a review by Evie Kendal
Kerrelyn Sparks’ Love at Stake paranormal romance series focuses on a war between good and bad vampires (the Vamps and Malcontents, respectively). While the Malcontents insist on terrorising and feeding on humans, the Vamps happily drink the synthetic blood produced by Romatech industries, business of East Coast Vampire Coven Master, Roman Draganesti (central character of Book 1: How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire). The war between the two vampire factions, in addition to various political interactions with humans, has formed the basis of the overarching narrative for the series, while each individual novel focuses on a different love story. As the love interests of previous novels are still in the picture though, their stories continue to develop as the series progresses (i.e. some human lovers decide to transition into vampires, some couples have children etc.).
Wild About You is Book 13 of the series and focuses on Howard Barr, a shape-shifting security guard employed by the Vamps. Shape-shifters were introduced into the series fairly early on, with most being employed by MacKay Security and Investigations, a vampire-owned company that provides “day time guards” for high-ranking vampires (who are vulnerable to assassination and kidnapping during their daytime “death sleep”). I won’t say what animal Howard shifts into, as this is one of the big reveals from an earlier novel!
Howard’s history makes him an object of pity among the paranormal beings, as he was cast out of his family and forced to hide among humans for years. An inability to shift when needed left him with a chemical imbalance that has had long-lasting effects on his health, including premature aging, baldness and slow healing. His romantic history is also a quite tragic, as his first love, Carly, was murdered because of a long-standing rivalry between himself and another shifter, Rhett Bleddyn, whom he recently discovered did not die with his compatriots when Howard threw them off a cliff. Unable to seek assistance from his former clan, and still considered the main suspect in Carly’s murder, Howard seeks revenge on Rhett and does not want to return to his duties with MacKay Security at the start of the novel. However, when a few fellow employees are sent to retrieve him, he recruits them to his cause. While Howard does agree to return to his employer, the feud with Rhett continues throughout the book, placing Howard and all his family and friends in danger.
In Wild About You we learn that Howard Barr has long had a celebrity crush on home renovation TV host, Elsa Bjornberg. Some well-meaning meddling by his vampire friends ends up throwing the two of them together; Elsa, hired to renovate one of the Draganesti’s historic sites, and Howard, charged with representing the property’s owners on the show, since the vampires can’t do daytime interviews. However, Howard’s bad luck in love follows him as an ancient curse forbids his and Elsa’s relationship, presenting a serious obstacle and providing a lot of the narrative tension for the novel. With the mystical folklore of two very different worlds suddenly colliding, Elsa knows from the moment she meets Howard that something has changed within her. Before the end of the story Elsa is facing a threat to her life and Howard is battling the desire to be with her with the need to keep her safe.
Love at Stake is a fairly classic example of a long-running paranormal romance series aimed at adult readers. It contains some sex and violence but is usually very tame. Characterisation is the major strength of the series and readers will keep coming back to experience the romances of other characters already established in the previous novels. The books are easy to read, not too long, and more focused on cute love stories than the hot-and-heavy narratives that are becoming prevalent in paranormal romance at the moment. Wild About You is recommended for any current Sparks followers, and other fans of the paranormal romance sub-genre who are looking for a new author to try. It is not strictly necessary to go back and read the previous novels, however, some of the overarching plot will be lost on readers picking up the series at Book 13 (my favourite books of the series are also concentrated towards the start). My only objection to this series is the presence of a few racial stereotypes, which detract from the three-dimensional characterisation achieved for the majority of recurring cast. The romantic relationships are generally portrayed quite well, with equality between partners being central to many of the stories.