Ravenous, by Sharon Ashwood (Signet Eclipse, 2009)

She’s a witch. He’s a vampire. Together and separately, they bust ghosts, cleanse haunted houses, and deal with the other paranormal weirdness that’s come into public view ever since the supernatural community revealed itself at the turn of the century. Holly Carver and Alessandro Caravelli have a great partnership going, one unencumbered by romance or deeper ties. After all, Holly’s got a nice, normal boyfriend, and Alessandro doesn’t get involved with his meals. Of course, things can always change.

A routine house cleansing turns ugly when they discover there’s far more to the situation than meets the eye, signaling the start of a deadly new case . . . and an alteration in the boundaries of their friendship and partnership. A demon has escaped into our world, and the last person to successfully fight it was Holly’s ancestor, who died in the process. With much of her greater magical ability still blocked after a childhood incident, Holly will have to dig deep into her untapped potential, and deal with some very painful moments, if she’s to have any chance of surviving the troubles ahead. Alessandro’s got his own problems, though: Omara, his vampire queen, is in town and commanding both his loyalty and attention, at a time when he’s growing more and more attracted to Holly. And Omara’s problem may just be tied into the matter of the escaped demon.

Can this star-crossed, mismatched couple of vampire and witch overcome everything that stands between, and against them, in order to embrace their newfound attraction to one another, or will they be torn apart by duty and demons? It all depends on who you ask.

Ravenous is a splendid new offering in the paranormal romance field. Sharon Ashwood has offered up a setting that starts with the simplest, most logical of twists — what if the supernatural community went public just because it was easier than trying to stay hidden in the modern world — and moves on from there. Holly and Alessandro are a likeable pair with genuine chemistry; the sparks flying between them practically leap off the page and singe the reader’s fingers. It’s hard not to root for them, even though Ashwood tosses some rather appealing alternatives into the mix, in the form of various secondary characters. Omara herself, the age-old vampire queen, possesses an intriguing mix of vulnerability and sensuality, giving us an amoral immortal bloodsucker you just want to hug and reassure. Detective Conall Macmillan, a cop who gets inadvertently caught up in things, has plenty going from him, a workaholic who secretly cooks in his spare time. Ashwood clearly excels at creating these characters, and it’s not hard to guess who just might take center stage in her next book.

As an urban fantasy, Ravenous delivers a fast-paced, sharp-edged story that avoids predictability, and I’m quite intrigued at the way she brings the idea of an extradimensional prison for demons and other nasties into play here. I look forward to seeing her explore the setting in future volumes. As a paranormal romance, it’s definitely got a lot going for it, from the amazing chemistry between the characters to the page-scorching moments of eroticism that blaze to life every now and again, from the merest kiss to more in-depth encounters. Ashwood has an exquisite way with words, something that sets her apart from many of her genre-peers, and I’ll definitely be picking up her future releases.

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