This is the kind of book which punches you between the eyes, pins you to the floor and sits on you. Very intense in parts, but there are some lulls in the action to enable to catch your breath. There is a great use of myth and legend in this dark fantasy, which is better integrated into the plot than some of Derek’s earlier books. Definitely, the best I’ve read of his books so far.
I don’t generally like blonde hair, beards, or tattoos, but Denzi is interesting. He is the associate professor at the Bulgarian school Samantha is invited to study at. Charming and flirtatious he is almost cold when she becomes a student. It is only after halfway through the book that we learn his true nature and why he seeks to fight the stereotype and keep her at a distance.
Samantha sees the school as a fresh start, a chance to fit in and make new friends. However, the other students are not as friendly as she hoped. Equally, none of them are what they seem. Only Iskara seems to warm to her. This is perhaps the reason why she seeks company outside the school.
On a girl’s night out, she meets Karina and when she tells Denzi about her he says she is dangerous, but he does not explain why. The gory truth is only fully revealed at the festival in the village. Even though Sam has been told by a gypsy that she has darkness in her soul, the school still want her to feel the music as a power. This is arguably because they want her to procure Orpheus’ Lyre for them and not Karina and the maenads.
Samantha also learns her mother has not only been to Bulgaria, but her father and grandfather also attended the school. The author sets up two opposing interpretations with the school’s view about what happened and the maenad’s version. Two opposing forces representing abandonment and order, the emotional and the cerebral, and like most people Samantha needs to find a path between the two.
The ending has previously been hinted at by the gypsy’s prediction, but it is both logical and fantastical. It sets up the book for a sequel, but not in a forced way, this will be Samantha’s new life going forward.
Anyone who likes young adult or fantasy novels will love this book. My only concern is more attention is paid to the plot than character development. This may be more of a feature in YA fiction than general fiction, just as in murder mystery more attention is given to the clues and discovering the culprit.