Pros: Strong characters; complex good & bad guys; fascinating back-story
Cons: Jumped a little quickly into the supernatural
Rating: 4 out of 5
Hotel heiress and developer Alexa Chandler has discovered that her late father left her a surprising legacy: a castle in Florida, one that was moved stone by stone from Europe and is rumored to be haunted. She visits it hoping to turn it into the exotic, fantasy-inspired hotel to beat all hotels. Her step-brother Jacob joins her in her visit, and her mildly psychic friend Cat heads off to parts unknown to research the castle’s history.
When Alexa arrives, she discovers that the castle is indeed haunted, but not by a ghost. Damon, who came to the castle seeking his missing sister and the dark sorcerer who stole her away, was trapped in a painting by a curse several hundred years ago. Somehow Alexa’s arrival partially frees him, and he finds that not only is he able to interact with her, but he can tap into the magic that serves the castle.
The problem is, the more he uses the magic to try to find out what happened to his sister and the sorcerer, the more it corrupts him, filling him with a dangerous fury. Alexa might be the only thing keeping his humanity intact, but he’s swiftly becoming a danger to her. And meanwhile, Cat finds herself on the trail of another missing person: the professor she’s gone to consult has been kidnapped. She’s quickly sucked into working with the professor’s son, Ben, and attempting to tap into her under-used psychic abilities before it’s too late for Ben’s father.
Although Julie Leto’s Phantom Pleasures jumped so quickly into the existence of ghosts and psychic abilities that I found it slightly jarring, this was a momentary blip. The tale of Damon and his brothers, an old Romani hideaway, a castle filled with magic, and a cult in search of power was sufficiently complex and fascinating to certainly hold my interest. It’s obvious that the scope of the sorcerer Rogan’s tale is far greater than this one book, and I definitely came out wanting to know more, yet feeling that the immediate tale had reached a satisfying conclusion.
While it took quite a few pages before I stopped reading Rogan’s name as ‘Rogaine’ (now that’s an unfortunate almost-spelling), I have to say that one of the things I particularly enjoyed in this book was the characterization of the bad guys. Bad guys are often relatively superficial in romance novels because they’re largely present as foils and obstacles to the romance plot. In this case, nearly every named character lined up against our heroes was more than a simple foil. Obviously I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that I definitely enjoy it when I can feel a certain level of sympathy for or interest in a bad guy, and end up not being entirely certain what actions he or she will take in a given circumstance.
I also find it interesting when the main characters have a few flaws of their own. Damon’s arrogant, and only gets worse as he uses Rogan’s magic. Alexa’s stubborn, and doesn’t tend to take others’ needs into account. Yet they’re both likable enough to make an enjoyable couple. They might not have the most breathtaking character chemistry I’ve ever come across, but they have enough to make them a worthy focus of a novel.
Speaking of which, there’s plenty of adult content in here to satisfy your phantom-inspired daydreams. It’s of the fiery, passionate type, yet not overly kinky (well, not considering we’re talking about phantom lovers here).
All in all this was an enjoyable book, and definitely worth a read.