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I recently read another author who stated that she loved writing books where the couple fell in love fairly early in the story, and then loved writing about how their lives begin to pool together. Or, if there are troubles in getting the two worlds together, how that causes angst and growth.
So, this novel, Loving Instincts, by S.J. Frost is book three in a series and it revisits the couple from book one, Natural Instincts. As I read this book, it hit me that this is a perfect example of how a book two is needed to see how the relationship developed and evolved.
Book 3: Loving Instincts begins 6 months after book one ends, and Andreas is ready to become a vampire to be the eternal partner to Ty (A.K.A Titus Antonius Calidus). While they prepare for Andreas’ evolution from human to vampire, how will the vampire world accept his change and can Andreas leave his human life behind him?
This is a book 3 of the Instincts series, so it is a high recommendation to read book 1 and I would suggest reading book 2 as well, but I would not say that it was required reading. It is possible for the reader to catch up on the overall series plotlines. Please note some slight spoilers here because this is book 3 and it is difficult to discuss things that did not occur in book 1 and 2.
As the reader, we are encouraged to identify with Andreas. He is the human who is immersed into the vampire world, and as he discovers new things about the culture we learn them. He is a zoologist, one that deals specifically in large felines like lions. His empathy toward animal instincts is one that aids him in the vampire world, understanding that so many vampire instincts are more animalistic and less driven by humanity.
Andreas is the angsty character of the couple, but part of that is understandable as he is being forced into a new life that is scary and dangerous. A look into his thought processes and very descriptive of his inner dialogue:
But what affected him most was the true hurt he’d seen in Titus’s eyes at Carl’s apartment. If the vampires had caught him, he would’ve left Titus to face eternity alone. He cringed inside at the thought. Shame at his actions filled him. How could he ever have put Titus in such a position?
So, we have a character that is very sensitive to other’s needs, but often is someone who acts first and then thinks about the consequences afterwards.
Titus Antonius Calidus:
In my opinion, Ty’s character development is the greater of the two, especially in comparison to the vampire we see at the beginning of Natural Instincts. He begins in book 1, still haunted by the death of his first lover over 2,000 years before. He is someone who’s Master killed Quinn (his first lover and best friend) and then changed against his will. He spends most of his vampire life bitter and anti-social, his only true friends are Daniel Valente and Ryunosuke Kimura (from book 2). For example from book 1, Natural Instincts:
Titus clenched his teeth. Whether Andreas got killed or claimed, what should it matter to him? The worrying and arguing with himself pointed to one thing: he was getting soft. Centuries had passed since he’d last taken a life, and even then, it was when battling other vampires. Maybe he was losing his edge. When he thought about it, all these concerns were pointless. So they had one good night together. He’d had more of those with others than he could count.
Here we can see his disillusion and apathy toward life and other beings. Now compare that to Ty in this book:
Andreas reclined on the wall. Titus stepped in front of him and smoothed the shaving cream along Andreas’s face. As Titus took up the razor, Andreas closed his eyes, relaxing into the feel of the blade being carefully drawn through the shaving cream. “If I didn’t feel like hell, I’d be so turned on right now.”
“It looks like part of you still is.”
“It’s trying to prove just how gallant it really is.”
Titus leaned close to him, their lips nearly touching. “This is definitely working for me. We’ll have to do it again when you’re stronger.”
This scene from after Andreas’ conversion demonstrates how caring and loving Ty has become as he has finally let himself fall in love again.
I think this book is about how we change and compromise for those that we love, to make the relationship and other partner the focus. For Andreas, the change is a literal one; he is turning to be the “eternal partner” to Ty. For Ty, he is letting go of his former lover, realizing that he must live for the present, which is with Andreas and his close friends.
Two scenes stuck with me, the conversion chapters and then the chapters dealing with Dakarai’s binding to Andreas were extremely well written and thought out. In vampire lore, so often the conversion is something that is “hand wavy” in description: “And then he magically transformed into a vampire”. Two excellent examples of how to do the conversion correctly is J.R. Ward and Christine Feehan. Frost handles the conversion in a similarly scientific method, which helps to bring realism to the story. How she describes the fangs coming in was so well written and it was a great illustration of how final the conversion felt when the human canine teeth fell out.
Frost also excelled in how she handled the descriptions of the animals, but especially Dak. I loved how she made him seem human, but at the same time we still understood that yes, he was not magically human but just that there was a deep bond between Andreas and Dak.
What could be better?
This section is where I had to take this from a four star to a three star rating. I am not sure why, but for me, this series seems to be not as well written as her Conquest series. I am not sure if she focuses so much on the action and suspense, that the relationship development is not as great? There certainly is a lot of sex and a lot of talking about feelings, but these things are just so repetitive that it looses any significance.
For example, at almost the end of every chapter, we have some “profound” statement about how Andreas was sacrificing so much to be Ty’s lover:
Moments like these, joking and being playful with his best friend, he wanted to remember for many years into his soon-to-be long life.
In less than forty-eight hours, Daniel’s words would be fully realized. He would be evolving into vampire.
If only he knew if the words he’d just said would really come true.
At this moment, in his hand, was the proof that Andreas had shed being human. And he’d done it for him.
What bothered me the most is that it just made me cringe as I got to the end of a chapter, waiting to see what melodramatic last sentence we would get. I get it. Andreas turned vampire to be with Ty because he loved him and Ty is overwhelmed with love and gratefulness with that sacrifice. But you do not have to tell us at the end of every chapter how the characters feel. It insults the intelligence of the reader when you bang us over the head with these things. Like the quote says, “show it, don’t just tell it.”
Another thing that seemed odd to me was how “loving” the four characters were, very touching and lovey-dovey, even between couples. It was not necessarily sexual, but it still seemed odd at how touchy feely they were; I do not know if this was just the preference of the author or if this is something that happens more in gay culture.
And finally, I actually thought there was too much sex in this book. This seems to be something that happens often in Frost’s books, so as a reader of her work, it did not bother me, but I do sometimes end up skimming some sex scenes when they feel redundant.
To me, this is very unique vampire lore, and it is one that I truly enjoy. I love how Frost handles the lore of vampirism and how the culture has evolved with their politics. I also loved the descriptions (when not jumping each other’s bones) and the suspense aspect was enjoyable. I look forward to the next book, although I hope that Frost will do a better job of remembering that while I do love to read about sexy fun time, it does not mean all of my brain cells have melted away.