Writing a spin-off to a popular series can often seem like a no-brainer for authors.
You’ve created something that your readers just can’t get enough of, and of course, your fanbase doesn’t ever want the series to end, but for some authors, you just can’t squeeze any more juice from the lemon and in some cases, probably shouldn’t even try. It takes a certain kind of world-building to be able to pull it off successfully. And you need to be brave enough to sometimes move away from characters that have become well-loved and to whom your readers have become attached to the point where you have to pry them off with a crowbar.
Fortunately for Lindsay J. Pryor fans, Lindsay is both a brave writer and a proficient world-builder, so they have nothing to worry about with her new release from Piatkus Fiction, Haven, the spin-off from the highly successful Blackthorn series.
With the Blackthorn series, we found a world that already seemed mammoth, despite being mostly set in just one of the districts that Lindsay has created – Blackthorn, the dark and dangerous district of the Third Species and any other low-life creature forced to reside there (for those newbies amongst you, the vamps, lycans and cons). But Blackthorn really is just one part of something much bigger, and if you’re already a LJP fan, and have checked out the ‘About Blackthorn’ section on her website, you might already have an understanding in just how huge this world is and how many possibilities there are to create spin-offs and new adventures to appease older readers and hopefully generate new ones. I remember reading Lindsay’s posts about Blackthorn and at the time, thinking how there was so much more I wanted her to write about, so many more tales I wanted to read, and this is why I’m so happy to see Lindsay investigate the Lowtown district with Haven.
For me, a successful spin-off should be able to stand in its own right and that’s just what Haven does. You can read Blackthorn first, of course (and you should read it anyway because it’s all kinds of awesome), but the first thing you should know about Haven, is that if you’re new to LJP, then you’re not going to have to read an 8 book series before you start on the Lowtown book. Yes, there’s a few references to Blackthorn, but you’re not suddenly going to find yourself in a world without a handy travel guide and spend forever wandering around, trying to work out what the Hell is going on.
Let’s meet Ember and Nate. Ember, a waitress in a cafe, is on the brink of gaining citizenship to the district of Midtown, having been through a gruelling and lengthy process to escape the gritty and brutal confines of Lowtown where she’s lived her whole life. She’s crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s and finally, she’s been given approval to cross the border, pending her final medical. Nate is a vampire, and has been dropping by the cafe for months. A man of very few words, he keeps himself to himself, but his elusiveness and air of danger has sparked some interest in Ember, even though she knows she has to stay away from him. Any involvement with the Third Species could have her application torn up before the ink is dry on the stamp of approval.
Her determination to gain a new life for herself seems certain to succeed, that is until she discovers Nate has moved into the apartment across the hall from hers and she finds him close to death in the stairwell of the apartment block. Helping him could risk her application, and Ember has to make a quick decision whether to be compassionate and save him or be selfish and leave him to die.
When sinister forces set to rip Ember’s world apart and threaten the business and lives of her friends, she finds herself on a mission to help them and the only person who she can turn to is her mysterious neighbour, Nate. But is Nate all he appears to be?
With danger lurking around every corner, and time running out, Ember must fight the demons of her past and her feelings for Nate, if she is to make it to Midtown and start a new life for herself, but it seems as if others have a different path for her.
As with all Lindsay’s female characters, Ember is something to be admired. She’s everything we want to see in a female MC – feisty, independent, compassionate but flawed – and I genuinely wanted to see her succeed. I was rooting for her from page one, right through to the end, even if I didn’t always agree with her decisions. As a reader, I think that’s important. I don’t want to see a perfect heroine getting it right all the time and turning into the Mary Poppins of urban dystopian fiction. I want someone real. Someone that I can identify with. Someone that I want to see win. I definitely found that in Ember, she’s vulnerable at times, but has the capability of great strength, and a protective side to her when it comes to those she loves.
Nate isn’t always likeable, particularly to start with. He’s aloof, cold at times, detached, but that is something I like in my male MC’s; one, because it means we root for our heroine more, and two, because again, I have no desire to see Mary Poppins and Bert chim-chiminey-ing across the rooftops of Lowtown, sprinkling magic over the houses and dancing up a jig. I like to feel a little bit torn when it comes to the male MC’s. I want to see tension. I want to see a bit of angst. I want to see two people battling against each other, because let’s face it, it makes the coupling all the more sweeter 😉
I absolutely loved these two. I’m not sure if these characters will pop up again in Lowtown or not, I’m sure we’ll meet new characters along the way, but the important part for me was my connection with them both and that is something LJP always gets spot on. Characters that we love, characters that drive us crazy and make us shout at the pages while reading (yeah, I did that), characters that make us want to keep reading and lament the fact we have to put down the book to go back to our lives/jobs etc (yeah, I did that too). I talk a lot about Lindsay’s skill for world-building, and I hope if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll just take that as a given now, but we should never forget the power of the characters she creates. The fans all have their favourites (HELLO, JASK!) but there’s something to be said for an author who can change your mind with each book and have you start bumping up new characters to the top of your list, particularly with a spin-off series.
The villains of the book, the powerful and brutal Hordas clan, are a disturbing bunch, seeking out businesses to claim as their own, while crushing, manipulating and abusing anyone who dares get in their way. They’re on a mission to rule Lowtown and their icy ambition left me cold in all sorts of good ways, because let’s face it, we all LOVE to hate a good villain, right? I definitely had all the bad feels when reading their scenes, but again, that’s important, because we shouldn’t feel comfortable when confronted with the bad guys and while I loved Ember and Nate, I hated the Hordas clan in equal measure.
The plot went places I never saw coming and as always, I was left with nothing but admiration for how well Lindsay weaves her web, to the point where we’re never quite sure what path the story will take. The pacing was fast and relentless, the tension was electrifying throughout, the hot scenes were, well, sizzling (as always) and there was mystery and intrigue on every page. It’s been a while since a book got me so hooked that I spent my time in between reading thinking about what might happen next and each time I returned to it, I lapped it up and hoped it would never end. It did, of course and yes, I may have cried a little (although this was mostly due to plot, damn you LJP!).
As always, I’m now left wanting more and counting down the days to a new Lindsay J. Pryor release. This author never disappoints. I love that she never shies away from dark content. I love that she keeps us guessing throughout.
Gritty, relentless and hot as Hell, with new favourite characters to adore and darkness and danger lurking at every turn, Haven is without doubt my PNR top read of the year so far.
If you haven’t yet checked out any LJP books, now is definitely the time to start!
Five stars for this breath-taking, brutal, dark fantasy tale!