentioned a couple of times in previous stories.
There are a couple of scenes that keep the overarching series storyline going, specifically, setting up the next book (Cade’s story), but since they also advance this novel’s plot, I didn’t found them terribly distracting.
Here’s the blurb:
A RAVEN-HAIRED TEMPTRESS OF THE DARK…
Néomi Laress, a famous ballerina from a past century, became a phantom the night she was murdered. Imbued with otherworldly powers but invisible to the living, she haunts her beloved home, scaring away trespassers — until she encounters a ruthless immortal even more terrifying than Néomi herself.
A VAMPIRE WARRIOR CONSUMED BY MADNESS…
To prevent him from harming others, Conrad Wroth’s brothers imprison him in an abandoned manor. But there, a female only he can see seems determined to drive him further into madness. The exquisite creature torments him with desire, leaving his body racked with lust and his soul torn as he finds himself coveting her for his own.
HOW FAR WILL HE GO TO CLAIM HER?
Yet even if Conrad can win Néomi, evil still surrounds her. Once he returns to the brutality of his past to protect her, will he succumb to the dark needs seething inside him?
First aside: I hate blurbs. A lot. And I really hate this one.
The setup is this: Conrad Wroth is the youngest of four Estonian aristocrats who was turned into a vampire some three hundred years ago,¹ as he lay dying from a grievous sword injury in the family’s plague-stricken manor. In the IAD world, vampires drink blood, have to hide from the sun, can teleport (trace), have superhuman strengths and heightened senses, and, basically, live forever. Provided no one goes Queen of Hearts, “Off with his head!” on them.
Still, all and all, it’s not a terrible deal, right?
Except for a couple wee details. One, Conrad is unconscious when his eldest brother, Nikolai, decides to turn him. Consent, what consent? Two, the vampire whose blood turned Nikolai, and through him, Conrad, is a Russian ‘prince’–and oh, yeah, Estonia was at war with Russia at the time. Three, and really, the most minor of details: at this point Conrad had spent just shy of two decades as a member of the Kapsliga Uur, a secret order devoted to…killing vampires.
Naturally, Conrad does not react well when, upon waking all healed and not-dead, his brothers shove a tankard full of blood at him, and explain the fact of un-death, as they know them, to him. To wit: as a vampire, he has neither heartbeat nor bodily functions–including a sex drive, natch–and while he must drink blood to survive, he should never take it directly from the vein, or he’ll turn evil.
Our unhappy newly-turned vampire fights with his brothers, and leaves the family’s lands. In short order, he is first rejected, and then hunted, by his erstwhile brethren at the Kapsliga; and, with few-to-none other options left, Conrad soon becomes an assassin for hire within the Lore. Oh, and his preferred killing method is to suck his targets dry.
Which is a problem: turns out that when a vampire drinks living blood, he absorbs the memories of the other being. Do this enough, and those memories start crowding yours out. Kill other beings by drinking all their blood? Their essence, the ‘seat of the soul,’ becomes part of you as well.
Three centuries later, Conrad’s grasp on reality is…tenuous at best. He is driven to kill his brothers, to avenge the wrong done him so long ago, but otherwise? Yeah. And, having killed his share of evil immortals, he is also both incredibly strong and pretty evil himself.
After a mighty struggle, his brothers manage to imprison him in an old, abandoned mansion in the outskirts of New Orleans. This is basically an intervention; just like with other addictions, they’ll cut him off the living blood until his mind clears.
First spanner in the works: there’s a ghost in the house.
Enter Néomi Laress, a wonderful heroine with a lot of agency. The natural child of a French emigrée who supported herself and her child as a burlesque dancer up to WWI, Néomi herself survived after her mother’s sudden death, when she was all of sixteen, by doing the same for about a year, while continuing to study ballet. Hard work, talent, and drive, and less than a dozen years later, Néomi is a renowned prima ballerina, who is hosting a ball to celebrate her ownership of the newly renovated Elancourt.
Alas, her moment of triumph is cut short when her good-for-nothing-spoiled-rich-boy ex-fiancé stabs her in the heart and, literally, twists the knife in the wound, while demanding that Néomi “feel it for (him).” However, being driven and strong-willed, Néomi refuses to die, and thus, a ghost is…born?
At any rate, by the time the Wroth brothers show up, roughly eight decades later, Néomi has become stronger, and more adept at controlling her telekinesis. She is also falling into depression, what with the house being vacant more often, and for far longer periods, than its occupied. Loneliness is hard for most everyone, but it’s positive hell for someone like her, who was so very social by nature.
By the time these bizarre strangers, with their accents and their weird talk of the Lore and curses and wards, show up, Néomi is just a teensy weensy starved for any distraction from the monotony of nothingness that is her existence, let alone honest-to-goodness living company!
So many things I like about this book, I don’t really know where to start or how to tell you!
The story is told in the third person, with alternating point of view from the two main characters. Ms Cole writes from what Suzanne Brockmann calls ‘deep point of view,’ as opposed to omniscient third person narrator. As a reader, I love it when authors use this technique effectively (example of doing it really, really bad: BDB). In this particular case, because while the characters are on the page together, they can’t fully interact for a good chunk of the story, and when they finally do, they remain isolated from the rest of the world. Seeing events unfold from each character’s eyes deepens my investment in their ultimate fate.
For starters, I absolutely love the inexperienced/virgin hero, experienced heroine trope, when it’s well written. And here it’s very well done indeed. Néomi may be just a tad defensive about her year as a burlesque dancer–after all, when compared to being a prima ballerina, one whose company is coveted by the wealthy and the highborn, there’s just a bit of tarnish there–but she makes absolutely no apology for having had lovers during her short life.
But Néomi’s sexual agency goes well beyond defying convention. At one point, Conrad asks about her lovers:
“Did they…satisfy you?”
If they hadn’t in the beginning, they had eventually. “I made sure of it. I wasn’t shy about what I expected or needed from a man.” (pg 174, mmpb edition)
Best part about this? When Néomi and Conrad finally have sex, she does tell him exactly what she wants and what she needs–and not just the first time either. Cue a very happy aztec over here.
Then there is Néomi’s taking charge of her own destiny. At one point, Conrad mocks her for needing his company–aside from the wild creatures living in the property, he is the first living being to see and hear her, after all.² When she realizes that he does have a point, that over time she has become passive, waiting for things to happen around her, she re-assesses her existence and makes changes. Or rather, she contacts a friendly, and very powerful witch, to make some changes for–in–her.
For his part, Conrad had remained a virgin up to his death, as part of his vow to the Kapsliga Uur. It was supposed to be a temporary thing–boys were recruited at about thirteen, and their service would last twenty four years, after which they would be free to marry and have a family. Unfortunately for Conrad, first came the mortal wound, then three hundred plus years of un-death with no libido.
Which, methinks, would be bad enough in and of itself.
However, Conrad also has numerous memories, taken from other immortal beings, many of which had enjoyed rich and varied sex lives before their unlamented end at his fangs. Erections, or lack thereof, aside, curiosity alone would be more than enough to drive pretty much anyone up a wall. During his first interactions with Néomi, he barely knows where to look, let alone what to ask her. All this makes for a delicious, strong sexual tension for more than half of the story.
And hey, for at least two hundred pages, there’s no ‘fated mates’ component at play–being dead, Néomi cannot ‘blood’ Conrad. His heart doesn’t beat, his lungs don’t draw air. They grow to care for one another as regular people would do (well, regular people who are dead and immortal, respectively), by spending time together, and talking about everything and nothing.
I really enjoyed the chemistry between these two characters, and their growth throughout the novel–though, as is the case with Mariketa in Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night, Néomi is pretty nifty from the get.
I like how her loneliness and the sensory deprivation of being incorporeal are written. Yes, Néomi can see and hear things, and she can, through telekinesis, move objects around. However, she cannot touch, nor be touched. For her, there is no cold, or heat, or hunger, or thirst. She cannot feel in any bodily sense; she is only memory and feelings, and will. And yet, she has managed to preserve a sense of self, of joy in the things around her. At one point, when asked what she does for fun, she talks about the family of nutria that sneak into the house in winter, and how she spends ours laughing at their antics. And when faced with Conrad’s despair, she does her best to help him see that his future doesn’t have to mirror his past, that as his mind gradually clears, he can learn to find contentment and joy.
As for Conrad’s state of mind, here’s the thing: based on what little I know about psychosis, it seems to be the closest real life mental issue to what Conrad is experiencing. Please note, though, that while I have my own mental health issues, mostly depression related, I don’t have personal experience with psychotic episodes. Thus, I am no judge of whether Conrad’s characterization is accurate, or triggering, or even respectful.
With that said, I found it very moving. Conrad knows he is ‘not right,’ and he knows he’ll never be completely sane.³ His thoughts are often jumbled, confused, too loud for him to separate reality from stolen memories. At one point, he bites his own arm for comfort. When frustrated, he goes into uncontrollable rages, or bangs his head into a wall over and over and over. When he first sees Néomi, he just knows that she’s just another of his delusions–which both confuses and enrages him more. Is she real, as an entity outside his mind, or is she just another hallucination?
Again, this may be due to my own ignorance, but I found it plausible for Conrad’s fixation on this question, and on Néomi herself, to help him focus as his mind clears, little by little. The fact that he is no longer drinking living blood helps, because he is not adding any more noise to the cacophony in his mind, but concentrating on this extraordinary being, who shares the house with him, and who seems just as fascinated by him, provides him with incentive to focus, to calm down, to slow down. He often repeats to himself, “there’s a line”–meaning, there’s a line between seeing things that aren’t there, and interacting with them. It takes a lot of courage for him to tell his brothers, who are already convinced that he’s insane, about Néomi, when he can’t prove her existence to them.
Now, aside from the “she’s a ghost, he’s insane” conflict, I like how their interactions progress. At first, Conrad becomes abusive towards Néomi, and destructive of her house, when he is frustrated or confused. And while she makes it clear that she understands that he does not mean to hurt her, she’s not above the occasional snarky remark, or simply leaving him the hell alone. And since he wants her company, this makes him work on controlling his outbursts.
There’s a lot more–forgiveness, family, strength, resilience, hope, and more–and while the paranormal trappings make for both a lighter and gorier background for all these than would be the case otherwise, I still enjoy these two characters’ journey towards their very own HEA, IAD style, very much.
Dark Needs at Night’s Edge gets an 8.25 out of 10.
¹ The author plays it a little fast and loose with history, by having the plague outbreak of the mid-1600s, the Great Famine of the 1690s, and the Great Northern War (1700-1721), happen more or less simultaneously.
² The reason for this is that Conrad, having acquired both the memories and the strength of so many immortals, has much more acute senses than his brothers, let alone the humans who had occupied the house up to this point.
³ Let’s hear it for “no magical hooha cure” for everything.