Immortal Beloved
by Cate Tiernan
(Little, Brown, $16.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0-31603-592-7
****
After more than four hundred years of sloughing off, the woman now known as Nastasya finds the daily drudgery of life at River's End absolutely unbearable.  But what other options does she have, when her Immortal group of friends have finally committed a crime so heinous it pierced Nastasya's drunken haze and forced her to run away?

Breaking into the adult groove, Cate Tiernan (who has been writing the teen series Sweep for a number of years now), presents the first in a trilogy, Immortal Beloved.  Despite the fact that she does almost too good of a job at the beginning of the novel proving what a worthless being Nastasya is, her foray into the adult paranormal genre is a heartbreaking delight.

Too much despair – she lost her Immortal family at the age of ten, and it never got easier – sent Nastasya into a several-century drinking binge.  For the past century or so, her constant companion has been her friend, Innocencio.  Nights on the town are far more common than not, but when Incy uses magic Nasty didn't even know he possessed to permanently injure a cab driver, a hundred years' worth of mean tricks spring to mind and Nastasya flees London.

She finds herself in rural Massachusetts, searching for a woman named River who had offered her Sanctuary decades before.  River's End is exactly where it should be, but not at all what Nastasya expected or wanted.  Hiding out isn't an option with River, and Nastasya quickly comes to realize that River's End is more rehab than resort.  While she's mucking stalls, pulling weeds, and fighting hens for their eggs, Nastasya is being trained to use her magic – in a way that doesn't suck the life out of organisms around her; this is a feat Nastasya didn't even know Immortals were capable of.

River and the other teachers become aware of the fact that Nastasya's powers in few ways resemble most of their students'.  For one thing, she's very powerful, especially for someone who has never been trained and has avoided magic since her childhood. 

Nastasya gradually finds herself caring about more than just the next night's activities.  As the people at River's End become her "normal," she also reaches out to a few people in the small community in which she works.  Unfortunately, just when she thinks she's settling in, someone at home begins playing nasty magical pranks, some of which could have been deadly.

Plagued by horrible memories and horrifying nightmares, Nastasya attempts to come to terms with the ugliness of her past, that which happened to her and that which she brought upon herself.  Unfortunately for everyone in the house, Reyn (the "Viking God" as Nastasya not-quite-jokingly calls him) reminds Nastasya strongly of a fearful person from her past even as he attracts her.  More uncomfortable is the fact that another member of the household, Nell, sees Nastasya as a threat to her unrequited love for Reyn, even though Reyn and Nastasya rarely display anything but animosity toward one another.

On a personal level, Nastasya's life seems to be getting on course for the first time in nearly four centuries. Now, she just has to figure out how to stay alive – and between the threat of a now-crazy Innocencio showing up and the dark happenings at River's End, that may be harder than sobering up.

Paranormal novel?  Yes, definitely. Immortal Beloved, however, touches on a number of contemporary issues: drinking, teen pregnancy, the slow death of small towns.  It hits a few timeless ones as well, especially coping with loss.  Nastasya, being 461 years old, has also come across some things that we spoiled twenty-first century dwellers may not have considered, such as plagues, high mortality rates, and violence as a way of life.  This isn't a fluff novel, despite the fact that most of its characters are magic-users who still look seventeen after a few hundred years on earth.  Readers will likely feel, as I did, that September of 2011 is not nearly soon enough for the second installment. Though a few of the threads of the story get tied off, much of what will happen to Nastasya's future is left way up in the air.

--Sarrah Knight


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