Author ~ N.R. Walker
Published ~ 22nd May 2015
Genre ~ M/M Paranormal Romance
History isn’t always what it seems.
With the battle of Egypt behind them, Alec and Cronin are enjoying the thrill of new love. Though fate doesn’t wait long before throwing them back into the world of weird.
They know Alec’s blood is special, though its true purpose still eludes them. And given Alec’s inability to be changed into a vampire, Cronin is free to drink from him at will. But the ramifications of drinking such powerful blood starts a ripple effect.
With the help of Jorge, a disturbing vampire-child with the gift of foresight, Alec and Cronin face a new kind of war. This time their investigations lead them to the borders of China and Mongolia—but it’s not what lies in the pits beneath that worries Alec.
It’s the creator behind it all.
In the underground depths of China, amidst a war with the Terracotta Army, they will find out just what the Key is, and what Alec means to the vampire world.
N.R. Walker is one of the very best. She is the top of the game, working in that rarefied air where the truly gifted and dedicated writers dwell. I met her when I chanced across the Red Dirt Heart series. It blew me away. The premise, the souls of the characters, all of it, was as dramatic as it was gentle.
Somehow she managed to carry that touch, that uncanny ability to reach out to the reader’s heart, into her vampire series, Cronin’s Key. For me, that’s huge. I am not a big fan of vampires, shape-shifters or werewolves. Yet here I sit, just finished with Cronin’s Key II with tears of joy welling in my eyes, a huge smile across my face, moved more than I ever thought possible. It’s not that it’s vampires. It’s not that it’s powerful creatures of the night. It’s that Ms. Walker has very few peers who can explicate, express and command love on the page, as she does, no matter who the subjects are. Cronin’s Key is about violent creatures in violent situations, but redeemed by their relentless drive to do good, the depth of their hearts, and the essential gentleness that is their incredible power withheld and channeled into constructive, kind and generous intent.
This is the second book in the series, and I’m thrilled to death that the last page of the book announces the forthcoming Cronin’s Key III. I honestly can’t wait.
Cronin is a vampire, a very young vampire, less than a thousand years old, give or take. Alec (the Key) is a 29 year old human, a former New York City cop who was literally swept off his feet in the middle of the police station, in the plain view of security cameras and cell phones, by the mysterious and gorgeous vampire with the talent to transport, instantaneously, to any location on earth. The two men disappear in a most public way, which is the start of this epic journey, and the end of Alec’s career as a New York City detective.
Despite his fairly ordinary profession, Alec is rather special. He’s very smart. In fact, he has a fully-retentive photographic memory. He reads a lot of history. He also seems to heal a lot faster than normal mortals and has been protected by a guardian angel who saved him from both the minor scrapes of childhood and his brushes with major disasters as an adult. No one ever saw this angel, but he’s always there whenever Alec gets in trouble. In fact, just recently (and there’s video of this too), he was shot in the face, at point-blank-range, by a criminal he was trying to arrest. The bullet sped relentlessly toward his head, but just before the moment of impact, it changed path and nicked him in the leg, saving him from certain death. Yes, his guardian angel at work, once again.
In the first Cronin’s Key, Alec gets to know the fabulously wealthy and erudite vampire who is his “fated”. He feels it, as much as Cronin does, that force, that destiny that reaches across the generations to ensure that the two shall be joined together as intended. Sex is a bit of a problem, because vampires bite when they climax, and biting will kill or turn Alec, so they have to be careful of their physical relationship – which drives them both nearly insane.
There’s a fabulous assortment of supporting characters with all kinds of talents and personalities. Eiji and Jodis are the closest to Cronin. Eiji is a Japanese vampire, older than Cronin, yet younger, as vampires keep the look and body they had when they were turned. He has the normal skills of a vampire, including incredible speed and strength, but his special talent is tracing the DNA of anyone he touches, both backward and forward through time. It’s an invaluable talent when you need to know the background of either friend or enemy. He is Cronin’s best friend and brother. He’s also the mysterious “guardian angel” who has protected Alec, since birth, dedicated to preserving and protecting his brother’s fated one.
Jodis is Eiji’s fated, a beautiful woman whose major talent is ice – controlling water and freezing almost any fluid with a glance or a touch. Then there’s Eleanor, the older woman, turned when she was already 60. Though she’s completely blind, she is a gifted seer. She sees with her mind, her dreams, her soul, almost infinitely better than others can with a perfect pair of eyes. She can get around a room or a city without a cane or a guide, and plays a mean game of chess. She’s invaluable to Cronin, Alec, Eiji and Jodis, as she can see far enough into the future (though often indistinctly) to warn them against their enemies and foretell their success and survival.
Kole is Alec’s completely human father, a dyed-in-the-wool Scotsman, which works out well, since Cronin, in his previous life, was a Scottish warrior who regularly slips into Gaelic, especially to express his love to Alec. Alec had no idea that his father already knows Eiji, who approached him shortly after Alec’s birth, when Alec’s mother was killed, and Eiji saved Alec from the murdering vampires who would have taken or killed him as well. Alec is stunned to learn that his very ordinary, smart, but unprepossessing father has known about the whole vampire thing for the 29 years that Alec has been alive, and approves of his relationship with Cronin, immediately. Talk about accepting parents!
There’s one very special new character in Cronin’s Key II, Jorge. Jorge is a relatively old vampire who lives in the six-year-old body he occupied when he was killed and turned. He was executed by his own tribe because he appeared to be two people in a single body, multiple personalities warring for center stage, or so it appeared. Out of fear of the unknown and the different, his tribe put him to death and a vampire resurrected him. Most other vampires are terrified of him. When he moves from personality-to-personality, his eyes change and his face goes from an innocent boy to an evil monster, thousands of years old. Or so it seems. Jorge is not what he appears to be, and he will be the key to the solution of their current challenge, the seer who brings the future about, saving Alec, Cronin and a huge swathe of humanity.
And yes, that is the point. For a variety of reasons, some self-serving (avoiding detection), others purely altruistic (they are dedicated to protecting and saving humanity), they battle some of the most terrifying forces of all time to turn back the unthinkable. Cronin surprises Alec with his historic revisionism: Black Plague: not a disease, a band of rogue vampires killing millions; the Pyramids, not built to honor the dead, but to keep ancient Egyptian vampires from wreaking havoc on the human world; Genghis Kahn and Jack-The-Ripper, vampires; Jesus Christ, not.
In the previous book in the Cronin’s Key series, this intrepid band of vampires and humans, with the assistance of covens from all over the world, battled a demented vampire who is resurrecting an ancient Egyptian Empress so she can control her and take over the word. In this book, it’s Genghis Kahn and his Terra Cotta army, buried in an underground crypt in Mongolia alongside a great and ancient King of China (also a vampire), who are out to take over the world. Or is it just a trap to lure Alec to the crypt to kill him?
Alec is suspicious of the whole thing. He just doesn’t believe the Genghis Kahn bit, nor does he now believe the Ancient Egyptian Queen bit, either. He is convinced that someone is manufacturing these distractions, someone who needs the “key”, and the key is Alec, and his blood.
What drives these stories is the fact that Alec’s blood is like none the world has ever before known. It has the power of the most powerful vampires in it, yet is entirely human. When he begs Cronin to turn him, so they can be together forever – he is desperate to be one with Cronin, to share not just their sex and kisses, but their blood – Cronin tries but, astonishingly, Alec doesn’t turn. Cronin drinks enough of Alec’s blood to kill six men and turn a dozen vampires, but Alec doesn’t change at all. He doesn’t even get tired, or faint, or ill, or suffer a bad case of anemia. In fact, he feels better. Alec’s blood is something different, indeed, and because of it, Alec is the “Key”.
There are two notable things I particularly loved about Cronin’s Key II (among many). The first is the way Ms. Walker treats their growing love. Normally, even vampire “fated” relationships wane a bit, after a while, as human relationships do. They start out with intense love, and then level off to respect, admiration and affection. Not these two. Every day, they become closer; every day it gets harder for them to be apart for even a moment; every day their lust tries to consume them; and every day both their powers grow, as they can hear each other’s thoughts without speaking and feel each other’s proximity or distance without touching or seeing. They are actually becoming one. Alec is showing growing vampire skills, though he remains doggedly human. The love between these two characters grows so huge and so intense throughout this book that it virtually rises up from the page and into the reader’s heart. Stunning - and sexy as hell.
The other thing I loved about this book is that it unravels all. Ms. Walker doesn’t play any games with the reader. Alec finds out why he’s the Key, what made him different, and who he is to become – one of the most powerful and beneficent creatures the world has ever known. Ms. Walker doesn’t keep us hanging by our fingernails to keep us coming back for more. She delivers a totally complete, fulfilling saga with all questions answered and all loose ends tied up. Alec even gets a visitation from the loving mother he never knew, and Jorge, who seemed such a terrifying enigma, but to Alec still a boy to whom he showed concern and love (something all too rare in Jorge’s long, but tortured life) is revealed not as a mental case, but as a seer to top them all, a visionary, in conversation not with an evil doppelganger, but with the future and the past.
The action, the grand finale, is brief and nowhere near as dramatic as it was in Cronin’s Key I, but the emotional power, the joy, the blinding love is almost overwhelming, which is way more satisfying.
Anyone can write a good fight scene. But only a master, like N.R. Walker, can weave a web of love, acceptance, brotherhood and triumph for several hundred pages without one word out of place, or one moment of flagging energy.
I am so relieved that these wonderful characters will not disappear now that the author has revealed all the secrets, all the destinies. We need more time with them. We need more adventures, but most of all, we need more of the lyrical, gentle spirit with which Ms. Walker imbues her incredible characters, and which reaches out right into the heart of the reader.
When I say this book has my most heartfelt recommendation, I mean that - literally.