The Forever Kiss
Jane's Warlord

Master of the Night
by Angela Knight
(Berkley, $6.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-425-19880-4
In an apparent attempt to offer something to absolutely everybody, this book mixes vampires, witches, fairies, Arthurian legend, contemporary suspense and erotic romance. It must have been hard work to make a compelling story out of this dog’s breakfast – and if you make it into the second half of the book, that’s where you’ll find it.

Erin Grayson is ex-FBI and currently employed by The Outfit, “a very small counter-terrorist agency loosely connected to the FBI, specializing in black ops.” As part of a search for whoever is funding death cults in the U.S., she’s prepared to get very, very close to the wealthy and mysterious Reece Champion.

What Erin does not know is that she’s being used by subversive elements within The Outfit who want Reece for their own nefarious purposes. You see, Reece is from the Mageverse, an alternate universe in which the men are vampires, the women are witches, and the two have a symbiotic relationship in which the women need to give their blood to the men as badly as the men need to consume it.

According to Ms. Knight, the original Earth Mages – King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and the rest of the Camelot gang – were created by Merlin for a Great Mission: guiding and protecting humanity. Arthur, as you might expect, is the Champion of Britain.

Reese has been the Champion of the United States (hence the name, get it?) since the country’s infancy, and now works with both the FBI and the CIA. A rather surprising number of people seem to know he’s a vampire, although nobody has told Erin.

Erin also doesn’t know that she’s a Latent – a descendent of someone from the Mageverse (they’re a randy little bunch, scattering their seed thither and yon throughout the millennia). As such, she can be Changed into a Maja by sexual contact with a Magus (say, Reece, for example). The amount of contact required varies, but generally, three exchanges of bodily fluids does the trick.

So, while Reece and Erin race against time to save both the Mageverse and Earth as we know it from the forces of evil, they’re also going to have to fight their intense attraction for each other. Some Latents are driven dangerously insane by the Change, and the witches of the Mageverse maintain strict control over who may attempt the Change into an immortal. Unsanctioned Changing is punishable by death.

With me so far? Believe me, this is the condensed version of the situation and, in my opinion, the over-complicated situation and backstory is the greatest weakness of the first half of this book. Not only does the author need about sixteen pages of explanation and prologue before she can even start telling her story, the action is interrupted repeatedly for further clarifications.

It was particularly frustrating to have this entire vampire/witch/fairy thing jammed down the throat of the Arthur legends, because they provided nothing to the story except a set of familiar names. And in spite of being master spies with enormous powers, it was never clear to me whether or not these Champions were actually helping anything – have the wars and troubles of earth actually been Mage pissing contests?

About halfway through the book, all the explanations are out of the way and the action picks up considerably. The suspense story gains a lot of momentum, and Reece and Erin’s relationship is intense and compelling. Having said that, however, I don’t think that creating a situation in which they must have sex three times in rapid succession did the pacing of the book any favors. Even in an erotic romance – and Ms. Knight’s sex scenes are detailed and explicit, with no pretty euphemisms – a sexual marathon gets a bit numbing.

When Ms. Knight stops re-inventing history and just tells the story, she is a powerful and engaging writer who caught and held my attention. For her next book, I can only hope that she forgoes the over-complicated fantasy and concentrates on the characters and the adventure. These are things she does very well, indeed.

-- Judi McKee

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