Title ~ Cronin’s Key III
Author ~ N.R. Walker
Published ~ 18th September 2015
Genre ~ M/M Paranormal Romance
History isn’t always what it seems…
Twelve months after his change, Alec MacAidan is still getting used to his many vampire talents. While most vampires would give anything to have more than one supernatural power, Alec craves nothing more than peace and time alone with Cronin. But when Alec meets entities from outside this realm, he’s left powerless in their presence.
Zoan are half-lycan, half-dragon creatures that have slipped through time and reality, seemingly undetected by man and vampire. Or have they? They bear an uncanny resemblance to gargoyles, leaving Alec’s view on all things weird to get a whole lot weirder.
This new quest leads Alec, Cronin, and their band of friends to Paris, Rome, and Moscow, where they learn that gargoyles aren’t simply statues on walls. In the underground pits beneath churches all over the world, Alec discovers the Key’s true destiny. Facing the Zoan might take every talent he has. And he may need help from the dead to get them all out alive.
N. R. Walker has done it again. Why am I surprised? After all, this is the amazing author who stole my heart and soul with a series of books about the red desert soil of Australia. If an author is so talented that she can turn soil into a major character in a passionate and epic gay love story, vampires should be a walk in the park. Honestly, I doubt it was a walk in the park, even for the estimable N. R. Walker, but “Cronin’s Key III” is a brilliant book that, once again, took my breath away. It’s impressive to write a single wonderful, powerful, exquisitely-written book, but to do it over and over again is nothing less than remarkable – and stunning. Ms. Walker exists among that pantheon of top authors who seem to always get it exactly right.
For those who don’t know the premise of this wonderful vampire series, it behooves you to roll it back and start with the first book. Yes, you can read “Cronin’s Key III” as a satisfying stand-alone, but why diminish the insight and subtlety that comes from reading the books in sequence, and watching the characters grow, page-by-page and book-by-book?
Ms. Walker has built a powerful, diverse, colorful and original world for her vampire tales. The two main characters are Alec, the former NYPD detective who is spirited away from his precinct in front of all the cops and cameras, by a gorgeous, elegant man who whisks him away, with only a barely-perceptible ripple in space and time. Poof! And they’re gone.
But Alec was not kidnapped. In fact, he falls instantaneously in love with the dapper 500-year-old vampire, Cronin, just as Cronin does with him. That’s because Alec is Cronin’s “fated”, the being destined to be Cronin’s other half by destiny, or whatever force drives the world of the undead. Cronin waited 500 years for Alec, even though Alec didn’t know he was also waiting until Cronin came to get him – and he went to him without a single question or qualm.
These are not the vampires you’re used to. They have a number of endearing qualities. Though they do, indeed, feed on human blood and take a life in the process, they restrict their meals to the worst humans on earth, usually child molesters, killers and rapists whom they interrupt in the midst of their vile acts. They seem to save a life each time they take one. Also, they seem to have an innate compulsion to rescue the human race from destruction, though none of them have been human for many years, some for millennia.
Alec is the exception to the rule: a human who can feed his beloved vampire, Cronin, without ill-effect. He neither sickens nor turns, and no one has any idea why. It is only in the earlier two books (“Cronin’s Key I” and “Cronin’s Key II”) that we discover why Alec cannot be turned. His blood is not normal human blood. It is an ungodly, and hitherto unknown, combination of two bloodlines: one undead, one paranormal, that makes him the legendary Key, the entity who will unlock vast powers to protect both the vampire and human species.
Also, Ms. Walker’s vampires have special skills and gifts. Oh, they all have the traditional vampire-myth powers, glamouring their victims to get control of them, supernatural strength and speed, but each also has at least one more power, such as freezing things with a touch, enormous physical strength, lighting items on fire, seeing the future, and Cronin’s special power, the power to “leap”, instantly teleporting to any location on the planet (and perhaps beyond) just by thinking of his destination.
(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read books I and II, but still intend to, you might want to skip the next bit.)
By the end of Book II, Alec has turned, but not into a traditional vampire. He truly becomes the Key: the possessor of all the special powers of all the vampires in existence, the most powerful being that has ever existed in the history of the world. “Cronin’s Key III” begins just a few months after this landmark event (and the two vampires’ marriage) with brand new, even more powerful enemies, a fitting challenge for his expanded powers.
And what a relief that was to me. In my review of “Cronin’s Key II”, I noted that now that all of Alec’s secrets were revealed, perhaps the series might end. Ah, but I should have trusted Ms. Walker. As it turns out, the first two books were prelude to an almost infinite number of possibilities. “Cronin’s Key I” and “Cronin’s Key II” are her introduction to the dimensions, colors and characters of the imaginative world that this talented author is creating. “Cronin’s Key III” begins the epic adventures of Alec and his lover, Cronin, with untold enemies and threats galore available for future installments of this colorful series.
In “Cronin’s Key III”, previously-unknown, powerful creatures that have vowed to destroy all of humanity, obtain access to our world through a portal that opened when Alec was turned. Their unique power: to stop time and stand outside of it, to wreak their evil before the world wakes up enough to realize it was happening. They’re even able to freeze Alec, in time, and hide behind it, invisible to all. That makes them a bit hard to root out and destroy.
The portal they arrived through is a pit containing nine stone circles, located in Turkey and known as Göbekli Tepe, the oldest known human temple - dating back, at least, to 12,000 BCE. Other similar portals occur in many other places on Earth, including St. Basil’s in Moscow, Notre Dame in Paris and even in the subbasements of the Vatican. Alec’s job, and that of his intrepid vampire crew, is to close down those portals so that these evil, ancient beings will be closed off from the Earth, once again.
One of the things I like best about Ms. Walker’s books is that they all demonstrate impeccable research. As crazy as all this sounds, the locations, monuments and historical figures referenced are all archeologically correct, and therefore, entirely plausible. They fascinated me enough that I spent an entire evening researching the locations she used in this story, and learned a great deal about ancient civilizations and their religious edifices. Stonehenge a mystery? Not once Ms. Walker is done with it. The Great Plague? Not a disease, but a band of rogue vampires determined to decimate Europe.
The vast lifespans (or un-lifespans?) of the vampires give Ms. Walker license to report which famous figures were actually vampires. Genghis Kahn? Yes. Jesus Christ? No. “Cronin’s Key III” is no exception, connecting historical figures to these unworldly gargoyles, as diverse as Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, Ben Franklin and St. Peter.
This leaves us, the readers of “Cronin’s Key III”, with a rollicking ride through Ms. Walker’s fertile imagination, vast knowledge of human history, and the colorful, powerful and sexy characters that populate her fevered mind.
She also somehow defies cognitive dissonance to gently bring us along to accept the unacceptable, believe the unbelievable, and care deeply about characters that could never exist in reality. She does it with her remarkable ability to imbue unnatural creatures with the best of humanity in their hearts, and deep spirituality in their souls.
I won’t tell you whom, but at least one of my favorite characters in “Cronin’s Key II” dies in “Cronin’s Key III”. But Ms. Walker tempers the pain of that loss with her assurances that there is a life “after life” (again, after un-life?) for all creatures, a beautiful place where relationships endure, destines are fulfilled, dreams are achieved, and the dead come back to save the living from the horrors of Hell. There’s just something so reassuring, so powerful in that message: there’s no Heaven in which you listen to boring choirs of angels as you sit on a cloud eating grapes, or 42 virgins for each of our Muslim Martyrs, but rather, another episode of life, in a place more beautiful than our own, without pain or fear, where justice and compassion reign, and happiness pervades its very fabric. She creates a vision of an afterlife that is not to be feared, but to look forward to, and even choose. That is such a wonderful, comforting and beautiful thought, not just for the characters in the book, but for those who read it.
I honestly just don’t have the words to properly praise this incredibly talented author. I’ve read pretty much everything she has published for the Kindle, and so many of them have moved me in profound ways, expanding my thinking, soothing my soul, swelling my chest with her vision of love, marveling at her imagination and her ability to paint entire worlds with the simplest, most elegant prose.
Thank you, Ms. Walker for yet another brilliant book. You remind me of why I read.