From the BLURB:
She's a mortal with dark powers...
After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person's darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude...until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world's most infamous vampire...
He's the Prince of Night...
Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don't call him Dracula. Vlad's ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.
Leila is a freak of nature; she knows that, and she embraces it so much that she has gone on tour with the circus. An accident with a downed power line when she was a girl killed Leila's mother, but left her alive. A nasty scar running from temple to right hand is the only physical evidence of Leila's near-death experience … but it's what people can't outwardly see that makes Leila so very unique. Whenever she touches an object with her right hand, she gets flashes of that objects' imprint in the past and future. And Leila is like a living live-wire, constantly charging and emitting bolts of electricity.
Leila knows that in the world of supernaturals she is unique. And she knows that her ability to see the future by touching objects makes her one tasty morsel for unscrupulous monsters, so says her four-foot tall circus friend, Marty, a vampire. But what Leila never anticipated was being kidnapped by a band of fanged fellows who insist she track down a certain someone using her abilities.
By touching a series of objects, Leila is able to track their owner; where he has been and where he's going … The man being hunted by her kidnappers is in fact one frightening and fiery vampire, who's as handsome as he is ferocious. But what Leila didn't anticipate was that when she's in this handsome vampire's mind, he can sense her, even talk to her. Yet another thing to add to the freak file.
Luckily for Leila, Vlad Tepes is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe the kidnap story. He's even willing to swoop in and save her - at a price. Until Vlad can figure out who is hunting him down, the curiously charged Leila will be staying with him, under guard, in his Romanian castle.
'Once Burned' is the first book in new 'Night Huntress' spin-off series, 'Night Prince' by Jeaniene Frost.
It has been hard reviewing the last few ‘Night Huntress’ books. Hard, because I still count them among my favourite urban fantasies, and still some of the best in the genre – but I can’t deny that from about book five to now, the series hasn’t been at its very best. And I feel like I've been saying the same thing in all my reviews of recent books; “the romantic tension is gone, and the series is lacking because of it.” I still recommend the books to timid first-time paranormal readers, but lately I've been putting a caveat on my recommendation, along the lines of “look out for ‘This Side of the Grave’. . . ”. So I was actually really excited for a spin-off of Frost's staling series … especially when our spin-off hero is none other than Vlad Tepes.
Vlad has been a fan-favourite since he made his first appearance in 'One Foot in the Grave'. It's not just that he's the vampire that all other vampire mythologies are based on (with a bit of help from Bram Stoker). No, it's that from the moment he stepped into the series, Jeaniene Frost managed to make Vlad decidedly her own. His one-upmanship with Bones elicited many chuckles, while his instant friendship and kinship with Cat showed his softer side. And when he revealed the demons of his past to comfort Cat in her time of grieving, during 'At Grave's End', I think fans were instantly hooked on him. He's not like Bones's sire, Mencheres, who is steadily mysterious and guarded. Nor is Vlad like the larrikin Ian, spouting out double entendres to rile those around him. A few of Frost's other secondary characters (even six books into the series) seem to still be caricatures whose little page-time hasn't fleshed them out nearly enough. But Vlad is unique - perhaps the most complex of all Frost's secondary characters. I think his three-dimensionality is what warranted him at least two books in the 'Night Prince' series (as opposed to the one-off novels that Mencheres and Spade got with the 'Night Huntress World' books). And now having read 'Once Burned', I can understand more than ever why Vlad is the one 'Night Huntress' character to carry an entirely new series...
'Once Burned' is not told from Vlad's perspective (mores the pity) even though it is his spin-off. Our narrator is Leila, a scarred and electrified young woman who has the power to see past and future events with the touch of her right hand. She and Vlad cross paths when she is kidnapped with the intention of helping a band of vampires find Vlad, so they can kill him. Instead of doing this, Leila contacts Vlad who swoops in and saves her - but intends to keep her close so he can use her unique abilities to find out who wants his head on a pike. From there the plot becomes deliciously tangled - as Leila succumbs to Vlad's fiery charms, and the heady knowledge that he is the one person in the world she can't injure with her volts of electricity - because Vlad controls fire, and simply absorbs Leila's jolts and bolts.
I loved Leila and Vlad as a couple, especially because Frost has fun with introducing Leila to a vampire named Vlad.
I snorted, giving him a deliberate once-over. With his long dark hair, striking features, frightening charisma, and seductively muscled body, he looked like he could pass for the infamous Prince of Darkness, but how naive did he think I was?
“You’ve got the obligatory dangerous-yet-sexy thing going on, but I’ll believe you’re the real Dracula when you believe I’m the real Frankenstein.”
But the real reason I liked Vlad and Leila, was that they actually had a lot in common. A running 'theme' of 'Once Burned' is in the line “everyone holds their sins close to their skin” - referencing the fact that Leila can know people's deep, dark secrets by mere touch of hand, and also the veiled understanding that Vlad has a lot to hide. It's a very interesting pairing, especially when Leila has to refrain from knowing more about Vlad than he's willing to impart... but especially because Vlad and Leila both have guilty consciences from events of their past. The death of Leila's mother, and the death of Vlad's wife.
Vlad and Leila also uphold fan's recent belief that a little sexual tension is a good thing. I won't give anything away, but Frost certainly hasn't made Leila and Vlad's pairing an easy one... not like the pretty instantaneous coupling of Cat and Bones (which has arguably back-fired in recent installments).
Frost has used the real Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) as a groundwork for her 'Night Prince' Vlad. Sometimes her reliance on Tepes's history works - like when she takes his infamous 'Impaler' nickname and makes it a gruesome punishment. But she also had a tendency to info-dump everything she knew about Vlad into whole scenes ... which included detailed descriptions of his exile, war with the Ottomans etc, and these had a tendency to read like a Wikipedia entry.
Something else I really liked about 'Once Burned' was the new crop of secondary characters introduced - like Leila's four-foot vampire friend, Marty, and Vlad's right-hand-man. Not to mention the human blood-donors and vampire warriors who populate Vlad's Romanian castle. I even liked the villain; a chillingly-named Szilagyi who was pitch-perfect in his deviltry.
I will say that I wish the 'Night Prince' books were told from Vlad's point-of-view. I know a few other reviewers mentioned this, but I think it bares repeating. I know Frost likes to write from the female POV (Cat in 'Night Huntress', Denise and Kira in 'Night Huntress World'), but I really think that Vlad was already a solid enough character to bear the brunt of narrative. Now, this sounds like a big complaint, but it's not - because I did like Leila and enjoyed reading about Vlad and the vampiric world from her perspective. I'm just saying, when Vlad is the star of the series, he probably could have been the literal, narrating star of the series. Know what I mean?
All in all, I would say that 'Once Burned' is an impressive come-back for Jeaniene Frost. If you're like me, and have been grappling with the last few so-so 'Night Huntress' books, then 'Once Burned' and the new 'Night Prince' spin-off series will be your antidote. Frost is back to writing about delicious romantic tension, complex villains and epic battles. I can’t wait for the second Vlad book, coming March 2013, and I'm even newly excited for the next 'Night Huntress' instalment... heck, reading about Vlad even has me crossing my fingers that Ian (that secondary-character larrikin) hurries up and gets his own spin-off book too!