Balthazar by Claudia Gray
And so the story goes, an ordinary girl finds herself in trouble, but is miraculously saved by a handsome vampire with a soft spot for humanity. That's how Claudia Gray begins her newest installment to her "Evernight" series, "Balthazar."
Skye, the book's main character, has always had an unexplainable connection to the supernatural. She used to live in a haunted house and made friends with its ghost, and then unknowingly transferred to a high school filled with supernatural beings, Evernight Academy.
But that was a year ago, after the school burned down and she was forced to enter back into the real world. Skye's troubles begin when she takes her horse for a quick ride, but gets cornered by a cunning and hungry vampire with a taste for torment. An old vampire classmate from Evernight Academy, Balthazar, comes to the rescue, but not before the other vampire has a drop of Skye's magical blood.
The plot becomes predictable from here: Balthazar promises to protect Skye and in the process, he's forced to face his demons, his maker and the people he's hurt during the last 400 years. Of course, no vampire story is complete without the mortal and the undead falling in love, though both know it will only end badly. As Balthazar gets punished time and again for his past mistakes, Skye falls prey to his greatest enemies, and the more vampires who taste her blood, the more danger she's in.
There are instances of violence and death as the vampires attempt to kill each other and there are some sexual themes, including Skye dealing with the rejection of a boyfriend to whom she lost her virginity, and they end up in the same sex education class.
Though the plot doesn't succeed in setting itself apart from the other popular vampire series, Gray does add a fresh story to the culture. The heroine is strong, fierce and unwilling to compromise with vampires when it comes to her happiness or her family's safety. She has her own demons to deal with, but she's strong on her own.
Gray's character development for Balthazar is fascinating as well, as she writes in third person, giving readers a taste of his thoughts, mixed with flashbacks from his centuries of existence, to illustrate how he became so devoted to saving humanity from vampires. Balthazar might not be the most hunky vampire ever envisioned, but he's among the most noble, which adds a dimension to Gray's novel that's absent in a lot of other vampire literature.
"Balthazar" stays at the maturity level of its targeted readers while keeping a balance between the supernatural and the real world. And once readers get hooked on "Balthazar," they'll find themselves immersed in the whole series.
-- Review by Caitlin Orton