Morgan & Whitney Dish: Serpent's Kiss by Thea Harrison
Morgan: I have been loving Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series since book one, Dragon Bound, hit shelves earlier this year. Now we are on book three and I have to say that I never get tired of visiting the author’s world of strange, mythical creatures.
Whitney: Harrison has become an auto-buy author for me, too. Although, I felt this particular book took a while to get off the ground because Harrison has to explain all the different types of creatures in play, the political factions that are maneuvering and also reacquaint us with the hero and heroine who have been, up until now, supporting characters.
Morgan: I actually like how Harrison takes her time to really dig into the character’s backstories. There is also an incredible amount of world building happening to make the intricacies of the author’s mythology come to life. For instance, our hero, Rune, is a gryphon. But instead of just giving readers a quick description of what he looks like, Harrison goes into what it means to be a gryphon and what attributes he has, which really affect the story later.
Whitney: So true, Rune is a Wyr, (Harrison’s shifters) and no matter if he’s in his human form or in his beast form, the elements of his being — everything about him really — has to do with the fact that he’s part lion, part eagle and all magic.
Morgan: And he knows he’s something special — Rune is one of only four gryphons on Earth, he’s the size of an SUV, a perfect predator and he’s all about living in the “in between”. The author explains:
“[Gryphons] were quintessential beings of duality, formed at the cusp between two creatures, on the threshold of changing time and space.”
Whitney: This is so different from our heroine Carling. She’s done many things in her life, but she has never existed in between anything. When a part of her life is over, it’s done and she’s moved on. But during any given time she is a central figure to everything happening around her. And since she has been alive since the time of ancient civilizations, she has actually helped create history.
Morgan: I think it is all summed up nicely when Harrison explains, “She had played chess with demons for human lives, counseled monarchs and warred with monsters.”
Whitney: Absolutely, Carling was born in the early days of Egypt, kidnapped and sold as a slave, beaten and mistreated, seduced a king, became a queen, sought immortality (aka vampirism) and now sits on the council that governs all Magickind.
Morgan: But there’s a downside to doing all this living. One that Carling is very aware of …
“... she had lost, and lost, and lost so very many people and things that even grief failed to move her much anymore.”
It is no wonder that she is ready to give it up. She is waiting for death, almost welcoming it when she first meets Rune.
Whitney: Rune is not a believer in going gently into that good night. He is a fighter, so the idea that Carling is resigned to die is foreign to him.
Morgan: But it is easy for Rune to judge Carling because he was never a human. He never knew what it meant to be mortal. He was created, fully formed, as a gryphon and has always embraced his otherness. Carling on the other hand, was once a regular person. Sure she sought out immortality when she decided to be bitten by a vampire, but as Harrison so eloquently points out — humans are not meant to bear the weight of immortality.
Whitney: Carling is sick, and not just physically, but she is slowly losing her mind, falling into states of madness and literally fading right before Rune’s eyes.
Morgan: Even though Carling’s illness is difficult to read about, it is necessary to the story that she becomes vulnerable. Because it is only by becoming weak that she is willing to let Rune into her life.
Whitney: Knowing she’s so close to death, Carling doesn’t feel the need to hide her true self anymore. So before, she would act kind of like a Witch with a capital B, all heartless and cruel, but now she’s not playing games anymore. In a weird way the illness let’s her be her true self; the woman that genuinely cares about her vampire “children” and even the tiny black Pomeranian that she rescued from the side of the road.
Morgan: Rasputin! I loved him! Also there were some pretty fantastic crow-creatures on the island. It was interesting to see that Carling responded to animals. Sometimes human (or vampire) emotions are too hard to deal with but the love of an animal can be very comforting.
Whitney: Which comes in handy when Carling and Rune do get together. Because at his core he’s an animal, a magical animal that can shape shift into a human, but he’s not actually a person. The pair has a great scene when they are simply sitting together and Rune is purring (because, hey he’s half lion) and they are both so content. It’s one of the sweetest scenes I’ve read in a long time.
Morgan: They are good together. It’s easy to get distracted by the amount of bickering and physical fighting they do, which covers up just how sweet they actually are.
Whitney: Right, I mean, she keeps telling him to throw out this ratty old Jerry Garcia tee shirt he has.
Morgan: And he makes endless fun of her caftans. He even calls them mumus.
Whitney: But part of what makes them so great together is that they are really, really well matched. They are beings of unrivaled power, and although they didn’t spend the previous centuries together, they have many shared experiences of loss and the need to adapt to the world.
Morgan: Harrison really does a great job of making this relationship seem destined to happen. These two cannot survive without the other. I loved when she compared Rune and Carling’s emotions to one of the oldest lovers in time.
“... the impact of the connection was as raw as when Paris and Helen first looked into each others’ eyes and brought a world of gods and men to war.”
Whitney: Exactly! And at that moment Rune realizes that he will do anything, anything to ensure Carling survives. Even if it means disrupting time and space itself.
Morgan: As a gryphon, Rune is able to accompany Carling when she starts to “fade” and in doing so, he travels with her to the past where he changes history. Harrison does a really great job of layering the stories to show that everything that we know may or may not be a result of Rune changing Carling’s past.
Whitney: Which introduces the whole “chicken or the egg” debate. When he goes back in time, Rune calls her “darling”, so she changed her name to Carling. But her name was already Carling before he time traveled. The back-and-forth time thing is almost enough to make your head hurt.
Morgan: But in a good way. I love how the very plot of the story and the character’s themselves change before your eyes as the past is reconfigured.
Whitney: When Rune goes back in time, he can’t help that his affection for Carling spills over into care for the child she was. It’s totally natural that he falls into “I will make your past better” behavior rather than let the past unfold undisturbed. I mean, on the one hand, he does stop her from being beaten and misused. But on the other, he is disrupting Carling’s original path, which starts to affect her personality.
Morgan: Not to mention what is happening to the world at large. These two are altering the very fabric of the universe! But that is so Thea Harrison’s style. Nothing in her world is done on a small scale. You think you are ready for what is coming next and then something happens that is so completely different from anything you could possibly expect.
Whitney: Like the character of the Oracle. When Carling and Rune seek her out I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but let me tell you, nothing could have prepared me for this amazing character.
Morgan: The Oracle! She is so awesome and totally came from out of left field. I completely loved her and lucky for us, she’s the next heroine in the series.
Whitney: I have to say I never, never, never, never read the teasers at the back of books, but I couldn't help myself and totally read this one. Now I'm RAVENOUS for this story. How serious, you ask? Serious, like considered taking a trip to Thea's house and telling her to give me the book and no one will get hurt — I’ll even give her some chocolate for her troubles!
Morgan: Well, you’ll just have to contain your excitement until Oracle’s Moon hits shelves later this year. And in the meantime, dive into your special Dish book for next week because I can’t wait to see what you and special guest Dish-er RT’s Elisa have to say about Lia Habel’s steampunk YA Dearly Departed.
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