I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Chinese Zodiac Romance #2
on July 28, 2015
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
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Enter a secret guild of assassins…
As a member of the Lotus League, Natalie Quan is as lethal as she is invisible. Her newest mission brings her to Malaysia, and straight into the arms of the man she relinquished to her past. The only man who has ever seen through her outward façade to her soul. And the one who stands between her and her goal of hosting one of the twelve spirit animals of the Chinese Zodiac—the Snake. To keep the Snake and finally defeat the demon of her past, she’ll have to slip into one more disguise.
Some masks never hide the truth…
The last person Kassian Weld, Chosen of the Ox, expects to be named their newest member is Natalie. Years ago, she disappeared without a word. Now, she’s back with a sexy air of confidence, tempting him to end his pledge of celibacy. Despite her claims of being a capable assassin, no way in hell will Kassian allow Natalie to host the Snake—a volatile spirit. Yet, Natalie is as driven to succeed as Kassian is determined to ensure she fails.
The vows that brought them together threaten to tear them apart…
Natalie is bound to the Lotus League, Kassian is devoted to his oaths, and they are both sworn to their fates as Chosen. The forbidden spark of desire reigniting between them threatens to consume their destinies. But when Kassian unmasks Natalie’s darkest secret, they’ll risk every vow they’ve taken for one chance to seize passion together…by the horn
I’m going to start our my review and say that because I’ve got a pretty significant fan factor rating on this author and this series, I am probably not going to be as objective as I usually like to be. I’ve been a Rachael Slate fan since reading and reviewing her first novel (in life and in this series), Trancing the Tiger, in February. And since I learned book two was due out around this time of year, I’ve been waiting for By the Horns ever since, which was why I jumped at the chance to review it.
Although I was wishing against all odds for a Dragon story, I knew it wasn’t going to be that just from the title. Nevertheless, Kassian, Chosen of the Ox, had intrigued me as a character in the first novel because what I glimpsed of him gave off a what-you-see-is-what-you-get and good-old-boy vibe that didn’t quite run true, like it was a facade he was good at projecting. I was expecting Slate to take this apart in this novel, but surprisingly, that didn’t happen. Instead, I realized that first impressions can still ring true, even when they don’t represent the full story. In this case, the Kassian I’d glimpsed in Trancing the Tiger was the one he’d made himself to be. It’s part of what we see in By the Horns, but we also see who Kassian was before. And this made me like him all the more.
Meanwhile, the heroine of this romance, Natalie, was an unknown factor for me, apart from what I’d read about her in the blurb. But right away, I got a sense she was a badass and totally determined to fulfill her mission, which was shrouded in mystery until about halfway through the book. By the end of Chapter 1, I knew enough about her to like her, cautiously. Had I not been feeling slightly possessive of Kassian, I probably would’ve liked her even more. She shared a history with Kassian and had hurt him badly in the past, so I found myself reserving judgment. But she proved herself over the course of this novel, and I gave her a nod, even though I wished she’d steeled her spine just a little bit more when it came to fighting for what she shared with Kassian.
As far as character tropes go, I was probably always going to enjoy this book, fandom or no fandom. I love it when characters with a history get a second chance at love. I love big, slightly oafish heroes who would do anything to protect the women they love, even as they struggle not to smother those selfsame women. I love fierce, independent chicks with a strong moral compass and the ability to kick bad guy butt from here to next Wednesday. All of which Rachael Slate delivered on.
I was also pleased to note that the thing that won Slate my fandom—her textured world building—was definitely a factor in this novel as well. We learn more about the plague that has wreaked havoc on the world’s population, about the dynamics of the Lotus League and the Chosen, and about the very intriguing and always devious Matchmaker in this model. Moreover, we’re introduced to more of the Chosen and find out more about the overarching plot line that promises to stretch across the series: the Red Death—what caused it, how the Plague God was unleashed, and how to defeat it.
Does this beat the first novel in terms of fandom for me? I’d have to say no. In fact, because I not-so-secretly ship a Delun-Mei (Dragon-Monkey) romance, I suspect Trancing the Tiger will be my favorite until I get a Dragon story! No pressure to the author, but… Hmm, okay, I kind of want to apply pressure, even though I don’t have the right or the power to do so! In the meantime, I see another novella is set for a few months from now, and a third novel, Reining Him In, is set for publication later this year. Which means a Horse story, with the very intriguing Price we met in this novel. So I can wait for Dragon. I think. Maybe?
UPDATE: Looks like Dragon-Monkey might not be in the cards, but I am still looking forward to their stories!
Feel Factor Rating:
Series Reading Order
2.5. Match Me Later (Fall 2015)
3. Reigning Him In (Fall 2015)
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