**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Series: Blud #2
Published by Pocket Books on April 30, 2013
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Steampunk
AMAZON • B&N • BOOK DEPOSITORY • Goodreads
The second book in the darkly tempting Blud series, featuring a vampire princess who embarks upon a dangerous journey to claim what is rightfully hers.
When Blud princess Ahnastasia wakes up, drained and starving in a suitcase, she’s not sure which calls to her more: the sound of music or the scent of blood. The source of both sensations is a handsome and mysterious man named Casper Sterling. Once the most celebrated musician in London, Sangland, he’s fallen on hard times. Now, much to Ahna’s frustration, the debauched and reckless human is her only ticket back home to the snow-rimmed and magical land of Freesia.
Together with Casper’s prickly charge, a scrappy orphan named Keen, they seek passage to Ahna’s homeland, where a power-hungry sorceress named Ravenna holds the royal family in thrall. Traveling from the back alleys of London to the sparkling minarets of Muscovy, Ahna discovers that Freesia holds new perils and dangerous foes. Back in her country, she is forced to choose between the heart she never knew she had and the land that she was born to rule. But with Casper’s help, Ahna may find a way to have it all….
I love this series. I do. I find the world to be wholly original; Dawson’s voice to be poetic, romantic, and smart; and the characters to be dynamic and absorbing. This follow-up to Dawson’s debut, WICKED AS THEY COME, is no exception. Taking her characters outside the world of Criminy Stain’s carnival and into the clouds of Sang and the world of Freesia added another layer to the series overall. Couple that with the deliciously vicious, spoiled but ultimately redeemed Ahnastasia and the tormented Stranger, Casper, and you have a book that will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night wondering how it is that Dawson is able to make a world so fantastical, so very tangible for the reader.
The plot of WICKED AS SHE WANTS is a riff on the Princess Anastasia story. The royal family of Freesia, a country where the Bludmen (read: vampire…of sorts) are in power and humans treated as cattle, has been murdered, the princesses disappeared, never to be seen again. Bludmen around the world pray for the return of the missing princesses so that the tyrannical ruler, Ravenna, can be disposed of and the balance of power shifted back again into the hands of the Blud baron ruling class. Casper, the tortured figure of both WICKED AS THEY COME and the novella, THE PECULIAR PETS OF MISS PLEASANCE, is knee deep in his debauchery and imminent demise when he stumbles across a suitcase. And who should be in that suitcase but the starved and drained lost princess Ahnastasia. They strike a deal and so begins Ahnastasia’s struggle to return to Freesia (alive) and to regain her throne. The plot was well-paced and had enough excitement and uncertainty in it to keep me on my toes. The overarching question of whether or not Ahnastasia would succeed in her quest was a compelling one. Who can she trust? Can she make it alive? Will she have support? These were all questions that helped propel the plot forward and build enough tension so that I compulsively read this story any moment I had free.
The world-building is always stellar in the Blud series and WICKED AS SHE WANTS did not disappoint in that regard. Dawson takes us out of Criminy Stain’s carnival and into the dark streets of London and the decadence and splendor of Freesia. I’ve said this once and I will say it again, Dawson’s world is like a dream. Things feel so unreal – it’s fantastical but there is something that keeps you tethered to reality at the same time. The world she creates is like our own but slightly different. Freesia is like Russia, the capitol is Muscovy, like Moscow, Ravenna is like Rasputin, etc. There is a whimsy and utter darkness there (a taxidermist daemon that stuffs dead people and hangs them on the wall?) that keeps you fascinated and slightly disturbed at the same time. I appreciated the fact that Dawson opens this world up a bit more in this second book. We are able to see how different Sangland, the setting of the first book, is from Freesia where Bludmen hold the power. We’re given a deeper understanding of not only the politics but also the nature of Bludmen and the beasts within them. Couple this with the very cool steampunk elements of floating airships, mechanical animals, and other cool contraptions and you have a world that you look forward to stepping into any chance you get.
I don’t know which called to me more, his music or his blood. Trapped in darkness, weak to the point of death, I woke only to suck his soul dry until the notes and droplets merged in my veins. Whoever he was, he was my inferior, my prey, and his life was my due. What’s the point of being a princess if you can’t kill your subjects?
Central to this story, and the most compelling aspect of it for me, is the relationship between Casper and Ahnastasia. Now, I’m not going to lie – Ahnastasia is not a likeable character. She is spoiled, controlling, entitled, vicious, and manipulative. But I couldn’t help but be drawn into her struggle. And what I loved about this story is that she grows. She really does. By the end of the book you see someone whose worldview has shifted in a realistic way but also at a pace that has you wondering if you’re going to love or hate her. And though she has revelations, the core haughtiness and the royal “we” of her doesn’t change and I appreciated that dichotomy. Casper was also surprising to me because he has never been a character I thought was terribly interesting. But here, in WICKED AS SHE WANTS, he is charming, mad, talented, thoughtful, protective, and he’s hiding a secret. This, combined with what you know of him from the first book, and I was definitely compelled by his story and what his future holds. Together, they were combustible. Power, trust, fear, and, ultimately, respect were all elements that ebbed and flowed in their relationship. I was honestly unsure of what the end would be for them and I appreciated that push and pull. It made for a sexy chemistry that Dawson also excels at creating.
“You may consider us equal. Your blood in exchange for having restrained me. Shall we be friends?”
I didn’t mean it. Not the equal part, not the friends part. I’d seen a human singing to some pigeons once, luring one close enough to twist its neck. I could sing like that, too.
I couldn’t write this without a plea for more Keen, Casper’s charge and sidekick. I loved this character. I love what her end is in this story and I would love to start some sort of campaign begging Dawson to create a full-length or at least a novella centered on Keen when she comes of age. She’s an endearing, smart, land-on-her-feet, pain-in-the-ass who stole the show whenever she was in a scene.
For me, if there was any stumble in WICKED AS SHE WANTS it was in the climax. I wanted something a bit more when it came to the ultimate showdown. It felt too quick and the tension that had been so nicely built was wasted for me. After all the struggle, after an arduous journey, after the pain and loss of family and tightly held beliefs, I wanted something a little…well, more…maybe bloodier, more uncertain, more edge of your seat.
Regardless, I really liked WICKED AS SHE WANTS. It was a wonderful follow-up to a book I adored. I really cannot wait to see where else Dawson will take us in her incredibly well-drawn world of Sang. 4.5 HOWLS!