"When Twilight Burns" by Colleen Gleason

Pros: Page-turning suspense.
Cons: The book won’t make as much sense without having read the first three books in the series.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

Victoria Gardella, Venator, has survived a vicious battle with a powerful vampire, but not without cost. The vampire hunter was injured and the vampire tried to turn her, but her strength and the protection she wore have helped to keep her body from succumbing. Even as she recovers, a new threat has come to find her: vampires that can walk during the day and avoid detection. As the vampires try to frame her for grisly murders, her heart is still torn between Sebastian Vioget and Max Pesaro, fellow vampire hunters. Which of the two will capture her heart? And will she be able to overcome the evil both outside and within?


 

Colleen Gleason’s When Twilight Burns is the first book that I have read in this series, and so I first want to start out by saying that my rating would most likely have been higher had I understood more of the back story and how the world worked. Ms. Gleason does provide some details on her website about the Venators and the vampires they fight, but it still didn’t give me a feel for the characters or their histories. I can certainly understand an author not wishing to bore readers with things that they already know, but when I am still running into questions I can’t answer three-quarters of the way through the book it is frustrating because it pulls me out of the story.

That being said, however, I really did enjoy this book, and stayed up way past my bedtime because I just had to find out what happened next. This book was much darker than most of my reading fare, and so I didn’t feel safe in assuming that because it was a romance that it would have a happy ending. (I own a romance wherein the hero and heroine don’t get a happily ever after, so I don’t always take it for granted.) The mortal peril that Victoria finds herself in, both from the vampires and the vampirism that is trying to take over her body, give the reader the feeling that even if Victoria can vanquish one, she still might succumb to the other. Either way, the consequences could be just as deadly.

Victoria, Sebastian, and Max were fascinating characters to me, because their relationships with and thoughts about each other were complex. In addition, they are all in some way damaged and trying to keep going despite that. As the book progresses, you grow to care for them more and more, but Max and Sebastian cannot both have what they want, while Victoria has her own doubts and questions to face, both about them and herself. I also loved the idea that Victoria was not only a vampire hunter, but a member of London’s high society as well. Watching her try to balance the two borders once or twice on humorous, but the stakes of conflict are so high that the humor becomes macabre.

Another small detail that really stood out to me was a conversation that Victoria has with one of the other vampires about how the infection in her blood will turn her into a vampire. The vampire contends that evil starts with the self, and with selfishness. It made me stop and think, about why people have said or done things that were wrong, and I realized that the vampire had an interesting point. The philosophy of that conversation, and the things that Victoria realized because of it, gave the book a sense of richness and depth in a way that I rarely see in romance novels.

There was one small thing that did bother me as I got further into the book. I know that vampires are cunning, and that it makes sense for them to have a plot with more than one stage, but the other stage that we find out about is discovered fairly late into the book, and the transition for me felt like a mild case of literary whiplash because the transition felt clunky and the new direction rather cliché.

Another observation I had, which is neither a pro nor a con for me, is that in a few ways the writing reminds me a bit of Anne Rice. I’m not suggesting that Ms. Gleason was copying Ms. Rice, but rather that the two of them write well using several elements. Both write in historical time periods with well-developed, nuanced characters, and both authors have undercurrents of philosophy and moralistic debates running through their work. I didn’t think that I would ever run into another author besides Ms. Rice that would make me question morality in terms of where the line between Good and Evil starts, but I was thrilled to have that same line of thought brought back to life by Ms. Gleason.

This was an exceedingly well-crafted book, apart from some missing explanations and information, and has some stunning pacing and philosophy. The characters are layered and interesting, with new situations bringing out sides of their story that otherwise would have stayed hidden. I also loved the stacking of internal and external battles, because it kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end of the book. I was very impressed with the way Ms. Gleason was able to cram so much into a few hundred pages, and I look forward to reading her next books.

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